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Spotlight: Shafqat Amanat Ali

Shafqat Amanat Ali is the vocal force behind Fuzon and his voice is taking him places with and beyond the band. chats with him on his recent trip to Italy, Fuzon's highly anticipated second album and the startling news of him lending his vocals to Karan Johar's next star studded venture Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna

Shafqat Amanat Ali's training in eastern classical music has enabled him to make a mark for himself in today's world where music relies more on computers than talent. But Shafqat is beyond the triviality of stardom and the projects he is working on speak for themselves. He's just come back from Italy where he was playing world music with class acts from different ethnicities . He has also recorded vocals for the soundtrack of the next big Shahrukh Khan–Rani Mukerji starrer that makes use of the talents of the trio of music directors Shankar Ehsaan and Loy. And then there is Fuzon...

It is Shafqat who has translated the word 'fusion' with his strong vocal talent and the ability to sing some of the most difficult of raags. The diversity of the Shafqat–Immu–Shallum collaboration has made them one of the leading acts riding to India on the Pakistani pop omnibus. All geared up to release their new album after a hiatus of two and half years Fuzon are going strong on the unprecedented impact of Saagar.

So what will be the sound of their new album, how are they going to handle the overwhelming expectations of fans and will too many solo projects eventually cause them to drift apart like Junoon? asks and Shafqat answers...

How was your trip to Italy?
This is the second time I went to Italy. It all started a year ago when Luigie the 5th and his band visited Pakistan and Fuzon performed with them in the three major cities. This collaboration of the two bands – Fuzon and Luigie – was a hit everywhere and people liked it a lot. Alaaps are an important part in the sound of the band and this is the reason why they wanted me to fly down to Italy and perform with them. But this time, they wanted alaaps only and not the whole band. There, I was asked to perform at this major peace concert where five musicians from five different religions were performing together on stage and this has happened for the first time in the music history. There was a Christian, a Hindu, a Jew and a Buddhist there with me. The concert went like clockwork and was heavily applauded by the audience. The other performance I did for them was also recorded live and will be released soon. A CD of this performance will be out next month in Italy. The third performance was at a poetry festival there, I performed Baba Bulley Shah's 'Aavo Saiyo Ral Do Vadhai', that was also an instant hit.

A video of your naat is being aired on TV these days? Tell us more about that?
I won't call it a naat or a hamd, it's a dua. It was the idea of a private channel and I was inspired to do it. And this was the reason I recorded it in the last days before Ramadan. It has minimum instruments and is very different from what you usually get to hear.

Also do you treat naat or hamd as a part of your music? This is a solo effort. Why isn't the band involved?
Yes, I do treat it as a part of my music and I think it is more challenging to render a naat than a normal song. There is less music and emphasis is usually on the vocals, which is a test for them. Although, I am against removing music from renderings of naat or hamd, I think that there is nothing wrong with that. Many also think that singing holy chants will damage their image, I don't agree with this statement too. I think it is a test of your talent and shows your versatility. If you are versatile, you can do any type of music, including reciting naats and hamds. You are more audible when you sing a naat, thus it is more challenging for me. And for your second question, this is a solo effort because they asked me to do it solo and also because my band members might not like the idea of doing it. Similarly, I wouldn't like to do things that they are doing on their own. There are lots of things that I can't use my band in and vice versa.

How is the band coming along as all of you are also concentrating on solo projects?
They are chilled. Immu is a composer and is doing his work, jingles for people and stuff. He can't involve me in this. Then Shallum and Immu both are going to host shows for private channels, and I can't help them with that. So as long as we are loyal to the band, we can go on doing our own thing too.

It's big news that you are singing for Karan Johar's movie, how did that come through?
It all started with out trip to India around two years ago. Shankar Mahadevan of Shankar Ehsaan Loy fame heard me and was impressed. He asked me music related questions like which keynote you sing and can sing on, etc. Then just two months ago, I got a call from him and he asked me whether I would be interested in doing vocals for a song for Karan Johar's movie. I had complete faith in them and that's why I said yes without any hesitation. I knew that he works with the top directors and producers in Bollywood and I believe that they are extraordinary musicians. Then I got a call from Dharma productions and I went and recorded the song.

Did you get any offers from India before that?
This was my third offer from India, before too, I was approached to do a song for the movie Page 3, the song was titled 'Yahan Zindagi', I didn't know about the team so I refused the offer by quoting a very high price. They said we couldn't pay you more than 25,000 Indian rupees, as this is what the top Indian singers get. Another offer came from ace music producer Anu Malik. I didn't get a solid offer. There were no terms and conditions agreed so I pulled out of it.

Tell us about your involvement in the Indian market?
We have a strong position across the border. Fuzon has performed in India to cheering crowds. They know that this particular Pakistani band has a beautiful video (referring to 'Khamaj'). I don't know what happens after the release of the movie, as Bollywood music is highly influential in the Indian music market.

What is the right way for our pop singers to enter the Indian music market?
If you ask me, losing your dignity is the worst way to enter the market. The only big power when it comes to music in India is Bollywood. There is no pop music in India, they don't have famous pop bands or singers and there is no good sense of pop music. They are definitely coming here to our pop singers to fill in the vacuum. When pop artists go from here, they can't make a market for themselves in pop music; they have to eventually go to Bollywood. Bollywood music has a very typical filmi feel and one has to adjust to that. I think our artists should be more assertive, stick to their terms and conditions and ask their price. They should not just go and give away their music and music videos so they (the Indian industry) can make use of it. They should be confident, as they have to realise that Indian music badly needs our artists and they can pay. You should just not sell yourself cheap or for free.

