From Aadat to The Reluctant Fundamentalist: What makes me proud of Pakistan
Music has been a humbling and character building experience for me and all the melodies I made and sung are witness to this over time transformation.
I still remember the day when Jal had recently split and I was wandering around the office of Indus Music (IM) to get the video of “Yaqeen” done. It was my first ever solo track.
Those were the most sceptical days of my life – a time when I was caught between my dearest hopes and darkest fears – hopes of making it really big and proving to my parents that music was worth a gamble and fear of being proven wrong.
I was deathly frightened of being yet another one-hit wonder of Pakistan and being unable to add anything significant to the incredibly rich heritage of the country. We have a history that gave us icons like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Faiz Ahmed Faiz – maestros who still move me and give me a reason to be comfortable with who I am.
To be honest, I haven’t read much of Faiz so wouldn’t go on bragging about it, but my little exposure to his work tells me a lot about the hopeful rebellion in him – something that is the driving force behind any rock star.
In Khan Sahib, I found refuge; every note of his singing is a beacon of light for me and every kalaam he sang is a major driving force for me and many other influential people around the world. People say it reflects in the arrangement of my songs, and if there are any similarities in the music, then it’s just the result of amateur attempts by this naïve kid called Atif.
I knew that my presence in Bol was to attract the youngsters towards cinemas and I am proud of supporting a Pakistani film; above all, the aim was to bring attention to one of the gravest social issues of the country.
However, when Mira Nair approached me to sing for “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” I was totally overwhelmed because she is a globally known filmmaker who is ready to tell one of the most controversial narratives from my homeland.
Once again, I had to tackle “Mori Araj Suno” and “Bol Kay Lab Azaad Hain” by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and really wanted to do it with my all-time inspiration, Peter Gabriel from Genesis.
The budget limitations couldn’t let this happen so I made this possible on my own and became the second Pakistani to collaborate with Gabriel after Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
The whole feeling of writing about this is so awe-inspiring that I really can’t explain how I felt when Gabriel, after listening to one of my vocal takes said,
“Yours is the finest falset to that I have ever heard after Jeff Buckley.”
I am not really trying to blow my own trumpet, but since it’s my first time writing for my fans, I believe such life changing experiences are pertinent to mention.
As a cultural ambassador, the image of Pakistan has always been a major concern for me and that is the reason why I chose a platform like “Sur Kshetra”. Friends and critics had concerns over it; some thought that by going against Bollywood, I’ll be denting my own prospects in the B-town, while others thought that the Indians are way ahead of us.
The result shocked everyone as after a lot of pinching arguments with the jury and sheer hard work we finally brought the title to Pakistan. Something that seemed like a dream to Pakistanis was finally accomplished in style.
It is achievements like these that make me a true believer in myself and above all, in my country. Such achievements make me realise the responsibility of being a person with mass appeal.
Today, when I walk up on the stage and the crowd starts shouting my name, I feel like a man with immense power and thought control – someone who literally made his voice heard, but as soon as I get closer to stage and the noise increases; it sends a chill down my body and gives me goose bumps.
The fear of losing everything I have grasps me once again and I feel as vulnerable as 10-year-old Atif looking for his mother to console him over a broken toy. This feeling of helplessness, even after dominating the music scene of one whole region, is what brings me down to earth from my wonderland – a place where I can belong, but choose not to.
That’s not where my heart is. That’s not where I can make a stand and that’s not where the people who made me Atif Aslam belong.
May God give me the courage to continue the journey that has just begun.
Long live Pakistan!
Follow Atif on Twitter @itsaadee
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.