Beyond borders

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Beyond borders

Nafeesah Ahmed traces the journey of singer Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan, who has won a million hearts with his voice and carved a niche for himself in the world of music.

His voice compels you to listen to his songs on a loop. His honest, down-to-earth persona and a seemingly sorted out approach towards life tends to leave you in complete awe of him. While his contemporaries, such as music director Salim Merchant, have re-christened him as ‘The Rockstar Ustaad’, his fans simply know him by his given name: Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan. This renowned Pakistani classical singer has won a million hearts across borders, and earned an exclusive place for himself in Bollywood.

For Shafqat, the Bollywood journey began with Mitwa, a single for Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, which he thinks is a turning point in his life. What began then saw Shafqat lend his soulful voice to many films like My Name is Khan, I Hate Luv Storys and Barfi, amongst others.

We caught up with this impassioned vocalist from the Patiala Gharana, in the midst of the ongoing NH7 Weekender music festival (which hits Bengaluru mid-December), only to discover the spiritual side of him, his intense longing for cross-border peace and how he believes that it isn’t easy for someone from a musical gharana, to become an instant success.

Being someone who battled to find his place in the music industry, despite coming from a distinguished family of singers, Shafqat reveals, “I cannot forget my days of struggle in Karachi, I did everything that came my way, right from singing jingles to voice-overs and every other odd job related to singing.” What kept him going was his firm belief that ‘everything comes to those who are patient and if you keep doing what you believe in, you are bound to reach your destination.’

This man attributes his music and all that he is today to his childhood days of rigorous riyaz under the supervision of his grandmother. He shares, “My growing up years were difficult, for I was from a family where everyone was a fabulous singer. Constant comparisons about my singing within the family worked in a positive way and made me work harder.”

His hard work did pay off and what followed was a success story. Today, he finds himself very content. “I’m not a greedy person at all, except when it comes to melodies.  Whenever I hear a great track, I say to myself, ‘kash ye maine gaaya hota’(I wish I had sung this).”

Although, glancing at his past, he smiles and admits, “I never imagined that I’d become so popular. My first song, Aankhon kay Saagar, received a tremendous response and after that, I only wanted to move forward.” It was this song that made Shankar Mahadevan invite Shafqat to sing Mitwa and the rest, as they say, is history.

Before Bollywood

Shafqat’s initial years also saw him lead the Pakistani band Fuzon, which gave us memorable songs, including Mora Saiyaan, Khamaj, Tere bina, and of course, Aankhon kay Saagar. But with the band members choosing to go different ways, Shafqat decided to concentrate on establishing a solo career. After all, he exclaims candidly, “I was born to sing, I can’t do anything else. So, when the band broke up, the transition towards a solo career was but natural. ”

As his trips across the border grew in numbers, so did his fan base. “I have always had a connection with the audience in India,” he says. Recalling his performance in Gurgaon last year, he says, “It suddenly started raining during the performance and just as we were wondering whether to continue or not, we were surprised to see that half the crowd went and stood under a shelter and continued to cheer us on, while the others picked up the cushions they were sitting on, covered their heads, and sat through the entire concert. The band and I performed for an hour in the rain till the water filled the console and we were forced to stop. I’ll always remember this concert with fondness.”

In fact, the divide between his fans does not exist for Shafqat. As an artiste loved equally by people in both countries, he adds on a more somber note, “People in India as well as Pakistan should understand that it takes a lot to spread love and peace between two countries, but when some miscreants begin to distort relationships, people should recognise them as the common enemy and try to look past differences and give peace a chance.”

It is exactly this emotion of uniting the world that recently saw Shafqat share space with Indian music director duo Salim and Sulaiman as well as English singer-songwriter Fin Greenall. These four men came together in the opening episode of the second season of The Dewarists, on Star World.
Narrating his experience, Shafqat shares, “The Dewarists was a lovely journey. Salim-Sulaiman are hugely talented and Fin had this great sound and energy.

I think the whole concept of collaboration, which this show is all about, is beautiful. Our ideas gelled so naturally, making it look like one musical unit, yet bringing in the individuality of each musician. The track, Let Go, is a fusion of three different flavours, not just musically, but also of languages and cultures. I loved how the track shaped up from nothing. I’m looking forward to people’s reaction on it.”

And when asked about his future plans, he simply smiles and says, “The sky is the limit.” With more tours lined up in India, UK and South East Asia, a brand new album in the making and with some ‘exciting’ Bollywood tracks coming up for release soon, Shafqat’s fans do have a lot to look forward to.

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