Atif Aslam is only twenty-two, excuse us while we process our jealousy!
By Fareeha Qayoom
Atif Aslam is a rare phenomenon. He has tremendous raw talent. He has larger than life screen & stage presence and boy, can he sing live and unplugged! Hey, I am not kidding you – not a lot of our top pop musicians can sing – live. They can lip sync with their recordings though but no sir, they don’t know how to sing to a live audience. Well, Atif knows how. He also knows how to entertain a crowd. But that’s the least of his talents. He is a mean composer and songwriter too. He has a great voice and best of all, his music strikes a chord with all age groups and breaks most barriers – you can even hear his songs playing on Indian channels too. A lot of serious musicians dream of making it internationally. Atif was able to do so with his very first album – Jalpari.
The funny thing is Atif never wanted to be a musician while growing up. Not that he has finished growing up – he is still barely twenty-two. Music was not his first choice of career. It’s not even his second. He is still studying for his real career – MBA. He is a frustrated cricketer though. By frustrated I mean, he wanted to be a cricketer – Imran Khan was his idol since first grade, and the only thing he wanted to do with his life was to play cricket. Unfortunately, cricket and hard slog at school don’t mix, especially if you are an A student and suddenly start going down hill, and then to top it all, start failing your exams – the parents had no sympathy for him after that. He could have been a cricketer too – he played for his neighborhood, college and Abn Amro cricket teams after all. He got pointers from the leading national players at the Shapes gym – but failing that Chemistry exam got him grounded for the duration of his studies – he probably could have achieved his goal – at the under nineteen trials – no less but the problem – he was grounded and he couldn’t go to the trials. He hasn’t given up his dream of playing cricket for his country though. However, not making the under nineteen trials cooled his passion for cricket though he still loves it and finds time to play in his spare time. Although, cricket is a team sport, he is a solitary guy by nature. His hobbies, apart from music, are pretty uncomplicated too – he likes to “play cricket,” well, that’s obvious, “sketch and play with kids.” He likes to sketch caricatures, cartoons and abstract ideas by the way. He still has not decided on his real career though. I wanted to know what he wants to do when he finishes growing up? His answer was a typical press nightmare, “no comment.”
Why MBA? “My parents consider a degree in Art as a pure frivolity. My being the youngest gave me a bit of leverage with the parents – however, failing the Chemistry exam took it away. I had to knuckle down and really study hard after that – enrolling into BCS showed them my commitment to studies. MBA was a natural extension after that,” he declares.
He is multi-talented guy though. He is a quick study and can do anything he sets his mind to. So how did he get into music? Well, his elder brother collects music and has about 8000 recordings – that got him interested in the listening part. What made him sing? He had a good voice and he sang for sheer pleasure sometimes. One day he sang in an enclosed room with good acoustics and he liked what he heard. That’s when he figured out that he had a good singing voice. (Doesn’t this story give you a feeling of déjà vu? This is how Ali Sher also discovered he had a good voice!) But how did he really know that he had talent for this thing? Well, that’s another interesting story – a group of his college friends spotted his gift and urged him to sing competitively when they heard him sing in the college canteen. He won. That got him hooked – he started competing and winning. Then, another good thing happened to him – he got together with another college buddy who played the guitar – Gohar Mumtaz. They formed a band, did some gigs for family and friends. The word slowly spread and they progressed to singing for restaurants and food franchises like McDonald’s. At this point, they sang other people’s songs. Then, they happened to make a song together called “Aadat” and uploaded it on to their website. This is the crucial point in his musical career – this is when Atif found out that he had a talent for music. He could compose. He could write songs and he could sing better than most people – The rest is history as they say. The band broke up after this one hit but what a hit – this one hit helped both band members establish their separate musical careers.
Talking about his music, Atif says, “Composing and singing are two separate directions though both are inter-related – these can be separated too – I enjoy performing live more though. It is always better – it gives you more energy, power and interaction with the crowd. Mostly I do my lyrics myself but sometimes my eldest brother Shahzad also writes for me. He wrote the song “Ehasaas” in my first album.”
Atif does the compositions himself. “There is no particular method to it. Whenever, you are into creativity – the idea or inspiration comes to you naturally, out of the blue, suddenly, you can’t force it – you could be doing anything. Sometimes, it could take weeks sometimes it takes me minutes to get an idea for a song. Listening to music helps. The most important parameter is people’s appreciation – I compose by sticking to what most people like about my music. I am my own worst critic so I think I have the most influence on my music – then comes the family’s input and the audiences’ likes and dislikes.”
