This US based qawwal group vows to change the outlook of Qawwali
Far away from south Asia, a US based qawwali group has vowed to change the outlook of qawwali in the country. While most of them are skilled in Hindustani classical music, some are also trained in western music from American campuses.
So it is pretty rare when Riyaaz Qawwali group started experimenting with the art that has been a constant since decades. The group recently donned an excerpt from Ishq mujhko nahi, a Ghalib sher sung as qawwali. “In this excerpt, we are focusing on only one aspect of qawwali, the infatuation aspect of devotion,” Sonny, the Riyaaz Group founder said.
The Riyaaz Qawwal founder, Sonny gave an insight of how the group came about. “I love the essence of all things qawwali: that it has moved from dargahs to concerts; that it is the devotional aspect of Sufi Islam, that it has challenged the traditional and yet remains a relevant art form. But I also feel that artists who represent themselves as qawwals are not adapting to today’s listeners,” Sonny says as reported by The Huffington Post. traditional qawwali is supposed to be quite descriptive by nature. It should start slowly, build up, and then take you into a trance.
“When we sing Naksha jo mujhey khuld mein dikhlaya gaya tha, we talk about the ideal world we wanted to see and what the world is, the world we imagined as immigrants and the world we have actually made of immigrant life, the walls we create against each other.” explained Sonny about his latest work.
Sonny spent his childhood listening to the maestro of Qawwali, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The legendary qawwal had a huge influence n the group. It is the group’s latest experiments that are bringing them the praise they deserve.
The changes aren’t exhaustive since improvisation has always been important in qawwali. A Ghalib sher, or a new tune there, is only expected of qawwals. But the game changer is when Vaishnav Jan To, is sung as a qawwali, or Aaj Jaaney Ki Zid Na Karo.
The founder of the group does not think that they are doing anything such as fusion music. “Fusion started with Hazrat Amir Khusro, when qaul and qalbana were used to create a new art form in Delhi. I would hate to offend people with my experiments. I am always respectful to my listeners. I am my own critic but you cannot freeze art in time. Classical qawwali lovers want, above all, something respectful created.”
In the US, the group performs yearly at around 20 concerts. Currently, they are busy making a TV series about South Asian music in the US.