My voice is just a vehicle and I like breaking conventions: Askari Naqvi

Known for taking Soz Khwani outside its strict religious setting and presenting the elegy in a one-hour performance where it goes beyond the realm of religion and acknowledges personal loss, alienation and loneliness, Lucknow-based singer Askari Naqvi, who performed Kabir for the first time at the recently concluded Mahindra Kabira Festival in Varanasi, ensured that it was done in a never-before style.

Mindful of the fact that Kabir consistently defied conventions, Naqvi picked up two compositions of the great poet — ‘Jhini Jhini’ and ‘Man Lago Mero Yaar Fakiri Mein’ and composed them in tunes that had not been attempted by anyone before. “I had read him, but never attempted his work. For me, it was important that I used my voice just as a vehicle and let Kabir say what he has to. I composed both of them myself, they were sung in tarannum, not bandish.”

Stressing that his idea with tarannum is to break orthodoxies, Naqvi says, “I am a trained singer and can also sing in structure but I choose not to. Look, the conventional structures might have their own value, but ultimately, it is a conversation. If music can translate your words and convey your message, why this obsession over ‘structure’?” he asks.

Coming back to Soz Khwani, which he has been doing on stage for the past five years, the artist says that he still has to search for work, despite the fact that she has done shows across the world. “Maybe I am not able to figure out how I should present it to the audience. For me, it is beyond religion. It is totally a cultural music exercise for me. It is something that gives me what I want from my music. Of course, if we go to Europe and do it, there will be a place. Same holds true for the US, which has been a playground for artists for many years now.”

Though the pandemic stopped his plans for collaboration with traditional artists, Naqvi is impressed with the reach of digital concerts. “There have been so many first-time audience members from across the world. Of course, digital cannot replace the magic of live. When you actually sit down to sing in front of a camera, you have to ‘act’…it is like you are talking to yourself. You have to get in the character. In physical performance, the response of the audience can shape the performance. You cannot emulate that energy during an online performance.”

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