‘It’s a spiritual experience’: the whirlwind rise of Orchestral Qawwali Project
Their take on a 700-year-old song went viral during lockdown, they’ve sold out the Southbank Centre and collaborated with Nitin Sawhney. Duo Abi Sampa and Rushil Ranjan discuss how they’re giving ancient sacred music a new lease of life
“Sa, re, sa!” The ethereal voice of Abi Sampa sounds like thunder, as she sings the unmistakable ragas from Dam Mast Qalandar, a Sufi Islamic song known as a qawwali. A piano, a Celtic violin solo, the sigh of a harmonium and the soaring bows of an orchestra reverberate with the gravitas of a Hans Zimmer score. This qawwali was written by the 18th-century Sufi mystic and poet, Bulleh Shah, and later immortalised by the legendary Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Now it has a new lease of life.
Sampa, 37, and Rushil Ranjan, 28, are the electric duo Orchestral Qawwali Project, whose debut album is a confluence of ancient qawwali from the Chishti tradition, and modern European orchestral arrangements. The duo first gained prominence in early 2020 with their debut qawwali, Man Kunto Maula. Their take on this 700-year-old song exploded on YouTube during lockdown two months after its release, gaining over 4m views.