In conversation with Chand Nizami, a Qawwal from Delhi

Chand Nizami, son of late Ustad Mehmood Nizami lives in the halo of Nizamuddin Dargah. His nephews Shadab Faridi and Sohrab Faridi Nizami are his companions. They are popularly known as ‘ Nizami Bandhu’. They are from the Sikandar Gharana, and are maritaly related to both the Delhi Gharana (Meraj Ahmed) and the Hapur Gharana (Qadir Niazi). They trace back their lineage to musical gharanas to 750 years back. They claim to have had the privilege as darbari singers of Asthana of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia and Hazrat Amir Khusro.

In their repertoire they excel in singing not only traditional Persian and Urdu Sufi Qalam, but they have also won popularity in singing various other genres of music like Bhajan, Classical, Bollywood songs etc… they have also provided playback singing in Films. Their recent claim to fame was their visual presence in the song ‘Kun Faya Kun’ from the movie ‘Rockstar’.

Chand Nizami has also written Nazms and Ghazals in Urdu.

Chand Nizami talks proudly for his being a Qawwal, and the way Qawwali has undergone shifts and changes.

Q. Please share with me your families association with Delhi?
The relationship with Delhi is so old that it has faded! Around 700 years back my forefather arrived in Delhi and became musicians in the Dargah and was also a court Qawwal under Bahadur Shah Zafar.

Q. What does it mean to be a qawwali singer in the present scenario in Delhi? Should qawwali acquire new attributes to suit the time?
Time certainly changes everything, and we have to adopt these changes for survival. Like in the movie Rockstar, guitar was introduced in Qawwali performance. However we try to retain the authenticity of Qawwali in our performance in the Dargah, as here we sing purely to quench the thirst of our soul. But to survive we have to adept to the changing times.

Q. How do you feel performing Qawwali in a concert as opposed to original context i.e playing in Dargah?
Qawwali singing is an entirely different experience in the Dargah. As I have already said, in the Dargah we sing for our master, for our soul. We find peace when we hymn the poetry of Amir Khusro, Rumi and others. While at other places we sing for the audience, according to their demands.

Q. What do you have to say about qawwali in temples and in churches?
I would just say that the nature of qawwali does not alter with the change in the place. It remains always to satisfy the audience, make his/her union with God through music. Infact singing Sufi in temples and churches is nothing new.

Q. Sufi is getting quite popular recently. Will you give any credit to Bollywood for popularizing Qawwali?
It’s the age of media, and the role Bollywood has played is incredibly important. But in case, Qawwali would not have made its entry into Bollywood it would not have died out! It would have continued in the Khanqas as always. What Bollywood has done is that it has made Qawwali accessible and popular in every household. I would also give a lot of credit to A.R Rahman for bringing ‘genuine form’ of Qawwali in Indian Cinema.

Q. Do you think, you have received the due recognition by Delhi government? What do you have to say about ASI’s efforts to revive Qawwali in Nizamuddin Basti, Delhi?
Government has not been of much help. But I hope that they will soon extend their support and appreciate our art. However, recently there has been an award or two received by some other Qawwal families. Sangeet Natak Academy as well as Spicmacay has also been a great savior.
As for the efforts of Aga Khan Foundation and ASI project of revival of Qawwali, they are trying their best. They have carried out recordings of Qawwals and published cassettes of Qawwali. Though I have not been a part of their program, but I am looking forward to work with them.

Q. Are you teaching students?
As you know there is a craze for Sufi all around. So many young people come to me for being trained in the art form. And I would love to teach them. But there is a space constraint in my house. Infact there is not enough space even for me to carry out my daily ‘riyaaz’ (practice). I am looking for an affordable place where I can impart qawwali lessons.

Q. You have performed abroad quite a lot? How was the experience, and how different was it?
I have travelled in many parts of the world- America, parts of Europe, Africa, Gulf and many others. We have had a great experience abroad, and people seem to understand and respect Qawwali outside. Music knows no language boundaries after all. But we feel at home when we play in our own country, we feel rooted and connected to the audience.

Q. What is the place of women qawwal’s in the present context? Have they become an acceptable image? Are there any girls in your family lineage who are singing or learning qawwali?
Though lot of women are singing Qawwali nowadays, and I don’t disregard them. But in our gharanas, or any gharanas related to Nizamuddin no females sing qawwali. Islam donot permit women to engage in music and come in pubic view.

Q. what do you think about the future of Qawwali?
The future of Qawwali will always be bright. Even if people stop listening to Qawwali, our Khanqa’s will always be for Qawwals. We can always sing to our hearts content for our master. We will be happy with the minimum we earn, singing in the Dargah. Afterall our identity is based on it.

Nizami Brothers
Ghulam Sabir Nizami & Ghulam Waris Nizami
699, Chandni Mahal, Darya Ganj,
New Delhi
Phone: 011-23286047 (Resi.)
Mobile: 09811732378