Young, talented, undeniably hardworking yet still humble is how one would describe musician Usman Riaz who possesses all the qualities to make a great artist. This 21-year-old star’s latest video “Ruckus” is doing the rounds on social media despite the YouTube ban. From one project to another, Riaz has been busy making his mark in the music world. But the performance he is anxiously waiting for is with the legendary songwriter, music producer and multi-instrumentalist AR Rahman. Riaz feels that Pakistanis will definitely be proud of him performing with the Oscar-winning Rahman.
“I’ll be travelling to India in December for a performance with AR Rahman, if my visa comes through. It’s a huge honour for me and I cannot wait to meet the man!” Riaz said enthusiastically. “He’s a genius.”
He believes he knows the importance of persistence when reaching new heights at an early point in life. “Regardless of what anyone says, I know God can take everything away from me tomorrow,” said Riaz humbly. “I want to keep getting better. I love learning. I hope I can keep doing that.”
A love letter to music
The song is about a street urchin named Racoon and his companion, who steal from an unsuspecting lady as she makes her way out of an abandoned train station. Chaos follows because the ruckus caused by the two thieves begins to affect everyone around them. “Ever since I was young, I have loved the music troupe Stomp and ‘Ruckus’ is my love letter to that musical,” Usman Riaz told The Express Tribune.
“I love the West End version of the show in London. I always wanted to play the harmonica over stomp [a form of music that uses everyday percussion instruments]. Naturally, I couldn’t do it over the actual musical, so I made one myself in my room,” said Riaz.
While Riaz was working on the musical, he decided to record “Ruckus” as a short film instead of a music video. At the time, he was working with a theatre group so he thought of making a piece that could be performed without any musical instruments. “All the performers in that group were characters themselves,” he explained. “Being around them inspired me to make the film. They were loads of fun to work with.”
Since Riaz directed the video for “Ruckus” himself, the visual artist in him came out; he knew exactly what he wanted. “Directing the video was pure entertainment; I was able to bring out exactly what I saw in my head,” said Riaz. “It was amazing being able to give life to my imagination.” Riaz also shared how thankful he is to the talented folks from Bodchitta Filmworks and Laaltain.
For the last two months, Riaz has been busy travelling to promote collaborations of music from different cultures. He spent the first month in the United States working with One Beat – a new initiative, founded by the US State Department – to bring together musicians from all over the world for a one-month-long tour billed as “32 musicians from 21 countries.” The artists were together every day for a month, breaking their time into two parts; for the first two weeks, they resided in Florida at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach to prepare themselves, and then began touring the East Coast for two-and-a-half weeks. “We were cut off from everything else. [It was] two weeks where we had to just make music and work on things,” said Riaz. The next month, Riaz was setting up meetings after his inspirational TED talk and TED global earlier this year. He performed various times and met a number of influential people from the music industry and Hollywood before being stuck in Storm Sandy temporarily.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 16th, 2012.