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Spotlight: Shafqat Amanat Ali

Shafqat Amanat AliIt has been alleged that fame has gone to Shafqat’s head and he wants to control the purse. “Oh, come on,” Shafqat laughs disbelievingly. “This is totally baseless and absurd if you know the kind of person I am and the kind of family upbringing that I have received. Had I started acting pompous just because I became a celebrity, my family would be the first to disparage me saying ‘who do you think you are? and what are you doing? Don’t you know who your forefathers were, and what values they have taught you?’

It has been a while since another hauntingly mellow voice belonging to the legendary Patiala gharana surfaced on the music horizon and made millions take note – and that too, seriously. For proffering a unique blend of music the three-member band called Fuzon made an impression right from its very debut. In the richly melodious voice that was to be recognised as Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan, there rose a figure that was prophezied to go a long way. But the journey to stardom has not been an easy sail and has been riddled with hindrances.

However, with a determined look in his eyes and a firm conviction in himself, Shafqat is adamant to go on. Apart from the discernible family resemblance (both in looks and the rich, controlled voice), what makes Shafqat Amanat Ali different from the other big names hailing from the famed Patiala family? “Unlike any of my other renowned family members, that is Baba (the great Maestro Ustad Amanat Ali Khan Sahib), Chacha (Ustad Fateh Ali Khan Sahib), and Bhai (Asad Amanat Ali Khan), I had to struggle every inch of the way to get to where I am today. And the impediments arose not only from outside but from within the family as well”.

Shafqat has a far off look in his eyes as he reminisces, “In my early years when I needed my family’s attention, it was Asad Bhai everyone doted on. And by the time I started school, my Chacha’s sons, (Rustam and Sohrab) were there before me, claiming all the love and care of the family. So somehow I always hovered in the background never getting what I duly deserved.”

Shafqat’s name appeared on the music world’s horizon at a comparatively later point of time considering that he had such a strong family standing to propel him forward from the very onset. But as Shafqat avers, things went just the opposite way. “I cannot really pin-point what the exact reason was for my family not being so keen on my venturing into the field was; despite my being very sure that I wanted to be a singer, I was never encouraged to ‘join in’. As a part of our family’s traditions every child in our family has to learn the basics of music for a certain period of time; and so did I. But somehow or the other, I was never considered promising enough to be a singer. As a person I want a lot of encouragement for me to go on, and if I don’t find that, it makes me draw back impulsively. I backed off and stayed so for a long time.

“Although time and again my Chacha and Asad Bhai offered to get me a job ‘anywhere I wanted’ (Customs, Airline, Police, PTV, etc.) but ever since I was a child I was very sure what I wanted to do with my life. And I never considered anything else but music and being a singer”

And this conviction in himself and determination did ultimately make his dream come true, but it was not an easy ride by any means. “It was a long, seemingly never-ending, extremely daunting period of my life which, at times, became so unbearably unsettling that I wanted to leave everything and run away. I had to quit my Masters, do little jobs here and there to generate money (I never depended on family financially), run after people to listen to my music, my ideas, my songs (yes I had two full-fledged albums ready to be released under my belt long before Sagar came along), work in the recording studios (even slept inside the vocal booths at time). And then eventually, Sagar came along, and everything changed within a matter of days.

“And today, I am so glad that although being extremely proud of my family’s name, I did not use it or the family’s backing (may be it turned out to be a blessing-in-disguise) and that I have carved every single inch of way to success on my very own”, says Shafqat.

Verily so, as with the advent of Sagar and Fuzon, new chapters of glory were added to the pop-music history of the country. The three-member band with its unique blend of eastern classical and contemporary pop trends struck a chord and gave new dimensions to music scenario. Their first album was a roaring hit, was fated to be the only album the band could release; for right at the pinnacle of its meritorious career, Fuzon disbanded.

Whatever the reality behind the disbandment, Shallum (the guitarist) and Imu (on keyboards) with a tirade of charges, alleged Shafqat to be responsible for it.

