Sha E Mardan is a Qawwali music group whose members live in Sheffield and Bradford. Qawwali is a devotional music most popular in the Indian sub-continent.

Sha E Mardan have an auspicious musical lineage, with their lead singer and harmonium player, Mohamed Zubair, having accompanied the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the best known Qawwali musician to break through in to the world music scene. They have an auspicious spiritual lineage too. The late Sheikh Nazim, world renowned Sufi master, chose their name for them when they performed for him and his followers.

Sha E Mardan have performed several shows at Hagglers Corner over the course of the year and most recently at Regather Works. The shows have been drawing a crowd, largely from outside the Sufi community, bringing in music lovers and spiritual seekers from different communities. The crowds have been growing and there appears to be an emerging interest within the wider community in Sufi culture and Qawwali.

I met with Camran Munir from Sha E Mardan to discuss the relationships between Qawwali music and Sufi spirituality.

Does Qawwali music serve a spiritual purpose?

When we do the Qawwali, we are all in a way doing a spiritual practice, because what we’re doing is beseeching God or the power of the universe for our gathering and our singing to be blessed. When we are doing that, we use our voices, breath and our instruments and our connection to the audience to become almost a funnel for the energy to come down and to be distributed.

The states that people can go into can be quite interesting. In the Indian sub-continent, it’s absolutely common for people to develop trance-like states and have really powerful spiritual experiences. In the West, mentally we are a lot more subdued and uptight. We have so many vice clamps on our brain that it’s really difficult to break free from our minds in order to experience something more vast.

Have you had that experience of playing when the music has that effect on people?

Oh yeah, we’ve had it here. People don’t understand the language or poetry, but they just want to get up and dance. In Pakistan or India or Cashmere, sometimes people’s bodies become almost unable to process the spiritual energy they are receiving. Their bodies constantly shake. They are not epileptic, but they experience something similar to that.

It can happen anywhere. For example, we were travelling from Dover to Calais. We were practicing on the ferry, and all of a sudden all these people just gathered and people started dancing. The Romanians were dancing, the Slovaks were dancing. They were taken away with the music. They were really feeling it. They were attracted to it and they just went mad. Something touched them and they were able to just let go and enjoy the moment. So it can happen anywhere.

Sufism is often described as the path of love. Can you tell me about it?

Love is the ultimate vibration that the Sufis want to attain, because that is where you will find complete peace and serenity, and you will find complete connection with your originator, your creator and with everything else in existence. It’s not as easy as saying, ‘I love everything,’ because that has not been tested. Just to claim it is not enough. It’s actually attained through practice and through the realisation of what love is really about. It’s the unknown part of human existence which can only really be reached through God’s blessings.

To tap into that love ocean, you have to be guided to it. It’s like a hidden place in you and you have to be taken to it to really understand what it is. When you reach it, you become a different person. You realise who you really are, as a human being, when you reach that ocean of love. Ultimately, that’s where we are heading as Sufis.

Is music part of that?

Music is definitely something that helps you on the journey. It frees you of the mind’s clasp over you.

Ben Tenpenny