On a Musical Journey with Zaheer Rizvi

Social Diary spoke to Mr. Zaheer Rizvi to get an insight into his journey to Musical Learning and also talked about his way of teaching. We hope to also get a sneak peek into his future projects and current work in progress.


Syed Zaheer Rizvi is a Pakistani Music Director and Teacher. He is the prodigy of the legendary Ustad Saleem Iqbal (late). Amongst his innumerable achievements, Rizvi holds the honor of being the one and only musician in the world during the 1994-1998 era; who taught music through weekly newspaper articles. His achievements also include the Asian Academy Award, Multi Media Award, PTV Award, UNICEF Award and the National Award of 2012, given to him by the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Raja Parvez Ashraf.

Could you tell us a bit about the path of your Musical Learning?

For those who don’t know much about my background my family had absolutely no association with Music neither did my predecessors. I was drawn to singing as a schoolboy, it was in fact my 8th class teacher who spotted a spark in me; and with the permission of my father took me to Ustad Chotay Ghulam Ali Khan. This was truly the beginning as I started learning Eastern Classical under his wing . He was the one who taught me the key basics of Raag and Thaath and other concepts associated with Eastern Classical Music. After his death I studied under the legendary Ustad Saleem Iqbal. He is the one really that I consider my musical self a product of, he taught me the theory and application of concepts that I had brought forward from Ustad Chotay Ghulam Ali Khan. In essence he took me from being a student to a composer and a teacher, this was the man who I quite often refer to as “Darwesh”  he had an air of simplicity to him; yet the charisma in his teaching and his personality was anything but unnoticeable. Deciphering every piece of poetry to understand its underlying meaning, and above all how to decide the Raag or Thaath that would suit the poetry; these are all the essentials that I uncovered under Ustad Saleem Iqbal.


So will you be supportive of your children if they want to follow in your footsteps, and are we going to see a Junior Zaheer Rizvi?.

My parents never imposed their will on me and supported whatever I wanted to do with my life. For my children I reciprocate the same, yes I would love for my son and even daughters to follow in my footsteps. My children’s inclination towards music is very hobby like however, and they have never expressed the desire to pursue music; all of them want to be doctors for some reason.

We do know that you have a huge student base and we have been lead to believe by some of your students that you have a distinct methodology of teaching Music; we would like to know a little about that.

Alhamdulillah yes! I have approximately 7000 students in and outside Pakistan. There is absolutely nothing special in my way of teaching, it is how I believe it should be. It is how I was taught and hence I had no choice but to try to mirror the way of my Ustad (Saleem Iqbal Sahab). There is spirituality to the learning and teaching of Music, it is the bringing together of heart and mind in its pure form that enables a student to unlock the secrets to this vast ocean. Ustad Saleem Iqbal would tell me to imagine summoning Allah while I was practicing my Vocal notes; to ask him for his blessings for a beautiful and soulful voice and for the understanding of Music. To date I perform ablution before I approach my Music Instruments, a practice also embedded in me by my late Ustad. To all my students I teach the same.


Glamour is taken to be one of the main ingredients for success and fame in the Musical world these days. We don’t see any glamour around you, why is that?

I agree it is important, and I am supportive of it subject to various moral and cultural standards of course. I am however against glamour being the very stepping stone of success, it should in my opinion be an add on to your skill and overall personality. My stress would be on the skill. You acquire this skill through a lot of hard work, consistency and sheer dedication.


What is your take on the current Music scenario of the Region?

First of all we are in a huge mess be it Music, Film, Politics etc wherever you look. As far as Music is concerned there is still good, meaningful and soulful work happening out there; but that ratio is strikingly less. The fast paced technological advances in Musical instruments, studios and recording softwares have no doubt opened up so many more avenues. They have facilitated the composer of today with unprecedented power. But in my view this power is being abused. Did you know that the great Lata G and our very own Madam Noor Jahan, were made to rehearse more than at least twenty times before they could record a song?.I could go on and on about the so much we have lost in pursuit for better and more, but then you would have to publish a book on my views.
Besides teaching music are you currently working on any music projects?

LSA is my main focus these days, besides that I am working with Radio Pakistan coordinating their recordings and am affiliated with a few TV channels for background scores. Apart from all this I am currently working on a book that aims to consolidate knowledge of the Eastern Classical Music, this book I hope could become a good source to learn the very basics.This book was a dream of my late Ustad (Saleem Iqbal)  and he handed the torch to me. I hope to complete it and publish it during my lifetime.


Will this book of yours be one it’s kind?

No and I wouldn’t even dare claim that. There are a few reasons which compelled my late Ustad and are driving me to work on this book. We find many contradictions in key concepts of the Eastern Music and in most cases the language used in these books is indecipherable by many and yes there is lack of relevant examples and analogies to explain key concepts.

Since this book is aimed at the layman man wanting to learn Eastern Classical Music hence I am using extremely simple language, with a lot of examples and analogies; much like what I did with my newspaper articles back in the 90’s.My book I hope and pray would break this stigma and make the learning of Eastern Classical accessible to those willing.


You mentioned LSA, please tell us more about that project of yours. 

LSA is an abbreviation of Lahore School of Arts, it got registered 4 years back. LSA is like my own private sanctuary, it is a Music Academy where I try to maintain to the best of my capacity the moral and otherwise technical standards of teaching that I have learned through my teachers. Originally I envisioned the institute only for Music and currently we have students enrolled for Singing, keyboard playing,violin,tabla,sitar and guitar lessons. But lately I have had great support from friends that are associated to other Media and Art related fields. Hence we are looking forward to offering other art forms such as  photography, dance, acting etc.


What is your ultimate vision for LSA?

Well I am a dreamer, so I would love to see LSA be a Chartered University one day which offers Music and other Media/Art related disciplines. I would love for LSA to produce talented artists who in their relevant fields can produce ground breaking work. LSA has an extremely long way to go, till it even gets close to being registered as a University let alone being one of the best. But once there I would love for it to be a force to be reckoned with.


Lastly how do you see the future of Music in Pakistan?

All the pessimism and skepticism about today’s situation apart, the future is Insha Allah bright. The world they say is surviving helmed by a few good men. As I said before there are people still doing soulful, meaningful and work that is backed up by genuine Musical Knowledge. Slowly but surely we are seeing a host of Institutes opening, that are incorporating Music as a formal subject; this alone I would argue is a major step towards securing a strong Musical base in the country.