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Spotlight: Humaira Channa

‘Madam was a really nice, caring human being who never boasted about her work or put others down. She always used to point out my mistakes to me and we shared a rather close bond. She was always kind and sincerely wished me all the success I deserved,’ says Humaira Channa

Humaira Channa is among the very lucky few for whom success came quite predictably. As the daughter of a film writer, she was appreciated at an early age by her school teacher for her beautiful rendition of naats. Pursuing her vocal talent professionally therefore, came all but naturally to the young Humaira.

At the age of nine, her father made her sing for a film he had written, called Darwaza Khula Rakhna. Later, producer Nisar Haider got Humaira her first big break on television when she performed the kalam of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai in PTV Karachi Centre’s Sindh Singhar. This was followed by regular appearances in composer Niaz Ahmed’s music programme, Khush Rang.

Her singing talent did not go unnoticed and it wasn’t long before veteran producer Shoaib Mansoor and the talented host Anwar Maqsood coaxed her to appear in their stage show, Silver Jubilee. Ever since, hers has become a household name and a force to reckon within musical circles, even though she seems to have somewhat faded away from the spotlight recently.

During her career spanning almost two decades now, Humaira, besides having success as her constant companion, has also been dogged by controversies including news of a rift with the late singing legend Madam Noor Jehan and the accusation that her filmi songs were rip-offs of popular Indian film tracks.

Presently, caught up with the songbird and spoke to her about her experiences and the lessons she has learned on her way to the top.

It has been around two decades since you entered the music industry. Who were the people who played an instrumental part in helping you shape your musical career?
I had the privilege of working with legends such as Nisar Bazmi, Bakhsi Aziz, Amjad Zaidi, Wajahat Atre, etc. It feels beautiful to interact with different composers, each having his own approach and concept. The more I interacted with different people, the more means I found to groom myself.

I still remember the time when I stepped into the music industry. There were numerous legendary singers who were not only renowned in Pakistan but across the border as well. I received training under the guidance of Ustad Azmat Shah and Ustad Khushi Ahmed Khan. I was also hugely influenced by Madam Noor Jehan and therefore used to concentrate on riaz extensively.

Our film industry has always posed a challenge for newcomers. Was it any different for you?
I entered the film industry at a time when most people had little exposure. But by the grace of Allah, I was able to adjust without much difficulty. Those were the days of Naheed Akhtar, Madam Noor Jehan, Mehdi Hassan sahib, etc. Being guided by such legends was great motivation for an amateur like me. I never tried to create mischief to make my way to the top, even when I felt low. I believed in myself and nothing could make me resort to cheap tricks.

There was a time when your alleged conflict with Madam Noor Jehan made headlines, especially after you had started singing Punjabi film songs too, something over which Madam had monopoly.
I would always laugh when I read such news and heard rumours. Madam was a really nice, caring human being who never boasted about her work or put others down. She always used to point out my mistakes to me and we shared a rather close bond. Maybe some mischief mongers wanted to taint my image, but I never felt any negative vibes coming from the late Melody Queen. She was always kind and sincerely wished me all the success I deserved.

Once, I went to a recording studio where she was busy recording a song. The moment she switched over to the classical part, I became so emotional that tears rolled down my cheeks. Seeing this, she embraced me and asked me why I was sad. I said: “Iss geet kay saath sirf Madam Noor Jehan hi insaaf karsakti thi” (only Madam Noor Jehan could have done justice to this song).

After singing for television for quite some time, you went to Lahore and started playback singing. Wasn’t it tough to start all over again and that too, while facing tough competition?
Yes, it was quite tough but fortunately I met the right people at the beginning of my career. I was also not carried away like most newcomers who don’t get proper guidance. My first major break as a playback singer came with the film Mukhra, the directorial debut of Nadeem. The song Ek Mera Mukhra Pyara, shot on Babra Sharif, became a hit and landed me substantial offers thereafter.

How do you foresee the future of playback singing particularly in Pakistan?
Due to changing trends, our singers are now losing focus. Most singers today opt for a commercial approach to remain in the limelight, and the increasing number of TV channels has distorted their minds even more. They tend to perform only those songs which they find commercially viable.

Playback singing for a new artiste is always a good learning experience if taken seriously and positively. What we need today are Urdu and Punjabi movies with good scripts and music.

How important is poetry to you in a musical equation?
Poetry is the core foundation of any musical composition. It gives soul to a song and has a deep impact on the listener. For me, even the song delivery feels dry if good poetry and tangible lyrics are missing. The soil of our poetical history is rich with names such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Riazur Rehman Saghar, Parveen Shakir, Ahmed Faraz, etc. These people have contributed immensely in augmenting the image of Urdu poetry and it is always a pleasure to sing their kalam.

There was a time when Pakistani film composers cashed in on Indian compositions and you, along with others, became a part of that race. Why did you become a party to it?
India, being a vast industry, has composers who are constantly trying out new things and experimenting with their work which gives them space to grow. On the other hand, we are blind to these requirements and hence end up having nothing new to offer. The Indians copy our songs too, you know, but that is not a justification to these charges.

Actually, as artistes, we owe immensely to the people we work with and you just cannot afford to refuse some of them. In that way, sometimes I had to surrender. Otherwise I would have been labelled as arrogant and disrespectful of my seniors. But the songs that I did were few and far in between. I did resent doing them but I had to do it for the people whom I respected and had worked with for so many years.

For some, singing is a passion or a profession while for others it is a need. What part has music played in your life?
Initially, I think music is a pleasure for most singers. It is only later on that it becomes a profession and then transforms into a need. Obviously one has to raise a family and maintain a standard of living. But it differs from person to person.

There are many artistes who have commercialised their music and to add insult to injury, they do not even know how to sing. I won’t take names, but they do not last long. For me, today, the most important thing is to maintain and deliver the quality that my fans expect of me. The monetary aspect comes much later on.

Has it been hard for you to maintain a balance between your professional and domestic life?
Yes, it does get a bit tricky at times and I have had certain problems initially but now I know how to balance the two. I thank my family for giving me my space and tolerating my schedule. I have a son and a daughter and I prefer to take them with me when they are off from school. My husband, who runs his business in Sindh, has also been kind to me and without his encouragement, I would not have been able to pursue singing.

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