RIZWAN AND MUAZZAM TALK ABOUT THEIR QAWWALI JOURNEY, UPCOMING CONCERTS AND INSPIRATIONS

by ASJAD NAZIR

It may be more than 700 years old, but qawwali continues to be popular among audiences around the world and still has the power to build bridges between diverse cultures.
One of the leading exponents of the passion-filled music today is the highly acclaimed Rizwan Muazzam qawwali group, which has performed at prestigious venues around the world.

Led by the nephews of the late great legend Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, brothers Rizwan and Muazzam have become torchbearers for the centuries-old Sufi devotional music with their explosive singing style.

The dynamite duo commences another UK tour this month, which is managed and produced by Asian Arts Agency and is promising to deliver a unique repertoire of music.

Eastern Eye caught up with the Pakistan-based duo to talk about their musical journey, forthcoming concerts, inspirations and more.

Tell us, how do you look back on your musical journey?
Rizwan: Well, it has been very tough and challenging. We started our musical journey in the 1990s. We lost our beloved father in 1996 and then the following year we lost our dearest uncle Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, which meant there were no more teachers left in the family. So we had to struggle to establish ourselves musically.
Muazzam: It has also been a very rewarding journey where we have learned a lot and received so much appreciation from our audiences.

What has been your high moment, personally?
Muazzam: The highest moment has to be when we spent a whole night at the house of our uncle Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and he taught us our family singing techniques. We were awake all night as he had to go to the recording studio and took longer than expected. When he came back and saw us awake and waiting for him, he was really happy, took the lead and taught us our family music secrets.
Rizwan: We are blessed to have had a lot of high moments. But, yes, that time spent with our uncle was the highest moment because he taught us our family singing techniques. We cherish those moments with him.

What was it like performing together for the first time back in the 1990s as lead artists?
Muazzam: Honestly, it was a very tense situation because we had never performed in front of an audience before and also knew it was our responsibility to keep the family’s reputation.
Rizwan: Thankfully it went well and started our journey as live performers together.

Tell us, what has kept the bond between you two so strong?
Rizwan: First of all, we are brothers and we have been singing together since the very beginning. We started learning together and over time found our individual expertise, and strengths.
Muazzam: Together we are stronger and over time that bond has only grown.

What has been your most memorable performance as a group?
Rizwan: Thankfully, there have been many memorable performances and each has been a blessing.
Muazzam: If we have to choose one it would be when we performed for the first time at a Sufi shrine in Lahore called Data Sahib soon after we started in 1992. Normally, you don’t get a time slot to perform if you are not a mature or established qawwal, but by the grace of god, we were given time to perform and well appreciated. There were people who were saying to my father to go back home and that he will never get a time there with his inexperienced children. Then those very people got surprised and came to congratulate our father.
Rizwan: It was a matter of great pride for us.

You delivered so many amazing concerts in the UK, how much do you love performing here?
Rizwan: We really love performing in the UK and always have. The UK audiences are very understanding and appreciative about world music, and qawwali.
Muazzam: We have always received a great response from the UK audiences and have felt very connected to them.

How much are you looking forward to your latest UK tour?
Rizwan: We love returning to the UK and have so many wonderful memories.
Muazzam: As always, we are very much looking forward to coming for our latest UK tour and pleased that all venues are selling well, and some of them are already nearly sold out.
Rizwan: We really love the UK audiences a lot because they are genuine qawwali lovers and respond very well to an artist’s performance. This motivates an artist to give even more.
What can we expect from your UK tour?
Rizwan: We will be performing some very old, traditional qawwalis that have not been heard much by people along with some of our new work. We will also be performing qawwalis of our uncle Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, but presented in a new way with some interesting changes that I am sure audiences will love.

How much of your live performance is planned and how much is improvised on stage?
Rizwan: The qawwalis being performed are planned, but our performances on stage are not. So, although we know the qawwalis, our singing is mostly improvised.
Muazzam: That is the beauty of qawwali and why no two performances are ever the same.

What do you most like about being on stage?
Muazzam: Making the audience happy is the best.
Rizwan: Yes, the best part is when we get good appreciation for our work from the audience. Also, when we both brothers compete against each other is great. When we try to respond to each other musically in a style known as jugalbandi.

How are you both able to generate so much power on stage?
Muazzam: That is a very difficult question to answer. I think god gave us that power on stage and we are very thankful for that.

Why do you think Sufi music has remained so popular across the centuries?
Muazzam: It’s very meaningful and written from the depths of the heart. Qawwali is also sung from the heart and it has a message of peace, and love. That is why, after over 700 years, it still remains popular.

What inspires you both?
Rizwan: First and foremost, it is our family that inspires us the most. Qawwali music has been a part of our family for generations and we are carrying that legacy forward.
Muazzam: We are also very much inspired by our beloved uncle Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and feel no one has matched his brilliance yet. It is a matter of great pride that he is part of our family.

What is your favourite song to perform?
Muazzam: That is a difficult question to answer because no two performances will ever be the same, so the same song will be presented in different ways. But if I had to choose, I love Haq Ali Ali and Yeh Joh Halka Halka Suroor Hai.
Rizwan: The ones that I choose would be Haq Ali Ali and Jana Jogi Dey Naal.

Who would you most love to collaborate with?
Rizwan: We love to collaborate with any good artist with a good musical understanding.
Muazzam: I agree. We look to collaborate with like-minded people who understand and appreciate their craft.

What does the future hold for qawwali music?
Rizwan: The future of qawwali is looking very good. Today, audiences from different ages and cultures appreciate an art form that has been around for over 700 years. I think that will continue for centuries to come.

What can we expect next from the group?
Rizwan: We are just trying to do our best to keep our family’s reputation intact and work very hard for that. So you can expect us to deliver our best every time we perform.
Muazzam: You can expect a really energetic qawwali performance from the group.

Why should we comewatch the live shows in the UK tour?
Muazzam: We are bringing a mixed repertoire of songs. There will be new qawwalis that classics audiences love and also ones that are not heard very often, but recomposed with today’s taste in mind.

Finally, why do you love music?
Rizwan: Music is in our blood and has been there since we were born. We only heard music day and night in our family growing up.
Muazzam: So music is a part of us and who we are.

Visit www.asianartsagency.co.uk/rizwanmuazzam