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Spotlight: Alamgir

“Pakistan has certainly changed during the time I was away,” is all what a flabbergasted Alamgir could say when asked how he felt on his return to his homeland after 15 years. The undisputed King of Pop, who introduced this genre of music to Pakistan in the ’70s, returned to perform in The Music Awards (TMA) last month and a concert last week, captivating listeners with the same energy and enthusiasm that he exhibited before leaving for the States in the early ’90s. When asked how he felt about the development of the local music industry, he said: “I have always believed that music would become an industry in Pakistan but never expected it to happen so soon. I am amazed with the presence of so many music bands and so many colorful singers in the country creating quality music, unlike our time when pop music was not considered a favorable entity.”

But why did Pakistan’s greatest pop singer leave the country at all? “Back in the early ’90s, I bid farewell to TV because I wanted to relax and lead the rest of my life without stress. I admit that my decision must have appeared selfish at the time and it was not right of me to leave my fans in the lurch, but it relieved me of the stress accompanying music production in those days. I was not happy with the treatment meted out to me at the twilight of my career as my TV appearances became less frequent and I felt that I might follow my predecessors into oblivion. That is why I left Pakistan and music, which was and always will be my love for the rest of my life.”

Alamgir, who came to West Pakistan before the creation of Bangladesh and stayed behind in this country, began his career as a guitarist who joined Sohail Rana and his TV programme for kids as an assistant. His career kicked off when he filled in for Ahmed Rushdi and Shehnaz Begum during a concert in early ’70s.

“Shehnaz Begum asked Sohail Rana about me as she knew I played guitar well. At the concert at the Karachi Gymkhana, while the two legendary singers were resting backstage after singing for half-an-hour each, I filled in. After listening to some English pop songs and my rendition of Kishore Kumar’s numbers, the crowd asked me to stay. This would have angered any experienced singer but Ahmed Rushdi was a great person with a generous heart. He came on stage and handed me the microphone, telling me to continue singing; he left with Shehnaz Begum, making me the star of the night. I ended up singing 30 songs,” he says.

Alamgir says he couldn’t sleep that night. What happened later was that he became the first singer to render pop songs, release his own private non-filmi album and establish himself as the pioneer of pop singing in Pakistan. “I had started my career in the ’70s when I was a teenager and spent more than 20 years in the field, making people realize that pop music will be the future of Pakistan. By the time I was in my 40s, people had realized what I was trying to do and accepted pop music as a genre.

“With such an accomplishment, I felt I had played my part and I left the scene quietly for youngsters to venture into music. I was satisfied and content with my work and my goal, which was to educate people about pop music,” says Alamgir.

What prompted the singer, who won the Pride of Performance Award in the ’80s, to finally return after such a long gap? “It was on the insistence of Bushra Ansari and the ARY team that I decided to return to Pakistan. Bushra called me from Karachi and made me promise that I would come back, which I did.

So was he surprised at the response he got from the new generation? “The reception I got was so huge that it made me feel proud of my work,” he says, adding, “I wondered on my way back whether people would still remember me or not. I was sure that some might recognize me, but the response I received was purely magnificent. I was also surprised to see excellent musicians and singers such as Khalid (Aaroh), Gumby, Shallum and Immu (Fuzon) admire me. I am someone who is unlike them but they managed to inspire me during my concert rehearsal.”

What change did he experience between the concerts of yesteryears and today? “Trolley cameras that move from left to right and crane cameras that capture you from above surprised me as much as the crowd’s thunderous response. I was surprised to see the new generation singing with me, repeating my songs, knowing them by heart and inspiring me to revive the singer within me that I had ignored for more than a decade. The love and appreciation I received has made me the happiest person in the world, but it also made me realize that my generation, the one for which I composed all those songs, didn’t give me the respect I rightfully deserved.”

