Washington Post, January 13, page: C-05

Niazi Brothers

Last summer's Smithsonian Folklife Festival presented dozens of musical virtuosos from the Near and Far East, but under less than ideal circumstances for careful listening. Saturday night at the Freer Gallery, however, one of the festival's acts was able to perform at length in a less distracting venue. Accompanying themselves on harmoniums, Pakistan's Niazi Brothers sang Sufi poems and Punjabi folk standards for more than three hours.

The melodies in the first part of the program were derived from classical ragas, although the music's structures and rhythms were less complex. Javaid and Babar Niazi sang in rich, sweet tones but without the intricate interplay of classical Indian music or the call-and-response vocals of larger groups that perform qawwali, Sufi songs of devotion. One of the lyrics was by Guru Gobind Singh, a 17th-century Sikh saint; during that song, many turbaned men came forward to place monetary offerings on the stage.

After the intermission, the Niazis sang folk material, which was generally livelier and more dance-oriented. An excerpt from "Hir Ranjha," an 18th-century epic poem, was hushed and rhythmically free, but most of the songs were thumping and ecstatic, with melismatic vocal lines and singalong choruses.