Saturday, March 12, 2005

Whisper to a scream


Even though he's a relatively new entrant in the music industry, Atif Aslam needs no introduction. Going from Jal to 'Jal Pari' since 'Aadat' hit the airwaves, it has been quite a ride for the vocalist. So we caught up with Atif to talk about his music, fame, and his plans of venturing into the acting arena! By popular demand, here's Atif Aslam...

Us: Your debut album 'Jal Pari' has done extremely well since it was released last year. Were you expecting it to be as successful as it was?
Atif Aslam: First of all, thanks a lot for giving me this opportunity to speak to the readers of Us. I was also a very regular reader of Us in my school days. This is a wonderful platform for the young and talented people of Pakistan to express (themselves). The majority of my fans are teenagers and this interview will provide me a nice bridge to approach those fans.
Coming to my album, I wasn't expecting it to be this big a hit. Although I worked hard to record it and was considering it to be a good album according to my input, but God has been extremely kind to me by giving me this much success, which is far beyond my expectations. He has showered His enormous blessings on me, and I'm always thankful to Him for this.

Us: Any personal favourites out of the tracks on the album?
Atif: All of them are my heart's favourites, but I personally like 'Aadat' and 'Bheegi Yaadain'.

Us: In your opinion, how much of the success does the album owe to 'Aadat'?
Atif: Well, you always need to have a strong kind of song for entering into the music market, and 'Aadat' did really well. I owe a lot to it, but the biggest thing that came with it was the confidence boost I got, and I really felt that I should do more and better songs.

Us: So, how has fame been treating you since that song became a hit?
Atif: Everything is nice, but it is not an easy profession, even though it seems to be. It demands more attention and input than any other profession. Sometimes it literally burns you out because of the hectic schedules. It really feels great to give autographs and to receive special treatment, but at the same time, I feel that its a great responsibility on me not to disappoint my fans, and I also feel that when people love you more than anybody else, then they honour your words and they can be motivated to do good deeds because of this bond of likeness. I wish I could really do something for the youth of this country.

Us: How has your experience of performing live been so far?
Atif: I think the real spirit of any concert is that it should be live, from the vocals to the instruments - everything. This shows the real capability of the singer, whether he can rock the audience or not. By the grace of Allah, most of my concerts went very well. The livelier the audience, the better the performance.

Us: Any performance that stands out from all the rest?
Atif: One of my best concerts was the one that took place on the 29th of December last year at Alhamra Open-Air Theatre. Fun, screams, clapping, dance, autographs, photographs...there was everything. It was one of the highest-pitched crowds I had ever heard in my life, due to the screams of the 3000 girls in the audience. Second good one was at the National Park Islamabad with Noori where 32,000 people were present to attend the concert, and it really boosted our confidence manifold.

Us: Of the videos that you've done so far, which one is your favourite? And which one did you have the most fun making?
Atif: My personal favourite is 'Aadat'. Being my debut video, it was really full of excitement and fun. I performed 18 times on the whole song. It was shot at a warehouse in Karachi and we did continuous shooting for 15 hours. It was really tiring, but in the end I was really satisfied.

Us: Which video are you planning to release next? And when will it be out?
Atif: We are working on some other projects right now, and as soon as we get some time, we will be launching our next video. It will most probably be of one of the best hits of my album. I think there should be a balanced number of TV appearances. Otherwise, if you overdo it and release a lot of videos, then people get fed up of you.

Us: Your entire album is available for download very easily on various websites, including your own website ( Don't you think this hurts album sales?
Atif: Well, this is a small world nowadays and the Internet is one of the best sources to send your message to a maximum number of people around the globe. So we've put the album there for our projection. Talking about the cassette sales, there are so many people who are producing pirated mp3 CDs underground and selling them in the market. So we thought that it's better that they should download our music from our website rather than downloading it from other websites and buying pirated CDs.

Us: What kind of music do you like to listen to? Any favourite artists? Influences?
Atif: We have a collection of more than 8,000 songs at home, and I have a very diversified kind of absorption for music of almost every nature. But my personal favourite is Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Sahab. He has been a great source of inspiration to me. He is a heart mender; the healing capability of his songs and voice is matchless. The conditions of isolation, betrayal and being down to earth are so very well depicted in his songs that he is one of my all time favourites. His voice and music is so powerful that it literally shifted our youth towards our basics and core values. Along with Khan Sahab, Kishore Kumar is my inspiration; a very natural singer who never learned singing from anybody. The way he sang tragedy songs in India, no one else did.

Us: You've been juggling studies and music for quite some time now. Doesn't it all get too hard to handle?
Atif: It was really tough when I was in the last semester of BCS but again God was very kind to me and I cleared my graduation with a respectable GPA. I immediately joined MBA after graduation, but right now I am unable to give proper time to studies so I thought I'd better take a semester break.

