Day Of Colours

Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali, 2004

When the unforgettable qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan died in Pakistan in 1997, he left a musical vacuum into which stepped his two teenage nephews. Despite their extreme youth, they were determined that their group Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali should continue their uncle's pioneering efforts to transcend cultural, language and religious barriers and to bring to the world the devotional but vibrant Qawwali vocal music of the Sufi mystics of the Islam religion.

Now in their mid-20s, the group's third album, Day Of Colours, finds them coming into their own with a new-found maturity in their voices and a profundity in their approach that not only maintains and furthers a family tradition but develops their own identity as singers and breathes fresh life into a centuries-old style that has today become one of the glories of modern world music.

The music is steeped in Sufi tradition. But none of the lyrics on Day Of Colours has ever been recorded before. Some of them are modern. But some of the poetry is 800 years old. All are love songs in praise of the Beloved and were specifically chosen for their message of harmony and understanding. As Rashid Din, the group's manager and producer says,
"There's a very anti-Islamic feeling in some quarters at the moment and we felt we needed to make an album that showed a centuries-old tradition of Islam that never had a message of killing or hatred or any form of negativity. We wanted a record that delivered a traditional qawwali message of harmonisation and peace."

The two brothers who lead and lend their name to the group, Rizwan Mujahid
Ali Khan and Muazzam Mujahid Ali Khan, come from a direct line of qawwali singers that can trace its family pedigree back over five centuries. Their grandfather was an uncle of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and taught Nusrat the art of qawwali vocal music. They themselves studied under their father, who died in 1996, and were then tutored by Nusrat.

The word qawwali simply means 'utterance' and the music and style of performance it describes has been a feature of Islamic culture since the
12th century. It is religious music that uses the human voice as a vehicle to enlightenment by evoking the name of the Beloved in a quest for transcendence. The two lead singers, Rizwan and Muazzam, lead five back-up singers and in their call-and-response patterns, key phrases are repeatedly chanted to the accompaniment of rhythmic handclapping, percussion and harmonium. The lead singer adds elaborate vocal lines and the tempo and volume are gradually increased as the piece progresses to a heightened trance-like state.

For centuries qawwali was song solely in a religious context at the shrines of the great Sufi saints. The broadening of its appeal is very much a family innovation - it was Nusrat's father and uncle who first introduced qawwali singing at social events. To the performers, 'the Beloved' addressed in the songs is invariably Allah or a Sufi saint. But romantic love is used as a metaphor for spiritual adoration. "They are all love songs in praise of the deity, but the Beloved is really whoever you follow," Rashid Din explains. "The beloved can be anyone, which is why qawwali music has found such a resonance around the world beyond Islamic communities. It transcends language and speaks to the human soul."

The broadening of qawwali's appeal was central to Nusrat's mission and it is an approach shared by Rizwan-Muazzam. Their debut album Sacrifice To Love, released on Real World in 1999, was an entirely traditional album. So was its 2001 follow-up, A Better Destiny. But they have also released a remix fusion album with Temple Of Sound. "We'll collaborate with anyone if it is done well and expands the appeal and understanding of qawwali," Muazzam says.

Day of Colours finds them returning to the purity of the qawwali tradition with stunning results. Recorded in four days in a tiny studio in Lahore, the passion is palpable. Performed in Persian, Urdu and Punjabi, the songs are both ancient and modern. Light Of My Life /Sayyedo-Sarwer Muhammed was written by the 13th century Persian poet and mystic, Rumi. One and Only
One/Ik-Machaeya-Shore was composed by the Sufi saint Baba Bulleh Shah and is also centuries old. So, too, is Lost In Love/Ub-Ho-Gea-Hay, written by
Khawaja Muhammad Devaan, the Sufi saint followed by Nusrat and his entire family, including Rizwan and Muazzam.

On the other hand, Life and Soul/ Qalandar Lal Lajpaal and In The Name Of
Love/ Sub Hasratoon-Ka have contemporary lyrics that work both as songs of spiritual devotion and expressions of secular love. The album concludes with the ecstatic title track, which boasts another ancient but previously unrecorded lyric by the Sufi master Hazrat Amir Khusrau, a 13th century poet and composer who is credited with inventing the sitar and tabla and is also regarded as the father of the Indian raga. It is the most important piece on the album and is traditionally sung at the end of every qawwali session and marks the moment when performers and audience believe the Beloved is present.

