FACE, Foundation for Arts Culture and Education, is an organization whose mission is to strengthen, empower, and educate communities through the universal language of arts and through cultural interactions. FACE plays an important role in ensuring education at all levels to empower men and women to create ...
“Our music is for humanity, not bound to any religion or region,” insists Rawalpindi-based qawwali musician Imran Aziz Mian, a powerful performer of the performance genre made famous by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. “People who speak all languages can listen and feel the same way. Our music came from a certain faith, but it’s for all people.”
Qawwali’s sound and message defy religious divisions and language barriers. The astounding force and nimbleness of the qawwal’s voice, the trance-inducing chorus, percussive elements, and harmonium evolved from the poetic tradition of centuries past, but they are a constant part of lived religious experience in Pakistan. It’s music and poetry designed to spark devotion, adoration, and bliss.
Imran Aziz Mian and company will bring this experience to SXSW as part of the Pakistan Showcase on March 16 at 8 PM at the Victorian Room of the Driskill Hotel. “I would like my audience to listen to the rhythm, to the synchronization in the group,” reflects Mian. “I want people to understand that it’s centuries-old but that it’s totally new. It’s totally engaging. It brings people to that one point where they can forget everything.” In addition to the traditional qawwali ensemble, the group will be joined at the end of their set by guitar, drums, and dholak, presenting a different rock-inspired frame for these devotional pieces.
Qawwali music began with Amir Khusrau, a Delhi-based master poet and musician who laid down the framework for the form. Persian and Arabic poetry met South Asian linguistic and musical traditions, and many of the poems and melodies have been passed down for 700 years. Qawwali performers keep this polyglot, multifaceted lineage alive, incorporating later works by Sufi poets in local languages like Punjabi, highlighting certain elements, refining their approach. Yet one of the main purposes of qawwali remains the same: performers bring the audience into closer contact with a higher power, to incite longing and love for the divine in surprisingly passionate, intimate terms.
Imran Aziz Mian was born into this tradition. Learning from an early age, he began performing with his qawwal father at seven, giving concerts around the world. When his father and mentor passed away in 2001, he took up the torch, leading his own ensemble and perfecting his own style. They shift between musical pieces and poetic recitations. They move between language, between driving, dramatic song and more contemplative flights of verse.
Whatever the moment, the ensemble’s commitment and energy move audiences. “When we perform in front of audience, we are very energetic,” says Mian. “It gets so energetic that people can easily connect, even when they don’t know the language. It’s the sounds of our land, of the subcontinent. It’s just as popular and beloved as it was 700 years ago. Sufi poetry is a universal language, and our sounds are a universal language.”
This showcase is a project of FACE Foundation for Arts Culture and Education, an Islamabad-based organization whose mission is to strengthen, empower, and educate communities through the universal language of arts and through cultural interactions. Support comes from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy, Islamabad.