Elia Waqar: part of a legacy, not a gharana

Being Waqar Ali’s daughter and Sajjad Ali’s niece didn’t keep 19-year-old from making a mark in ‘Selfiyan Re Selfiyan’

Hasan Ansari July 23, 2015
Elia had been receiving vocal training from her father since she was eight and that reflected in her winning various naat and singing competitions in school. PHOTOS: PUBLICITY


She may look a lot younger to voice an item song but the smile on her face gives a very bittersweet impression: one filled with the pride of carrying a tradition forward and the doubt of not being able to do so.  Elia Waqar, composer Waqar Ali’s daughter and Sajjad Ali’s niece, made her singing debut with Selfiyan re Selfiyan, an item song featured in Wrong No.

Both Sajjad and Waqar’s music will be written in golden words in Pakistan’s history and the way they stood the test of time and technology continues to inspire generations of musicians. Elia, who represents the fourth generation of musicians in their family, starting from Bade Ghulam Ali (her great-grand uncle) realises that she will have to shine out of a huge shadow.

“I just don’t want to give a disappointing performance because people will make instant comparisons with my uncle and father,” Elia tells The Express Tribune. “I have a responsibility to do well and obviously there is some pressure, but I want to prove my mettle so that people don’t consider me as just another ‘source’.”

She had been getting vocal training from her father since she was eight and that reflected in her winning various Naat and singing competitions in school . That is perhaps why her decision to pursue a career in music did not surprise her father, though she was the first woman from the family to do so.

Despite harbouring a strong desire to be a doctor, the young up-and-coming singer always knew that music was her true calling.“When Elia changed her mind, I told her that she needed to acquire proper training in this craft,” remarks Waqar.

The 19-year-old is now studying at the Royal College of Music in London, where she has already cleared her ‘Music Theory’ and ‘Music Practical’ Grade II examinations in just six months,   courses that span two years. She would now be directly appearing for her Grade V examinations in November.

“This has to be a record of some kind,” quips Waqar.

Like any father, Waqar has monitored her daughter’s progress with her Taaya offering advice from time to time. “When she started singing, I remember Sajjad bhai shared a few pointers with her and told her the ragas that she should practice,” recalls Waqar.

Speaking about her turn as a playback singer with the comedy film, Wrong No., Waqar recalls how the producer and director of the movie, Hassan Zia and Yasir Nawaz, were keen on having Elia feature in one of the songs.

“Both of them are family friends and they were pushing for Elia to feature on the soundtrack for the movie whereas I was vying for Sunidhi Chauhan, eventually I gave in to their demands,” says Waqar.

Although Elia managed to woo audiences with her voice,  it is her skills as a composer that has impressed her father more. “In my opinion she is a better composer than she is a singer. I have already said to her that if she wants to excel in one she may need to reduce her commitment to the other,” adds Waqar.

With her composition of the song Dheeray Dheeray for Wrong No,. Elia now also has the distinction of being the first female composer for Pakistani films – something which is a great source of pride for the family. “I remember how she recorded it on her own (with the two playback singers) in Lahore and required no help whatsoever and ended up doing a fabulous job,” adds Waqar.

For now Elia is still unsure about what her own signature style of music is. “I don’t want to do just one style of music. I want to keep on experimenting with different forms so that I can find out which style of music is ideal for me.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th,  2015.

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