art, culture, tradition & heritage





Subhan Ahmed Nizami Qawwal Bache Dehli Gharana

Saida Haider


About Author - a brief autobiography

My parents arrived in Paris on the 14 th of February 1951 . I was 4 years at that time, they were originally Syeds from Lucknow, they put me in a French school here. I completed all my studies here and did my MA in History and French Literature. The knowledge of three languages became an asset to me and my services were constantly required, in Pakistan where we lived for ten years ,early sixties till early seventies ( doing radio programs for French service ,or working in Pakistan tourism , also teaching French to Pakistani engineers) In France , it was my knowledge of Urdu which was appreciated and I was asked to translate many documentaries ,articles from French into Urdu and so on .I was basically a journalist but never practiced.

Now my association with musicians goes down to 1999. There was a French promoter who urgently required someone to interpret for radio France the interview of Faiz Ali Faiz.Very reluctantly I decided to go and help them but only once .....and since then till today never stopped .

When I discovered the French people's love for our music ,I thought it was very important to provide them the proper information I started educating myself ,trying to gather as much information as I could on this specific kind of music, what we call Sufi music or sacred music . Now I have found a good teacher , Subhan Nizami ,a very talented and dynamic young musician who not only knows his musical notes but gives an excellent explanation of the kalams he sings . Whether he sings in urdu ,braj ,persian ,he knows the significance of each word he pronounces and I was amazed to discover the hidden beauty of these kalams ,belonging to the school of Hazrat Amir Khusro . These kalams and this music will never get outdated and still shine like a diamond under the dust of eight centuries.

I presented Subhan Nizami at Unesco Paris in 2011 and he was much appreciated Again he was invited at Théâtre de la ville in October 2011 and all seats were sold out. I was asked to translate a few of their kalams and to print a booklet so that people could have access to their breathtaking kalams ,the same kalams which have brought so many hindus towards Islam .I was also asked to prepare a file in order to submit it to Unesco ,to get them registered as " Patrimoine immatériel de l'Unesco " ie immaterial heritage of Unesco . This is the name given to all the aspects of a culture to be protected .

Now our problem is that with all the good will and hard work we cannot mount this project the way we would have liked ,as we have no funds . Each time a group travels out of Pakistan we need at least one thousand pounds per person ( air fare ,travelling from Karachi to Islamabad to obtain visas ) As far as qawwali is concerned we cannot send less than 7/8 musicians otherwise it would not make any sense .


Qawwali is the most appreciated form of music here. Here in France we are trying to do whatever is in our possibility but we need a real promoter and this is hard to find Although I have some contacts here ,but my capacity is very limited or rather limited to translations and interpretations . The whole of my life I passed without any ambition ,but lately I have developed one : to be able to introduce to European public this first school of music in history , the qawwal bache dehli gharana of Karachi which has been existing since the thirteenth century. And it's knowledge has been transferred from father to son without any break in the chain of transmission . Subhan Ahmed Nizami is the 33rd descendant of Mian Samaath ,the first student of Hazrat Amir Khusro . And it is for him that I would like to work now . This is a unique example in the world and people cannot believe their ears when they are told about it .

A Brief Presentation


Subhan Ahmed Nizami & Qawwal Bache Dehli Gharana


In the long course of history ( almost 750 years ) the qawwal bache dehli gharana managed to exist ,sometimes under the patronage of kings and Emperors ,and always in the hearts of sanctuaries.




As I have told you, in recent history, until 1857, they were attached to the Mughal Court, where their ancestor, Ustad Tanrus Khan, was the official musician at Imperial Court of Dehli. After the Abdication and exile of the last Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, the family shifted to Hyderabad and became official musicians at the princely court of Deccan, from where they migrated to Pakistan in 1956.

They settled down in Karachi, where they formed a group under the name of Manzoor Niazi qawwal, to which were attached Munshi Raziuddin, Ustad Manzoor Niazi, Ustad Bahauddin Khan, Ustad Iftikhar Nizami (Subhan Ahmed Nizami's grandfather) who also presented weekly programs on Radio Pakistan on Allama Iqbal, Pakistan’s national poet. They were all cousins.

