As one listens to the ghazal singer Tina Sani, they can’t help but be reminded of the tunes of “Gar Mujhay Isska Yaqeen Ho” and “Mori Araj Suno” — two singles that influenced the Pakistani ghazal culture back in the 90s and are still hummed by many. The iconic ghazal singer, who touched people’s emotions with her vocal prowess, talks about her musical journey and her future plans.
You were raised in Bangladesh, how did you get inclined towards Urdu ghazal singing?
No, I was born in Bangladesh (East Pakistan then) and was raised in Kabul, Afghanistan. My father, who used to set-up oil refineries, had a passion for classical music and both my parents had learned how to play the sitar. I was my father’s pet hence I picked up on his skill and tried to be just like him. I was often requested to sing at family dinner parties. Initially, I only knew three songs “Akele Na Jana”, “Baat Kerni Mujhay Muskil” and “Ek Pyar Ka Naghma”. All these songs are in Raag Aimen, which is one of the most difficult raags, and I used to sing all three as a child.
What significance does music hold for you and where did you learn it from?
When we came to Pakistan in 1975, I faced a tough time adjusting to a new environment and so music became sort of an escape. Everybody at The American School was either busy with art or painting classes so my father suggested I should learn classical music. Ustad Nizamuddin Khan initiated these music lessons and taught me some of the rudiments of music. Luckily, my ustad’s uncle Ustad Zahoor Ahmed Khan visited him from India and was kind enough to teach me “Akhan Cham Cham”. Later, Ustad Chand Amrohvi became in-charge of my musical study.
When did you get your big break?
In 1980 Ishrat Ansari, who was a family friend, started his own programme “Tarang” with Alamgir as the host. Ansari offered me to sing in the pilot episode of the programme that was a platform to give recognition to fresh musicians back then. This one song, “Akhan Cham Cham”, which was a one-hit wonder, made me famous overnight, something that I was not prepared for. I believe this is where my destiny lay, however, I had to work very hard in my career to maintain my image and quality of music.
Then, Mansur Bokhari, Managing Director EMI, Pakistan signed me up and before I knew I was recording an album with Habib Wali Mohammed, which was later titled Habib Wali Mohammed & Tina Sani Sings Ghazals & Geets.
This is a general notion in the ghazal industry that ‘Tina sings Faiz’. How does it feel to be associated with the revolutionary’s poems?
In 1985, I sang “Mere Dil Mere Musafir” as a eulogy for Faiz after his death in 1984. The same song was played at an event in Lahore with 2,000 attendees and I heard that the listeners had started crying and many inquired about me. Faiz Sahib’s death gave my voice the urge to sing.
Out of Faiz, Ghalib, Zauq and Mir, whose poetry do you find easiest to narrate in ghazal style?
I believe Daagh, Mir and Ghalib all have a strong sense of humour and a catchy tanginess in their words and I love that about them. They were so good with words. But with Faiz I got all the answers to my questions. He is like a muse to me. I sing his work with all sincerity. I think I don’t embrace Ghalib’s work like I do with Faiz’s, but yes I enjoy performing Ghalib’s poetry every once in a while.
What are your future plans?
I’m haven’t really chalked out my future plans but I wish to sing Rumi’s Masnavi. I am hoping to work with Turkish dancers in Qom, Turkey and to sing it in Urdu. I’m working around how I can make all of this happen. Only time will tell whether I will succeed or not.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2012.