“I believe music has great depth and by defining it we limit it only as far as our own imagination.” – Atif Aslam
Atif Aslam’s debut album Jalpari has received tremendous popular acclaim and has turned this twenty one year old into a force to reckon with in the Pakistani pop industry. However, his biggest hit to date has been ‘Aadat’ a song that made it big once it’s video was aired. Then came the Jal controversy that saw Atif and Gohar Mumtaz’s band Jal come out with the same album under different names. Much has been written about Jal and not enough about Atif. Instep caught up with pop’s new wonder boy to find out where he comes from, where he is headed and his take on Jal…
The response to your first album Jalpari has been overwhelming. How does that make you feel?
Atif Aslam: The response is really nice and I find it very encouraging. Most shopkeepers were unable to match the supply with the demand. People are congratulating me and sending me their best wishes. Most of the reviews have been quite positive as well. Listeners have found my album to be a mixture of lilting melodies and foot tapping numbers.
How did you become interested in music and singing?
AA: Interest in Music is some thing very natural, I mean it comes from within you. However, interest in singing is some thing different. I can still recall that my brothers had a collection of more than 8,000 songs comprising of almost all the music genres, which we used to listen and sing along as well. Then came the twist of fate when one day my friends forced me to take part in the singing competition of media Club at my College PICS. I sang ‘Duur’ by Strings and managed to win the competition somehow. My first win encouraged me to participate in all of such competitions and luckily I kept on winning the singing competitions each semester. It was only because of the appreciation and encouragement of my fellow students, that made me seriously think about joining this line. Otherwise I had other plans for myself none of which included singing and composing full time.
What about before college?
AA: Before college? No, not since childhood. We had Antakshari competitions at home once in a while and that was it. No one ever told me that I had an exceptional voice or that I should sing professionally. In fact I am not a good singer. That’s what I believe.
Hasn’t it become a cliche that every singer says that he was attracted towards music even as a child? What about the process of self–discovery as an adult?
AA: Yes you are right but my case is different. My child hood passion was cricket and not music. I always wanted to be a fast bowler and used to play for hours without caring for the weather outside. I happened to be the attack bowler of all the teams I played for. When I got a little older my craze for cricket increased rather than subsiding. I was highly determined to get into Pakistani Cricket Team until my studies came in my way. My time was divided between cricket and studies and as a result I was unable to concentrate on cricket as much as I wanted to. While at college my friends forced me to take up singing it as I have told you earlier. Thereon I started the journey towards self–discovery as you have called it and now I really feel that music gives me the feeling of blue. Whenever I am singing I feel like I am flying and it takes me to new heights each time.
When did you realise that singing was your true calling?
AA: About the time that I joined PAF College Cantt. for my Intermediate, one day I was singing a Kishore song and realized that it actually sounded nice. After that the tune for the song that is ‘Aadat’ formed in my mind. I even had some lyrics for it. When I sang this song I realized that the experience takes me to another world altogether. Afterwards I decided that to play my music I would hire musicians. That’s when I met Gohar at a party.
Weren’t Goher and you in the same college?
AA: Yes, but we hadn’t exactly met before. I used to play the guitar. Actually I was playing music at the party where I met him. We decided that we should team up and start a band. Next we decided to record ‘Aadat’ which was complete by that time.
You mentioned your moment of Zen when you realized singing is your cup of tea. What about your first live performance?
AA: Live performance… (chuckles). My first live performance was in the park outside McDonald’s, way back in 1999.
Was it with your ‘full band set-up’ or was it just you?
AA: We were jamming and I suggested to Goher we should go out to play somewhere. So we went along to the park outside McDonald’s. Goher started to play a cover of a Junoon song. At that time we used to play Junoon covers mostly. I closed my eyes and started to sing. People started gathering slowly and when I opened my eyes about fifteen people were standing and applauding us. At that point the McDonald’s manager came over too and requested us to play inside as well.
How did Jal happen anyway?
AA: After winning numerous singing competitions in college I came across a college fellow of mine, Goher who shared my passion for music. After the initial interaction and knowing each other phase we decided to join hands to perform in public together. We composed and recorded ‘Aadat’ and then to reach out to the masses we decided to form a band. I suggested the name Jal which Goher liked as well.
The story behind the name Jal is that Jal means water, which is the basic element of life and nature. The color of water is blue and when light falls upon water it forms the rainbow. So you can say that blue is the mother of all the colors and secondly the water makes way for itself as it travels. Hence the name Jal.
Were the introspective lyrics of ‘Aadat’ a conscious effort or something that just happened?
AA: To be honest it was not a very conscious effort at all. It was a reflection of our own selves and our feelings. It a generic song which can be easily implemented on any one’s life one–way or the other. The lyrics are expressive as well as heartfelt that’s why it appealed to a large cross section of people.
