Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan on upcoming Sufi album

Shafqat Amanat Ali receives the President’s Award for excellence in music

Instep Today catches up with the musician on his upcoming Sufi album and what he’s been up to post-Fuzon.

Aamna Haider Isani

It’s difficult to get track of high profile, popular musicians like Shafqat Amanat Ali since they jet-set all over the place, especially in the neighboring land of Bollywood. Shafqat has been there too, in fact his song from last year’s Kabhie Alvida Naa Kehna – ‘Mitwa’ – was one of he most memorable from the soundtrack of the Shahrukh Khan and Rani Mukherjee starrer.

Fame and stardom can make you highly elusive but when the government of your country selects you for receiving one of the most prestigious civilian awards around, rest assured the musician will make sure he’s around to receive it. That too in a sherwani!

We spoke with Atif Aslam a couple of days ago and also managed to catch up with Shafqat Amanat Ali on how he felt to be the recipient of the President’s Award this week. He discusses that and a lot more in this Instep Today exclusive…

Instep Today: Why do you think the government gave you the President’s Award this year?

Shafqat Amanat Ali: I can’t say why I got it this year. All I feel is that I have walked in the footsteps of my family. This award is the fifth awarded to my family and I am proud to be walking in the tradition set by my father, my uncles, Hamid Ali Khan (who has also received the Sitara-i-Imtiaz this year) …my whole family. It is the highest civilian award in Pakistan, though I don’t think I’ve been working for it much in the past year.

Instep Today: Does the government’s recognition of musicians change the way it perceives the industry as a whole? Do you think its attitude is changing and we can expect support and facilitation of the industry?

SAA: I don’t think there will be any major changes. This is just a good gesture and should be seen as such. By recognizing and honouring musicians, the government shows that it is liberal in its views. But what they should be careful about is mindlessly distributing these awards each year. They can’t be handing out these honours to just anyone simply because they must have a musician or artist on their list. The industry should work harder and it should truly deserve it.

Instep Today: There are several other musicians, besides yourself, who have been honoured this year. So who do you think didn’t deserve it?

SAA: (laughs) No, no… I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that awards should be earned, not passed out randomly.

Instep Today: What do you consider the milestones of your career last year?

SAA: After disbanding, a lot of rumours were going around that I had two albums up my sleeve, ready for release. That was not true. I had not prepared any solo album at that time. But I do have an album ready now and it is a Sufi album. It is ready to be released. The other album, the one I had done with the band, will come out in October-November. It won’t have as much masala as a Fuzon album would have had, but it will have my signature. I wanted to put an album between the release of the disbanding and the Fuzon album, which is why I have worked on a Sufi album.

Instep Today: How did you come across the idea of doing a Sufi album?

SAA: I was actually offered the project in India. India Today wanted me to do a Sufi album but I told them that what they thought as Sufi music, was in fact nothing of the sort. I explained it to them – Sufi music had to be about the kalaam and raags, not synthesized music. I told them that I would do it my way.

This was supposed to be a mid-term sort of album but has turned out to be quite cool. India Today will be releasing it as the biggest release of the year. They understood what I had done and were quite excited about it.

Instep Today: How are they planning on promoting the album?

SAA: Well, they are getting in touch with some of the top Indian actresses for the videos. Let’s see if any of them agree. They wanted the stars but I insisted that it would HAVE to be a Pakistani music video director. They were very curious to know why and I told them that just as there is a huge difference between Indian pop and Pakistani pop music, there is a huge difference in the way we see things. We have our own distinct look that I want to retain in my songs and videos. The visual identity has to be mine.

I have given them a list of all top directors – who in all probability will be too busy to agree to do my videos. But India Today has agreed. They were on with this ‘fusion’!

Instep Today: Weren’t you also planning on producing two albums with Rohail Hyatt?

SAA: Yes, my solo albums. But Rohail has gotten very busy with his Coke Studio project and I don’t know when he’ll have the time. We’ll see if we can do the album together.

Instep Today: Do you have any comments about Fuzon’s new vocalist and the fact that they’ve come out with a new version of ‘Neend Na Aaye’ that you had sung?

SAA: He is a good singer and I don’t know him personally but from what I’ve heard of him, he’s a good person too.

Instep Today: Last of all, as a recipient of the Presidential Award, what steps would you like to be seen taken by the government to help the progress and facilitation of the music industry?

SAA: Things have been the same in this country since 1947. The government is not going to get up and suddenly start giving out stipends to artistes, neither are they about to open institutes for training people. But things will still continue to happen. What the government can do is make it easier for musicians to bring technical equipment into the country. We buy equipment worth millions and then pay millions again in customs. This process should be made duty free or at least less duty for musicians.