Us: According to your website, cricket has been one of your biggest passions in life and you wanted to join the Pakistan cricket team as a fast bowler. Any regrets on going for a music career and not taking up cricket professionally?
Atif: Well, I think whatever God does, holds some good in it. I don't have any regrets for not taking cricket as my career but I would love to play a one-day international for the national team.

Us: When are you planning to release your second album?
Atif: I think it will take another year to release it, and I will try my best to give quality music to my fans.

Us: What's planned for the coming months?
Atif: Nothing special - doing music, concerts, and probably some TV serials as well to test my acting skills.

Us: Any message for your fans?
Atif: I would like to say that I would always need your support and prayers. I would also like to advise them not to waste their time and spend their free time in some kind of creative work, whether it is music, sports or something which makes their senses more sharp and active, rather than chasing girls in shopping malls.
In the end I would love to thank all of my fans, friends and family, particularly my parents and my brothers Shahzad, Shahbaz and Sheraz, for their unremitting support. God has bestowed me with a very supportive and talented family. My eldest brother Shahzad is an engineer as well as a photographer. He has always been a sincere guide for me on all the aspects of my career. Shahbaz is an MBA and a great dress designer. Also, he is managing my concerts and TV appearances. Lastly, Sheraz is a computer graduate like myself, a very creative graphic designer, and above all, my very good friend. God Bless you all. Love you all!

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 11th March, 2005

Monday, March 07, 2005

"I want to be a part of history" - Xulfi


The last few years have seen massive change in our music industry, spanning from experimental music joining the mainstream to the development of concept videos. Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan, a.k.a. Xulfi, has greatly helped the cause. The younger brother of Khurram Jabbar Khan (manager of EP, Call, and Jal), we first came to know about Xulfi during the by now legendary Battle of the Bands as EP's lead guitarist. Since then, this software engineer–turned–musician has come a long way, establishing himself not only as a guitarist, but also as a director, producer, composer and lyricist. Along the way, he has paved the path for new bands to come forward, playing a pivotal role behind the success of EP's Irtiqa and Jal's Aadat.

Instep: EP's 'Aghosh', Call's 'Pukaar', and Jal's 'Lamhey' and 'Ik Din Aye Ga' – the four videos that you've directed are all very different from each other. What do you keep in mind while directing a video?
Xulfi: Directing a video for me is not really different from creating a song, a vocal melody, or a song arrangement, and I've already done all that in EP's Irtiqa. First of all, I have always related visuals with music. I used to compose and play live background music on theatrical and mime performances that my elder brother, Danish directed at NCA. All the songs on Irtiqa are different from each other because I always make sure that every song I make should be different from the previous one. I don't follow any specific formula in music and the same goes for music videos. I hate formula videos and formula music.

Instep: So how do you come up with the concept?Xulfi: The core of the stuff that I do comes to me at night, just before going to sleep. That's the most creative time in my opinion, because you are in a sleepy state, plus your mind is thinking about whatever happened during the day; it is a recount of sorts. That actually gets me going somehow. And at those times, thoughts and visuals start appearing in my head and I keep thinking of more visuals, and finally I write all the thoughts and visuals down. Sometimes, the thoughts and visuals come out as music, sometimes as lyrics, and sometimes as a concept that I put out in the open in the form of a video.
Plus, I would like to mention that Omeir Zahid, one of my best buddies, who also co–directed 'Aghosh' with me, helps me a lot in linking all those random thoughts that come to my head. Similarly, Khurram and Danish (my brothers) help me with music, videos or anything else for that matter.

Instep: You've previously directed clips for bands like Jal and EP, and will be working on the videos of Roxen's 'Yaadein', Sahil's 'Tu Bol', and Call's 'Kash'. Why do you always work with newer bands?
Xulfi: Because those are the bands that will actually form the crux of the new generation that is finally going to replace the older bands and artists. I am not saying that all of them are really good enough to do that, but honestly speaking, I have given up hope from most of the existing mainstream bands and artists to actually come up with something different, as they seldom want to experiment. They are now here to just earn some fast bucks. A revolution always comes with daring acts. Our industry lacks the will to support this revolution and to be daring. I just hope there comes a time when there are more bands and artists avoiding the easy way to fame by satisfying just the entertainment aspect that the audience strives for. I want artists and bands to focus on something larger than just fame and fortune, because in sometime, people are going to forget you. So while you are here, and you have respect, then why not do something that makes you a part of history? That's what I am here for. I want to be a part of history.

Instep: None of the videos you've directed so far have been sponsored. Would you consider doing one?Xulfi: Well, I'll only do a sponsored video if the sponsors allow me to do my own thing and not stop me from experimenting the way I do. Frankly, most sponsored videos in our country are actually quite stupid. But I believe that sponsored videos can have a better future if the requirements of the sponsors become a little flexible and the director is given room to experiment.

