Some of the most precious memories that musicians Rizwan Ali Khan (32) and Muazzam Ali Khan (28) have goes back to 1996, when they trained for a year with their uncle Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He passed away a year later but the brothers still treasure the techniques the Ustad taught them on performing the Qawwali.
As the lead singers of Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali, the brothers have been performing live since 1992. They hail from a direct family line of Qawwali vocal musicians that spans over five centuries. The band also includes five secondary singers leading the chorus and clapping, as well as two harmonium players and a tabla player. The group has toured extensively and performed in Europe, Canada, USA, New Zealand and Australia. They were part of Coke Studio Pakistan where their performance was lauded. Now in Mumbai as part of their India tour, they’ve performed at Ajmer Sharif, Delhi and Jodhpur till now. Experimental record label Inroom Records has been the mastermind for their India tour.
For this performance, the brothers haven’t planned their line-up: “It’s our first concert series in India. Since it’s live, we will decide the compositions based on audience reactions. For example, to appeal to the younger generation we often include western instruments. We are identified for our live on-stage improvisations and energetic style.”
The Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali is known for their traditional style of Qawwali where performers sit on the floor, as they believe it brings them closer to God. The songs use romantic love as a metaphor for spiritual adoration and mystical enlightenment, drawing upon a rich vein of poetic imagery.
Their Qawwalis are infused with Persian, Punjabi, Braj Bhasha (an old form of Hindi), Urdu and Arabic influences, and feature compositions by Bulleh Shah and other Sufi poets. “Our research (for songs) includes speaking to professors of different languages to understand the meanings. Otherwise the performance will lack in conviction,” adds Rizwan. The brothers, who’ve performed since the group’s inception, share a great rapport on-stage and elsewhere too. “We carry the same passion; even with a glance, we can communicate. We never wanted to perform solo,” observes Rizwan.
Performing in India has been rewarding for the duo. “During our shows in USA and Canada, people often can’t follow the language, rhythm and improvisation but in India, they understand Urdu and its mannerisms. At our concert in Delhi, which was supposed to be only 90-minutes long, we performed for nearly three hours,” Rizwan concludes.