"Qawwali is a precious thing that has stood the test of time," Rizwan says.
"The songs connect to the human spirit and freshen the human soul. It's main message is love and the aim of this record is to spread peace and understanding."

"We know that no one can emulate Nusrat," Muazzam adds. "We just want to carry on where he left off and God willing, we can take the craft forward."

The spirit lives on.

Reviews

  • An Astonishing Work! When Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan prematurely left this world in 1997, no-one would have thought that his two teenage nephews Rizwan and Muazzam could come close to filling the gaping void. A giant in more than one sense of the wordmusical giant, Nusrat's prodigious recorded output and transcendental live performances dominated Qawwali singing for decades, yet the two young men, now still only in their mid-20s, showed their ability to make music every bit as intense and compulsive as that of their uncle. While they share Nusrat's inquisitive sense of adventure (witness their collaboration with the dubwise Temple Of Sound for 2001's joint album People's Colony No.1), the brothers' latest Real World offering, Day Of Colours, is a sure-footed return to the purity of their musical roots. It's an astonishing work. Rizwan and Muazzam's voices climb and swoop as if riding air currents, the harmonium seeks a similar undulating flight path while fingertips flutter like hummingbirds across the tablas. At once sparse yet full, heavy yet floating, this is music dripping with harmony and humanity. The Islamic world has been in need of good press of late and this is a positive, peaceful message strongly delivered to the rest of the planet. Someone should lend George Bush a copy. BBC radio 3 Website (UK)
  • With traditional solos and choral responses, vigorous handclapping entwined in harmonium swirls and tabla percolations, their energetic recordings have ensured that the qawwali has resumed its journey to the far corners of the globe... Rizwan and Muazzam might just be furthering a family tradition, but they are also fast developing their own identity as qawwals in their own right, breathing fresh life into a centuries-old style. RAVE (India)
  • ... a choice selection of qawwali numbers. (Rizwan Muazzam Qawwali) are blessed with strong, clear, well-trained voices, and are blood relations and prome disciples of Nusrat... Songlines (UK)
  • album review ...this fourth Real World release gives us the time-honoured formula absolutely straight. And it is a formula. The way the 15-strong chorus drive each other to ever more impassioned heights - the solo voices soaring dizzyingly overhead - is a kind of trick, designed to take your spirit Godward, whether you like it or not. And when it's executed with this degree of artistry and commitment, it's difficult to imagine that it could ever be improved upon. Daily Telegraph (UK)
  • Peter Paphides on the mesmerising intensity of Nusrat's nephews Flanked by tabla players, one chap on harmonium and four vocalists, the Mujahid Ali Khan brothers - Rizwan and Muazzam - began a 10-minute qawwali of such euphoric intensity that it briefly made me question what all those other records in my house were for. Suffice to say, you never forget your first qawwali (the word itself translates, rather modestly, as 'utterance'). Three albums on, the world into which Rizwan and Muazzam release their music is very different. The past few years have yielded endless news footage of gun-wielding young zealots preaching revenge iin Allah's name. But the Allah on 'One and Only One' couldn't be more beatifically different; 'Like a cuckoo he sings/Like a nightingale he courts beautiful flowers/He displays his colourful feathers like a peacock.' More often than not, Rizwan and Muazzam cloak divine love in the metaphorical clothes of earthly love - an idea which works rather better than on Prince's Lovesexy. Translated into English, lines such as 'O, Lord I am conscious whilst committing these sins and have a great belief in your mercy' do little to convey the conflict of which they speak. Over 11 mintues, though, the Urdu devotional in question - 'In The Name Of Love' - swells to a point where release is frightening and necessary. When it does finally come, it's glorious. Rizwan and Muazzam break out of the rhythm and erupt into tongues of reverie, while their musicians bring the song back down to earth as though they were landing a jet plane. At moments like these, it's easy to forget that the Mujahid Ali Khan brothers are still in their mid-twenties. But then the snetiments they channel with such mesmerising abandon have been around for centuries. In such hands, it's certain that they'll be around for a few more yet. The Observer (music monthly) (UK)
  • Music CD of the Week This group of Qawwali singers from Pakistan is led by nephews of the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rizwan and Muazzam, naturally. This recent Real World release is a definite for people who liked the elder Khan's style and enjoy traditional Qawwali songs. Tracks to sample: "Light of My Life", with lyrics by Rumi, and the title track "Day Of Colours". This is their fourth release on Real World Records and should not be missed. www.needcoffee.com (internet)