Shafqat Amanat AliAt the top of the charges was the accusation that he tried to monopolize by going solo and taking all the credit single-handedly. They claim that Shafqat was performing on his own without telling or consulting them. “But why was I supposed to tell or inform them about my solo performances when I never asked how many jingles, sessions or recordings they were doing individually, and why?” Shafqat leans forward to brace the allegations made with intensity in his eyes. “From the very onset, it was an understanding between the three of us that the formation of the band would not affect our individual careers and performances as artists. Both Shallum and Imu were well established in their own respective standings and earning theek thak when Fuzon was formed. I was the one struggling to make an impression and a career. And to tell you the truth, none of us knew Sagar was going to become such a success. But it did. We did. And we continued delivering afterwards.

“All this while both of them kept doing individual work as they had been doing in the past.

But they were quick to object when I did what they had been doing all this while.”

But maybe they had a reason to object when Shafqat chose to perform solo what has been created mutually as a band? “Look”, he sighs, “I have not said this before as somehow I felt it to be a bit rude and uncouth to make this assertion, but the fact of the matter is that I performed solo only those songs which were genuinely and comprehensively created by me (lyrics, compositions, arrangements etc.) even while working as a band. Prior to this whenever asked about the compositions, we used to say these are done jointly — bus mil jul ker ho jata ha’. When the truth was (and is) that all those hit numbers like Sagar, Ankhian, Khamaj, Malhar, Lajwanti were solely my creations.

“My family values have taught me never to let down my partners. Baba, Chacha and even Asad Bhai always made it a point to introduce their musicians publicly and in glowing terms. Keeping this very tradition in mind, I too initiated the introduction of my band-members during the song Ankian. But in reality it was getting too much for them to swallow the fact that I, being the face of the band, was in the centre-stage and that my family’s name was always linked with my introduction.

“Now could I help it? Could I disown my roots just because the others did not have a prestigious enough family lineage?” responds Shafqat strongly.

Point taken, we move onto the next allegation: fame had gone to Shafqat’s head and he wanted to control the purse. “Oh, come on,” he laughs disbelievingly. “This is totally baseless and absurd if you know the kind of person I am and the kind of family upbringing that I have received. Had I started acting pompous just because I had become a celebrity, my family would be the first to disparage me saying ‘who do you think you are, and what are you doing? Don’t you know who your forefathers were, and what values they have taught you?’

“Getting into the limelight is no big deal and has never been my problem. If I wanted to be a solo hit, I would have sung, ‘Babay meri lag gayee naukri hun tau lab lay meray layee chokri’ sort of a song many years earlier. But I have always prayed to God to let me have those songs and music on my credit that will be remembered (and in good words) even after I am long gone.”

Shafqat also brushes aside the allegation of trying to have a commanding hold on the financial matters of the band averring that although money is needed by everyone, it has not been his only concern. “Without getting into unnecessary details, I’d just say that ever since I started pursuing my career (while I was still studying) I have just depended on my own self financially, never asking and never expected anything from anyone. I still have a ’98 model Corolla, and I was the last one in my band to buy it.”

Remembering his brother, Shafqat says that although there was a considerable age difference between them and he was never emotionally close too him, Asad’s presence provided him a sense of having a reliable shelter which has perished with him. “I lost both my parents at crucial stages of my life — times when I needed them the most. Asad Bhai, although never very close to me (he always considered me as a child even long after I had matured) was there like an invisible protective cover. After him, we all, especially I feel I am solely on my own. The cover, the shelter is there no more.”

Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan has seen a lot in his life, struggled, achieved, suffered and then endured some more. May be all this has unconsciously seeped into that hauntingly-melancholy voice also which tugs at the very being of his listeners.

Shafqat Amanat AliCurrently in the process of recording two albums with ex-Vital Signs band member and solitary producer, Rohail Hyatt, Shafqat is adamant to go on; determined to keep pursuing a destiny he knows has been carved a certain way. “Music is the only way I know how to live. I cannot say for how long I will go on this way. But even if I try to think of a life without music, there’s just an empty, nameless, faceless void which I can neither identify, nor relate to or imagine.”

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