• Saturday, August 13, 2022

Arts and Culture

Brilliant qawwali brothers and their close British connection

Musical lineage: The Rizwan-Muazzam group

By: ASJAD NAZIR

WHY TOURING THE UK IS LIKE A HOMECOMING FOR RIZWAN MUAZZAM GROUP

When it comes to technique, performance, power and vocal delivery, the Rizwan-Muazzam group is one of the finest qawwali acts on the planet.

Led beautifully by brilliantly talented brothers Rizwan and Muazzam Ali Khan, they have delighted audiences around the world with explosive live performances and amazing albums.
That majestic musical mastery stems from being thrown into the deep at a young age, after their beloved father Mujahid Mubarak Ali Khan and legendary uncle Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan passed away within a year of one another in the mid-1990s.

“It was tough as we started very young and never had much time to have a childhood and had many sleepless nights practising. After our dearest father and uncle passed away, we had to struggle to establish ourselves musically,” explained Rizwan.

The young Pakistani prodigies did exactly that after announcing themselves on the global stage at the Womad festival in Reading in 1998. Both have regularly returned to the world-famous music festival and are looking forward to performing there this week.

“We can never forget our debut performance at Womad Festival. It was a great honour for us as teenagers to be provided such a professional stage to perform on. We remain very thankful to Peter Gabriel, and all of the Womad and Real World Records team, which helped us to be introduced to the western audience,” recalls Rizwan fondly.

They have since performed live all over the world and constantly connected cross-generational audiences to Sufi traditions rooted in more than 800 years of history.

That first festival performance started a long British bond for the brothers. “UK means a lot to us. It’s like a second home. This is the first country which granted us visas in our fresh passports as teenagers, when other countries were very reluctant to do so. It’s our debut country and we can never forget that,” said Muazzam.

The stunningly talented siblings enjoy returning to entertain UK audiences and worked hard to prepare for their 2022 UK tour, which includes back-to-back performances in London on July 30. “We always want to give our best to British audiences. They are very understanding of qawwali music and so appreciati­ve. We really enjoy performing here, and it is like a ho­m­e­coming for us,” said Muazzam.

Having sung together since they were children, the brothers have a lifelong bond, which has translated into electric musical chemistry on stage.

“The main thing that has kept us connected for so long is that we are brothers and committed to keeping up the generational reputation of our family. We realised early on that we are stronger together,” said Rizwan.

They are promising unforgettable shows in this year’s tour. Rizwan explained, “This time we will perform new and some very traditional qawwalis which are not sung before, plus requests of songs by our great uncle Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.”

They say the incredible power in their voice is God-given and something both just channel to generate an otherworldly energy. “Live performance means a lot to us. It has a great value to us, as it shows the real potential of the singer. We enjoy performing all qawwalis. It all depends on the day, mood, and audience,” said Muazzam.

The brothers explained that an audience is the secret to a good performance. When asked about their most memorable show, Muazzam said: “It was at the shrine in Lahore known as Data Sahib, where we performed. Usually, all qawwals are given no more than 15 minutes to perform, but we were given two hours. The performance was such that we were all crying along with the audience. It was such a transcending performance that even we did not realise how long we had sung, and it carried on till the early morning.”

Global success hasn’t made them complacent or slip into a comfort zone. Both brothers understand they have a responsibility to their audience and centuries old musical lineage.

“Qawwali is our life and in our blood, as our family has been performing qawwali for the last six centuries. Therefore, it means a lot to us. We will live and die with qawwali,” said Rizwan.

Muazzam explained why qawwali is timeless and still so powerful after so many centuries. He said: “Qawwali is so loved because it has spirituality, along with a message of peace and love. It unites people from all walks of life.”

Rizwan finishes off by inviting everyone to the UK shows. “Please come to the concerts, so you can experience the real qawwali tradition, which had a big gap after our great uncle Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s death. We are trying to keep our family and qawwali tradition alive, but also trying to unite people fr­om all walks of life through this music and convey the message of peace and love.”

The Rizwan Muazzam qawwal group will perform two shows at Kings Place, 90 York Way, London, N1 9AG, on July 30. They will also perform at Womad festival in Reading on July 29 and July 31. asianartsagency.co.uk

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