Then the families grew and reached almost 50 members .Not being able to perform as a single group ,each ustad formed his own group along with his children .Thus 4 distinct groups came into being , each one with it's specify ,adding to the wealth of this school's heritage (qawwal bache Delhi gharana).

Ustad Iftikhar Ahmed was the eldest among his cousins and perhaps the most versatile and the most talented. In Radio Pakistan ,where he held concerts from time to time ,his presence was always considered to be an event .People would free themselves or would not accept any engagement to be sure to participate .Unfortunately he passed away in early seventies, leaving a vacuum.

His son Ustad Afaq Ahmed Nizami, was the librarian of the family. Extremely reserved, with a thorough knowledge of his art, very conscientious ,he was a specialist of farci kalams , had a very good command over classical music , a wide repertoire of ancient texts ,some as old as 800 years and a large collection of Hazrat Amir Khusro's Kalams (poetry).His audience was very selective ,never liked recording programs and minutely chose the mehfils(gatherings)This is why it is almost impossible to find his cd's in the market .

Ustad Afaq Ahmed Nizami disappeared prematurely in 1999 .His son Subhan Ahmed Nizami was not even 18 at that time . Shocked after the passing away of his dear father but determined to continue his task, he decided to form his own group, under the name: Subhan Ahmed Nizami and brothers. The party included the elder brother, Bilal Ahmed Nizami, who was 22 years old, and Hilal Ahmed Nizami hardly 13 years old at time.

Through hard work and tremendous talent this young group managed to establish itself as full fledged qawwali group, among the most prominent in Karachi, who could compete with their elders and judged at the same level, and even sometimes better as far as energy, dynamic, and knowledge of classical music and texts is concerned .In their own field they were second to none.

All this hard work brought them to limelight. In Karachi they were invited to Radio and television programs in which they always performed with great sincerity. This led them towards recognition and in march 2011 ,when UNESCO ,PARIS declared Nauroze ( first day of spring and persian new year ) as a universal day of celebration ,Pakistan which participated for the first time to these festivities decided to invite in conformity with spring Young and dynamic Subhan Ahmed Nizami's qawwali group to represent it .

That was Subhan's first exposure in Europe. In this same trip Pakistan Embassy held a private concert in which many diplomats, dignitaries’ journalists and people belonging to different cultural fields were invited. Subhan was immediately noticed and invited by the biggest concert hall in France, Theater de la Ville, which held a Pakistan week end on 8th and 9th October 2011.

There were 1600 seats, but so many people turned up that there was no place on the steps, floor, and galleries. And many many people were turned off as they could not be adjusted nowhere for security reasons. The organizers said they had sold 2300 seats.

They were also invited by several French festivals like Orleans, Dijon, many private concerts mainly the one held at a Professor of Sorbonne University's house, or at the music school of Martina Catella, right in the heart of Paris, in front of students, real connoisseurs of music. Everywhere they won applause for their seriousness, and knowledge.

It is difficult for me to describe the musical qualities of Subhan Nizami not being a musician myself, but from what I heard from my friend Martina Catella, musicologue highly respected in the world of music, I can just repeat her remarks. She says that Subhan, besides the fact that he is extremely gifted, is a very hard worker and a perfectionist. It is hard to detect false notes in his music, each item is well presented and he does not take anything lightly .He has the qualities of a good composer.

As far as his voice qualities are concerned, it is deep, powerful and yet soft and melodious, warm with a touch of nostalgia inherited from his native Sindh, which is very attractive and gives him this unique identity.

For Subhan 's qawwali ,we can say that he sticks to his school, believes in authenticity and does not bargain on the quality .He represents the classical school of qawwal bache dehli gharana and wants to abide by it in remaining a deserving member . Although the temptation was also offered to him to choose an easy path by singing for bolly wood style films but he has always resisted upto now true and sincere to his commitment to his 750 years old music dynasty, therefore you will not find musical gymnastic in his compositions.

