Esplanade Presents


Mehfil-e-Qawwali: Songs from a Sufi Shrine

The Qutbi Brothers (India)

30 Apr 2023, Sun, 8.30pm

1 May 2023, Mon, 8.30pm

1hr (30 Apr)

45mins (1 May)

(Intermission: None)

Esplanade Concert Hall, DBS Foundation Outdoor Theatre at Esplanade

This event is over.


Qawwali is a Sufi expression of devotion, known as “path of the heart”. Qawwali’s present form can be traced back to 13th century India, when musician, politician and Sufi poet from the Chisti order in Delhi, Amir Khusru, wrote songs that combined elements from Persian, Turkish and Indian music to create qawwali’s signature, exciting sound. From hallowed shrines to bustling Bollywood, qawwali music and lyrics—it is Sufi poetry that is sung—have permeated the mainstream.


In this concert, one of India’s most celebrated qawwali singers The Qutbi Brothers presents a rousing performance of this ancient devotional form, in multiple languages including Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, Farsi and Arabic. With a lineage of over 800 years in the Sufi tradition passed on from the great mystics and saints, the award-winning The Qutbi Brothers are renowned for their distinct singing style and modern qawwalis. They are regular singers at the dargah (mausoleum or Sufi shrine) of Hazrat Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, a Sufi saint and scholar who is regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of Sufism.


About Sufism and qawwali

Sufism was born in 8th century Persia as a mystical expression of early Islam. Its adherents believed that love was a projection of the essence of God to the universe, and they sought to free the religious experience by focusing on man’s innate potential to experience this divine love personally and intuitively. For this reason, Sufi music and dance do more than express Sufi beliefs. They are themselves ways to experience truth and divine love personally. So instead of being something people perform or watch, Sufi music and dance are communal experiences that the audience participates in as fully as the musicians do. 


One such form of Sufi music is qawwali. Its origins are debatable but over the centuries, it travelled with the migration of Sufi mystics to take root in Pakistan and north India. Qawwali has since thrived and is sung regularly in a religious context at the shrines of Sufi saints.


A typical qawwali performance is an interactive, fully engaging experience for both audience and musician, and may be described in this way:  


A qawwal, which is an ensemble of qawwali performers—lead singers, chorus singers, drummers, harmonium players—sits on the floor at the Sufi shrine. The qawwali begins with a line of melody, the singing of a poetic couplet. The qawwal assesses the audience for response. Building on the introduction, the qawwal launches into the main body of the qawwali, introducing rhythm at a moderate tempo. Slowly, the rhythm quickens and the vocals, handclapping and instrumentation intensify. The qawwal observes the audience, sensitive to any response. Here and here, they see faces glowing with rapture. A line gets members of the audience on their feet in dance and the qawwal repeats it with new vigour, varying and improvising with virtuosity, until the audience and they themselves are lifted to joyous heights.


The qawwali repertoire: Sufi poetry

Poems of ancient Sufi mystics still make up the bulk of the qawwali repertoire and are sung in Urdu, Hindi, Farsi and Arabic. Today, they are not only associated with religious occasions, but have become a part of mainstream music. Qawwali is widely recorded, performed and loved as musical entertainment in Pakistani film and in Bollywood soundtracks—its traditional poetic lyrics of devotional, spiritual love re-interpreted as lyrics of secular love, and its mystic imagery used for dramatic effect. Nonetheless, the core of its practice still belongs at the shrines of Sufi saints, as a means to connect to the divine. Its rich store of philosophy, poetry and music continue to touch people who encounter it. 

Admission Age:

10 and above (30 Apr)

All ages (1 May)

Language: Hindi, Urdu
Things to Note:
Accessibility Advisory: We provide a range of access services and relaxed performances for patrons with access needs. For wheelchair-accessible seats, please call Esplanade Customer Experience at 6828 8377 for assistance. Concessions for Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) and up to one accompanying companion are available. | View our accessibility guide
Artist Information

The Qutbi Brothers

The Qutbi Brothers are one of the India’s most celebrated qawwali singers. Headed by Haji Mohammad Idris and Arshad Qutbi who started their musical journey at an early age, they have inherited over 800 years of Sufi tradition from important mystics and Sufi saints such as Baba Farid, Amir Khusrau, Meerabai, Rumi, Bulleh Shah, Kabir, among others. The Qutbi Brothers are regular singers at the dargah (mausoleum or Sufi shrine) in Mehrauli, Delhi, of Hazrat Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, a Sufi saint and scholar who is regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of Sufism. The award-winning ensemble has also performed extensively in India and internationally, in France, Maldives, South Africa, Tanzania, UAE and UK.

Date & Time

30 Apr 2023, Sun


Esplanade Concert Hall

1 May 2023, Mon


DBS Foundation Outdoor Theatre at Esplanade

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