How does he feel on outliving his contemporaries? “Great,” he says. “The music I had done was quite ahead of its time. Hadiqa Kiyani told me this while she and I were performing at a concert in the States. I am able to merge with this generation because I grew up listening to Pink Floyd, Elvis Presley, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc, and they adore them as well. That is the connection I enjoy with the current music lovers and that’s why they admire me, for which I am thankful to them.”

I was not happy with the treatment meted out to me at the twilight of my career as my TV appearances became less and I felt that I might follow my predecessors into oblivion. That is why I left Pakistan and music which was and always will be my love for the rest of my life,’ says Alamgir

Alamgir turned into a musician early in his career and joined the ranks of Niaz Ahmed and Karim Shahabuddin, the musicians who provided him with a chance to go pop on PTV. “I wanted to experiment as a musician because I was not getting the kind of work I wanted to. Although Niaz and Karim helped me prove my mettle, it was frustrating to try to venture into that ‘other’ world which was alien to TV in those days. That’s why I had to compose my own songs and although I wasn’t as good as Niaz and Karim, I managed to bring the western touch to Pakistani music, which is now more famous and flourishing.”

Alamgir, who had a brief career as a playback singer for Pakistani films, earned a Nigar Award for the songs of Robin Ghosh’s Aaina (Wada Karo Sajna and Mujhe Dil Se Na Bhulana — both with Mehnaz) while also managed to sing for Nisar Bazmi’s Jageer (Hum Chalay To Hamaray), Robin Ghosh’s Moam Ki Guriya (Tum Meri Zindagi Ho with Shehnaz Begum), Karim Shahabuddin’s Bobby and Julie (Tum Kya Mile and Itna Tujh Ko Dekhoon with Mehnaz) and bid farewell to films after Nisar Bazmi’s Khush Naseeb (Jeevan Hai Apna and Dosti Teri Meri Dosti with Saleem Shehzad) in 1985.

On being asked why he left playback singing for films, he says, “I never wanted to sing songs that I was not comfortable with. Even Mehdi Hasan and Noor Jehan couldn’t say no to music directors who were like ustads for us and since I did that once, I had to face problems. I stuck with my selected music directors but with Robin Ghosh’s return to Bangladesh and Nisar Bazmi’s shifting to Karachi, I was left with no choice but to say goodbye to films.”

Talking about films, Alamgir is shocked to learn that Indian singers are now providing playback to Pakistani actors in our films. “This should be a wake-up call for us because it means that we don’t have good singers. Our neglected playback singers should do more riyaz and sing in sur and taal because that’s the only way they can survive in our films.

“We have world-class musicians in Pakistan, but the singers are way behind. My advice to ones who are serious and who have the potential to be better is that they should discard the use of synthesizers and vocal tuners. It is only with dedication and their natural voice that they can survive and even triumph in competition with hired Indian playback singers,” he warns.

But as a vocalist with numerous patriotic songs including Khayal Rakhna, Ae Pak Watan, Maaon Ki Dua, Tum Hi Se Aaye Mujahido and Shehron Ki Dulhan to his credits, he is genuinely concerned about the lack of patriotism among the current crop of entertainers and the audience. “When I left, people used to wait for Independence Day and songs were composed straight from the heart. All that has changed now and it might be due to the commercial aspect of music which has made every song and every composition commercial.

“These are the drawbacks of the futuristic stride that pop music has taken in Pakistan. To create a patriotic number, a steady approach is mandatory along with appropriate lyrics, strong composition and emotional delivery.”

Addressing the dearth of good quality music these days, Alamgir says, “I am sure that with proper direction, youngsters can produce great stuff. They write lyrics themselves which is wrong as they should ask a lyricist to pen the verses. My contemporaries and I always worked with proper poets and that’s what made our songs long-lasting. If this generation puts aside the commercial aspect and opts for poets who can do a better job — be it milli naghmay or romantic songs — they would become as popular as their seniors. They should take the example from Strings who have an inspirational poet in Anwar Maqsood, who never lets a bad verse go through and makes sure that the lyrics are top class.” Alamgir, who left before Pakistan made its presence as an international pop force, was glad to know that local bands like Strings have become famous in Bollywood and Hollywood, that MTV is coming to Pakistan to compete with the many local music channels and that Bryan Adams came to Pakistan earlier this year for a charity concert for the October 8 quake victims.

