ON POPULAR DEMAND - BRINGING TO YOU PAKISTAN’S FAVOURITE MUSIC ICON ATIF ASLAM'S EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH H! Pakistan
I want to reinvent myself’ says Atif Aslam as soon as we start the interview with the singer who has blessed us with nothing but just remarkable music – some that makes you nostalgic and other that reminds you why you fell in love with his voice in the first place.
He’s undoubtedly the reigning heavyweight of Pakistan’s music industry whose popularity is sans borders. He has got fans from the sub-continent and all over the globe but Atif is as humble and private today as he has ever been. When I asked him if he’s an introvert, he swiftly corrected me and said ‘not at all’ and it’s rather a conscious decision on his part that he likes to keep things private and stay exclusive.
In this super exclusive interview with HELLO!, Atif talks about it all, from his success that he says he knows is bound to go away one day since everyone is replaceable, to making a transition into the world of acting and even tells us what he’d change today about his most famous song Aadat and whether he’s planning to make it again or not. The singer also tells us about his latest music video Rafta Rafta with Pakistan’s top actress Sajal Aly...find it all out in this tête-à- tête.
Thank you for taking the time out to do this. Surely, future generations will see your likeness in their dictionaries next to the definition of the word success. What is it that you feel you need to do now even after all the success you have?
I want to reinvent myself and challenge my own genre – by reinventing myself I mean, whatever I have done in the past, I shouldn’t repeat that and try different music. Also just spend more time with my family and stay around good people.
Many people in quarantine have had ups and downs. I’m sure everyone, even Atif Aslam, has bad days. What’s one thing that picks you up if you’re feeling sad?
Workout, hands down.
How has making music helped you evolve emotionally and deal with your emotions? Has that changed as you have become a father?
It’s been a constant struggle to reach at any point in life – I picked up music because I got inspired by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, however, my emotions were different 17 years ago. Now when I look back at my great journey, my emotions are completely different but music has always been there with me. It has helped me find God. Becoming a father is also a part of this evolution. When I had my own child in my own hands, I understood the relationship of a father and a son – in a way he brought that light back into my life.
What are a few of the core life values that you’d like to impart to your kids to make them resilient humans?
I would teach them to slow down and not work as hard as their father did. I would want them to enjoy every bit of life which I couldn’t because I was constantly working. I would like to impart the quality of being patient to my kids as well as resilience.
You’re extremely exclusive and very private. Is that a conscious decision or are you an introvert?
I am not at all an introvert but rather it’s a conscious decision to stay private. I don’t want to entertain questions like what colour do you like or what’s your favourite cuisine... I don’t like these kind of regular questions, hence I keep things private.
You’re undoubtedly the biggest musician we have in Pakistan and you have been around for years. Does it ever feel like a burden to always having to live up to the high expectations of your fans? Also, is there ever a fear of saturation where you go ‘what now?’
Well, I am aware that there will be a point of saturation someday but I am not scared of it because I have lived my life like a star so I am happy –it is given by God and he can take it away the moment he wants to, so there’s no conscious effort or fear of losing it. I am not someone who is going to dread over it or constantly beat myself with this thought that one day it will all be gone. Everybody is replaceable.
As a renowned performer and musician with an interest in classical music, do you think that our heritage and culture of classical music is losing the sheen in front of contemporary pop music?
Yes I do! Music has evolved so much over the years and we don’t have too many singers following the traditions and given peripheries so they want to either become rappers or RnB singers. Music has changed, with the evolution of pop culture, K-pop becoming mainstream or the influence of western culture, rock isn’t the music anymore so yes all these deviations have certainly affected the classical music. I don’t see too many people practicing it, doing concerts, however I appreciate the people who preserve the knowledge of classical music. But you know what, I think it’s a great thing that new music is being made and people are trying different things whether it’s a hit or a miss, at least they’re trying.
Where does the Pakistani music industry stand today according to you? Do you think we can bring it back to its glory days, anytime soon?
I have always been very hopeful of our music and our industry and I’ve always believed that we never really stopped making music and listeners also have appreciated it throughout – different platforms like Coke Studio have played a great vital role. I think we are progressing as compared to some other nations who don’t even have a music industry.
Are there things you as a musician would like to do, but haven’t been able to do? Any projects you wish you had taken up but couldn’t?