Instep: There is a marked difference between the quality of 'Lamhey' and the other videos that you've directed. Why so?Xulfi: 'Lamhey', as I've explained quite a few times before, was made in a rush. Goher asked me to do the video of that song at the end of an EP and Jal concert. I said, fine, let's do it, but as the shoot for 'Ik Din Aaye Ga' was already scheduled for five days later, I was of the view that 'Lamhey' would be done after that. But I was shocked to hear that we needed to do the 'Lamhey' video that very morning and all this persuasion was going on at twelve at night. And now, we had to shoot the video at 6 a.m. the following morning. I decided to take this up as a challenge. We didn't have any sets or anything. So, with the camera crew and the band and Khurram bhai, we finally landed on an old Sikh worship place a few kilometers from Lahore. So there I was, with only that building and a jeep courtesy of Goher and Farhan's friends. I thought of a few shots right then, made a concept and shot the video in just three hours. Then got back home and started editing and within the next 24 hours I had sent the video to the music channels. And if you are wondering why the hurry, that was due to another artist (Atif Aslam) having the same song in his album, and he was about to release the video of this song. That news wasn't for sure, but we couldn't take any chance at that time. 'Lamhey' was the video that established Jal with their new lineup.

Instep: The video of 'Ik Din Aye Ga' was placed at number two at a music channel's Top 100 videos of 2004, while 'Pukaar' and 'Lamhey' were also in the top 20. How important has this success been for you?Xulfi: It's an achievement. I'll make sure I mention this every time I get the chance to. I mean, I only made three videos in 2004, and all of them were in the top 20. That proves that a high budget and technical gimmickry are not the only ways to make a video look good. Some people believe that's the only way and they are quite successful. Our audience understands everything that has the simplest degree of simplicity. They like what is ordinary. I applaud the audience that has started to understand conceptual videos. It's only because of them that the viewership of abstract and different videos has improved, and will improve even more with time.

Instep: You produced the albums Irtiqa (EP) and Aadat (Jal) and are currently working on Call's Jilawatan and the new EP album. You also have your own music production and video postproduction studio, Xth Harmonic. Would you like to do more work as a producer?Xulfi: Well, I will definitely continue my role as producer. I believe there has to be someone guiding young musicians. I have always wanted to make sure that new artists keep coming out because that's the only way we can begin to change the existing scene. Now, with my own studio Xth Harmonic, I have the opportunity to do that myself and guide the change.

Instep: Coming to EP, you composed Irtiqa, wrote and co–wrote some of the songs and even sang some of the parts. Does the new EP album see you as a composer, lyricist and vocalist too?Xulfi: Yes, I have always been the main composer for EP. That doesn't just include the composition of my guitar parts, the keyboard parts and most of the drum sequences, but also most of the vocal melodies in the songs. As far as the lyrics are concerned, I am a better lyricist now than I was before Irtiqa. In fact, I have composed 'Kia Hota', the first song from our new album. My elder brother Danish and I have also penned the lyrics and I am singing it as well. So that probably answers your question.

Instep: Director, producer, composer – which role do you find the most challenging?Xulfi: Being a composer is the most challenging because one has to concentrate on so many aspects of music. And as far as video direction is concerned, I have so much to learn. I am still a beginner in that department. But, I'm sure that when I know as much about direction as I know about music, then direction will become more challenging too.
Being a producer is really different from composition and direction. It has different technical details, and then, when you are producing someone else's music, it becomes really difficult too as you have to understand the artist's preference as it's their music that you're producing. So every role has its own set of challenges.

Instep: With the success of bands like EP and the Mekaal Hasan Band, where do you think experimental music stands in our music industry?Xulfi: If I consider the music situation in our country four years ago, then it finally stands somewhere. One has to admit that two bands cannot change the face of the music industry in Pakistan. Experimental music needs an audience that wants to be experimental in their musical taste as well. But here, there are people, who criticize EP on their choice of words in the lyrics. That's actually quite shameful as Urdu is such a beautiful language, having so many beautiful words that lyricists seldom use. How will we know that there are more words to describe one feeling in Urdu? For example, we use 'qaed' to describe being in prison, but do we know that 'mahboos' means the same? Shamefully, we don't. We, the audience, will never try to make an effort to learn words of our mother language and when someone is trying to use these words to describe their motives and feelings, then, the audience criticises us for putting them through the ordeal of opening up the Urdu dictionary to learn new words. However, the situation is much better. A portion of the audience is finally evolving with the prevalent change in the mainstream music industry.

Instep: What about the general music scene? Where does it stand now and where is it heading?Xulfi: I believe the current music scene is very fresh, but at the same time, it's very pop–oriented. The good thing is that the emerging musicians are more daring than their predecessors and they tend to experiment more. For this reason, I believe that there will be a lot more to look forward to. As for the future, one never knows what the future holds for them. We can't tell what the future holds for the music scene in Pakistan. For example, four years ago we couldn't tell that people will be producing experimental music like they are now. So I can't tell where it's heading, but I do hope it heads in the right direction.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 6th March, 2005