“It was my dream to see Pakistan’s pop music become an industry, something that has now been achieved. With Pakistani TV channels gaining popularity worldwide, I see this industry growing so much that in the near future, Indian pop artistes will be coming to Pakistan to release their albums rather than doing that at home. Our pop music has always been superior to theirs since they are more film-centric. I just hope I live to see the day when that happens, and continue to inspire all those who wish to do quality work and make Pakistan proud.”

Popular Alamgir songs

Aao Kahin Door Chalain
Albela Rahi
Badal Bhi Aur Paani Bhi
Chahay Aandhi Aaye Re
Dekh Tera Kya Rang Kardia Hai
Dekha Na Tha Kabhi Hum Ne Ye Sama
Dekho Tum Kahaan Ho
Dil Kay Sab Raastay
Eik Geet Ho Tera Mera
Ek Do Teen Chaar Paanch Chay
Jis Ka Naam Nahin Liya Tha
Jo Tu Ne Likh Kar Bheja Hai
Kabhi Tum Idhar Se Guzar Kay To Dekho
Keh Dena
Khwabon Mein Main Bhi Akela
Kia Tum Mere Ho
Kokokorina (Remix)
Main Door Ki Awaaz Hoon
Main Ne Kal Dekha Tha
Main Ne Tumhari Gagar Se
Mere Geeton Ki Jhankaar Tu
O Janay Janan
Shaam Se Pehle Aana
Soona Soona Jeewan Apna
Yeh Shaam Aur Tera Naam

When stars fall from the heavens
The audience in Karachi recently witnessed a concert that was déjŕ vu for some and history-in-the-making for all. Courtesy of The Musik and with a band consisting of the perfect line-up: Shallum on lead, Khalid on bass, Immu on keyboards and Gumby on drums, Alamgir performed some of his classics to a fully-packed auditorium, coupled with a flavour of rock that breathed new life into his songs and made them all the more enjoyable to young and old fans alike.

With a set design inspired by Andy Warhaul’s Pop Art, the show was opened by Aaroh who had the crowd rocking to songs such as Sawaal, Na Kaho (dedicated to Alamgir), Yaara (off their new upcoming album) and a rock rendition of Abida Parveen’s Yaad Gadoli, also from their new album. One would think that any adaptation of an Abida Parveen song would end up a complete mess, but Aaroh pulled it off well enough to have people singing along and somewhat head-banging to a rocked up sufi song.

Alamgir came amidst resonating cheers and, quite on the contrary to the remnants of Aaroh’s pumped-up energy, launched into a soulful harmonica solo which became the beginning of his song, Shaam Sey Pehlay Ghar Aajana. This was followed by Dil Key Sab Rastey which found Shallum give in to his first guitar solo of the evening, affecting Alamgir enough to have him drop on stage. In the words of Alamgir, “It’s like the music of the ’70s and ’80s meeting with the music of 2006.”

Among all the songs that he performed, the most memorable were the Spanish rendition of Albela Rahi Gauntanamera, Alamgir’s inspiration for his first-ever televised song; the up-beat Sansoon Mein which had the crowd singing along; Dekha Na Tha in which he left the stage and joined the audience; and the heart-felt rendition of his Bengali song, Aamay Bhashaili Rey, wherein he mimicked the movements of sailors rowing boats, and which reduced both fans and non-fans alike to tears.

An entertainer to the core, it was amazing to watch that even after all these years, Alamgir could belt out song after song, jump around the stage and feel his music with almost limitless energy. He is one of those rare performers who completely shed their inhibitions and indulge themselves into their music wholeheartedly. At the end of it all, he received a standing ovation while he and his band-members bowed a final goodbye to the audience.

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