Rampur qawwals rue pandemic putting them out of work

New Delhi (IANSlife) Despite music being a creative escape for many during the lockdown, a vast majority of full-time musicians continued to struggle during the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Renowned Rampur-based Qawwali troupe Niazi Brothers say the pandemic has severely impacted accompanying artists in smaller towns, and highlights a digital divide when it comes to access the digital concerts and online audience.

The troupe has been drastically affected due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and will plan to raise funds through a musical concert called Jashn-E-Qawwali, which is a celebration of the art of Qawwals. It is organised by Delhi-based NGO Wishes and Blessings and will take place on the evening of July 31.

Speaking to IANSlife, Shahid Niazi, who was born into the renowned musical family of Rampur Gharana of Qawwali, says that, “Qawwals and Sufi musicians had to face a lot of hardships during the Covid pandemic. Our work is primarily audience and public gathering-based, but due to the restriction on large gatherings, there have been zero programs. Even if the lead singers can support themselves for some time, the supporting artists, like those who accompany on tabla, harmonium, or those who sing chorus, have no avenues to even pay their house rent. Even survival is difficult and we have had to cut back on many needs.”

“In Rampur, where we live, several musicians have had to resort to selling fruit to sustain themselves. An artist, especially those with a generational legacy, are usually strictly trained in their artform itself, and they don’t know much else.”

Shahid’s father late Ustad Ghulam Abid Niazi who himself was a very famous Qawwali Singer and a highly reputed artist in his field, is still remembered till date with the same honour and respect. Shahid and his troupe, Niazi Brothers, exhibit an extraordinary talent for versatile singing such as Qawwali, Naat, Ghazals, Bhajan, Geet, Folk etc. They never forget to send a message of brotherhood and peace through their singing.

“Digital is a great medium. Online concerts do happen, as they should. In smaller cities, not many artists know how to go online with their craft. Even if they know, they don’t have tools like smartphones, laptops, WiFi, stable connectivity, collar mics etc. Even if we want to purchase, how do we mobilise the resources for that? We didn’t have an idea that we’d have to sit at home for so long. Even if an organiser hosts a digital concert, they’d rather feature personalities for who people will willingly buy tickets for. Smaller artists face many challenges when it comes to going digital,” Shahid Niazi told IANSlife over telephone.

Did the government or any social groups come forward and help?

“The artiste community is very ‘khuddar’ (self-respecting). We cannot beg for help, but I still tried to make our voice heard in the government circles, but to no avail. The artiste community today is feeling sad that despite being repositories of culture in themselves, there are so few financial relief packages that have come to our aid. While helping artists sustain in any crisis, the country or society is also preserving the cultural heritage and performing arts that they pride themselves on,” he says.

The upcoming show will be streamed on BookMyShow and BookASmile will match the amount raised through the sale of tickets. The funds raised will be utilized to aid the Niazi Brothers, the musician community residing in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh as well as to fund the overall Covid Relief Project executed by the NGO.

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