I’ve always had this dream about playing music at Deosai Plains, even if it’s in front of an audience of two people – I think it’s a great venue. I always wanted to make music for the love of it where no money is involved, I am not saying don’t pay the singer but do it for the passion you have for music.
Aadat is an evergreen ballad and now even the new generation is discovering that song. We wouldn’t change a thing about it but as a singer who has evolved from that young boy trying to make a name for himself to now an icon with millions of fans, what would you change about Aadat today?
I’d change the video. (Laughs). I mean I was not even seen in the video. Even after 10 years of Aadat, people still asked ‘Sir aap bench pe beth k kia kar rahe thay?’. So I’d definitely change the video.
Would you ever consider making Aadat again? Since we’re living in times of remixes and renditions?
Ahh I think making a cult song like Aadat again is very difficult and you shouldn’t revamp it until you get a feeling from your heart and I haven’t gotten it yet.
Your latest music video Rafta Rafta is with Sajal Ali. Tell us a bit about that. How was it working with her? Do you ever think about working in mainstream cinema since we have seen so many musicians making that transition?
Rafta Rafta is a very commercial song, produced by Tarun Chaudhary and OmerAhmad and has a very ‘filmy’ sound to it. When I am trying electronic music, I also want to try traditional stuff too in contemporary music. We shot the video of Rafta Rafta in Skardu, one of the best locations I must say we have in the country, directed by Hassam Baloch. Working with Sajal was amazing, she’s a thorough professional, always on time and an extremely great artist to work with – she has a great career ahead for sure. Coming to your question about becoming an actor – many other musicians have done it, for God knows what reason, there’s nothing wrong with it but my point has always been that I want to reinvent myself. If I have a character where I can challenge myself and do something that’s out of the box, I’d love to do it, without even caring if the movie is going to be a hit or not, I’d jump on to it.
We know that you like to keep things private but with so much going around every day, many celebrities are very vocal. How do you feel about sometimes giving an opinion, as it may help a cause, coming from a person in your position?
First of all I don’t think my opinion matters that much that it can change the world, yes it can change people’s opinions but why should I change it? Who am I to change their opinion? Because I think I have lived my own journey and learned from it so they should learn from their own journey and be the judge of the right or wrong. Every celebrity has the right to voice their opinion so they should but why should I intervene in the middle of someone’s conversion when I wasn’t even present to call it right or wrong? Why should anyone write or talk about someone else’s phadda when you were not even
there? I don’t understand this attitude of being an ‘Abbu’ – ‘I know everything and I must comment on everything.’ I stay away from it all because it’s none of my business. Yes, if there’s charity, or something that’s happening for a good cause then I ‘d love to be a part of it, count me in. But at the same time I want to know and be sure if it’s really for a good cause, it’s my right too.
What bothers you most about opinionated media? What are the red flags that alert you to lie low?
Nothing honestly. I simply laugh at people and their way of thinking.
Sometimes you get asked to join a protest but why should I? They say ‘oh we’re collecting royalties for the artists’ community and we want to do something about it’. I know this for a fact that nothing will come out of it. Initially everyone will come in huge numbers and join a group and send very enthusiastic messages and literally a few days later, there will be forwarded messages and jokes about it. So these are the red flags that make you want to lie low.
As an artist, part of the expressive medium of art; how can the positive side of pop culture have an impact on society? How do we progress?
Music has a great impact on society for sure – people now are more free to write and express themselves than they were 20 or 30 years ago. Slangs are being used in music, people are cursing and using swear words, I am not in favour of that because what are you giving the generation? You’re showing people that it’s okay to tell someone to f-off which isn’t okay, it’s ethically wrong. I believe music can impact society in a wrong or right way, just like social media – it depends on you if you want to use it right or in a wrong
What’s next for Atif Aslam?
You never know, I might act. (Laughs).
All-time favourite song?
Naam Gum Jayega, Chehra Yeh Badal Jayega, Stop this Train by John Mayer
What does a perfect date night look like for you?
Me with my wife in Sarfaranga Desert at the view point, stargazing around 1am
If you could trade lives with anyone for a day who would it be?
Khatib of Khana E Kaaba
One thing you discovered about yourself during
I have discovered that there are other things in life than singing and making music
What is the first thing you notice when you meet someone for the first time?
Depends. If I am meeting a celebrity or a higher official, I notice how they treat their staff. If I am meeting a normal human being then I notice how they behave with their parents or where he takes me out for dinner. (Laughs)
Atif Aslam in three words?
Blue, water and patient