He has a love and hate relationship with the music industry that won’t give up a chance to deride his music as puerile and commercial.
Yet, they will admit that he has taken Pakistani pop music to a whole new level and even conquered Bollywood in its wake. He shares the mantle for ‘Prince of Pop’ with Ali Zafar but fans worldwide, and particularly those in India and the Gulf, would reserve the title solely for him. As he gets set to dazzle the silver screen with Shoaib Mansoor’s Bol, The Express Tribune catches up with the blue eyed boy of Pakistani pop music — Atif Aslam.
Do you have other films in the pipeline besides Bol?
I was not signing anything intentionally. I was waiting for the right film and then Bol came along. I just finished touring Australia, did four gigs in Dubai in two months. I will be going to India next to promote Bol. I haven’t signed a film in India as yet, even though the Bhatt and TIPS groups have approached me; I don’t want to be a chocolate hero with a six pack. I want to do something more artsy. My music is commercial which is what I hate. I got bored with it and acting was challenging.
You sound apologetic for making music that is commercially viable.
I am not really apologetic.
So what makes a brand of music ‘commercial’?
The marketing behind music makes it commercial.
People in the industry keep talking about this Atif ‘model’ of success. What is this model?
There is no ‘Atif’ model per se. I’m just blessed. I’m doing my kind of music as well. People thought Jal Pari was the real Atif and not Doorie. Coke Studio is my kind of music but I also do Bollywood and ‘commercial’. I will soon put some songs and mixes on the internet.
How are you connecting to your fans? You were quite averse to technology and have now become a huge fan of social networks. Will you also start a blog ala Bollywood stars?
We have a channel as well as a blog; I spoke to my fans for four-and-a-half hours on my birthday.
How do you respond to people within the industry who see your work as fluff?
It’s alright. They’re taking out their frustrations. A lot of people don’t like music when they hear it on the record, but appreciate it when they listen to it live on stage. I don’t have to win their hearts, I just need to win over my fans.
What compelled you to do the Swat project? Where is the project headed now?
The Swat project was a huge risk but I took it upon myself to feel the pain. A kid approached me in the valley and said: “You’re here to add more salt to our wounds.” I didn’t know how to respond to him but to play a song. It had been five years since someone in the valley had heard a song. I purposely didn’t want the government to be involved in it. I don’t want any controversies. I know it will take time, but I am in no hurry.
You’ve done a lot of collaborations of late, from Coke Studio to the latest one with Ali Zafar and Saeein Zahoor. Will fusion music become a permanent feature of Atif Aslam?
I have been into fusion much before Coke Studio came out. I always admired Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen and this particular rendition that I have done for the show is mine. The sad part is that this will never sell even in my own album. People here don’t know how to listen to music. My Facebook page is the fastest growing fan page of any artiste.
Do you think the music association formed by the artistes will be successful?
The artistes have their own egos. They are just interested in their own promotion and getting pictures taken at press conferences. As an individual you can do your part and eventually, there will be a difference. In fact, you can see it now with kids carrying guitars instead of guns and many schools in urban centres taking music seriously.
What’s the craziest thing a fan has ever done?
I had a fan stalk me for seven months. She would come every day and stand outside my house for three hours wanting to see me. I found out who she was and called her parents to inform them of her antics. She began threatening me that if I didn’t see her she would do something violent. And sure enough she broke the windscreen of my car when I didn’t comply.
What’s next in line?
My next step is to take music from here abroad and perhaps collaborate with Ozzy Osborne.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2011.