Two of the worlds leading exponents of an ancient musical tradition will perform Friday in Bloomington.
The form, known as Qawwali, has roots stretching back to 13th century India. It blends the poetry of the Sufi mystics with music to create songs about divine love.
Fareed Ayaz says when he sings Qawwali he is transformed. "And at that time, I myself feel that I am flying in the skies," he said.
With his brother he leads the Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad Ensemble. They sing songs that praise God and, he says, convey the real message of life. He says Qawwali makes him live as a better man.
Qawwali songs begin gently, and then build. The music is augmented by clapping, and then finally voices.
Yusuf Wazirzada, one of the Twin Cities organizers of this week's concert, explained that Qawwali is devotional spiritual music. The words are taken from poems written centuries ago by early Islamic mystics, Sufis such as Rumi.
"And most of the content of poetry has to do with love for the divine and a message of tolerance and compassion," he said.
"Kangna," one of the best-known Qawwali songs by the ensemble, appears on the surface to concern a bracelet given in love to someone who seems to be untrue. However, Wazirzada says Qawwali can work on different levels.
"In a lot of these compositions and poems you may assume that the beloved is another person, but it is always the divine," he said. "And also, there is often mention of drinking wine and that also is the wine of love, because that intoxicates you and gets you to a state which is above your normal consciousness."
While Qawwali follows a form, it is not strict. In fact, Wazirzada said, many performances are improvised.
"And they will take you from the beginning to the end of a certain poem," he said. "But while they are doing that they will take that scenic route and bring to you other great pieces of poetry as well."
A Qawwali song can easily spin out for 15 or 20 minutes, sometimes longer, ebbing and flowing through ancient words as the musicians seek the divine.
Wazirzada said Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad can trace their Qawwali lineage back 800 years. The music has been passed down through their family for generations.
"They are at the top of their game," he said. "If I were to look around the world, I wouldn't put anybody above them in this particular genre."
Wazirzada is excited about Friday evening's concert at the Bloomington Arts Center. Yet he and his fellow organizers have a longer-term aim. He says there have been many negative stories about Muslims in the media in recent years, drawing a wrong picture of Islam.
"So we are in our very little and humble way trying to balance the scale, and trying to showcase a message of universality, love and compassion," he said. He hopes the concert is just the first of a series of events.
For his part, Fareed Ayaz is pleased to be playing for U.S. audiences. He hopes they enjoy the music, but for him, spreading the message is what's important. He said it's more than just a job.
"Qawwali basically is not a profession, but Qawwali is a duty," he said. It's a duty that brings him across the world to Minnesota.