Qawwali Music from Pakistan: Sufi Devotional Music by Mehr and Sher Ali

Pakistani Qawwali singers Mehr and Sher Ali. Photo: Courtesy of World Music Institute.

April 28 - 29, 8:00 - 9:30 p.m.
Imin Center-Jefferson Hall
East-West Center

“Soaring…vibrant…music fueled by its own jubilation” - NY Times

Strong male voices, lively percussion and explosive hand-clapping – along with lyrics based on mystical poetry by Sufi masters – characterize the devotional music known as Qawwali, which was made famous in the Western world by the late master Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Now, brothers Mehr and Sher Ali, leaders of one of Pakistan’s most popular Qawwali ensembles, bring their dynamic group to Hawaii for the first time. This extraordinary ensemble, which acknowledges Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s musical lineage as its “teacher house,” is known for strong rhythms and soaring vocals that strike the heart. (Read a more extensive bio and view a video clip of the ensemble at: )

With lyrics based on classical poetry emphasizing such mystical topics as divine love, the joy of union and the sorrow of separation, the brothers believe that Qawwali goes beyond the limitations of orthodox religion to convey a spiritual message of love and unity for all. "We sometimes go into a trance during our performance, so moved are we by the text and music," says Mehr Ali.

The ensemble will give two evening concerts at the East-West Center’s Imin Center-Jefferson Hall, opposite UHM’s Kennedy Theatre: Mon., April 28 and Tues. April 29, 8:00-9:30 p.m. (Note: They will also be performing at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on April 30.)

The cost for the East-West Center concerts is $15 general admission; $12 for students, seniors and military. Tickets are available at UHM Campus Center Box Office, or at, telephone: 550-8457.

For more information, call 944-7584, email , or visit .

About Qawwali
Derived from the Arabic word qaul, meaning "belief" or "credo," Qawwali is Sufi devotional music used to attain trance and mystical experience. Originating in the 10th century and blossoming into its present form from the 13th century onwards, it emphasizes poetic texts that usually deal with topics of divine love ('ishq), the sorrow of separation ( hijr, firaq) and mystic union ( visal) .

Qawwali blends Iranian and Central Asian poetic, philosophical and musical elements into a North Indian base, combining popular music with classical traditions. Following the same pattern of combination and blending, the texts cover Arabic and Persian, but the main text body is usually in a simple idiom form of Indian languages: Urdu, Hindi, Purbi and Punjabi.

About Mehr and Sher Ali
Mehr and Sher Ali were born in the Pakistani border town of Kasur in the early 1950s and received their early training in classical music from their father, who was a court classical singer at the small Sikh principality of Patiala (now in India). Their father then became the disciple of Fateh Ali Khan, the father of the famous Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and young Sher Ali was the student of Bakhshi Salamat Ali Qawwal.

Mehr and Sher Ali thus acknowledge that the family of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is their "ustad gharana" or "teacher house,” a term imbued with veneration among musician circles in Pakistan and North India. Mehr Ali was taught by Muhammad Ali Fareedi, an ordained Sufi qawwal at the shrine of the 13th-century Sufi, Baba Farid.

The brothers believe that their Qawwali is a universal invitation to all living beings to share in the feelings of the powerful emotion of pure love, the pain of separation and the joy of union.

Media Contact:
Derek Ferrar
Media Relations Specialist
Phone: (808) 944-7204


The East-West Center is an education and research organization established by the U.S. Congress in 1960 to strengthen relations and understanding among the peoples and nations of Asia, the Pacific, and the United States. The Center contributes to a peaceful, prosperous, and just Asia Pacific community by serving as a vigorous hub for cooperative research, education, and dialogue on critical issues of common concern to the Asia Pacific region and the United States. Funding for the Center comes from the U.S. government, with additional support provided by private agencies, individuals, foundations, corporations, and the governments of the region.

For 25 years the EWC Arts Program has enriched the community through concerts, lectures, symposia, and exhibitions focusing on traditional arts of the region, and by arranged cultural and educational tours by artists who are skilled in bridging cultures.