A Tribute to Nusrat by the Homegrown Riyaaz Qawwali Ensemble






By Dr. Sarita Mehta

Stafford: Riyaaz Qawwali performed a beautiful tribute to Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, honoring the legacy of the legend on Friday, June 28 at Stafford Centre. Nusrat, who died 20 years ago, continues to be a major influence on mainstream Indian and Pakistani media even today. The ensemble of Riyaaz Qawwali has been performing qawwali for 14 years, but this particular 10-musician ensemble was uniquely commissioned by the 26 year-old Indo American Association, a non-profit organization which promotes the cultural arts of India. It was presented in collaboration with the Aga Khan Council for Southwestern U.S.

The commissioned concert was a tribute to the figure that popularized qawwali in the West: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Riyaaz started off the night with the famous ‘Tumhein dillagi bhool jaani padeygi.’

Musicians across the world take inspiration from Nusrat’s music. The founder of Riyaaz Qawwali, Sonny Mehta shares in that. A Texas-native, Sonny grew up in Southwest Houston and attended high school at Clear Brook, before heading to UT-Austin for college. During the concert, Sonny commented that he, “first heard Nusrat’s music in 1998 while driving back from Galveston.” This inspiration took physical shape when he formed Riyaaz Qawwali in 2006. Since then, the ensemble has performed at renowned museums, major music festivals and top-rated universities. But, the concert on Saturday was especially unique for two reasons: their sound and the audience.

First for their sound. Traditionally, Riyaaz comprises of 8 musicians who play traditional Indian intruments. For this concert, Riyaaz Qawwali was accompanied by a saxaphone player, guitar player and a talented drummer. They brought to Houston’s ears the same music that Nusrat Fatel Ali Khan was performing in the years prior to his death: some of his qawwalis, some of his bollywood songs, and some his famous collaborations.

The other reason the concert was special was because of the diversity of the audience of nearly 600. In the audience were immigrants from Chile, Iraq, Morocco, France, Malaysia, Italy, Russia, Venezuela, Kyrgyzstan, in addition to Pakistani and Indians (which are to be expected). Perhaps this diversity was due to the crowd that Nusrat used to pull, but perhaps it was because of the audience Riyaaz Qawwali attracts.