A Musical Genius: Usman Riaz at TEDxGateway (Full Transcript)

I’m fortunate to come from a family inclined towards the arts. I’ll give you a few examples.

My great grandfather was an Eastern music scholar, as well as a multi-instrumentalist. He played many instruments, like the violin, the sarangi, and even the harmonium. My grandmother chose to follow in her father’s footsteps, and became an Eastern classical musician, as well as a stage performer. That’s her dressed as a man. Her brother, my great uncle, he is one of Pakistan’s last remaining orators and his wife is one of the country’s leading Kathak dancers.

My parents recognized my musical aptitude at an early age, and had me classically trained in piano since the age of six. This is a short passage of one of my pieces.

(Piano music )

Thank you. As I got older, I wanted to branch out an experiment and try different things, and this is when I felt extremely limited back home, in Pakistan, because as it is, teachers are so difficult to come by, and those that aren’t, they are only focused on either Western classical music or Eastern classical music. There was nobody who could guide me and help me to do all the wonderful things that I saw artists doing on sites like YouTube.

So, I had no choice but to let the Internet itself be my teacher. I would watch hundreds of videos online. I would close my eyes and listen to the audio over and over again, and decipher each note. Either that or I’d have to pause the clip at precise moments to examine finger positions. This is how I learned.

I’ll show you one of the first things that I learned when I was 16, when I first picked up the guitar.

(Guitar music in YouTube video)

All right. That was one of the first things that I learned. As time went by, it became easier for me to pick up things from the Internet. So I started doing exactly that, learning from the Internet.

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And why just stop there? Why limit myself? Why not use all this instrumental knowledge that I’m acquiring to write my own music? Why not write orchestra pieces, and even make paintings regarding and related to those orchestra pieces? Something like this.

(Music)

Why not use the Internet to learn something a bit more obscure, like body percussion? And why not use the Internet to do exactly what I wanted to in the beginning, which was to play different instruments, like maybe the mandolin, or the harmonica.

(Harmonica music)

It doesn’t need to stop there. Why not learn to combine all these things into a film that I could direct?

(Film)

Thank you. This way of acquiring knowledge and sharing ideas can lead to so many wonderful things, like being selected to be a TED Fellow, and performing alongside the man whose videos I used to watch and be inspired by when I first picked up the guitar, Preston Reed.

When I spoke on the TED main stage, it was a wonderful experience to play with him at TED Global; it was like a dream come true. It could also lead to being selected to be one of 32 musicians specifically selected by the US State Department to be part of a cultural and musical exchange tour in a program that happened in the United States, just a few months ago, a few weeks ago actually, sorry I got back from it a few weeks ago.

It was wonderful to be part of something like that, to see musicians from all over the world come together and work together. It was an incredible experience. I’ll just end with the composition that I wrote for guitar at the age of 18, I think I just want to say that we have so much information and knowledge available to us, at our fingertips. Just imagine what we can do if we decide to use it.

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(Guitar music)

Thanks. Thank you.

 

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