HIS SONGWRITING & HIS ELDEST BROTHER SHAHZAD
Atif and Shahzad collaborate on the song writing. “Usually Atif makes the tunes first – lyrics come later. Sometimes, he has a phrase in mind but he doesn’t know how to finish the line, then he comes to me. We consciously keep the lyrics low key – we don’t want them so deep that the audience has a problem relating to them. Though, the lyrics are not autobiographical but they do come from the heart. The words have to strike a chord with you – otherwise, they will fail to touch the audience,” says Shahzad.
Atif plays the Guitar. According to his brother Shahzad, “he plays the guitar really well. I think his biggest talent is that he is a quick learner and has a great pick-up he can learn anything he wants to very quickly. What I really admire about him is his diplomacy – he never loses his cool. He is always calm, polite and diplomatic with his fans, even when he is blowing them off. I think he understands fame is not permanent. He is very down to earth and realistic. He is also very responsible and level headed and I think a positive influence on his fans. He likes to give pleasure, especially to kids – he loves kids,” he declares with a fond smile.
Atif doesn’t perform alone. He has his own band too – it’s called Atif Aslam as well. (Just like Bon Jovi-another of his favorites.) “I have a complete group of professional musicians behind me, who are students from NCA, Samer on base guitar, Mehmood on rhythm and lead guitar and Mubeen on drums. We mix the songs in one of our own studios,” he confides.
Atif likes to listen to “Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and some western bands like U2, Creed, Bon Jovi, Pink Floyd and the blue’s.”
“Khan Sab’s (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) music can’t be defined”, he adds. “There is lot’s of variation in his music – my major musical influence has to be Khan Sab I think,” he asserts.
JAL PARI & HIS NEXT ALBUM
Atif’s next album is due out next year. It may take six to eight months to come to the market – in the meantime, Atif is busy performing Jalpari all over the country and abroad. His recent trip to India was well publicized. Jal pari, his debut album has lots of great songs. Videos of ‘Yaqueen’, ‘Wohh Lamhay/Bheegy Yadain’ (live stage performance and promotional movie track video versions), ‘Mahi Vay’, ‘Aadat’, ‘dosti’, (not part of his album) and ‘Zindigi’ can be seen playing on most music channels, though, ‘Aadat’ once again tops the list as the most requested video of the lot.
His less known tracks ‘Ehssas’, ‘Jal pari’, ‘Tahzeeb,’ ‘Aankon say’ and ‘Gal sun ja’., are equally good. If you want to categorize Atif’s music, you would call it easy listening. His music arrangements are simple but highly melodious, his song writing skills and vocals shine through, a trademark of our eastern traditions. (Our eastern culture is known for good piece of writing set to great music, sung by a superior voice). No wonder he admits to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sab being his greatest music influence. He was known for taking our cultural heritage one step further, bringing it closer to younger audiences. Let’s see what Atif can do to top his guru.
Atif is the baby of the family. He has three older brothers who are equally talented – but in different directions though they have been extremely supportive of his musical career. Shahzad is the eldest, an engineer and a photographer by profession,(the photographs are all his work and I must say, he is doing a brilliant job!) then comes Shahbaz, who is a designer but wears many hats for Atif. He is the official designer and stylist of Atif’s work wardrobe, (you can see his work too in the same photographs!) not to mention his manager & publicist. Sheraz, the closest to him in age is a graphic designer and has helped design the cover and the website for Atif. He is closest to Sheraz they are so close that they call themselves “Veeru & Jay”(two lead characters from the film Sholay).
His parents are extremely proud of him, “my parents are not demonstrative but I do know that they are extremely proud of me. My musical career has also given me a measure of independence – my parents have started taking me seriously. I can make most of the decisions (about my life and career) myself but consultation is still a requirement in the family.”
Three words that describe Atif the best in his own words are, “sensitive, creative, and a brilliant pick-up.” Atif loves Lahore and doesn’t want to live anywhere else. He doesn’t much care about books, cars or clothes – he can take it or leave it. He loves life and believes in living life to the fullest. He likes to observe people and is a great mimic. He likes to express himself through his music and has a spiritual side to him also that he likes to keep to himself as he feels; “spirituality is something private that can only be felt but not shared with the world.” Let’s see what he comes up with next to top his success?
FACTS ABOUT ATIF
Some important facts about Atif:
First published in print edition of The Knit-Xtyle Fashion Review, issue 13, 2006