Utpal Borpujari

November 17, 2008

The Rocking Ustad

Shafqat Amanat Ali is aware of the importance of his legacy even as he charts out his own style in music, writes Utpal Borpujari


He is an Ustad who rocks. And that’s description is not just for effect. Shafqat Amanat Ali, ninth generation torch-bearer of the famed Patiala Gharana, has kept the flag of his roots flying high even as he’s experimenting with latest sounds. Want proof of his singing virtuosity? You have it already – Mitwa (Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna) and Yeh Hausla (Nagesh Kukunoor’s Dor), to name a couple. But that was him singing to tunes created by other composers. Now, Ali, of the now-history Fuzon band fame, would like to talk – and be talked about – for Tabeer, his debut solo album that showcases him both as a singer and a composer.

Tabeer (Music Today) is an interesting album, its nine tracks having been worked out through a contemporary twist to some of the best-known traditional folk and sufi tunes. But it is more interesting because of another fact – the singer, in an unusual and courageous move, has pointedly earmarked four of the tracks as his favourite, something that is almost a no, no when it comes to creative people talking about his or her creations.

But Ali, who as lead vocalist of Fuzon had developed a big fan following before deciding to chart his own, individual course, is confident about what he is doing, and it comes through when he explains, “These four tracks are very important to me. For example, Rang Le, one of Ameer Khusro’s immortal creations, has been composed by me afresh and sung in a different style.  I have always perceived this track as a very romantic number. I have given it a whispery treatment in the vocals and the music also supports that feel. I want to know if people accept it and whether they are thinking on the same lines as me.” In Tabeer, the robust Qawwali becomes a softer, almost romantic song, with a hint of jazz.

Then there is Khiarheyan De Naal, a traditional folk piece originally sung by famous Pakistani singer Tufail Niazi. “It was just too beautiful to resist and I really wanted to share it with people, with only the first line borrowed from the original,” he says. Manqabat is the third song that he recommends, simply because it is “straight from my heart”. Then there is Kartar (Darbari), a very old “asthai” of the Patiala Gharana sung by earlier by his father Ustad Amanat Ali Khan and uncle Ustad Fateh Ali Khan.  Kartar, which he has extended to a full song. “The feeling in the poetry is poignant, yet it’s a powerful number. I wanted people to hear it from my perspective,” he explains, who was nicknamed “Rockstar Ustad” by musician Salim of the Salim-Sulaiman duo because of his exper

But then, in the five remaining numbers too, Ali has infused his own thought process, giving a fresh perspective to each of them. For example, Bulleh Shah, usually in taal Mughlai of seven beats, has been composed in eight beats while retaining the original Raag Bhairavi. The evergreen Dum Ali Ai Dum too has got a fresh twist in Ali’s hands as have the other tracks. These experimentations notwithstanding, Ali remains steadfastly devoted to his classical roots, aware of the weight and pressure of maintaining the legacy of his family. Both classical singing and experimenting with new sounds are very important to me. I have always maintained that one should not isolate oneself from roots and I will always stick by that,” he says.

Ali recently sang for Mehreen Jabbar’s critically-acclaimed Pakistani film Ramchand Pakistani, and why he chose to sing in this film which has all its songs in the background is the philosophy he adheres to while selecting films to sing for – or when he turns to music direction in films. “I will always look for powerful tracks to sing. Right now I am only singing for Bollywood. Some day, inshallah, I shall compose too,” he says, listing out the films that he has sung for – Atul Agnihotri’s Hello, Kukunoor’s Aashayein, the 11-director ensemble Mumbai Cutting, as well as films like Bangkok Nights and Zindagi Tere Naam.  

Meanwhile, Fuzon is “history” and he sings either individually or with a band called Kharaj. “There are a lot of new compositions I am working on, and there are a few albums in the pipeline… I agree with Salim Merchant’s definition of me as a Rockstar Ustaad as my music does not fit into any specific genre it includes Jazz, Blues, Ballads and a lot of other things and so the term literally covers all my genres keeping my classical roots intact,” says Ali, counting around 25 compositions he has ready that he is segregating into various concepts.

(Published in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com / http://epaper.sakaaltimes.com , 16-11-2008)

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