LAHORE    -    Qawwali, a form of Sufi/classical music that was made globally famous by Shankar-Shambhu and Nustrat Fateh Ali Khan, has been known to move the audiences to a state of emotional rapture. The purpose of Qawwali is to arouse mystical love and euphoria.

In conversation with The Nation, the talented duo Zain and  Zohaib qawwal, grandsons of Ustaad Haji Rehmat Ali (late) talks about their journey in the music industry.

Let’s see what they have to say about their hit “Haiderium” and their experience at Nescafe Basement season 5.

When and where did the idea of making a “Qawwali” group pop up?

Zain: Being brought up in a classical music background, it runs in the blood and was the main focus of the household since childhood. We started practicing when we saw our grandfather and uncles performing alongside the legend, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Every new band faces a lot of hurdles and challenges. Throw some light on your journey so far.

Zain: Let’s be honest and transparent, the major issue we faced was the financial one. Other than that, there is no proper platform to discover new talent. Aspiring singers go through a very long, struggling phase, trying to look for a platform. We feel extremely blessed that Nescafe Basement and Sir. Zulfiqar Khan proved to be a beacon of hope for us. Other than that, i would like to thank Allah.

You talked about it being a family affair or a “Miraas” that has been passed on to you by your ancestor. Tell us about your time and relationship with your grand dad.

Zohaib: Our grandfather, Haji Rehmat Ali, used to perform alongside NFAK and after his demise in 1997, our grandfather brought our uncle into the limelight who covered the pending shows of NFAK abroad. His vocals resembled those of the legend himself. His vocals were employed in the movie “Kartoos” as well.

We performed at a Darbaar alongside our grandfather and received a lot of appreciation , that is where our journey began.

In a world where R&B is the leading genre, what exactly made you dive into this sea of Sufi and Classical music?

Zain: Most importantly, because we belong to the world of Qawwali and it runs in the blood. Further, there is a lot of variation in the world of Sufi music. Using Classical music as the base, we can fuse various genres, instruments and techniques to create a unique piece of art, the same way Haiderium was one of our musings. Ustad NFAK is our guru and one of the major influences that attracted us towards this world.

Nescafe Basement as a platform. How did Xulfi discover you, how did the journey begin and how was the experience?

Zohaib: It all started with Season 4, Zain played Tabla in Teray Jeya Hor Disda, an original by NFAK and his vocals were also featured in Gorakh Dhanda, a Qawwali which was a tribute to our grandfather as well. We also consider it a blessing that Xulfi bhai wanted us to play our originally composed and sung Qawwali in the latest season, with Haiderium surfacing on Spotify, SoundCloud, and YouTube etc.

Zain: Other than that, it’s all a game of luck and chance and Allah’s blessings. The experience was amazing as Zain Zohaib emerged to the surface and people actually boosted our confidence further.

What was the inspiration behind “Haiderium”? And what was the process of its composition like?

Zohaib: I will be honest, it was an extremely random thought, it just clicked. To be precise, it was more like a “revelation”. The main inspiration behind it was “Qaseeda”, because we used to perform at Darbaars as we told earlier, “Haiderium” and “Mun Kunto Maula” were some of our most used phrases. I wrote it in the matter of few hours and then I shared it with Zain and the rest of the crew.

Zain: The words were beautiful and struck us instantly so we decided to work on it. And there it was, our Qawwali “Haiderium”. It was originally released a year ago but then after making a few changes Xulfi bhai wanted to include it in Nescafe Basement Season 5. And hence there was a remake.

Talking about Pakistani heritage, classical and sufi music is a part of it. According to you, how deeply can you connect to it and what are some qualities a classical singer/musician should comprise of?

Zohaib: Patience, passion and devotion are the three golden rules of learning and pursuing classical music. A singer or musician aspiring to be a Qawwal needs to live by these. Specifically, without patience it is impossible. 

Zain: Our Pakistani Heritage is very dear to us, and reflects in our words. Qawwali is a also a part of it. Every kind of art requires patience, because where there is creativity,  being steadfast and determined over there plays a vital role.

Do you think that a classical singer can choose to perform a song of any other genre?

Zohaib: Qawwali is a blend of all the genres, be it Rock/Pop, Jazz, Folk music or especially soul music. For example Haiderium, it consists of drums, violin, piano, sitar, table, electric guitar, synth etc. There is a lot of variation in Qawwali, so according to us yes, a person who knows the Sur, Taal and Ragas can sing whatever he/she wants to but it also depends on the voice quality.

If you get a chance to collaborate or sing along a fellow composer/musician who would be your top most priority?

Zain: First of all, it would be Ustaad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan because he is our “Guru” and also because of our grandfather’s relationship with Ustaad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Other than that we would love to continue working with Xulfi bhai and with overseas composers too, if provided an opportunity.

Do you plan of remaining as a Qawwali group or pursue a career in the Film industry of Pakistan and working overseas?

Zohaib: Well we have already started collaborating with film producers and have kick started work on a few songs. It is pending at the moment and as soon as it is ready to be released we will share it with our fans. Also, an artist is not just restricted to his/her country, we pray that we get a chance to perform abroad and we will happily take it. This is the best thing about Ustaad NFAK’s work that a person riding an Audi and a street hawker both relish in his voice.

What is the one message/quality that you would want people to remember about you even after you are long gone?

Zain: Innovation and fusion, these are the two things and styles we want to use in our work and be remembered by. People should remember that we are the apprentices of Khan Sahab but in their own unique way.

Lastly, any message for aspiring singers/qawwals and fans?

Zohaib: Dedication should be the first and pivotal concern of an aspiring singer. You should never let go of your dreams and stick to it no matter what.

Zain: There will be times of struggle, you might face hardships and challenges, people might mock at you and criticize your work. But, all you have to do is take a deep breath, believe in yourself and Allah. Trust me, you will be successful.

And we love our fans, we are who we are because of them. Thank you for everything!