JUNE 8, 2009
The Nat Geo Music Interview: Faiz Ali Faiz
Nat Geo Music Catches Up With Genre-Bending Pakistani Qawwali Singer Faiz Ali Faiz On The Eve Of New York's Muslim Voices Festivalby Derek Beres
When the Muslim Voices Festival rolls into BAM (the Brooklyn Academy of Music) during the second week of June, an incredible array of Islamic artists will be on hand to represent music, poetry, film, and philosophy from across the Islamic world. One of the intriguing performances will team Pakistani qawwali vocalist Faiz Ali Faiz with American gospel singer Craig Adams to put on "Qawwali Gospel," an inspired blend of sonically dissimilar, yet spiritually akin devotional song forms that the duo first performed in June 2008, at the Sacred World Music Festival in Fes, Morocco.
Ali Faiz has become used to groundbreaking collaborations: his 2006 concert series with flamenco singers Miguel Poveda and Duquende and guitarist Chicuelo (also performed at Fes) resulted in the exceptional two-disc Qawwali Flamenco recording. Hearing this Muslim devotional song side-by-side with the linguistic acrobatics of duende made this hands-down one of the most intriguing fusions captured to date. Ever the innovator, he has also worked with French guitarist Thierry "Titi" Robin, picking up where the great qawwali trendsetter, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, left off-seeking new ears and global audiences to turn onto this most exquisite musical sound.
As Ali Faiz and Adams prepare to present their fourth Qawwali Gospel concert at the Muslim Voices Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Nat Geo Music caught up with Ali Faiz to ask him about the roots of this particular project, and how it has evolved in the year since the inaugural concert in North Africa.
Nat Geo Music: How did the project with Craig Adams begin?
Faiz Ali Faiz: Credit goes to the creative team of Accords Croises. They conceived the idea and discussed the subject with me. I am always ready for experimentation and challenges within the framework of my qawwali music. Primarily the project started with another gospel singer. We had many sessions of rehearsal, and then presented Qawwali Gospel concerts in four different European cities. Audiences applauded our performance, and our producer received positive feedback from various festival organizers. An invitation came from the organizer of the Fes Festival, but that particular group of gospel singers was not available. Fes is one of the important music festivals of the world, which no producer would like to ignore. So Accords Croises decided that the show must go on. They roped in Craig Adams, and asked me to arrive three days before the festival startd. There we had two daily sessions of rehearsals, and presented the show on the fourth day.
What do you see as the common elements between qawwali and gospel?
I think content (subject matter) is the common element. If the gospel singing is in praise of God, Jesus, and the holy saints, the same may be said for qawwali, where we sing in praise of God/Allah, the prophet Muhammad, and other mystics.
What are the common elements between qawwali and flamenco?
One can say that the temporal love poetry being sung nowadays in qawwli is one of the common factors, but I would prefer to mention voice patterns and vocal flights in flamenco as common elements.
How did working with Craig differ from working with Miguel Poveda and Duquende?
Somehow I found flamenco more familiar. In flamenco, I felt the flavor of the music of Rajastan.
I personally felt that qawwali worked better with flamenco, in terms of musical merging. Very often both styles were completely united, while at the Craig Adams performance, it often felt like it was either gospel with tables or qawwali with piano. Did you yourself find any difficulties working on either project in terms of sheer musicality?
Qawwali Flamenco is a time-tested project now. At the onset of the Qawwali Flamenco project we had a number of rehearsals. The Qawwali Flamenco CD was recorded when we had already performed many concerts together. The Qawwali Gospel concert you attended in Fes was our first performance together after a few sessions of rehearsals. I am very hopeful about our Qawwali Gospel project. It has potential. I think we had improvement since June 2008, when you auditioned us in Fes. Creative work and fusion projects demand hard work, which I am still doing. These types of projects are always challenging, and in my career I love challenges. No, I didn't face any difficulty.
Have you had more time to work with Craig since the Fes performance in 2008?
Yes, we happened to perform together twice after Fes Festival 2008: a successful performance in Paris in November 2008, and a recent concert in Spain.
How do you feel working on a Christian/Muslim musical project during a time like this?
At present we are listening to so much about inter-faith dialogue, so why not a dialogue between two genres of music which have commonalities? I think dialogue is always helpful in creating better understanding between human beings.
What are the most important messages in this project to you personally?
These projects give me chance to reach a wide range of audiences, other than the usual qawwali lovers. I am looking forward more projects like this.