On a very random visit to my old university, I saw a kid performing on the stage, the way his fingers were moving on the piano and during the next performance, on the guitar, I was left completely awe-struck. My curiosity led me to find out more about him from a couple of students who then helped me get his contact details.
The very talented Usman Riaz, charming but a little shy, is a graduate student of Communication Design at the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture. During our quick chats in the recent past, he has kept me posted on his upcoming album, his new videos, and international performances and how thankful he remains to his fans.
Within a few months of my first meeding with him, Riaz was on local television channels with his song “Firefly” and travelling around the world for TED talks and international performances. With nomination in Lux Style Awards, a background score in an upcoming Pakistani film “Seedlings”, to the recent the Hum Awards as the best emerging music sensation category, where the management somehow missed the category altogether. This young music sensation is everywhere.
Riaz is in Austin, Texas, these days to perform in South by Southwest (SXSW), a set of film, interactive and musical festivals and conferences that take place every spring in United States.
Before leaving for Austin, Riaz spoke to Dawn.com about his childhood memories and his passion for music:
Your family has obviously been a big influence in your decision to take up music as a profession, but was there ever a natural inclination towards it as well?
My family was always very supportive of my work. They never pushed me too hard and let me discover things on my own. I always felt drawn to music. Ever since I was young. I didn't realise it at that time but it was a big part of me while growing up. My grandmother was an eastern classical musician like her father and I would always watch her practicing or playing. I really enjoyed it as far back as I can remember. My parents got me to take up piano lessons and that's when I fell in love with classical music and orchestra pieces. I never thought I'd be doing the things I'm doing now musically, but here I am. I'm just grateful to God I get to do something I love.
You are also a very talented artist; if not music would you have gone in that direction professionally? How similar are the two forms (music and art)? Can you picture yourself doing anything else besides music?
My aunt (mother’s sister) is an avid listener of classical music and a fine arts scholar. She and my mother always encouraged me to draw. I've been drawing since I have been playing music. Music and art have been a big part of my life. I can't imagine not doing one or the other. I would have loved to pursue art on a more professional level… I guess I got to when I made the painting for 'circus in the sky'.
What was the first tune(s) you learned?
I don't remember the very first thing I learnt on piano since I was so young and learnt so many pieces. But I remember when I first picked up the guitar at 16, I wanted to learn ‘Bron-Y-Aur Stomp’ by Led Zeppelin. And I did!
What are your fondest musical memories?
My fondest musical memories are my grandmother’s classical music evenings when I was four or five years old. She would have massive functions at home and her fellow musicians would share their own musical compositions with each other and an enthusiastic audience. I loved jumping through the piles of shoes to enter the crowded room to hear the musicians perform. It was so much fun watching the tabla players powering the drum skins and hearing the sitars being tuned and its harmoniums droning. My grandmother would pull out one of her leather books containing her musical notes and poetry and she would then perform. It was a very special time for me.
Where do you see yourself in the next few years? Do you think your music is geared more towards a global audience rather than a Pakistani one?
I used to think that all the time! I used to wonder what am I doing, whether I’ll actually have an audience or if I'm being very self indulgent with my work. I'm very grateful for all the wonderful things that are happening now. From TEDGlobal 2012 to OneBeat conferences to SXSW performances. It's amazing how the audiences in these gatherings respond to my work. They see how much I love doing what I do and appreciate the effort I put in. The people in Pakistan are also starting to notice my work, it’s a slow process but I'm very grateful. I think anyone who wants to enjoy my work can enjoy it, whether they are in Pakistan or anywhere else. I want it to resonate with anyone who listens to it.
Tell us a little bit about your TED Global experience and when you performed with your musical inspiration, Preston Reed. How was the experience?