by ASJAD NAZIR
THE qawwali musical genre continues to power on more than 700 years after it was founded with exciting acts lighting up the live arena around the world, and the best of these are parts of long-running musical lineages that stretch back centuries.
Hamza Akram Qawwal & Brothers represent a 26th generation of Sufi artists and can trace their roots back to the very beginning.
The award-winning Pakistan-based ensemble is keeping the Sufi music tradition alive globally with live performances and by composing for films.
Eastern Eye caught up with Hamza Akram to find out more.
What was it that first connected you to music?
The connection I share with music is because of my family. I have witnessed classical music and qawwali from close up, so it is in my blood.
Who were your musical heroes growing up?
My grandfather (Munshi Raziuddin) is my real hero, but apart from that Ustad Fareed Ayaz Sahab has taught me a lot. There are so many others names, including legendary qawwals such as Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and among international favourites there are AR Rahman and Yanni. Whenever I work for a film, I try to take inspiration from them.
How do you look back on your musical journey?
I have struggled a lot throughout my musical journey because my voice wasn’t good. I worked a lot on my voice. My brothers and I have finally reached here, working at an international level. But there is still a long way to go.
What has been the highlight of your musical career?
The main highlights have been my international collaborations. Foreigners like my work a lot and whenever they want someone from Pakistan, they prefer us.
How much does it mean to you to perform live?
For me, performing live is the best. Nothing can beat the satisfaction of performing in front of a live audience – no matter how big or small – the feeling doesn’t compare to anything else.
What has been your most memorable performance?
The most memorable performances are for the audience who have listened to my forefathers. I recently did the World Trance Festival and met someone who had promoted Robert Browning and had worked with my forefathers. It’s memorable when they listen to you and appreciate your work. It’s the best feeling ever.
How do you generate so much power in your voice?
My teachers have taught me so much! The power that you listen to in my voice is something I owe to them. My voice was really bad, but they worked on me. Sometimes, people say that my voice resembles Fareed Ayaz Sahab.
What are your future plans?
A lot of international tours are already lined up. I am going to America soon and my dates are already booked until April. The University of California invited me for a big event in the presence of select people on April 16. I aspire to work hard and hopefully win some awards.
What are your future hopes for qawwali?
I have a lot of hopes for qawwali. People used to prefer bands more, but now people are into qawwali too in Pakistan. Qawwali gets so much love from international singers. Many listeners prefer pop music, but now people prefer qawwali as well.
What is your own favourite qawwali of all time?
My all-time favourite is Man Kunto Maula because it’s the backbone of qawwali. There’s also poetry by Ameer Khusro and Maulana Rumi I love to sing as qawwali.
What inspires you as an artist?
I get inspired by everything beautiful, especially my family. I used to experiment with qawwali with jazz and house music. I also did qawwali with DJ Damian Lazarus.
Why do you love music?
I have loved music ever since I was a child because it’s in my blood. I am representing the 26th generation of my family, and it has been 800 years. I am into spiritual music, and my connection with music is pretty strong.