Qawwali (Urdu/Persian/Pashto/Sindhi: قوٌالی; Punjabi/Saraiki: ਕ਼ੱਵਾਲੀ, قوٌالی; Brajbhasha/Hindi: क़व्वाली) is a form of Sufi devotional music popular in South Asia, particularly in areas with a historically strong Muslim presence, such as Pakistan, especially Punjab and Sindh, and parts of North India. The style is rare, though not entirely absent, in North and West Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kashmir. It is a musical tradition that stretches back more than 700 years. Originally performed mainly at Sufi shrines or dargahs throughout South Asia, it has also gained mainstream popularity. Qawwali music received international exposure through the work of the late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, largely due to several releases on the Real World label, followed by live appearances at WOMAD festivals. Other famous Qawwali singers include Pakistan’s Sabri Brothers. Although famous throughout the world, its hub remains the Punjab province of Pakistan from where it gained entry into the mainstream commercial music industry and international fame.
The roots of Qawwali can be traced back to 8th century Persia (today’s Iran and Afghanistan). During the first major migration from Persia, in the 11th century, the musical tradition of Sema migrated to the South Asia, Turkey and Uzbekistan. Amir Khusro Dehelvi of the Chisti order of Sufis is credited with fusing the Persian and Indian musical traditions to create Qawwali as we know it today in the late 13th century in India (Hindustani classical music is also attributed to him). The word Sama is often still used in Central Asia and Turkey to refer to forms very similar to Qawwali, and in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the formal name used for a session of Qawwali is Mehfil-e-Sama. Qawl (Arabic: قَوْل) means a saying or an utterance. Qawwāl is someone who often repeats (sings) a Qawl, Qawwāli is what a Qawwāl sings.
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