Some of the most beautiful devotional music is Qawwali music from the Sufi tradition. In the 70’s, at the college I attended, California State University at Sonoma, there was a lot of opportunity to do Sufi singing and dancing. The Qawwali singers possessed some of the most beautiful, resonant voices I had ever heard. Being in the opera department at Sonoma State, I noticed some similar ways in which the Qawwali singers used the inside of their mouths to create a greater resonance than one would normally produce with a more speech-like mouth posture. Qawwali singers sing with the soft palate very lifted and the deep internal mouth cavity (pharynx) wide, much like opera singers.
How does one do this? To feel the lift of the soft palate that closes off the back of the opening into the sinus cavity, imagine you have a rose and smell it, you will feel the palate go up. Say hummm. To add an even wider space alongside the palate you can use the following exercise: pretend you are going to sneeze, and just before the sneeze, the whole roof of the mouth will lift and the mouth cavity will widen. Say Ahhhh. Another useful exercise is to begin to yawn, stop before you feel the full distension of the back of the throat, and say Ahhhh. We call this a half yawn. A full yawn over stretches the back of the throat and the voice can get stuck and sound muffled, so don’t go for an extreme backward stretch of the throat. It is more important to open the mouth cavity upward and and slightly sideways.
Instead of thinking you are singing in a conventional way, sound an Ahhhh like a “singing call” to God. Let it be primal and come from deep in your core. The tendency for most of us to increase volume is to try to throw the voice out of the body. Actually, trying to throw the voice can cause the throat cavity to constrict. Instead, to gain volume and energy for the voice, it is not sent outside the body, but instead, as you sing higher and louder, imagine you can inhale the sound and actually feel as if you are yawning it up into the roof of the mouth. The sound will feel as if it rests cheek level, or besides your ears in your head. Open your mouth as you get higher.
Make sure you are engaging your abdominal support muscles to keep the voice energized and up against the roof of the mouth.
From the Bhakti Yoga Shala Website:
Qawwali is the most explosive Sufi devotion music of the Indian Subcontinent. It is of no surprise that of all world genres it is Qawwali that has gained an increasing amount of international appeal.
The Fanna-Fi-Allah Sufi Qawwali Ensemble is the leading representation of this music worldwide. Through their consistent high profile appearances in both Pakistan & abroad they have captured the hearts of thousands. The intensity of their stage performance with its smooth melodic overtures, fierce leaps of vocal passion ridding on heavy rhythmic grooves & rich vocal choruses have captivated audiences in Pakistan, India, North Africa, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, the USA and beyond….
To sing along with The Fanna-Fi-Allah Sufi Qawwali Ensemble go to:
Bhakti Yoga Shala (Arizona and Second St, Santa Monica, CA)
Fanna-Fi-Allah Sufi Qawwali Party
Saturday, August 24, 2013 at 8:30pm
I want to learn .
Very good article. I was looking for something detailed like this. I really like Qawalli music and that’s what got me interested into music and singing. I am now taking voice lessons from a professional voice coach who is also an Opera singer. I am learning how singing is about keeping your throat muscles relaxed and how it should feel very easy and relaxed.
Since I want to eventually be able to sing qawallis I want to ask you what you think about the way qawalls sing. How they can sing in such a high scale for such a long time. Is it all technique? It seems like it would take a lot out of a person and the voice would be strained. But my guess is they are using some technique that their voice doesn’t die singing that high for hours at times. How can I sing a qawalli without straining my voice keeping the quality, richness and freedom of voice that some of the qawalls do, for example, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and his team.
Qawalli singers are using the acoustics of the head for vocal power, much like opera singers do. Try singing a high note, lifting the palate as you would for opera, and and then using the same support, turn the sound into a call. You use more of the vocal cord muscles in a call. Don’t try to push the voice out of the body, let it resonate in the top of your mouth.
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