Usman Riaz is easily one of the most talked about artists these days. At the age of just 20, he can play guitars and piano rather beautifully. With one album, Flashes & Sparks, under his belt, Usman Riaz soon become a viral hit. His debut music video, ‘Fire Fly’, directed by the very talented duo of Bilal Khan and Shayan Agha, has become an indie sensation. And with all his skills intact, Usman also got picked up by Uth Records.
In this conversation with Instep, Usman Riaz tells us more about his music, inspiration and more…
Instep: How did you get started in music?
Usman Riaz: I have been playing music since I was very young. My father’s family is very musical, his grandfather was an Eastern music scholar and my father’s mother was a very passionate Eastern classical musician herself. I would spend most of my childhood in her room. I was around three or four years of age and she would always be practicing her music or writing poetry. I was used to seeing people practice meticulously from an early age. That had a significant impact on me. She recognized my potential when she saw me playing her harmonium, she managed to convince my father (a musician himself) to arrange piano lessons for me. From the age of seven, I have been playing classical piano and to this day my favorite genre of music is Western classical. My favorite composer from the genre being Nicolo Paganini, the violin virtuoso, followed by Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt (two piano virtuosos).
Instep: What instruments do you play?
Usman Riaz: I began playing the guitar at age 16 and absolutely fell in love with the instrument. Apart from being expressive and sounding great the guitar was one thing the piano was not, portable. I took it with me everywhere and kept practicing hard. I love the music of people like Michael Hedges and Kaki King, Jimmy Page and Steve Vai are also guitarists whom I look up to very much. Apart from the guitar and piano I also experiment with a variety of Eastern instruments; the harmonium, sitar, surmundal etc etc. My favorite instrument apart from my two main ones is the harmonica. I also enjoy playing the mandolin.
Instep: Tell us about your experience with Uth Records?
Usman Riaz: It was a great experience. I got to learn a lot from recording and working with such senior musicians. It was a lot of fun
Instep: Tell us about your album, Flashes & Sparks.
Usman Riaz: Flashes & Sparks is the beginning of a slow process that will InshaAllah lead to all my dreams coming true. My music is an amalgamation of everything i have learnt in my life. from my percussive guitar piece ‘Fire Fly’ to my orchestral piece ‘Fragaria Dreams’ and finally the closing ‘Clouds Before The Storm’, a piece that incorporates piano and guitar as well my love for different time signature changes and percussion.
Instep: Do you think there is a market for your music?
Usman Riaz: I do believe that there is a place in the music industry and market here for someone like me. I feel that so far no one has been able to do what I do and therefore I am lucky enough to have a completely clean slate or canvas to work with. And I have to be honest, there is nothing more exciting than that.
Instep: Are you also looking at an Indian release of your album?
Usman Riaz: India would be a great place for my music since it is so integrated into their culture. I would love for a release in their wonderful country.
Instep: How difficult was it to release a record?
Usman Riaz: It was not difficult to release Flashes & Sparks. The recording process was difficult because I had no one to help me and I did all the work on my own. Yes I had guidance from my elders and the studio production crew and studio musicians but essentially it was me working on my own. Scoring, composing, balancing the audio levels to suit my liking, playing all the instruments (except the drums on ‘Clouds Before The Storm’), was all handled by me so that is why it took such a long time to finish. Thank God for everything.
Instep: What about a music video and live gigs? Any plans?
Usman Riaz: I am strictly against calling any visual piece for my music a ‘music video’ nor am I going to refer to it as a shot film. I merely refer to it as a ‘film piece’. I wanted the film piece for ‘Fire Fly’ to be a story in its own right. It was filmed like an independent movie and I was very firm about how I wanted it to look.
The filmmakers did a wonderful job with it and I am honored to have worked with such wonderful and creative people.
Live performances are coming up. I am rehearsing for a performance festival that will last three days at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. It will be a vey elaborate performance and I am very excited about it.
I truly believe music is magic. I see God’s magnificence through it. I thank God for everything he has given me all the time.