Sunday, June 01, 2014

“Spreading Sufism’s message is the need of the hour” - Abbas Ali Khan


Abbas Ali Khan on his latest album and the importance of Sufi music

Singer Abbas Ali Khan is one of the few notable solo artists in Pakistan. After a hit single ‘Sun Re’, the talented artist took a hiatus to brush up his skills in classical music. Abbas has now returned, merging his classical training and interest in Sufism to come up with his latest album, Tamaam Alam Mast. In an interview with Instep, the musician talks about his new release, embracing unconventional ways of selling music, and the state of the Pakistani music industry.

Instep: Tell us about your new album, Tamaam Alam Mast.
Abbas Ali Khan: Tamaam Alam Mast is a Sufi album with kalams in Urdu and Persian. The genre of the album is fusion and each track has been composed in a different raga. I have worked with some of the best musicians in Pakistan and India for this album, like Faraz Anwar, Sarmad Ghafoor, Sameer Ahmed, Allan Smith, Arnab Chakraborty, Gumby, Taimoor Mirza, and many more. The poetry has been chosen from poets of different  eras – from Hazrat Baba Gulzar Sabri who is a contemporary Sufi poet to Hazrat Zaheen Shah Taji, Jigar, Hazrat Shah Niyaz, Siraj and eventually Hazrat Ameer Khusro. So Tamaam Alam Mast covers poetry from a time period of over 800 years.

Instep: Why did you choose to make a Sufi music album?
Abbas: This album is a result of my personal spiritual transformation. Things came to me from different sources – from the lyrics to the name of the album, it’s like every piece of the puzzle fell into the right place by itself. I just knew that I have to spread the message of Sufi leaders to the new generation and that is exactly what I’m doing.

Instep: What makes Tamaam Alam Mast different from other Sufi-inspired projects?
Abbas: It has a different sound with a personal take, combined with the choices of different ragas for each track and then the selection of the kalam. Sufi kalam has never been presented in such a way. The music is heavy on the strings (orchestra), arranged like the real strings are played. The songs also feature ethnic instrumentalists, who play sarod, sarangi, flute and shehnai.

Instep: How many songs are based on traditional tunes and poetry? And how many of the compositions are original?
Abbas: ‘Man Kunto Maula’ and ‘Aey Ri Sakhi’ are traditional. The rest are original compositions that I have done.

Instep: Are you promoting the album through any live performances?
Abbas: Yes, the promotional launches have been planned in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Also I’m planning to take the album abroad and perform it in Sufi festivals around the world, Insha’Allah.

Instep: It’s been around eight years since your previous album. Why was there such a long gap between your albums?
Abbas: Honestly, I didn’t realise that eight years have passed, but I think I spent these years well in learning classical music, rediscovering myself, and evolving spiritually into a better human and more mature artist.

Instep: How lucrative is it for musicians to release albums in Pakistan?
Abbas: It’s not! And that is the reason why very few artists are releasing albums, and are instead focusing only on singles. I took a risk but I’m delighted to see the response of my listeners. I feel if we give enough ways for people to purchase music easily, people will buy music. I was initially very double-minded about releasing a CD, but eventually I came up with an idea to sell the CDs through home delivery and it is working. Locally, the CDs can be ordered for home delivery through Bluekart. Other than that, the album is also available for purchase through iTunes and and so far the sales are going great.

Instep: What are your feelings about the new platform
Abbas: is a revolutionary platform. My album was one of the initial albums to be uploaded on Taazi as part of the struggle of ‘giving back’ to the artists. Haroon came up with this website through which the listeners will be able to buy songs using their mobile balance. This feature will be active by the end of May. The best thing about is that it’s non-exclusive and free for the artist. Moreover, 70 percent of the sales will go to the artists – now that’s amazing!

Instep: You were also part of an anti-piracy song recently. What inspired you to join that cause?
Abbas: Even though the style of the song was nothing like my sound, but the cause behind it inspired me. Someone had to say it out loud. We had to educate the audience that piracy is eating up the music industry like termites and if we don’t stop using torrents and buying pirated CDs, then the industry will soon become extinct. This song was an initiative of Haroon who has been working for about seven years to implement intellectual property rights in Pakistan, where the artists get royalties for there work from TV and radio channels. I think all artists should join him for this cause and help him raise the voice.

Instep: You are classically trained. How important is that?
Abbas: Be it classical or any other form of training, it’s extremely important. I chose classical training because I love classical music and I like the type of vocals that need the technicalities that classical training teaches you. But even if you are a rock singer, training and exercise is extremely important.

Instep: How do you feel about the current situation of the Pakistani entertainment industry?
Abbas: I’m optimistic. I think we are picking up and good days are ahead. With the rise of the film industry, I think a lot of opportunities will be created for musicians as well, and platform like will surely work in favour of artists, provided that the public supports us.

Instep: What are your views on corporate-sponsored music shows on TV?
Abbas: I think they are playing a very positive part. I’m all for these shows as long as they are unbiased and do not influence the true sound of the artists.

Instep: Are you working on any other projects at the moment? What can we expect from you in the coming months?
Abbas: I’m working on songs for two films. I’m also working on a couple of background scoring projects, music videos for the new album, and much more which will unfold when the time comes.


A look at Tamaam Alam Mast

It has been nearly a decade – eight years to be precise – since Abbas Ali Khan released the successful Sun Re, making his presence felt in the music industry with his very first release. In the ensuing years, the singer has worked on refining his craft by pursuing classical training, while also immersing in the discipline of Sufism. His spiritual journey has now led to the creation of his new album, Tamaam Alam Must.

A set of ten tracks, the album features Urdu and Persian Sufi poetry, including both traditional and contemporary verses. The lyrics variously speak of ‘ishq’, or love for the Creator and his creations, while giving listeners room for interpretation. You can hear instruments ranging from the guitar and drums to tabla and sarangi on these songs, as a charming fusion of Eastern and Western music adorns the tracks.

From the melodious ‘Mujhay Baar Baar Sada Na De’ to the gentle ‘Man Kunto Maula’, Abbas Ali Khan’s musical prowess is on display throughout the album, and his musical background reflects in each touch that he applies to the record.

There’s a sense of peace to these tracks, and its spiritualistic messages will resonate with Sufi music enthusiasts. They are bound to make an emotional impact on listeners who are inspired by Sufism, while those who don’t fall into its target audience will appreciate the singer’s grip on his craft, even if they don’t necessarily follow his philosophies. That said, this record is, after all, guided by Sufism, and it only offers as much variety as a project can while being confined to a chosen theme and musical style.

On the whole, Tamaam Alam Mast is a soothing and pleasant offering from a very competent singer. The songs are mostly mellow and soulful, the vocals are impressive, the compositions are beautiful, the instrumentation is skilled, and the ideas are likely to make a connection with fans of this type of music.

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 1st June, 2014 *

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