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An Ali-en concept
By Madeeha Syed
One of the first things you will notice about Ali Azmat is that not only is he a wonderful entertainer, he is a very gracious host and makes sure everyone around him is fully tended to. The second thing you’ll notice is that despite the entertaining he does off-stage, cracking jokes and striking up conversations with those in his presence, he is always watching and observing everyone and everything around him. You can run, you can hide, but his quietly inquisitive eyes will find you wherever you are.
In the mid-afternoon that this interview took place; however, we see a different side of Ali. He is still the gracious host but is somewhat quiet and almost lazy – a trait he repeatedly identifies himself with. His second album, titled Klashinfolk, which has been generating a buzz for over a year now is in its final mixing stage before being complete for a commercial release. He’s also recently come back from a trip to India where he’s considering working on a couple of projects.
In an exclusive heart-to-heart with Images, Ali talks about what all he’s been up to, how is album is coming out and on him as a producer. Word has it that you’ve recently agreed to produce a couple of songs for Indian films.
What specifically are you working on?
AA: I’m producing a couple of songs for them. I did one for a movie called Tera Kya Hoga Johnny which is my friend’s Sudhir Mishra who has also made Hazaron Khuahishain, Chambeli, etc and is a very good director. I did two songs for a movie called Mumbai 11. It’s basically 11 directors shooting 10-minute movies. I also did a soundtrack for Rahul Dholakia, who actually won the Indian National Award last year for Parzania, the movie it stars Naseeruddin Shah among others. And I’m doing another movie for Akash Ghutnaam and there are numerous other projects.
They are basically independent film-makers, who are away from the pressures of Bollywood or of casting the ‘right’ actors.
Now that you’re a supporter of independent cinema, does that mean you won’t be producing music for commercial films?
AA: No, actually I spoke with powerhouse directors such as Nadiawala. I’m in touch with everybody but it really depends on the kind of projects I should take, because I’m not going to write dhoom dhamaka music, that’s not what I do. Around five of the songs from my new album are already being used as soundtracks to Indian films. I’ve shot around two music videos in Bombay and one in Goa.
Why shoot them in India?
AA: Because cheaper to do it there and you get all sorts of facilities like cheaper film, cheaper cameras, and developing is not a problem. So from that point of view, it’s a little more convenient, rather than in Pakistan where, when you shoot a video, you have to worry about sending a guy to Thailand or Dubai to finish it. It sort of works out, if your already going to be there.
But you do plan to make music videos in Pakistan as well?
AA: I’m planning to make a lot of videos this time around. I did four videos last time and I was on my fifth video, but I realised that my new album is ready and I was shooting songs from the old album, it doesn't make any sense. I might as well spend some money on the new one.
With you having directed one of your videos so far (Mein Challa), will you be directing any more on your own?
AA: I’m doing all of them on my own. I directed one video, and the whole thing is about getting an idea right. And I’m not much of a visual artist which is why I rely on people like Zeeshan (Parwez) and Saqib (Malik), etc. It has to be visually relevant for them for them to come up with something. I can write concepts. But I’m not a visual artist and I don’t know anything about shooting/camera/lights etc.
When you listen to Klashinfolk you’ll understand what I’m talking about because the sound-scapes, they (Salman Ahmed and Brian O’Connell) couldn’t create it. Salman Ahmed is a good songwriter but he was not a good producer. I don’t own any Junoon music because I can’t relate to it. From a production’s stand-point, that is not what I want to hear.
Why call the new album Klashinfolk?
AA: I thought it was perfect for the kind of culture we indulge ourselves in. We’re all about guns and bombs and we're totally desensitised to the AK47 culture. Kalashnikov to humarey culture ka ek hissa hai. Agar aap kay pas Kalashnikov nahin hai to phir aap mard nahin hain.
So I got myself a Klashinfolk, to shoot people around with the music.
What does the new album sound like?
AA: I really can’t explain what it is. For me, the musical genre is Ali-en (alien), it sounds cheeky but that's my genre. But it still sounds like rock and roll. In this album we’ve tried, stuff like country jazz and reggae and a sort of rock and roll thumris.
What are the songs in the album predominantly written about this time around?
AA: It’s about everything and nothing. It’s not really a conceptual album; it’s a record and a labour of love. It’s coming from the point of view of the kind of person I was a few years ago when I wrote Social Circus and this is the kind of person I am now. The music I’m writing is about the kind of state of mind that I’m in currently.
Songs are songs, at the end of the day you have to treat them as songs. You can’t state a song in a certain way; it will kill the listeners’perception of what that song is about. This is the lesson I learnt when I used to listen to Pink Floyd. Because you believe for years a certain song means something and then you find out what it was actually about… it kills it. As artistes we leave that area open for interpretation.
Also the kind of music you listen to is what’s going to inspire you to come out with. Like Social Circus was an inspiration from a band called Live. It goes from dark tones — with no extra guitar solos — to simple song-writing and it sort of worked out for that point in time. The album survives on itself on different levels. Social Circus was a dialogue with oneself. Most of the album was written in a very depressive state-of-mind because I was out of a relationship, I was out of a band, I was falling out with my parents and friends and so there was a whole phase where I was by myself and basically At war with the world.
But Klashinfolk is not like that. It is coming from a different state of mind. It’s varied and it’s perky and it’s not depressive.
You had fun making the album?
AA: Yes, and I had around 48 songs out which I only recorded 11.
And did they come out the way you expected?
AA: More so than I expected them to be. This also moves up my confidence as a producer because I never produced before Social Circus and I’ve won awards for that. I’m loving it because I can produce and I have an ear for that. I’m going after it like nobody's businesses.
But I’m enjoying producing my own records; the sound, the guitar parts, the vocal harmonies, drum sound, guitar sound etc. You’re producing on top of everything else, right from the beginning.
So you’re enjoying the control you have over the album?
AA: It’s not even about control, it’s about pushing into the deeper end. What’s the other choice: whose going to produce it? If I don’t make a decision then nobody else is going to do it. In Junoon there was a power struggle and those guys thought that they were much better musicians so they would do what they thought was right. But what they didn't have was an ear for production.
When you listen to the album you'll understand what I’m talking about because the sound-scapes, they (Salman Ahmed and Brian O’Connell) couldn't create it. Salman Ahmed is a good songwriter but he was not a good producer. I don't own any Junoon music, I can't relate to it. From a production's stand-point, that is not what I want to hear.
Because you’re individual sound is very different?
AA: Yes. And I want to make it more different.
You’re not interested in developing a signature sound?
AA: Not at all. I don’t want to be stuck in a rut and make a parody of myself. Junoon was basically caricatures of themselves and it sort of irritated me. I don't want to be stuck as a sufi soul singer. I’m not sufi, I’m just goofy. Because your growth needs to be documented and this is my growth (as a musician) being documented.