lt’s not that Rahim Shah arrived on the pop scene with a bang or with any red carpet rolled out for him. He consolidated his position on the basis of his talent and vocals, whereas many media-manufactured pop stars are often catapulted to giddy heights after the success of a single song. But for Rahim, the word success means even more responsibilities.
His musical voyage started when he had to accidentally sing in a social programme. When his father heard of this, the singer-in-waiting was thrashed.
“My decision to take up music as a profession was strongly condemned by my family, and excluding my nana (maternal grandfather) and brother, everybody stopped calling me by my real name and started mocking me by calling me a mirasi. But the discouragement didn’t hold me down. After I was thrown out of the family home, I moved to Karachi. As there was no place for me to stay, I took shelter in a mandir. It was the time when the Babri Mosque was razed [in Ayodhya] by Hindu extremists and there was a lot of resentment in Pakistan against the Hindu community. There were processions taken out and a group burned down the mandir. I survived and saved the guru of the temple, too,” says Rahim.
Rahim Shah feels that local music is finished as commercialism has overshadowed professionalism and music has turned more visual than instrumental. ‘I call it numaish. If I’m seen as a part of the rat-race, then excuse me but I can’t help it. But in my individual capacity I do try to bring about what true music really is and if you listen to my music, you’ll find that I don’t compromise when it comes to quality and substance’
Rahim Shah’s first big break didn’t come too easily. In those days he used to be an ardent fan of ghazal singer Salman Alvi, whose ghazal Ajnabi sheher kay ajnabi raastay really touched his heart. Eventually, he thought Salman could help get a foot through the door. “I would sit outside his house, hoping that he would notice me. This went on for about four years. One day his wife managed to convince him to listen to me. So with his help my first album — Ghum — came out. The title song was copied across the border and the person who did this claimed that he came up with the idea first which I found quite amusing.”
But even after this break things were no walk in the park. Rahim Shan claims that he had to run from pillar to post to get things done. He even ended up selling his blood to raise money for his first video. “I needed money to make my first video and when I wasn’t able to generate funds from anywhere I went straight to the Jinnah Hospital and sold my blood. Wherever I went I was exploited and so I sold my blood to save my passion, for which I had left my home. In turn, God made the simple video scale the top of the charts. It has further strengthened my belief in Him,” says Rahim.
Fame and money are perhaps the two most important elements of the showbiz equation and the affect of both differs from person to person. Some people get so affected that their tantrums reach ridiculous heights, whereas for some it’s an indication of more responsibility. “I guess both have no big role to play in my life,” he says, adding, “these things come twofold. Fame is what is limited to my own personality and money is perhaps my family’s necessity. I feel I have been blessed with more than what I deserve.”
Recalling memories of his early days, Rahim Shah unfolds that the first song he recorded was in the Sindhi language. “When I went to the studio I was asked by the producer if I had brought a packet of cigarettes. I told him about my financial state didn’t allow even that. However, he didn’t soften up and I had to rush to the market, even though I didn’t have a single penny in my pocket. I sold my watch to buy him a pack of cigarettes. These are some of the problems a newcomer faces when trying to enter the industry.”
He then went on to work in a studio where he was little more than an office boy, brining tea or water for the artistes just so he could earn Rs300 by singing in the chorus. One day Niaz Ahmed had to record a national song in the studio and was waiting for Muhammad Ali Shyhaki, who couldn’t turn up. Rahim got the chance instead. “That was the day when he really listened to me seriously,” Rahim recalled enthusiastically. “After the recording he congratulated me and told me not to waste my talent over ordinary things and focus on playback signing. Today, I feel that my true style is playback. But unfortunately there are very few avenues where I can satisfy that urge. In the 1970s and then the ’80s, when our film industry was in full boom, singers like Mehnaz, Nayyara Noor, A. Nayyar, Naheed Akhtar, etc, gave playback signing the status of a sound profession. But with the decline of the industry, it now stands nowhere.”
Rahim feels that local music is finished as commercialism has overshadowed professionalism and music has turned more visual than instrumental. “I call it numaish. Today, if I’m seen as a part of the rat-race, then excuse me but I can’t help it. That’s how the music industry is these days. But I don’t think it’s going to last long in that form, either. How does a thing which is deemed essential for the contentment of the soul survive in such a form? I don’t feel I’m that powerful to sail against the current. But in my individual capacity I do try to bring about what true music really is and if you listen to my albums, you’ll find that I don’t compromise when it comes to quality and substance. I always make sure that the lyrics are written by those who are good at it. I never try to be a jack-of-all-trades as I guess that taking on too many responsibilities kills the overall spirit.”
Talking about the biggest influences in his life, the very first name that Rahim comes up with is that of his elder brother. At a time when he had to confront the ire of all his near and dear ones, it was his elder brother who stood by him and asked his parents to let him do as he wished.
“He didn’t oppose me, which stands as his support for my passion. In fact, Rahim is my elder brother’s name, and today whatever I am is because of his encouragement and support, which paved the way for my success. So I thought the best way to acknowledge his contribution in my life was to make myself known through his name. In practical life it was Salman Alvi who gave me that push which helped me make an impression. Leaving these two, everybody has invested in me for their profits and business.”
One credit Rahim certainly wants as his is of the introduction of Pashto pop. “I introduced pop in Pashto for the first time and the change was welcomed by my listeners, especially the young generation. Nobody has ever invested that much energy towards Pashto music, but since day one I have had the desire to bring Pashto to the masses, like all other regional languages. For instance Punjabi has been blended with pop and has been taken up nicely. So in my album Peera I gave a rich blend of Pashto pop. Surprisingly, till today I have not been given any award for this effort.”
As regards taking up a social cause, Rahim intends to do something for the welfare of senior citizens who are thrown out by their children. “That’s something I really can’t take.
Throughout our lives our parents care for us. But when their time comes to be taken care of, some of us shirk our responsibilities. It is unethical and a sin. I want to build a home for all those who have been neglected by their own and Insha Allah this home will give these seniors a new hope for life.”