How big is the music market in India for Pakistani singers? Is it feasible for them to release albums/videos/singles there?
As I said, Bollywood is the driving force of the Indian music market and it is certainly a lot bigger than our market. It has a global share, it is a bigger circuit. Then, TV is also getting very popular there and is becoming a huge media power. It gives our artists great hype if they release a video or an album there. But then again, I repeat myself that we should be firm when it comes to the deal – make a fair deal. We are giving you our music, you give us something in return and it can be anything, making expense of two videos, etc.

There is a certain feel to Bollywood music. Do you think that your music would be tampered with if you do it for 'Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna'?
First, it is a pre–composed track and I am just singing it. There is a certain sound to Bollywood music, which is prevalent in every song they produce for their movies. If I don't have the quality of changing my sound according to the requirements, then I'm not a good singer. The prime example is Fuzon's debut album, Saagar, in the album, there are many different sounds, 'Teray Bina' has a different one, Khamaj is another shift in sound so what I am trying to say is that you should have that diversity and flexibility to sing in any sound. I went to India, I gave them the four sounds I can sing in and they chose one, which was close to what they wanted. That was a softer one. Any music should not ruin the way you sound and the feel of your music, you should be able to change your tone and style without losing your individuality.

What kind of song are you singing for the movie?
It will be picturised either on Abhishek Bachchan and Preity Zinta or on Shahrukh Khan and Rani Mukerji. It is an eastern track with a very romantic and rhythmic feel to it.

What is the news of the new Fuzon album?
It is in the process of mixing at this stage. If not on Eid, it should be out before the last week of November as we are in talks with various releasing companies now.

Why was there such a delay in releasing a new album?
There were a few reasons for it. Firstly, we were concentrating on making videos out of our debut album at an interval of four to five months. This alone took two and a half years. It is a record that we made – releasing five videos and all of them were well received. Secondly there was a lot of pressure on us after the first album was an instant hit. People were expecting a lot from us and we have to deliver – we don't want our fans to be disappointed. We have put in a lot of effort this time around.

As the audience is expecting a lot from your new release, would you like to tell us what is the sound of your new album or the changes you made this time?
The main element as we all know is the fusion of sounds, a mix of eastern and western tones. The only thing we have added this time are a few dance numbers as we thought that we didn't have many in the debut.

How does it feel to be a classically trained singer and be a part of a pop band?
I think classical helps you in singing anything you want to. It is classical music that forced me to sing many other genres of music. I want to be known as a classical singer. If it weren't for classical music, I wouldn't have been singing at all.

Do you think that we need more avenues to play live?
We certainly do need them. We can't do it on TV recordings, as we don't have the technical support to manage or control the sound. We need sound engineers and advanced equipment which most of the stations don't have. Ideally, the TV programmes should be broadcasting live recordings.

What is the situation of live music playing in the country? Are you pro live singing?
The situation is not so good as I said. We need to have more avenues for live singing. It's a completely different experience. I prefer to sing live always. We would never be comfortable singing with a CD playing in the background. Also when you are lip–syncing you have your limitations. A five–minute song on a CD can be made into a ten–minute live performance. There is absolutely no substitute to live singing.

What do you think about the almost no concert situation in major cities like Karachi because of security issues? How is it damaging musicians and bands?
It is directly affecting the musicians and singers. If we solve these so–called 'security issues', we can earn a lot more revenue out of shows. For musicians, music is their only source of income. I can't do anything but music. I'll starve if I don't make money from my music. And this will not just kill one person, but the entire industry.

Tell us about 'Neend Aaye Na'. Is it going to be the first video off your new album as a live version of it is playing on local music channels?
It might be the first video but a lot depends on which music company releases our album. It is up to them, if they want to make some other song's video, then we will have to do that. Like 'Naal Naal' which is hip–hop kind of a number. Though I must say, we got great feedback from 'Neend Aaye Na'.

The band got an image makeover with 'Khamaj', how has it helped you guys?
It did help us a lot. But an image makeover is just for a video and we change our image (in terms of styling, wardrobe) with almost all the videos. The video, in a way, carried our love for the raags and classical music. It provoked them to think about what 'Khamaj' is, what is this kind of music!

How important is the look or image for you and how does it help your music?
I think I am the worst dressed person in the entire singing community. I definitely believe in my music and I think that comes before anything else. You should just be happy with yourself, the way you dress and that's about it. People are not interested in what you wear but what you sing.

And what about ace music video directors. How much of a difference do they make to a band and their look?
We have been very lucky with the music video directors. They have given us great videos and images and the audience is always curious about the kind of look we will come up with in the next video. There is a lot of anticipation and I think that's the best part.

As videos are mascots for bands, what do you keep in mind while making a video?
If we trust the directors, we leave everything up to them and then there are always discussions and suggestions. Its better not to work with people you don't trust and that's exactly what we do.

What are you plans, with the band and also tell us more about your solo projects?
We are waiting for the album to come out. I am doing one song here and one there. I am also planning to come with my solo album soon. I am working on it.

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