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Usman Riaz, a quiet, unassuming lad from Pakistan, is slowly making his way into the global music scene. Many would know him from his recent appearance in TEDGlobal 2012, where he gave an inspiring performance on the guitar together with percussive guitar maestro, Preston Reed.
Right now, if there’s a word that describes Riaz, it would be an ‘inspiration’. Here is a young man who loves what he does, and does it well. If you’re thinking, “I’ve seen better performances on Youtube,” you’ve missed the point entirely. Look at his love for music, the raw passion, and how he connects with his audience. It is an artist’s story that makes his craft more compelling. To be honest, the first time watching his performance on TED, I wasn’t fully convinced yet, but after reading his background narrative, I was able to better relate with his music and appreciate it. Music is two-way – what the artist gives, and how you respond.
What is the backdrop of Riaz’s stage that makes him even more compelling? Some would say the fact that he learnt percussive guitar on his own – by watching videos of Kaki King and Preston Reed on Youtube. “We have the entire world’s knowledge available at our fingertips, imagine what can happen if we actually decide to use it,” was the tagline used for Riaz’s appearance at TEDxGateway. From such humble beginnings in front of a computer screen to playing alongside Preston Reed is indeed an intriguing story.
Sometimes, appreciation for music and the corresponding artist takes time to grow. At TEDGlobal 2012, Riaz came on stage, performed his set and finished it with cheeky harmonics, upon which part of the audience rose immediately to their feet, others hesitantly, to applaud the young man. Preston Reed came in next and gave his solo. Then Riaz came back in and did a duet with Reed. When they had finished, this time everyone gave a standing ovation; there was no more hesitancy. Riaz had won over the crowd.
There were no words spoken to the audience throughout their performance on-stage, just pure music. When they had finished their first duet, they just stood there and smiled at the applauding crowd, as if unsure of what to say, like they had used up all their words for their music.
For all his fame on the guitar, you’d be surprised to learn that Riaz’s preferred instrument is actually the piano. He does have an inner sense of rhythm as well, citing the musical cast ‘Stomp’ as one of his favorites. (Well, besides, being able to play percussive guitar does require that ability.)
Nevertheless, Riaz really shouldn’t be limited to be just “that guitar whiz who played alongside Preston Reed.” He is a well-rounded artist. He has an amazing ability to capture and tell stories, citing orchestral arrangements and film directing as his other expertise. As Riaz describes in an interview with Karen Eng, “percussive guitar is a very showy technique, and that’s why many people like to watch it. I enjoy that, but I must also tell them to listen to the story told by the music as well. And that is why I enjoy working on an orchestra piece, because then people tend to look at it as a whole.”
Watch ‘Ruckus’, a short film he directed based on an original composition from his album, ‘Circus in the Sky’. In this film, the ‘Stomp’ side of him comes out, with a well coordinated collection of beats and rhythms which he uses to paint a picture of the ruckus caused by two street urchins stealing a lady’s purse.
Having gone so far at such a young age, it would be easy to let it all get into his head. But Riaz remains humble, and is quick to acknowledge that this is all God’s doing. “God could take everything away from me tomorrow, regardless of what anyone says. I want to keep improving,” he mentions in an article by Rafay Mahmood.
What’s next for this young man? Quite a lot, with a performance with A.R. Rahman lined up for him in December. With his talent, there will definitely be more to come.
Image Courtesey of TED Conference