The spoken word has gained momentum in Pakistan over the last few years. The medium of art allows a person to express themselves in written words; poetry. With the sense of empowerment it provides, many in Pakistan now take the stage to express themselves.One such person, who is using her words and poetry to express her feelings and emotions is Melbourne based Pakistani artist Alea Rizvi.
She moved to Australia to pursue her studies, and then, “love got the better of me and I ended up staying”.
Despite moving out of the country, Karachi was always home and she caught the attention of the late Musadiq Sanwal, an editor at Dawn through her three part series ‘Ode To Karachi‘.
“Although, I don’t live here but my heart bleeds when my city bleeds,” she wrote. Notice the poetic nature? Well, so did Sanwal. He noticed the poetic tilt in her prose and told Alea as much, she calls it the “ultimate compliment.” Her prose soon turned into spoken word poetry – and her first spoken work was penned on Whatsapp for school friends “now scattered around the world”. It was titled ‘Nostalgia’.
It wasn’t something that she always wanted to do. She started off working in high finance, and then forayed into publishing. Her life, however has also seen a lot of meditating. She went backpacking across the Middle East and settled in Australia, and somewhere along the way her “meditation found its expression in words.”
Her work first gained popularity via SBS Urdu Radio Australia. Zain Nabi gave her guidance and a platform to showcase her work. From thereon, she had her spoken word featured on Patari, Pakistan’s largest music streaming platform.
Her poetry is recited to the rhythm of music, because “the beauty of words spoken to the tune of music always appealed to [her]”.
Ayesha Sohail is the guitarist who joined her for the ride shortly after she wrote her first poem. All great artists start off singing in their bathrooms and Ayesha and Alea recorded their audition audio for SBS Urdu Radio in their bathroom “as the acoustics are actually better in there” Alea jokes.
Her first track was played on radio in February and received great response, in her own words she got “lucky right at the start”.
She also pitched her track to Patari and made a rookie mistake by sending her first track without a name. “It got me a tweet from Ahmer Naqvi. So I guess it was a worthy mistake.” she jokes.
Having grown up in a household where she was surrounded by literature and poetry, Alea admires the masters of Urdu poetry including Ghalib, Faiz and Mustafa Zaidi. Their work has greatly influenced her own poetry, even though she claims she can never write like them. It’s a case of “kahan woh, kahan yeh band e nacheez“, she says.
Her use of tabla in her poem ‘Adam kay Baitay’ was influenced by Zia Moheyeddin, when she heard a recitation of Noon Meem Rashid to the tune of tabla and sitar on his show.
She also describes her life as her greatest influence. “I am not musically literate but I have a passion for music. My work so far has been a very steep learning curve in terms of music.”
She says she has worked with ‘fantastic’ people and the “unknown makes the whole process gratifying when finally it all comes together.”
“Most of the musicians I have worked with have very basic or no knowledge of Urdu which makes the process very challenging since we work with spoken word poetry,” she says.
Her poem ‘The Essence of Being’ is particularly special to her and she says it’s like bearing her soul. She describes it as her ‘Hamd e Rab’.
However more tragic life events also lend their influence. Her latest track Dhamaal, which was inspired after the blast at Sehwan Sharif in March, and is most interesting and stems from her personal experience and love for dhamaal.
“I had visited Sehwan Sharif many years ago as a teen. I was planning to go there again, especially for dhamaal, when I was in Karachi last year. Somehow it never transpired. When I heard of the blast, I felt an immense sense of loss. It felt like a part of my universe was slipping away from me. I wanted to preserve some part of it before it’s all lost or sanitized”, she said.
According to her, people got to mazars to “find some semblance of hope and divinity”.
“Yes, I too go to these mazars as I find peace and hope there. For what is life without hope!” she remarks further.
It was this love and inspiration which started her journey towards ‘Dhamaal’. She paired up with Kuljit Singh who played the dhol and tabla and guitarist Ayesha Sohail to record Dhamaal to “express [their] shared respect for the great sufi Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and his devotees.”
For time shall not forget those who live and die for their ishq
What’s next for Alea? She’s currently collaborating with some young musicians in Karachi, and writing a song for them. As for everything else, “Over to life and destiny.”