They adhere to classical school in which everything is beautiful . The texts are marvelous where each word is carefully selected . the poetry is soothing and full of melody and holds a great importance .The music is used to cover the words in order to make them even more attractive.

We wish this young artist all the success in the world and the courage to follow his forefathers' path.

Bari kathin hai dagar panghat ki
Kaise mein bhar laaoon madhva se matki
Translation : The way to the well is so full of hurdles
                  How can I fill my pitcher with nectar

For your information Subhan Ahmed Nizami has been invited by Festival de l'aborigène to be held near Poitiers France in July. If you wish to invite him , please contact:

Pierre Alain Baud
E mail :

Saida Haider


Style de Qawwali des Qawwals Bacha Dehli Gharana

Etant donné que les qawwals Bache Dehli Gharana ont été pendant des siècles attachés aux Cours princières et impériales de l'empire des Indes ,leur style musical est assez différent des styles populaires et folkloriques " Do Abba" (entre deux fleuves ) de la riche province du Penjab où il y avait plus de liberté de présentation L'école du Penjab est beaucoup plus récente (elle date d'à peine 300 ,350 ans en comptant large )Elle est destinée à un public plus varié,plus large, moins intellectuel ,moins sophistiqué


         Subhan Ahmed Nizami avec l'auteur à Paris

Le Penjab était depuis la nuit des temps connu pour son exubérence,sa joie de vivre ,ses couleurs . Ces reflets se font sentir dans sa musique qui est bruyante, démesurée . Le qawwali adapté à cette terre a produit des génies comme Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan qui résume à lui tout seul la chaleur dégagée par cette terre fertile et accueillante où tout respire la joie

En ce qui concerne les Qawwals Bache Dehli Gharana de Karachi , nous avons en face de nous toute une institution ,bien structurée,bien encadrée ,comprenant des règles,une discipline très stricte . Il s'agit de la première école de musique hindoustanie fondée à Delhi (Inde)en 1276 ( alors que le continent européen menait les croisades--- pour situer un peu Saint Louis venait de perdre la vie à Tunis en 1270 ----)

Le fondateur est un homme de génie : Hazrat Amir Khusro ( 1253 - 1325 ) . Beaucoup d'encre a été répandue pour faire l'éloge de cet homme exceptionnel et il reste encore tant à écrire ! Hazrat Amir Khusro appartenait à une famille noble d'origine turque ,dont le père se serait installé en Inde avant la naissance de celui-ci Amir Khusro maîtrisait la langue turque apprise au sein de sa famille ,ainsi que le persan et l'arabe . En Inde il apprit le sanscrit ,hindi ,braj (parlé par les populations autour de Dehli ) et plusieurs dialectes populaire Amir Khusro fut un soldat dans l'armée des sultans .Il fut même blessé au combat . Durant sa vie il connût et servit 7 rois . Il fût courtisan à leur Cours Il avait des dons pour les mathématiques et autres disciplines scientifiques Mais il est surtout connu pour ses dons en musique et il révolutionna la musique hindoustanie . On dit qu'il inventa le sitar et introduisit la gamme de musique basée sur 7 notes empruntée à la musique arabe (Référence qawwals bache dehli gharana ) L'aspect qui nous intéresse le plus est son attachement à Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia ,un Saint Soufi de Delhi, dont Hazrat Amir Khusro devint le disciple et fervent admirateur et c'est sous les conseils de son Maître qu'il fonda l'école de musique : qawwal bache dehli gharana

L'Inde était une terre amie,une terre d'accueil ,une patrie pour tous ceux qui étaient à la recherche d'une patrie .Au cours de sa longue histoire ancienne ( jusqu'à l'arrivée des anglais) ce pays n'était jamais sorti de ses frontières pour attaquer ou envahir un pays .C'était un havre de paix et attirait beaucoup d'étrangers de tous genres :aventuriers,hordes,tribus

Après l'arrivée de l'Islam ,la Mésopotamie ,le Moyen Orient actuel ,les pays nouvellement convertis à l'Islam étaient en pleine ébullition . Nombreux Saints Soufis, missionnaires ,peuples affectés par les luttes de pouvoir guerriers,voyageurs prirent la route des épices, franchirent le col de Khyber ,ou du Bolan et s'établirent sur cette terre hospitalière.

