Sufi music is a genre based on Sufism and sometimes inspired by Sufi poets. This genre is generally meant as an expression of devotion to God, but it also can be a way to enhance the connection between the physical and spiritual aspects of the listener or performer. Many Sufi orders perform this style of music in a variety of sub-genres during special ceremonies. Other orders feel that this music should be prohibited, however, as it is thought to be a distraction from prayer.
One of the better known sub-genres of Sufi music is called qawwali, which has its roots in India and Pakistan. Traditionally, this style consists of four distinct sections: hamd, naat, and manqabat, which are all devotional songs, and ghazals, which are usually expressions of the longing to be close to the divine. The popularity of qawwali is due in part to its aesthetic appeal. Many musicians that perform this type of Sufi music focus on vocal strength and purity, and may occasionally skip over the devotional material, going straight into the ghazal songs.
Another popular sub-genre is known as kafi. This style is considered classical, and is generally culled from the poetic verses of well-known writers. Though kafi is similar to qawwali in the fervor of its delivery, the two forms differ in execution. While qawwali may be made up of a larger ensemble, kafi music usually consists of a few percussion instruments, a keyboard, and a single vocalist.
Although Sufi music is sometimes performed in public for the enjoyment of those who pass by, it is often reserved for important ceremonies. One of the better known of these ceremonies is called Sama, which is frequently associated with the whirling dervish, or Mevlevi, order. Singing and music are an important component of the Sama ceremony, but it may also include music made with flutes, tambourines, and bells.
Despite the fact that most Sufi devotional music is set in a classical style, some artists have developed a more modern approach. During the early 1990s, the term "Sufi rock" was invented by a controversial Pakistani journalist, Nadeem F. Paracha. This particular style generally blends rock music with traditional rhythms, as well as the poetry of well-known Sufi writers. Though many of the artists who create Sufi rock sing in languages such as Punjabi, Turkish, or Urdu, others may also translate their lyrics into English.