Houston's Riyaaz Qawwali Performs Original Works Celebrating Parveen Shakir, Amrita Pritam at Asia Society Texas
HOUSTON, November 21, 2022 — In a concert presented at Asia Society Texas, Houston-based Riyaaz Qawwali celebrated two major figures of Urdu and Punjabi literature, Parveen Shakir and Amrita Pritam, setting their poetry into the qawwali form for the first time. The original compositions were conceptualized by Riyaaz Qawwali's founder and Artistic Director Sonny K. Mehta and commissioned by Asia Society Texas.
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During remarks, Mehta spoke about wanting to carry the rich qawwali tradition forward by incorporating modern female writers and contemporary subject matter into their performances. He said that although “Pritam and Shakir may not have written poetry explicitly meant for qawwali […] both of them used themes prevalent in the Sufi poetry tradition. Both are towering figures that today are immensely regarded in literary and poetry circles.” The concert included performances of the writers’ work in the traditional form of ghazals, including Pritam’s Aa sajan ajj gullan kariye and Shakir’s Vo to khushbu hai.
In a particularly powerful moment, Riyaaz Qawwali sang Aj aakhan Waris Shah nu, Pritam’s landmark poem which delved into her anguish over the Partition of India in 1947. “This difficult and traumatic time period is often ignored by artists, due to its polarity,” Mehta said, then shared that the group wanted to perform this work “in the spirit of opening up dialogue, healing, and moving on as a population.”
The concert was presented as part of Asia Society Texas’ Muslim Series.
About Asia Society Texas
Asia Society Texas believes in the strength and beauty of diverse perspectives and people. As an educational institution, we advance cultural exchange by celebrating the vibrant diversity of Asia, inspiring empathy, and fostering a better understanding of our interconnected world. Spanning the fields of arts, business, culture, education, and policy, our programming is rooted in the educational and cultural development of our community — trusting in the power of art, dialogue, and ideas to combat bias and build a more inclusive society.