En Inde où les musulmans s'étaient installés ,la musique occupait une grande place dans la vie des habitants . Il y avait également une grande ferveur religieuse . On chantait des Bhajans ou chants religieux dans les temples hindous

Les Saints Musulmans ,étant de culture arabo persane,ne maîtrisaient pas encore les langues locales. Par ailleurs ils souhaitaient faire comprendre à la population qu'ils ne venaient pas en conquérants mais en tant qu'amis avec un message de paix et de fraternité.Le dialogue étant quasiment impossible dans de tels contextes ,ne maniant pas la langue les Saints soufis trouvèrent ce système ingénieux : ils se réunissaient tous les jeudis soirs dans des sanctuaires présidés par des Maîtres ,ouverts à tous et sur le modèle des bhajans hindous ,chantaient des louanges à Dieu ,des éloges du Prophète Mohammed et de Sa Famille ,en même temps il y avait des poèmes sur les grands thèmes soufis : l'amour divin ,( Ishq )la séparation d"avec le Bien -Aimé (Firaq) la réunion avec le Créateur (Wisal)

Ceci était beaucoup plus attractif et plus abordable pour la population locale car même si elle ne comprenait pas les paroles en arabe ,persan,turc mélangé au hindi ,braj ,la musique était si captivante qu'elle pénétrait le coeur des gens et les touchait au plus profond d'eux -mêmes . Beaucoup plus efficace que les discours ,cette musique a donné naissance à une culture unique ,basée sur l'amour et le respect du prochain ,la culture Soufie de l'Inde ou Ganga Jamuni (les 2 importants fleuves de l'Inde : le Gange et la Yamuna allusion à l'amour et la fraternité entre hindous et musulmans )

Cette musique est le QAWWALI venant d'un mot arabe QAUL ou parole ,allusion au premier chant qawwali interprétant une parole du prophète Mohammad ,désignant son gendre ,Imam Ali comme successeur : MAn Kunto Maula ,Fa Haza Aliyunn Maula traduction : Celui pour qui je suis le Maître,Ali ici présent en est aussi le Maître C'est le Crédo Soufi et toute séance ou Mehfil de qawwali commence par ce chant

Ce Qaul ou parole prononcée par le Prophète Mohammad a éte expliquée et élaborée ,mise en musique par Hazrat Amir Khusro

Cette parenthèse était nécessaire pour expliquer l'existence de cette école .Maintenant revenons à cette fameuse école et à ses élèves

Ce serait en 1276 ,sur une demande de Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia que son disciple (mureed ) Hazrat Amir Khusro forma 12 enfants ,choisis au hasard , à l'art du qawwali ,que l'on appela les qawwal bache dehli gharana ou enfants du qawwali . Les 12 enfants étaient chacuns âgés de 12 ans
Parmi les 12 enfants qawwals formés par Hazrat Amir Khusro ,un seul Mian Samaath a encore une descendance et c'est la lignée des qawwals Bache dehli gharana avec les 4 familles que nous avions déjà mentionnées auparavant .La famille de Mairaj Nizami est restée en Inde .Ustad Mairaj Nizami âgé aujourd'hui de plus de 80 ans est le neveu de Ustad Manzoor Niazi ( 90 ans vivant à Karachi )

Les 11 autres qawwals Bache formés par Hazrat Amir Khusro n'auraient pas laissé de descendants car les dernières traces remontent jusqu'au 18 e siècle .Les qawwals bache de Karachi pensent que si les autres enfants ont laissé une descendance ils ont sans doute changé de profession .En tout cas plus aucune mention n'est faite à leur sujet depuis le 18è siècle


A Certificate of Appreciation


Courtesy: Saida Haider