Under Mughal rule, Sufism played a very important role in developing popular beliefs towards a more deeply spiritual form of Islam. Sufism gave rise to a number of interesting customs and traditions. These were most obvious in the realm of music. The most prominent genre of Sufi music here is the Qawwali. It is a distinct style of devotional Muslim music. In Pakistan, Qawwali has gained immense popularity in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab. Over the years Pakistan has had its fair share of legendary Qawwali singers such as Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Ghulam Farid Sabri and his son Amjad Sabri to name a few. However, there was this one particular gem of a Qawwal who did not gain as much attention as he deserved.
His delivery of Qawwalis made it seem as though lightning were crashing down upon a mountain.
Aziz Mian was born in Delhi on the 17th of April, 1942. His real or original name was Abdul Aziz.
“Mian” became strongly associated with him because he used to say the word in most of his Qawwalis! However, initially before beginning his career in Qawwali; he used to introduce himself as Aziz Mian Meeruthi. That word Meeruthi refers to the Northern Indian city of Meerut from which he migrated to Pakistan in 1947 and whereby settled in Lahore. At the minor age of 10, Aziz Mian started receiving training from Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan at the Data Ganj Baksh School in Lahore. Though it may come as a surprise to many, he did not restrict himself to a classical musical education. In fact, Aziz Mian earned himself degrees in Urdu literature, Arabic and Persian from the University of Punjab in Lahore.
Aziz Mian’s style and persona was quite different from his contemporary Qawwals. He was a non-conformist which made him non-traditional in his delivery too. As mentioned earlier, his voice was very powerful indeed. Moreover the passion and enthusiasm which he used to put into his performances was second to none. There used to come a time during his performance where he used to get so enthused that he would rise up, get on to his knees and raise his hands in the air as if the Heavens were granting him his wishes or his prayers.
Aziz Mian began his career singing Qawwali in army barracks which gave him the nickname of Fauji Qawwal. However, his journey to fame began in 1966 when he performed live in Iran in front of the Shah, Mohammad Raza Pahlavi – and won a gold medal from him after his performance. Aziz Mian was the only Qawwal to write his own lyrics in addition to singing material from other renowned poets. He was more inclined towards the religious-spiritual side of Qawwali rather than its entertainment qualities – as he often used to directly address the Divine in his performances and also touch upon the misery of humans in general.
His journey to fame began in 1966 when he performed live in Iran in front of the Shah, Mohammad Raza Pahlavi – and won a gold medal from him after his performance
Hashr Ke Roz Yeh Poochunga is known to be the longest commercially released Qawwali. It lasts for about 155 minutes. Apart from this, another very famous Qawwali by Aziz Mian was Teri Soorat in which he romanticizes upon visualizing the Beloved with very unique, profoundly exhilarating lyrics. The song transitions into another song called Mein Sharabi in which Aziz Mian openly laments his love and affection for alcohol. The entire Qawwali is based on one’s love and desire and includes some very witty remarks in between the lyrics as well.
Aziz Mian was blessed with eight sons. Most of them have followed in the footsteps of their father. Amongst all of his sons, Tabrez is considered to be the closet to his father’s style as his looks are a replica of Aziz Mian himself. Tabrez has also toured the United States of America for tribute concerts in honour of his father.
Aziz Mian contracted Hepatitis and died on the 6th of December, 2000, in Tehran, Iran. He was in Tehran to perform at the invitation of the Government of Iran. He is buried in Multan. His death anniversary is celebrated in the first week of May every year. A troop of about seven to eight Qawwals perform on his death anniversary.
His death anniversary is not mourned but celebrated and organized by one of his sons Shibli Aziz who is very interested in mysticism and Sufi traditions. Shibli Aziz is advocating and promoting the same powerful vision of spirituality as his father and has managed to gain quite a number of followers in doing so.
This year marks the 77th birth anniversary of Aziz Mian. To describe him in a few words would not be possible as the complexities, passion and brilliance which the man possessed defined more than just his unique style of singing. In 1989, the Government of Pakistan awarded him the Pride of Performance for his services to music. Such a gesture did indeed have significance. But gestures of appreciation for him pale in comparison to how much this great Qawwal achieved for Pakistani music.