Did you expect ‘Aadat’ to be such a big hit? How was life before and after ‘Aadat’?
AA: When we recorded ‘Aadat’, my family and friends told me that it is very good song so much so that they did not even believe that I had sung it. By the positive of response of those around me I was expecting ‘Aadat’ to click with the audiences but in no way was I expecting it to be a mega super duper hit which it turned into later on.
Post–Aadat, the band received instant fame. Life become busy as a bee and a lot of good things happened. Autographs, pictures, concerts, interviews, fans all came together.
Were you responsible for the break up of Jal or was it the other way round? Don’t you think that two musicians having the same songs can confuse audiences?
AA: This is a topic I m literally fed up of. So no comments! But I would like to say that the case for the use of the name Jal is still pending in the court and they cannot use it like they are doing right now. I would emphasize that our ways are separate now. They are doing their music and I am doing my own. Let the public be the best judge of who’s better and worth listening. My good wishes are with Goher and his band.
Would you always play solo now or is joining another band not a ruled out option?
AA: Well you never know what will happen in future. One bad experience does not mean closing all doors and limiting my options. One should always be open minded in his approach for good things to come in his way. For the time being, however, I am happy playing solo.
Do you think Jalpari (your debut album) does justice to your musical talent? Are you satisfied with your output?
A A: No, actually this was recorded in a very short span of time. Goher and his band were proclaiming Jal to be theirs while we were lying low to see what they do next. When they didn’t come out with the album I went ahead and recorded the entire album in 3–4 shifts. The vocals were in fact recorded in a single shift. Therefore, this isn’t exactly the best that Atif is capable of. We can do a lot better and will do so with our next album.
So, is the second album ready already? How soon is it expected to come out in the market?
AA: Well, there is a rule here in Pakistan that there must be a gap of one year between two albums by any artist, so expect it sometime next year.
Do you think the current status of local music scene is progressive?
AA: The music scene here is very lively and is progressing gradually. It is showing good signs of development and has people representing all genres and styles of music. We need to support all musicians especially new entrants as they need our encouragement the most and possess the ability to change the future of the music industry in Pakistan.
Nowadays music has become more of a viewing pleasure as opposed to a listening one. Care to comment on that
AA: You see this is a multi media age. You must have heard that a picture is more descriptive than 50,000 words. Therefore a good song must be accompanied by a visually appealing video in order to create and enhance the impact of the artist in the minds of the viewers. It goes without saying that a good song needs an equally good presentation. Secondly it is common sense that there are more televisions in the world than cassette players therefore visual medium is more effective in order to reach out to a greater number of people.
How do you define your music since it is somewhere midway between rock and pop?
A A: My music has a fluid quality. I haven’t defined it myself or made any attempt at a definition. I want to perform music from several genres. Just like in my debut album, in future I plan to do bhangra, pop, rock, semi–classical and even experimental numbers. I believe music has great depth and by defining it we limit it only as far as our own imagination.
Are you still undecided as to which route to take as a musician?
A. I feel that I am too young to confine myself to a particular genre of music and remain limited to that only. As a singer and musician I would not like to define my type of music at this point in time. I want to experiment and come up with something new and totally different each time. Not only others I want to surprise myself as well. I believe I have to create a lot of music to define my own genre and this will take time.
Do you pen the lyrics of your songs also? If yes doesn’t it mean trying to be jack–of–all–trades?
AA: Yes, I also write the lyrics of my songs but you cannot say that it will make you a jack–of–all–trades. Actually writing and singing are two forms of expressing yourself. I also consult a lot of people after writing some thing in order to ensure that I have come up with a quality song and not rubbish or nonsense.
How do you compare your fan following in your hometown Lahore with that in other cities?
A A: Fans are the same everywhere. One time in Karachi two young children came over to my table at a restaurant and asked about different songs of mine. This feeling of recognition is both inspiring and inhibiting. When the ‘Aadat’ video hadn’t been aired I could go anywhere. Now it rarely happens that I’m not surrounded by fans when I go out.
How do you handle the female attention that you must be getting?
AA: Some times it flatters me but the people around me (particularly my family) always keep my feet firmly on ground and make me come back to reality. With time I am learning the art of handling the immense female attention I get at most times.
What are your musical influences? And who did you grow up listening to?
AA: I listen to all the music that is around me. I have heard a lot of Kishore. I have a wide spectrum of listening spanning from Noor Jehan to Pink Floyd and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to U2 and Eric Clapton. Personally I prefer to listen to Nusrat’s memorable qawwalis and do so whenever I am alone. This is in turn what shapes me as a musician and stimulates my creativity.
Courtesy : Savalz