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NewsCovering the legendary Tufail Niazi
07 February 2014

 

LAHORE: Tufail Niazi was always known to be soft-spoken, despite his powerhouse vocals. When he sang, it was always with a sense of empathy. He was not eclectic with his performances, because he was never seeking to rile crowds like qawwals such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Instead, he always maintained a dignified elegance, like Mehdi Hasan.
There was something very unique about his prowess as a singer; it touched those areas of emotion which people can only dream to explore. He is well-known to the point that Muahmmed Rafi was once reported to have said: “People listen to me, but I listen to Tufail Niazi.”
In recent times, Abrar Ul Haq, Meekal Hassan Band, Asad Abbas, Arif Lohar, Abida Parveen, Ali Abbas and a number of other musicians have all tried to cover Niazi’s work. His son Baber Niazi, who lives in Islamabad, says that his father’s work was intriguing for many because he always maintained a balance. On one hand, he catered to the folk-oriented music, and on the other he brilliantly performed as a classical singer. He was one of the first singers to break traditional norms and mix raags.
Lollywood choreographer Pappu Samrat, whose grandfather Ashiq Hussain Samrat was friends with Niazi, covered the ephemeral song Charkha, in what was his first attempt at singing. Niazi has always been his inspiration as he greatly loved what his music came to represent. Pappu says he thinks his first song was a good attempt and he hopes to continue music.
The song was composed by veteran composer Ronaq Ali, who said that he had tried to make Niazi accessible to modern listeners when composing it. Ali says that he was surprised by how well Pappu handled the composition for a first attempt at singing.
“As a singer, Tufail Niazi is very difficult to cover technically, that’s why I feel not many songs of his have been covered. What I did was, I made it straight so it’s more accessible, but with the same colours,” says Ali.
Baber, Niazi’s son, reveals that the cross-over value and ability of his father’s music to connect with people globally is why many people continue to attempt to cover him, despite the daunting nature of the task. “We spent a lot of time with him till the very end, learning music. I think it’s very clear he is a very difficult person to cover as he changed the style of ghazals. In essence, he was a trendsetter,” says Baber.
Niazi’s three sons — Baber, Javed and Shahenshah — have carried on his legacy. Baber and Javed, who have been honoured with the Pride of Performance awards for their work, are now more associated with in the international circuit, where their specialties in music are still remembered.
“I think it’s actually funny how sarangi is finishing from Pakistan and the sitar from South Asia, whereas, in North America and Europe they are being preserved,” adds Baber.
He says the only way a true revival of classical or folk music can occur is through live music. Moreover, another way to ensure revival would be if the mainstream media channels improve the criteria and merit in the industry.
“Performing live is the life-line of classical music, because it allows you to have two hours to expand and explore. In recording, however, you have a lot more limitation. I remember during my father’s time the emphasis was on merit, people would have to go through a series of auditions and the standards were such that everyone would have to work hard,” says the maestro’s son.
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