‘A creative person has to do everything to survive in Pakistan’

Singer Ali Azmat on taking over The Guitar School and why releasing albums is bad idea

Mehek Saeed April 24, 2016
While Azmat is currently learning how to play the piano, he is simultaneously taking advanced guitar courses. PHOTO: PUBLICITY


You can almost hear a single guitar riff being played, over and over again, from outside this unassuming building in Lahore’s DHA, Phase IV. This building is home to The Guitar School, a place where hobbies turn into dreams and enthusiasts turn into professionals. The playing gets louder as we walk towards the jam room. “It may look geeky to hang your guitar that high but it doesn’t matter. You’re a student,” Ali Azmat tells this beady-eyed young girl who is weighed down by an electric guitar hanging around her right shoulder. The rock icon spends several days of the week at the school, mentoring young guitar enthusiasts.

Azmat and his wife Fariha recently took over the reins from guitarist Hamza Jafri who opened the school in 2009. “The idea of getting the school was that my daughters grow up in an environment that has music. I dream of them playing the guitar and violin and jamming with me when I’m old,” he tells The Express Tribune in the soundproof classroom.

Ali Azmat takes a dig at Salman Ahmad's new single

Azmat is no more the long-haired rockstar whose flamboyant lifestyle is the talk of the town. Although still true to his roots, this father of two toddlers has now settled for good, juggling between different priorities. “A creative person has to do everything to survive in Pakistan,” he says, adding, “I don’t enjoy acting as much but with music it’s instantaneous. We go out, we play. It’s not like acting where there are retakes.” Strumming his ukulele, he adds, “I try to dabble in everything and learn new things.”

While he is currently learning how to play the piano, Azmat is simultaneously taking advanced guitar courses and on some days even goes to the shooting range. “I also want to learn how to fly planes. I guess I’m getting old as well so I don’t want to think about what I could have done.”

These days Azmat is also shooting for his second film, Shahid Shafaat’s Two + Two. The movie’s principle cast includes Saleem Mairaj, Urwa Hocane, Bilal Ashraf and Babra Sharif while Ayesha Omar will make a cameo appearance in it. Azmat has enjoyed his time in front of the camera but stayed away from films until Waar came his way. Two + Two will see him in the avatar of a policeman.

Ever since he parted ways from Junoon, Azmat has led a successful solo career, releasing more than one studio albums and performing regularly. “Money is only coming from gigs and sponsorships. If you don’t play then forget about making money.”

As of now, he has two albums worth of recorded material but he says there is no point in releasing music. “All record labels have shut down. If you make a video no one wants to run it ... some ask for exorbitant amounts of money. Besides no one watches these [music] channels because they have less than 0.2% viewership,” he explains. Then what’s the purpose of making music that will never see the light of the day? “If I am not here tomorrow, these songs will never get recorded so I might as well record them, even if I don’t get money. Piracy is a problem and the industry can’t defeat it.”

On another note, the Rangeela singer confirms that he will be making an appearance on the upcoming season of Coke Studio.

Ardent fans will already know of another of Azmat’s hobbies: biking around the country. He was supposed to leave for Leepa Valley in Kashmir on the day of this interview but he missed the opportunity and we made use of ours. Azmat has been biking and camping across Pakistan’s beautiful, scenic locales since 2011 when he bought his motorcycle. “The first time I went was in 1987 on my 100cc bike ... all the way to Naran and Kaghan,” he recalls. The next time he decided to go was almost two decades later.  “I was hesitant. I didn’t know if I could do it or whether my body was still in shape but then I got it and left the same night. The fear of the unknown had to be defeated.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th,  2016.

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