Sharing Our Music - more concerts, new venues in 2015!

Integral to our mission is performing at new places and sharing qawwali with new audiences. Last year, we did just that! 2015 started off on a high, with a performance at New York’s GlobalFest which is the launching pad for upcoming world musicians! We had the chance to perform at The Webster Hall. Isabel Soffer, the festival’s co-director exclaimed that it’s been her dream to have qawwali represented at GlobalFest! The next major highligh came in March, when we celebrated the release of our second album, Ishq ( The album had ghazal poetry from old and contemporary poets, including Khusrau, Ghalib, Zafar and Tahir Faraz.

Carrying the energy from our album release, we went on our 1st tour! 7 concerts in 2 weeks! The “Ishq” Tour started at the Richmond Folk Festival, which attracts more than 100,000 people to downtown Richmond's riverfront.  As we took our first stage, the hall filled with over 1,500 people and we sang the iconic Man Kunto Maula. Qawwali, like it does, transcended linguistic boundaries and a group of 35 - 40 people made their way through the narrow walkways to the front to dance to the repetition of “Maula Ali Maula.” We performed at 5 stages. By the end,  many fans told us that ‘[they] strictly followed our schedule, as not to miss a single set!’

As part of the festival, we performed for 400 elementary kids, who enthusiastically clapped with us for our short 50-minute performance. The heartfelt and rewarding experience was not the only interaction we had with young kids, where we took this music to schools. We also performed for high school students in Baltimore. In Baltimore, we were accompanied by 2 national-award winning Spoken Word artists, as we both shared perspectives of being African American and South Asian Americans.

Release of ISHQ at Asia Society

Release of ISHQ at Asia Society

This was preceded by a performance at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore. Our artists had the unique opportunity of performing for the music-loving Baltimore audience. Next, we performed at Colgate University during the university’s Eid Celebration. We had insightful cultural interaction with both the university faculty and students providing us a refreshing perspective on the secular aspects of the Eid celebration.

Our 2nd to last stop was Flushing Town Hall in New York. We enjoyed the intimate setting and the enthusiastic audience, which reciprocated our love and respect towards our music. After the concert, Sonny was greeted by a fan and his daughter who expressed their love for what we brought to the stage. A second later, his wife, the young child’s mother came towards the conversation. She was in tears. Her husband said that the whole time we were in song, she was crying. Even afterwards, during the meeting post concert, all she could get out between the tears was the purity she felt in the evening because of the music. We were all so humbled by her devotion!

Another stop on our tour was the Painted Bride Museum in Philadelphia, PA. We enjoyed getting to meet and perform for acclaimed artist and Music Curator Lenny Seidman. Painted Bride Art Center is home to an intimate theater and gallery in Old City, Philadelphia. The concert concluded and we were met by many staff and faculty that were South Asianists themselves. They even invited us to the yearly symposium that takes place at the University of Washington on South Asia. We look forward to that materializing and sharing details of it as it does!

The Ishq tour ended at Lafayette College (Easton, PA). And it was our most rewarding experience. The college and their director had set up 4 separate pre-concert workshops and talks that really brough the music to life and gave it the context of being interfaith and about oneness! And the concert benefited from it. The audience was loud and vocal-in a good way- from the beginning. It culminated in a version of Shahbaaz Qalandar, where over 2/3rds of the audience was out of their seats, and a few who even jumped up on the stage to show off their dancing moves!


Dreams Come True - NPR, Grants and Debuts!

Last year was also a year for dreams to come true. 2015 had a bit of fairy dust sprinkled throughout the year. In March, we were covered by the Huffington Post (Riyaaz Qawwali on Huff), NPR (Riyaaz Qawwali on NPR), TV Asia and other Texas and California media outlets. Each of the outlets took their unique angle and shared our journey. All of them had one thing in common- they highlighted the power of qawwali and its rich haritage that we were humbly trying to revive. The Huffington Post and NPR highlighted our special journey through the new music that we are composing, including a song on the Mother Divine.

We remember walking into the NPR Studios. It was surreal. We were walking through the halls of the station which many of us listened to with our parents on drives back to and from school. The interview took place with 3 of us in the studio with Annastasia, who was the anchor from NPR. Little did we know, she knew so much about qawwali, devotional music and we really connected with each other not only about what the music represented but also where Riyaaz Qawwali was trying to take it with our unique South Asian American heritage.

Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation was the first grant that the group indirectly received, which made our 1st tour possible! The Foundation announced 35 grants through it’s ArtsCONNECT program for presenters in the DC, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. While the 1st part of the tour took place in October of 2015, in March we will continue the second leg of the tour. Concerts are scheduled for the University of Rochester, Garrison Institute and at the Roulette, which will be curated by the famous presenter Robert Browning. In the same grant-related spirit, the Texas Touring Arts Program (by TCA) renewed Riyaaz Qawwali’s spot on their roster of official Texas Artists. This enables Texas nonprofits to get financial assistance for public programing where Riyaaz Qawwali is presented.  

Lastly, Riyaaz Qawwali made its Massachusetts  and California debuts last year. For Massachusetts, we debuted in Boston with the American Federation for Muslims of Indian Origin. AFMI celebrated their Silver Jubilee where some known Indian TV personalities and alumni of Harvard University were in attendance. In California, we debuted in Santa Barbara for the Live Oaks Music Festival. This marked our first trip to the West coast and we look forward to more across 2016!