Interview: Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan about his career, future plans and India

November 15, 2009

Catching up with Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan

By Maliha Rehman

ShafqatShafqat Amanat Ali hasn’t performed in the U.S. for a very long time and this is not because of lack of offers. “The organizers in America don’t want to pay the travel expenses for my musicians,” he explains. “Most performers are happy going abroad on their own and lip-syncing at concerts. But I prefer going live. I think I’ve lost out on quite a lot of money because of this.”
That’s the seventh generation progeny of the Patiala gharana for you. He won’t sing songs just for the sake of staying in the news and he certainly won’t lip-sync in concerts in order to earn a quick buck. Shafqat Amanat Ali takes his singing very seriously – he says that he had wanted to be a singer from as far back as he can remember – and he believes in being sincere to his work. “I don’t believe in churning out a particular kind of music just because it’s in,” he agrees. “I work hard and I’m in no hurry to get to the top. I think that shows in my music.”
Nearly a year after his debut solo album Tabeer, Instep talks to Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan about his career, future plans and India…

Instep: Where have you been and what are you doing these days?
Shafqat Amanat Ali: I am working on my new album. I have also recently recorded three Indian film songs. Two are for Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and one is for Pritam. I don’t know yet who they will be picturized on.
Instep: But don’t you have to modulate your voice according to the actor who will be featured in the song?
SAA: I think it is more important to modulate my voice according to the lyrics. ‘Mitwa’, for instance, wasn’t supposed to be sung by Shah Rukh Khan in the movie. It was going to play in the background. Shah Rukh liked the song so much that he insisted it be pictured on him. I hadn’t sung it with him in mind.

Instep: Do you think your Indian singing career has suffered post the Mumbai attacks?
SAA: Not really. Immediately after the attacks, CDs of Pakistani musicians were removed from the display racks in music shops. Even then I was told that people would go up to the counter and ask specifically for my album Tabeer. Tabeer has done well despite the circumstances and now, things are slowly getting better. Pakistani music CDs are back in the display racks. Similarly, I kept getting offers to sing playback even when conflicts were on the rise. I was even told to record one song in Pakistan and send it to India via the Internet. A lot of Pakistani musicians were doing this at the time but it didn’t work out for me. When the file reached India they couldn’t open it due to technical problems. Eventually I had to go there and record the song in person. As it is, I prefer recording a song in the presence of the music director, so that every nuance gets approved.

Instep: But don’t you face visa problems when going repetitively to India, like many other Pakistani performers?
SAA: It is true that the Indian government has become very strict about letting in Pakistanis, examining each document down to the very nitty gritty. Thankfully, I haven’t faced any problems. I have traveled extensively and have a well-stamped passport, so may be that works in my favour. Also, I always go with proper invitations from trustworthy people. I never overstay in India. Once my work is done, I am on the next flight back home.

Instep: What’s your take on Pakistani singers who sing for Indian movies for very little remuneration in order to gain popularity?
SAA: Very little? They do it for free! I don’t approve of it because they lose their credibility this way and it isn’t even as if they gain a lot of popularity. A new ‘hit’ song is churned out every week in India, a computerized, unimaginative number with an ‘in’ beat. These songs are forgotten in a matter of days and singers don’t stand to gain much by singing them. Lyricist Javed Akhtar once said to me that such songs and non-singers make things easier for the real musicians. They are easy to overshadow and their popularity fades away within a few months.

Instep: With Indian playback singing and teleplay songs in your repertoire of work, why haven’t you considered singing for Lollywood?
SAA: I was supposed to sing for Khuda Kay Liye but somehow that didn’t work out. The only other offers I have gotten from Pakistani movies have been of Punjabi bhangra numbers and that just isn’t my cup of tea. I don’t even enjoy singing teleplay songs. There are so many teleplays being broadcast one after the other that their title songs are completely forgettable.

Shafqat 2Instep: Did you enjoy performing at Coke Studio?
SAA: It was the experience of a lifetime. You don’t get to sing alongside some of Pakistan’s best musicians everyday. One thing I did have a problem with, though, was the Coke Studio press conference. There was no need to invite the show’s performers to the conference. They gathered together the cream of Pakistani music and the press didn’t even bother to ask us a single question. They seemed to be more interested in the cake and tea being served! Also, in the conference, junior artiste guests were seated in the front row whereas stalwarts like Strings were placed in the third row. Strings are one of the pioneering bands of Pakistani music. They should have been given due respect and seated in the front.

Instep: It was heard that you were recording a song with Zeb and Haniya
SAA: Zeb, Haniya and I were going to sing a song for Shaan‘s film. We did meet in the studio a few a times and structured the song a bit. But Shaan has, since then, been out of touch and we haven’t worked on the song any further.

Instep: What is your take on the licensing of music content on channels as well as other mediums?
SAA: Licensing should be done but, in Pakistan, they have perhaps initiated it at the wrong time. Every business, including the music business, is linked to the condition of the country. In the present circumstances, people are not in a state of mind to buy music or anything else for that matter. Anyhow, now that they have begun licensing they should continue it.

Instep: Did you release Tabeer on the Internet? Is the Internet slowly becoming the next medium for music distribution?
SAA: I don’t have any rights over Tabeer so, no, I haven’t released it on to the Internet. In Pakistan, Fire Records hold the rights to the album and in India it is owned by Music Today. I do know that in India it has been released on I-tunes.
Internet has, to some extent, become a medium of distribution but I don’t agree with it. Music should connect people; it should be listened to in the car or at get-togethers. People should want to go to music shops and look at the different albums that are available. It isn’t healthy to be glued to a computer screen all the time and that’s what’s happening with more and more songs being released over the Internet.

Instep: Would you consider forming a band again, a la Fuzon?
SAA: No. For one, in these times, being part of a band is not lucrative for the musicians. The musicians who presently accompany me usually perform just with me. But given the opportunity, they also do work alongside other artistes. This way, they can earn more. Besides, as a solo artiste, my decisions are my own and I don’t have to refer to anybody else for approval. When you’re part of a band, you are limited by the limitations of your band members. As a solo singer,
I can stretch my creativity to the limit. That is very important to me.

Source: INSTEP today