When qawwali and folk music fill the air

British-Indian singer Susheela Raman and qawwal group Rizwan-Muazzam join forces.

Photo: Ali Mehmood/sher Khan March 04, 2013
Rizwan-Muazzam have been trained by legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. PHOTO: ALI MEHMOOD


The stage was set on Sunday at the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop as the crowd was transported to another universe where qawwali and Sufi music filled the atmosphere. The combination of British-Indian singer Susheela Raman and qawwal group Rizwan-Muazzam proved to be an exhilarating one. Thoroughly impressed, a member of the audience said, “She reached out to the sky, touched God and then started to sing.”

The night was a tribute to the theatre’s late chief operating officer Faizan Peerzada, who is known for his artistic talent, and was the first of the two acts set to take place; it will also serve to be a curtain raiser for a performance scheduled to be held at the Royal Festival Hall in London on April 10.

“We had only three days to prepare, but I think we covered a lot of territory despite that,” said Raman, who is thrilled to be working with legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s nephews Rizwan and Muazzam. “But with time, the bond will become stronger, create more [bonds] and go into new spaces.” Critically-acclaimed artist Raman, who is known for her electric live performances, arrived here last week and performed for the first time in Lahore. Despite interchanging between English and her ancestral language Tamil during her act, she left the audience members spellbound as she is a master of her craft.

Raman opened the show with a couple of solo performances, then a small session of qawwali followed which then transitioned into fusion. It included a fusion performance of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower/Sajna as well as an electric performance of Mein Sharabi and other qawwal classics.

“Qawwal history is as old as 750 years — I love it and I love being around it,” Raman said, referring to her collaboration with the duo. “I am kind of a rock singer so I think they react to me on a gut level. But it’s just a great honour to be working so closely with them.”

Muazzam explained that the rehearsal process with Raman was a collaborative one and that the goal of music is ultimately love in the Sufi sense. “All of these are Sufi songs and we are hoping to promote peace and love through this experiment of ours,” said Muazzam. “Susheela helped us mix the raags with western notes which was very interesting.”

Rizwan-Muazzam are probably the closest thing we have in Pakistan to the great maestro Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan as they were both once trained by him. Today they take pride in maintaining the traditional aspect of qawwal and admit that they have always worked for the music rather than the more attractive commercial options.

“We’ve done fusion before but this is the first time we have actually performed fusion in Pakistan,” said Rizwan. “Nusrat was always something bigger whether it was him as a singer or a music director.” He feels it was the legend’s music sense which allowed him to achieve great things in life. “I don’t think you see that [in artists] today. He understood a wide variety of music and this allowed him to bring something new each time,” added Rizwan.

Rizwan-Muazzam is a large qawwal group which includes several chorus singers as well as a variety of instruments. “We are mixing eastern and western music — what we are doing is keeping our tradition bright in this process,” said Rizwan, revealing the group is working on an upcoming album out of which a couple of numbers will be released in films. “It’s not pure qawwali and we are making the genre more accessible for the new generation.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2013.                   

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