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Spotlight: Atif Aslam

Pakistan's very own Prince of pop Atif Aslam recently returned home after yet another long Indian yatra. News of him performing live for an all girl crowd at Kinnaird College, Lahore was received with Oohs and Aahs from the city's female population. Concerts at Kinnaird are always a safe bet. Parents don't think twice before letting their teenaged daughters attend events there, whatever they may be. Without the usual mishaps and security problems they are always something to remember. Top that with an act like Atif and you're set for a perfect Saturday evening!

It was November 25. The dipping evening temperature made one bundle up. Arriving at Kinnaird's beautiful amphitheatre at 5 pm one realized that one was getting old! The hip and trendy young students of the college weren't going to let the cold ruin their fashion statements. Generation Y was dressed to kill with salon perfect hairdos, ready to shake their bon bons all the way.

There was enough room for the huge crowd and we found excellent seats but the sponsors had issued free passes to their friends and families, which included males of all ages who were clearly living their fantasies of getting to sit and rub shoulders with hundreds of wildly dancing babes. And that's not all. They took over the compering responsibilities, which are usually associated with the head girl and the student council of the college. After an endless speech about all broadband services and giving out meal coupons and free Nokia phones (no it didn't compensate for the tastelessness of it all) the extremely un-funny compere finally let the council members come on stage and invite the opening act Nexus on stage at 5:50 pm.

The crowd knew about the opening act before hand but reacted as expected with chants of "Atif, Atif". The lead singer Tahir Saqi interacted with the girls at this point very calmly by saying that he loved Atif too but since he won't be here for another 30 minutes so why don't they enjoy some of their favourite local and Indian hits? Nexus are one of the oldest existing bands from Lahore who perform at your dholkis and mehendis, local variety shows and as opening acts at concerts.

The interesting thing is that they are good at what they do. The vocalist Tahir Saqi has been around for ages. He sang without any hitches and his band members played along effortlessly. Nexus did release an album but could not break in to the mainstream due to an obvious lack of finances, good videos and songs that could cater to a larger audience. So they make their living singing popular tunes and seem content. I guess that's fair enough.

They started with 'Lai Main Uchian Naal Yari' and then immediately broke in to 'Rock the Party' and followed it with 'Channa Ve Ghar Aa Ja' which brought the girls to their feet and forget their protests. The latest hit 'Kya Mujhay Pyar Hai' from the Indian flick Woh Lamhe was the tune that really brought the house down and the crowd sang along and danced like crazy to it. By now Nexus had won the girls over and their rendition of 'Koi Kahay Kehta Rahay', 'It's the Time to Disco', 'Jhalak Dikhla Ja', 'Nach Punjaban' and 'Rang Barse' generated enough energy and set the mood for better things to come.

When Nexus left the stage the girls knew Atif had arrived back stage. Atif's band members arrived on stage with their equipment and were greeted with deafening shrieks. With Sameer Shami on Bass, Mehmood Rehman on rythym guitar and Mobeen Shah on drums, the band took their places but Atif was nowhere to be found because – you guessed it! It was time for some more sponsor information and prizes.

After another round of meal coupons and cell phones Atif's entry was announced and he appeared amidst screams, shouts and swooning females all around on the balcony above the amphitheatre - handcuffed! Yes that's right! With a mic in his hathkari wearing hands he started singing 'Rangon Mein' and started walking down the stairs to arrive on stage. The welcome he got showed his popularity has only gone up with time even though he hasn't spent much time in the country in the last two years and has also not released a new album.

Wearing a small white shirt and a black leather jacket with a nice pair of jeans Atif looked incredibly boyish and painfully cute. He sang the first song while checking out the jam-packed venue with girls literally dying for his smallest gestures. No wonder he looked happy! After the first song he asked, "Koi Mujhay Kholay Ga?" at which the whole crowd offered their services but (unfortunately) one of his own management team members unlocked the handcuffs and that was the last we saw of them. One couldn't understand the purpose behind it but it sure made him look cute which, in retrospect, is purpose enough.

Atif is undoubtedly one of the best live singers and performers in the country and his strong vocal chords make every song an experience. He doesn't talk much to the crowd but dances and entertains to the max and has the crowd's reins in his hands all the way. 'Dil Haray' was the second song and crazy female fans sang on top of their lungs with him. He followed it with 'Sach Ki Talash' and the old Indian classic 'Pyar Deewana Hota Hai' which has become a must now at all Atif's concerts. He sang it very well, charming the girls by dedicating it to them. It was fun to see girls protesting with screams whenever he said that this song is for a special friend, so much so that once he had to pacify them with "Acha acha, chill chill, koi nahi hai special."

'Jagay Hain', 'Mahi Ve' and 'Jal Pari' were the next three songs which generated even more energy with Atif and the crowd competing as to who could sing louder. He prolonged the songs by repeating lines in low tones for some time and then breaking in to the song with full force and energy. He sheepishly told the crowd that a child once told him that the only song he hated on Atif's album was 'Jalpari' but that he'll sing it any way. 'Jalpari' ended and Atif announced a 10 minutes break after a whisper from his manager and the band disappeared backstage.

They appeared after the promised ten minutes with steaming glasses of tea in their hands and resumed the enthralling performance. The break had not dampened the girls' spirit and energy and most definitely not Atif's. He announced that he'd be singing a song from his upcoming album which turned out to be the classic 'Mae Nee Main Kinoon Akhan'; it does not qualify as a new song but it was great to listen to. It's a difficult song but Atif managed to pull it off convincingly.

