1. Briefly describe yourself and your family.
I am a musician based in Islamabad at home in Pakistan and Croatia, where I also lived for a third of my life. My father is Aslam Azhar, who lead the project for the founding of PTV in Pakistan and who was also a great actor, director and orator. My mother is NasreenAzhar who has been a champion of human rights and woman rights in Pakistan all her life. I’v got an elder brother Usama in Germany and a half sister Yasmin, and my younger sister Umaima lives with us in Islamabad. She has been the biggest inspiration in all my work.
2. Where were u born? Favorite color? Favorite food
I was born in Rawalpindi. I don’t have a favorite color, it changes according to my mood. I like all sorts of food from all over the world. I think Pakistan has some of the best food in the world.
3. How were you as a child?
My mother tells me that when I was born I cried for three days. I guess that was my first Riaaz in this world! As a child I was full of energy and curious about each and everything like most children.
4. Tell us about your educational background.
I did my schooling from Karachi Grammar School till O’ Levels. We’d shifted to Karachi when my father was sacked by the Zia regime. He, together with MansoorSaeed founded the drama group Dastak, which was the only theater group in Pakistan at the time, besides Ajoka in Lahore, who was doing serious and socially aware theater in the local language. I more or less grew up in Dastak and together with Mansoor’s daughter Sania Saeed, acted in a lot of theater plays.
5. Your dad belonged to PTV, why did not you join it?
I never wanted to join a government institution with an incumbent bureaucracy, I was not brought up that way. Even my father would never have joined PTV or any government institution today. He set it up at a time when it was still possible to create something new and truly become a public service. I was always interested in music and film and theater, but I decided that even if one does one good thing in life that is enough, and music has always been my primary passion.
6. When did you start to sing?
I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories are of grown ups sitting around me and me entertaining them. Then I had a great music teacher in the junior section of Karachi Grammar School, a lovely Parsi lady who used to be a great piano player also. She encouraged me constantly and when I was passing out of junior school into senior school, she held my by the shoulders looked me squarely in the eye and told me, “you’v got something special, don’t ever give up on music!”
I have never forgotten her advice, bless her soul.
7. Is singing your hobby or you have pursued it as full time career?
I have been a professional musician for more than 17 years. Every person in my band is a professional musician. You cannot do justice to it if you pursue it as a hobby. If you follow your heart and not what society dictates, it can take a long time to stand on your feet, but there is nothing more fulfilling in life. We are truly blessed in this respect.
8. If you were an eatable what would you be.
9. What is the type of music you sing and why are you inspired by it?
I sing all music that touches my soul. Whichever language it might be in, which I speak, or whichever style, with whichever instruments. If I had to give it a name, I would call it ‘soul music’. I am inspired by it because if music is done properly, it is the highest form of art and communion with humankind and one’s God.
10. Did not you face any problems while starting to sing by your family?
No, I come from a family of artists and thinkers. There have been no businessmen, marketers in our family. My family has always encouraged me to follow my own heart and to be grateful for what I have.
11. Who else in your family sings?
My mother has a lovely tuneful voice, but she never pursued this particular talent. My father has a great speaking voice and a magnificent sense of music though he seldom sings. I learnt how to breath properly and throw my voice initially from him. My elder brother is very talented in music composition and has the potential to become a great singer but he has not yet pursued it seriously. Both my half sister in Germany and sister in Pakistan play the piano.
12. Who are your musical inspirations?
I have so many. Mostly it is folk musicians from all over the world. From Pakistan – Patthaney Khan, Abida Parveen, Tufail Niazi, Alam Lohar, Sain Jumman, Alan Faqeer, Sohrab Faqir, Faiz Baloch, Reshma, Mai Bhaagi and so many others. Then there are the early Blues masters like Skip James, Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters; gypsy musicians like SabanBajramovic, EsmaRedepova, Taraf De Haidouks; rock balladeers like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, John Lennon; Bob Marley and the Wailers; Irish musicians like Christy Moore; African masters like FelaKuti, Femi Kuti, Ali FarkaTouree and so many others…
13. Do you play any instruments?
I accompany myself on the guitar and mess around with other instruments when I can.
14. If you could dabble in another genre of music, what would it be?
I don’t consider myself in any special genre of music so I do mess around with any genres I find interesting.
15. What hidden talents do you have?
I sing, I think, I write, I have acted and directed. I have no idea!
16. Do you enjoy writing music or just singing?
I compose most of the songs that I sing. I try to write songs but there are very few which I can completely stand behind. I’m always comparing what I write to the great poets like Bulleh Shah… I feel I have a long way to go as a poet.
17. What is the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into?
When I was in Zagreb Croatia during the war, once a drunk soldier who’d just returned from the front pulled out a gun on me, stuck it in my belly and threatened to shoot me, because he didn’t like my looks, but I managed to talk my way out of the situation and it ended with hugs all round! A lot of people lost their shit during war times.
18. Are you fashion conscious or you have your own style statement
I have nothing to do even remotely with fashion or giving style statements.
19. What’s your motto or the advice you live by?
“Take everything as a lesson/challenge/opportunity to grow, because ultimately everything exists for the purpose of your spiritual evolution”
20. Please jot down your favorite lines of music?
“Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there’s a crack, a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in!” – by Leonard Cohen
“Masjid Dha de Mandirdha de, dha de jokujdhenda; par ikbande da dilnadhaaveen, Rabbdilaanvichrehnda!” – Mian Muhammad Baksh
21. What are the five things you can’t live without?
Guitar, smokes, something to write on, love, purpose…
22. How do you react if people in a public place recognize you?
I thank them and consider myself fortunate.
23. I personally like Husn-e-Haqiqi.. Why is it so soothing, it seems like relaxing as we meditate after yoga? Is this only my feeling or yours too?
I think this piece written by Khwaja Ghulam Fareed is one of the most inspiring pieces I’v ever come across. As soon as my friend showed me this poem, I started reciting it aloud and by the next morning I was singing it! If I have managed to do some justice to it’s content I am happy. Good music and poetry always soothes and inspires me.
24. Any message to those who are inspired by you.
There is a false mirror of mainstream society around you, and there is the internal mirror of your own heart, which is often clouded. If you polish that mirror and follow what your heart dictates perhaps you will find contentment. Everyone has the right to be happy, without taking away someone else’s happiness.
BY : FATIMA HASAN ZAIDI