Like Father, Like Son
Imran Aziz Mian’s Scintillating Performance in Lakewood

By Fazeel Azeez Chauhan
Pictures by Anwar Khawaja and Faiz Ahmed

Glimpses of the qawali function organized by Pakistan Link in collaboration with Indus TV and Naz8 Cinema in Lakewood.

Lakewood , CA: In keeping with its sustained strivings to bring the community together, Pakistan Link took the lead again and organized a highly entertaining qawali program on Friday, October 16 in Lakewood. The premier community newspaper held the well-attended social extravaganza, a milestone in its services, in collaboration with Indus TV and Naz 8 Cinema. The qawali featured Imran Aziz Mian and his group.

You are 18 years old, on tour with your legendary father, when he passes away in Iran. What do you do? Imran Aziz Mian was faced with this tragedy in December 2000. Aziz Mian led one of the top three Qawali groups of the world, along with Sabri brothers and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He died from complications of hepatitis in Tehran.

The Iranian government had invited him to sing at Hazrat Ali’s death anniversary. He said, “Some people say I fight with God a lot”. Like Iqbal’s “Shikwa”, he lamented about human suffering and religious paradoxes, to unravel age-old philosophical questions. Yet his language and appealing delivery were very accessible to the layperson. He performed thousands of concerts and left behind 150 albums.

Friday’s concert was at the Naz 8 cinema in Lakewood. Although Imran had been in Los Angeles before, this was the first time he led the group. He joked with the audience and kept a delicate balance of the show’s mood, occasionally mixing humor with soul-stirring poetry. Often at the beginning of songs, the group played long instrumental jams to get the people warmed up. He frequently improvised on the harmonium, rapidly moving his fingers up and down, all over the keyboard, to the crowd’s amazement.

Imran quickly built rapport with the audience and said he could go on playing each Qawali for hours, specially “Main Sharabi”. But to fulfill the many requests, he was abbreviating each piece to about ten minutes. The audience cheered and clapped throughout the concert and was very grateful to get their favorites played. During the break, people socialized and enjoyed dinner catered by Shahnawaz Restaurant.

Glimpses of the qawali function organized by Pakistan Link in collaboration with Indus TV and Naz8 Cinema in Lakewood

Imran performed for two and a half hours and it was almost 2am when the show came to a close. He is very comfortable on stage, as if he was born to play the role. Naturally confident yet humble, he is a gifted and brilliant musician who has become a top performer of Pakistan. The group’s next stop is UK and they are expected to be increasingly successful for the rest of their lives.

Standing on the shoulders of musical giants, Imran Aziz Mian carries on the Qawali legacy of his father. He is on a three month tour of America. He has successfully become the new Mian sahib, and is on track to be a top Qawal on the world stage. Hamnawa, Ahmed Deen stated, “It doesn’t do justice to compare Nusrat with Rahat Ali Khan, or Aziz Mian or Sabri Brothers”. Each Qawal has his own distinct style, like a follower said about Sufi saints, “Each is a unique flower from the same garden”.

Qawali is an ecstatic ritual to purify the mind. Said Imran, “The job of the Qawal is like an imam, who leads the audience from materialism into the spiritual realm”. The journey enlists listeners to open their hearts and receive healing and wisdom of Sufi saints. Qawali developed around Sufi shrines and played a cultural role at weddings and festivals. The movie “Khuda Kay Liyay” shows how some “religious” conservatives rigidly claim that spiritual music is harmful rather than nourishing. They try to restrict a human who naturally seeks understanding and refreshing entertainment to ease the tension in his daily life. Qawali is Sufi poetry set to music, and it propagates Islamic values. It is the most dominant form of Sufi music in the West. Qawali functions as a bridge between Muslims and others, by overcoming racial, religious and caste divides.

“Aaj Rang Hai” is Imran’s sixth album released on the Geo TV label. Aziz Mian has fourteen children but only three are active in Qawali. His brother Nadeem who sings with Imran, recalled the illustrious life of his father. Aziz Mian’s remains were brought back from Iran, and buried in Multan, where an annual “urss” is held in May. Their brother, Tabrez Aziz Mian has another Qawali group. His features and style closely resemble his father’s.

Manager Salah-ud-Din said, “Aziz Mian began singing in the Army. Until the 1970’s, every wedding in Peshawar had Qawali, but later the trend changed”. The audience was brought to mystical trance by the soul jarring, hypnotic beats of Muhammed Sarvar. He helped to create the “sama”. Like all the other hamnawa, Zaheer Ahmed spent many years with Aziz Mian. He said, “ Pakistan is surviving on God’s blessings and Prophet Muhammed’s legacy. Most people are poor and can’t get by when wheat flour is 15 Rupees and sugar is 30 Rupees per pound”. Two billion people in the world, earn $2 per day and many Pakistanis live in poverty. But the West admits there are many problems in America, due to spiritual poverty. Here, we lack that Sufi heritage and the 800-year history of Qawali, which inspired our ancestors to become Muslim.

Specially since 911, the West is in denial about the humanistic principles, social justice and practical wisdom of Islamic teachings. Through oral traditions of story telling and reciting poetry, Sufi teachers and Qawali singers, brought beauty and meaning to people’s lives. Saints like Bulleh Shah, emphasized love and service to humanity in every day practice, instead of getting lost in rituals. Rumi is the most popular poet in America and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is a Muslim singer famous all over the world. Through these gateways, non-Muslims get inspired and appreciate the beauty of Islam.

Sufi musicians like the Imran Aziz Mian group are busy with spiritual upliftment of people and avoid political conflicts. The word “Qawl” is an utterance or wise saying. Since 711, the enlightened masters of Indian sub-continent, summarized their teachings into Sufi poetry. Every word of each verse is an awesome pearl of wisdom in a rosary. It is the remembrance of the divine, praise of the Creator, Prophet Muhammed, saints like Chishti Ajmeri, Data Ganj Baksh and Fareed Shakar Ganj. Persians say Allama Iqbal is the re-incarnation of Rumi, and even Deepak Chopra quotes Rumi.

Like his father, Imran writes his own lyrics, artfully blending them with the poetry of Iqbal, Ghalib, Khusro, etc. At times he rapidly rapped dozens of verses, with amazing timing and presence of mind. He uses no written notes, with only two instruments; dhol and harmonium. He played a special song on Diwali to thank the Indian audience. Qawali is also popular with Hindus, Sikhs and Westerners. It is similar to devotional music like gospel and bhajan. The audience showered the Qawals with hundreds of dollars during their favorite verses.

Imran acknowledged the many fans of Aziz Mian, who knew most Qawalis by heart. They swayed with joy as Imran generously sang their requests and favorites, including “Allah hee Jaanay Kown Bashar hay”, “Main Sharabi”, and “Ya Nabi”.

Nusrat said “Qawali began 800 years ago in Afghanistan”. The songs nourish the human spirit and refresh the soul. To the novice, the poetry can seem wildly secular, or hedonistic, but like ghazal, it takes the listener into a deep internal journey. In that reflective state called “wajd” or “haal”, a person discovers the meaning of human existence, divine love, separation, devotion and longing.

To see what you missed, some songs have been put online at Imran’s request:

He invites you to the concert on December 11. It will be a lot of joy for the whole family.



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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