The firecracker 'Dosti', one of Atif's favourite songs, followed the slow 'Mae Nee' and he was no less energetic than the yesteryear Ali Azmat who sang it originally. After a fun 'Gul Sun Ja' with Atif calling out to the crowd to stand up and dance, he began 'Aadat', the song everyone was waiting for and which no one in the world can sing better than the guy who originally sang it. This was proved once again as Atif turned it in to an epic, going on for a good fifteen minutes without missing a single beat. And just when one thought he must be exhausted after that he announced that next he will be singing 'the best song in the world'. Now, the nation of Pakistan has given this title to Adat but it was amusing to find out that Atif thinks otherwise. The song he started to sing was none other than 'Bheegi Yadain' with an infectious energy that once again made the crowd go wild. It was undoubtedly a great rendition but there was more to come.

After 'Bheegi Yadain' Atif teased the crowd with 'Bas karain?" knowing well that they're waiting for his latest hit 'Teray Bin'. The shrieks of 'Nooooooooo' made him laugh and he obliged them with breaking in to the slow version of the song. Those present there will vouch for the fact that it was one hell of a nicely sung song and needless to say every single soul present there sang along.

Before saying farewell Atif announced that now they'll play the remix version of the same track on DAT but he'll definitely sing along. At this his band members left the stage and thus began Atif's surprising dance performance on the peppy tune. He sang along but it was his moves that were the actual attraction. The crowd's reaction cannot be described, only imagined. It was Atif's moment and one understood why his band members left him alone on stage. Seems like he has been brushing up on his dancing skills all this while in India!

The unforgettable evening came to end with Atif introducing his band members and the management team and disappearing back stage amidst loud applause and screams. Here one has to say that Sameer, Mehmood and Mobeen have been playing with Atif from day one of his post Jal existence and they are a class act. They are excellent session players who have played with several other acts of the country but they shine bright with Atif and have helped make him what he is today. Driving out the sponsors' shameless self promotion from one's mind it's completely fair to say that it was an unforgettable evening and one came home drunk on Pakistan's favourite son like never before!

Everyone knows who he is. He is the guy with an amazingly rich voice that has taken him to the heights of stardom and acknowledgement within no time at all. And at such a young age!

He is Atif Aslam, the guy who continues to touch the hearts of millions y belting out one song after another. “Music is an essential part of my being. It’s there inside my soul and makes its own way out as effortlessly as that....” Atif acknowledges his intrinsic talent in no uncertain terms.

So what does the natural star likes to do when he is not involved in making music? “Not much reading that you can be sure of!” he is quick to reveal. “Actually, reading to me is an absorbing, time consuming activity, and time is not a commodity I get a lot of. I think reading through the syllabi in my school and college days was more than enough for me.”

He makes a joke of it but then adds a bit more soberly, “No, in fact I would like to read a lot more than I am doing right now. And I would like to read informative books that give you real insight into the history of religion. I want to read about the state and practices of Islam in different eras and then compare them with the present times. There is so much diversity of opinion regarding religion these days and that is the reason why I want to browse through the whole history, and, perhaps then, reach a stage where I can discern the limit between right and wrong for myself.”

Pretty philosophical, but definitely understandable!

By the way, Atif’s favourite subject in school was mathematics, so one can hardly expect him to be into literature really.

Is a similar judgment to be made about Atif’s other leisure activities like movies, for instance? Not really, not after his music has been selected for a Hollywood flick called Man Pushcart, which, after running successfully in the Venice Film Festival, bagged for him the ‘Feprisci Awards of Critics’. And he does like to watch movies as well.

“I like to watch movies whenever I can grab a few hours out of my hectic schedules. And I like serious, thought-provoking art movies. For instance there was this movie I watched some time back on Zee TV called Pushpak. It was really impressive right from its basic idea and storyline down to the standard of acting and directions. It is a Kamala Hasan movie with no dialogues at all. The whole film is shot making use of just expressions and music and it really is awesome.”

Apart from that Atif also likes more Indian art movies like Ijaazat and Aik Rookha Hooa Faisla. Sanjay Leela Bensali is his favourite director and Sushmita Sen his favourite artist. Among Hollywood movies he enjoyed Tom Hanks’ Cast Away quite a lot and appreciates the artistic capabilities of Demi Moore and Cameron Dias considerably. Besides art movies, Atif also enjoys adventurous films.

Currently he is involved in finalizing his second album to which he is attaching loads of importance. “I won’t go into much details. It would be for all to judge, criticize or appreciate it once it comes out, which would be soon. But I would definitely say that I have put my 100% in it and hope that my efforts will be duly awarded.”

Talking of awards, Atif has yet more reasons to feel proud of. He has been nominated not only for the Indian Filmfare and Zee Cine Awards but also for the very prestigious Manikchand Awards which has till date only been won by one Pakistani artist, Nazia Hassan.

“Just being nominated for the award, along with contemporaries like Sonu Nigam and Ramesh, means a lot to me,” he modestly acknowledges. Aadat and Who Lamhay have already created waves in the Bollywood already fetching him a couple of 0000000000000000000awards.

Atif reveals a rather interesting aspect about his choice of music. “I normally listen to music while I am driving. And because I like to drive a bit fast, the music has to be complementary to keep the adrenaline flowing.”

But this is not to imply that it is the only kind of music Atif likes to listen to. “I am a great fan of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and love to listen to not only his contemporary music but old qawwalis too. Then I also like Abida Parveen and Junoon’s music a lot. Among the westerners I like to listen to Audio Slave, U2 and Foo Fighter.”

Surprisingly, though acknowledging all the great maestros of the music world, Atif does not seem willing to become a disciple of any.

“I know there’s a lot I can learn from so many great legends of music world, but I also feel that if I become a shagird to anyone I would lose my distinctive identity, for then I’d be influenced by the maestro’s style intentionally or unintentionally.”

So the lone crusader keeps on moving ahead on his own. One can’t help but wish him the very best of luck!

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