[ kuh-wah-lee ]
/ kəˈwɑ li /
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a style of Sufi devotional music marked by rhythmic improvisatory repetition of a short phrase, intended to rouse participants to a state of mystical ecstasy.
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Origin of qawwali

From Arabic, literally, utterance

Words nearby qawwali

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What is qawwali?

Qawwali is a style of devotional music associated with Sufism. It involves repeating a short phrase, meant to put the participants in a mystical, ecastic frame of mind.

Qawwali is traditionally part of a religious gathering called a mehfil-e samā. These gatherings often take place at shrines to saints on the saints’ death anniversaries, though smaller ones can take place at other times. The singers, called qawwals, sit on the ground, singing poetry to the accompaniment of clapping, drums, and a harmonium. Qawwals also sing the name of Allah and improvise using traditional syllables assigned to particular pitches. During this improvisational section, the lead singer calls and responds to the audience, which helps build the ecstasy that qawwali is intended to invoke.

Qawwali isn’t just a musical experience—it’s also a spiritual one. However, qawwali now has a growing commercial presence in pop music. Some people believe that popular qawwali is not quite the same as the more traditional spiritual experience of qawwali in religious ceremonies.

Why is qawwali important?

The first records of the term qawwali come from around the 1930s .It comes from the Urdu word qawwālī, used to describe something related to a qawwal.

Indian composer and poet Amīr Khosrow (1253–1325) is generally acknowledged as the creator of qawwali, and his works are important to the qawwali tradition. Additionally, many Persian poets contributed to the stock of qawwali songs.

Did you know ... ?

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan not only brought qawwali to a broader audience, he produced a lot of music. He left behind hundreds of recordings, including film soundtracks by directors Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, and Tim Robbins and collaborations with other artists, like Peter Gabriel, Michael Brook, and Eddie Vedder.

What are real-life examples of qawwali?

If you’re curious about what qawwali sounds like, check out this video of a popular song in the style.




What other words are related to qawwali?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

Drums and harmoniums are often associated with qawwali music.

British Dictionary definitions for qawwali

/ (kəˈvɑːlɪ) /

an Islamic religious song, esp in Asia
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012