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Spotlight: Annie

She came, she swayed, she conquered. Annie is the latest teen sensation to hit the local music scene. chats with the 'Mahiya' girl who is ready to take the music scene by storm

Most songs aired these days are as easily forgotten as they are heard. However, when 'Mahiya' began making its rounds on music channels some six months back, you just had to stop and take notice. The bilingual song that was musically mediocre and lyrically simplistic was grabbing attention and the cute girl who had her moves right, if nothing else, was a splendidly refreshing sight in a male dominated medium. She got us curious and even those who claimed to hate the song, relished talking about it. Before no time, voila! 'Mahiya' was a hit and Ainee became a star. The 19–year old has successfully managed to shake open the Pakistani music scene for girls.

Ainee was fifteen when she realized that music was her true calling. In Pakistan for summer break, like most Non Resident Pakistani children, she was in Sarghoda when she attended a fund raising concert for Abrar–ul–Haq's charity. At that time she confesses to have never heard of him before. Bearing the heat she went to meet the Pakistani celebrity and a brief chat with Abrar had her declaring her love for music. In a wild stroke of luck, Abrar invited her to open one of his shows.

"I was like a bachi!" she exclaims in a cute cockney accent. "I just turned 19 this month so this was like four years ago. I was like a little baby!" she exclaims. "So I was standing there in my pink shalwar kameez singing Celine Dion's 'My Heart Will Go On' and it was awesome. There were almost ten, twenty thousand people there and I had never done it before. To be honest, I had never sung live. And that's when I was like, 'Yeah! I love this. I wanna do this for the rest of my life.' That was the turning point. Even though I was a nobody, to get that kind of applause was like a natural high. I can't explain it. It was just like a buzz, an adrenalin rush, I was buzzing for a whole week after that."

After experiencing the intoxicating rush of performing live, this adamant 15–year old decided that singing was what she wanted. Her parents were very supportive and got her an ustaad with whom she started vocal exercises, with the harmonium. Noor–ul–Ain was born in Lahore, but her family moved to England when she was six months old. Growing up in East London ("I'm a local Eastender") she was in her own words, a drama queen. "I was the one that had the loudest voice, and I was always the one who wanted the most attention in the family. I was really loud. I was singing, dancing and acting since I was this much," she points to the floor. Realizing her passion, her parents enrolled her into acting and dance classes.

That was four years ago and Ainee has grown up since. Back in Pakistan, she's dressed ethnically in a khaddi kurta and khussas. She could be your average teenager, brought up on a healthy dose of Britney Spears and rebellious body piercing. "It's real, you know" she exclaims pulling at her facial stud. "Most people think it's a stick–on, but it's real." And with all the western garb going on, Ainee likes to call herself a 'Made in Pakistan' product. "I'm proud of that," she says with an energetic smile. And four years after her first encounter with a Pakistani pop artist, Ainee now claims to have her finger on the pulse; she now knows her music industry so well. "I make sure I know," she says with a spark of interest. "I've done my homework."

Ainee has formally moved to Lahore, while her family is back home in England. She needs to be here as her album has hit the market and she's getting a lot of shows. "Slowly but surely I met the right people," she comments, giving credit to the people who gave her a boost. My dad introduced me to Sohail Abbas." Sohail Abbas is the man who came up with the composition, arrangement and music to 'Mahiya', the song that has undoubtedly made Ainee big. "He is a real musical genius," she says. "I owe a lot to him and my lyricists Shahzad Khokar, Raju Raheel and the whole team at sound station studios in Gulberg Lahore. We just clicked straight away and I started making songs."

Up for a racy debut, the only difficulty Ainee really faced was getting comfortable with the Urdu language. And raised in England, that didn't come easily to her. What it did manage to do, however, was pitch her amidst a genre of 21st century pop music that was bilingual. It started with Abrar-ul-Haq's 'Sanu Terey Naal' in Pakistan and the trend is spreading like wild fire with hits like Omar Inayat's 'Tenu Le Ke Jana' and Abbas Ali Khan's 'Teri Yaad'. Then of course there are international successes like Raghav and Bombay Rockers.

Ainee did manage to put a lot of Urdu in her album, she says, but she works in English as she's targeting a broader market. However she agrees that without being a success among the masses of Pakistan, you are not really a success. "Of course, I can't forget the masses. The masses are most important." And in an eruption of excitement she squeals that it's wonderful when she finds wagon–wallas playing 'Mahiya'. "All classes like my songs" she says. "So I'm not targeting a specific audience. Everybody is my target audience." And to target this audience Ainee has kept the lyrics simple. In fact, they jump from simple to cheesy. She sheepishly agrees. "They're really cheesy in a way but it's ok to be cheesy, you know. Cheesy is always good. Cheesy sells, cheesy always sells!" she laughs heartily. And despite being that, it has managed to sell her album.

The song was made this time last year, and the video in July. It's been six months since it's been airing and it's increasing everyday. She marvels at her success, "Someone told me once that it's going to spread like a bush fire, it will take time but slowly and surely it'll spread and it'll become an epidemic."

