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Name: Tasawar Bashir

About Me:

I'm Tas, a producer, programmer, and artist and have delivered over a 100 arts projects for organisations, mainly in Birmingham, but often in other parts of the country and sometimes around the world. They cover many creative fields including film production and exhibition, music research and production, archicture research and design, data visualisation, creative writing, photography, graphic design, sound art and installation based conceptual art, as well as, artist mentoring and professional career development. 

I hold a strong belief that art can transform lives and help create a more compassionate world, and I am much more receptive where the art being produced is driven by social agendas. 

Thesis Title: Emperor in Birmingham

Thesis Description: A cultural history of qawwali music in Birmingham from 1978 to 1984.


In 1978, qawwali singer, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s first public performance outside the Asian Subcontinent was in Birmingham, England. The venue was a dilapidated and run down cinema, and in front of him were a crowd of Punjabi migrant workers eager to experience a new folk singer from ‘back home’. From the very first moment of the concert it was very clear the young man was in possession of a unique gift – a vocal power of raw intensity and a fiery spiritual energy. By the end of the concert they would call him, Shahen-Shah, the Emperor – and, almost twenty years later, after he unexpectedly died, the world of music would call him by the same name.

Modern Qawwali & Birmingham

My doctoral research will aim to demonstrate how Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s popularity could be attributed to the cultivation of a unique aesthetic derived from three linked elements –  the modern studio recording enviroment, the creation of a new canon through performance, and the re-articulation of Sufi spiritual practice in urban space. To test my hypothesis I shall analyse audio and video recordings of key performances he gave in Birmingham during the formative years of his professional career. A cornerstone of this investigation will also include archival research at the Birmingham head-office of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s record label, Oriental Star Agencies (OSA), a source that has never been used in scholarship before. The collection includes correspondence, production notes, diaries, contracts, master recordings, out-takes, poems, photographs, video footage, posters, programme notes, press-releases, and other material relating to a twenty-year period of Ali Khan’s professional life. I will supplement this with extensive interviews with audience members, producers, musicians, sound engineers, and commercial promoters associated with modern qawwali. 

Precedents & Research Summary

Extant scholarship has focused primarily on qawwali’s socioeconomic and religious contexts in India and Pakistan up to the late 1970s (Qureshi 1986), and its decontextualisation, commodification and recontextualisation after it became a part of Bollywood soundtracks and world music festival circuits (Manuel 1993). My research will add to scholarship on qawwali by examining its proliferation outside traditional sacred spaces, and its reception amongst Indian and Pakistani Diaspora communities in the United Kingdom, starting in the late twentieth century. Documenting what happened in Birmingham will bring to light hidden narratives in the history of a twentieth century cultural icon, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, while also contributing to sound studies, the anthropology of Islam, and ethnomusicological studies of South Asia and Asian diasporic communities. 


Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Eliot Bates - University of Birmingham Music Department

Mustafa Draper - University of Birmingham Theology Department



2010 - The Sampad Story - A Twenty-Year Retrospective

2008 - Dark Matter - A Study of Migrant Workers in Dubai - Architectural Association (Editor Ingo Nierman)


Documentary Films

2012 Shottin' - Produced by Adil Hani Directed by Tasawar Bashir - Documentary exploring low-level drug selling among young people in Birmingham.

2008 Who You Really Reppin? - Produced by Adil Hani Directed by Emil Tasawar & Tasawar Bashir - Documentary exploring gang affiliation among young people in Birmingham.


2014 - Qawwali BEAST - CBSO Centre

2014 - My Route Exhibition - featuring new work by Vanley Burke and sound pods designed by Brian Duffy


2005-2007 Mirage Film Festival - Curator

2006 Architecuture Film Festival - Artist Director - Custard Factory Birmingham


Public Engagement Activities:

2014- Home, Harmony & Hope - Exhibition - Panel Discussion Member

2014 - Chant on the Wings of Gabriel - presentation by Qawwali Research Unit - Art & Science Festival - University of Birmingham 

2013 - Imran Qureshi Exhibition at Ikon Gallery Birmingham - Chair of Panel Discussion

Commissions (as Lead Artist)

2013 Venice Architecture Biennale - Kuwait International Pavilion - Sound Artist

2012 New Art Exchange - Art and Faith Lab - Multidisciplanary Artist

2011 Asian Triennial Manchester - Infinite Qawwali - Sound & Light Installation at Jodrell Bank - Sound and Visuals Artist

2007 Festival of Extreme Buildings - Flat pack Shrine for Bollywood Playback Singer Mohammad Rafi - Lead Designer


Epic Failures

2003/2004 - Joint Head of Cultural Projects - Birmingham European Capital of Culture Bid Team

2010 - Proposed Exhibition about Pakistan's Flood Victims


Other Research Interests

Architecture (Sketch Up), Unity (Software), 



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