It’s all about the spirit: Traditional Sufi Qawwali music returns to Nevada City |

It’s all about the spirit: Traditional Sufi Qawwali music returns to Nevada City

Fanna-Fi-Allah bring their joyous Qawwali music to the Miners Foundry in downtown Nevada City presented by Paul Emery on Friday, July 21.
Submitted photo |


WHAT: Paul Emery Presents “Fanna-Fi-Allah”

WHEN: Friday, July 21, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Miners Foundry, Nevada City

TICKETS: $25 general admission

Fanna-Fi-Allah returns with Sufi Qawwali music in Nevada City on Friday, July 21 at 8 p.m., at the Miners Foundry.

Coming from their annual Bay Area show, stopping in Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and a “raging show” at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, the seven member band of Fanna-Fi-Allah is no stranger to touring.

Besides their five-month American tour, the band that finds home base in Nevada City half the year easily divides time visiting eight other countries performing 80 concerts on nearly every continent, spreading a 1,000 year old message of divine love and tolerance, crucial to the times.

Producer Paul Emery will present, for the fourth consecutive year, a dance concert by Fanna-Fi-Allah at the Miner’s Foundry in downtown Nevada City.

“They have totally embraced the spiritual culture of the music they play. Their concerts always pack the house. Their inspiration is infectious and inspiring even to those who don’t understand the history and tradition of the music. The closest thing to it that I can relate to is a Gospel Music concert. It’s all about the spirit,” said Emery.

Fanna-Fi-Allah keep the flame of traditional Sufi Qawwali music burning with the blessings of their teachers; some of the greatest masters of the qawwali form in India and Pakistan. Sung with a powerful soaring chorus and accompanied by the energetic rhythms of tabla and group clapping, the “Beloved” is celebrated with ecstatic devotion.

It began 20 years ago, as a spiritual search in India among adolescents from Canada and the U.S. that would later become band mates. They studied Sufism, poetry and classical Indian music.

“We were very drawn into it,” said bandleader Tahir Hussain Faridi Qawwal.

The band was started 17 years ago. Qawwal (lead vocal, harmonium) is joined by Amina Chishty (tabla), Laali Qalandar (vocal and clapping), Jahangir Baba (vocal and harmonium), Salim Chishty (vocal, clapping), Abrar Hussain (vocal, clapping) and Ali Shan (vocal, clapping).

Aminah Chishti Qawwal is a student of the great Ustad Dildar Hussain Khan, and has changed the boundaries of women in Pakistan by performing at the shrines of Pakistan’s greatest sufi saints where women haven’t traditionally been allowed to play.

“It’s not so much an ideal. It’s something we love on so many levels,” said Qawwal, who lives in Nevada City with his wife and daughter during the summer months where he teaches several hundred music students vocal music and harmonium within the traditional raaga system.

“They are excited about our annual show,” Qawwal said.

Besides a sentimental following from the peoples of India and Pakistan who find a deep spiritual connection to the music, Fanna-Fi-Allah attracts a diverse group of listeners around the world — from the yoga community, to festival-goers and world music lovers.

They have enthralled audiences in the U.S., Canada, Pakistan, Europe, Indonesia, India, Egypt and more. This spring, the band visited the U.K., Morocco and Paris. They have produced 10 albums and have been blessed to play qawwali in its traditional setting at the sacred shrines of a number of sufi saints in Pakistan and India.

“The connection to that part of the world is something we feel very passionate about … we’re passionate about making that bridge,” Qawwal said.

Recently playing on a city street in a big square while on tour in North Africa, tourists and locals reacted to the upbeat, passionate music that goes beyond words. The music is full of creativity, improvisation and virtuosity.

“There is a primal element to it,” said Qawwal.

The Nevada City concert will include screenings of the band’s new documentary, “Music of the Mystics” and feature traditional poetry spanning a 1,000 years from Rumi and others — focusing on themes such as non-duality of God, the love and the beloved, a place where there is no right or wrong.

“On many levels its like rebel music. It’s hard to define in a tangible way. It’s meant to transcend words, quite clearly,” Qawwal said.

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