Spot on prediction. "He was actually right. In the beginning it wasn't all that but slowly people started to accept it and it started to spread. And it's still spreading. It's more popular now than it was when it was first released!" she gushes.

Very few new artists are lucky to have their first single to be such a hit. Based on that one song, she's had a pretty chill entry into the music industry. Record companies have approached her, Indian record companies are calling her, asking for demos and she's getting a lot of television and international shows. "It's just one song, just one and I am getting so much recognition," she marvels at her own success.

A success no doubt, but doesn't she think it's because it's an annoying song that just sticks to your head? She laughs heartily at the question, "It is annoying," she admits, "That's a good sign you know. If the song is annoying it's always good." Yup, good enough to sell albums. This one song is good enough for her album to sell like hot cakes.

From the phenomenal success of the song we come to its bad video. "It was shot in Thailand even though people say that it was showing Dubai, some even say that it was shot in Canada," she laughs, "No, Canada is freezing and Thailand is great. Unfortunately we weren't able to capture the beauty of Thailand which was a shame but still you know, it got the airplay that it needed so that's all that matters." The "to be continued..." that's shown at the end of the video was just put there, there is no follow–up video. Clever marketing move because people are now actually looking forward to the next video.

The next video will be a performance based one, directed by Sohail Javed and shot on 35mm. It was a part of her record deal and is of the title song, 'Princess', the only song of the album which was worked on by Mekaal Hasan, on Khalid Sadaf's insistence. It's a glamourised performance based video "It's just glamorous clothes and glamorous backdrops, it's completely performance based and it's really good," she says. "I know because he played me a two minute clip, even though its against his rule. He bend them for me," she adds happily. Even though high on glamour, the dance is a little toned down because she prefers to play it safe adding that people here tend to look down upon that kind of stuff.

It is high time Pakistani girls have fun while singing and not worry about 'what people will say'. Ainee is definitely breaking ground here for upcoming female pop artistes as she is being accepted for her groovy style which is definitely a break from heavy ladies garishly dressed singing about their 'Mahiyas'. There is still some time before she can do a Britney Spear–ish video, but it's not that far. And as far as all the slack regarding 'Mahiya' is concerned, "People who don't like it don't have to watch it. I'm not trying to be provocative. I'm just a girl who likes to sing and dance. That's it. I'm not trying to be anything. I'm just being myself." Even though she's had people come up to me her and say bad things to her face, she's put that all behind. "I use to cry in the beginning but not anymore, because it's part of the game. I hope to change this concept now. I'm trying, but I can't do it alone I need more help from other females."

Even though she hasn't been approached to sign up for the Association of Music professionals of Pakistan (AMPP) that is in the making, she is very excited about the idea. It is obvious she feels strongly about this, "We can unite together and fight!" She says enthusiastically in true teen spirit. Mostly she is enthusiastic about royalties; as far as money goes she doesn't find the field too lucrative. "I got a really good video out of my deal, but that's just about it. I haven't got anything else, and my album cost me about five lakhs. I haven't really gotten anything back in return as far as cash goes but I did get a good video, so I am happy with that. But at the same time, we should not be begging our record labels to give us stuff; they should be able to respect us enough to know what we deserve."

Pakistani musicians have gotten on to the international bandwagon and are making inroads into the Pakistani and Indian communities living all over the world. And Ainee, is one savvy teenager who knows where it's at. If you're big in Pakistan, you're big among Pakistanis all over the world, and being an expat Ainee's realizing how that cookie crumbles. 'Mahiya' is quite big in the international circuit especially in her local East End as her friends are promoting it and college guys and girls are downloading it off the internet. The album will be released in May in England and she'll be doing a video there shortly. Her genre of Pakistani pop will definitely work for Pakistanis abroad, but not in the mainstream. But you never know, she says, maybe one day.

India is so far unchartered territory, though negotiations are on for a possible summer release. She plays it down though, "For me India is not like, oh my God India, it's like any other country. I'm willing to go anywhere to promote my music whether that'd be India or Africa so it's not that I'm gonna follow in other people's footsteps and leave Pakistan behind. Pakistan is always number one."

After giving the Pakistani audience a fresh new approach to singing and dancing Ainee wants to host a non glamorous TV show at some point. She has hosted shows for a TV network a couple of years ago but wants to host her own show that represents youngsters in Pakistan. "Not youngsters like you and me but I'm talking about the masses. Kids in villages, they have fun, they have activities, they sing. So it'll be how they have fun, what they do, I want to get into that. Everyone has glamorous shows. I wanna talk about the other side of life."

Not just a pretty face, which is good enough anyway, Ainee's got a good head on her shoulders. Yes, and all those curls help too. Her album just released and is doing well, touring USA with RDB and Atif, and RDB remixing one of her songs, things are looking up for Noor-ul-Ain. Hopefully, this also means that things look up for the dreadful female pop scene, which after Hadiqa has been on a downward with almost all female artistes managing to look and sound like each other. Whatever Ainee's style is, at least she has some and as far Pakistani pop goes, it is definitely original.

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