When did you discover that you could sing?
My father (Mr. Aslam Azhar) is considered as the founder of Pakistan Television Network. A lot of folk singers like Alam Lohar, Tufail Niazi, Reshma Ji among others used to visit our home quite often, I used to observe them as they sang. I was still a child; I can clearly remember. Got myself a guitar and decided to give it a go. Performed at rallies, protests, musical gigs, in educational institutes, and in folk melas.
What was your defining moment in life?
In my teenage years, I went to the USSR (now Russia) for higher studies, as I was fond of a social revolution, but the stereotype of a socialist revolution shattered completely when I went there. From there I went to Croatia, to seek higher education, I learned Philosophy and Indology (study of Indian culture and heritage) there. Got exposed to knowledge about the cultural heritage and history of South Asia and learned quite a lot over there. I even taught Urdu for some time. Connected with some local musicians, formed a band. We played folk, rock and sometimes country music as well (laughter). We performed and played at gigs... at bars... in pubs... in the streets... After spending some good thirteen years there, I returned to Pakistan and my passion for music made me continue pursuing a career in music, it was then when I got to discover more about folk music and folk literature.
You just mentioned folk music. How do you perceive it?
I believe folk music is the only form of music. Rock was folk for the Westerners. Because it had more expression and had more potential to appeal to the masses. Languages play a huge part, as they can connect with the audience. In the contemporary era, folk music is unfortunately confined to rural areas only. I think folk music can also emerge from urban areas and it could be in any language. Music or any other artform, in its honest-most form is folk to me, and that is the most vocal form of expression.
Do you think music or art link up with God in any way?
Staying honest and committed to one’s craft is sublime, any form of work if done with pure intention, leads one to Him. But for that purpose, one should be willing to question himself: ‘if he’s true with his art or not’. He must be open to criticism as much as to applause and praise. Being an artist alone might not help for the cause, he should also be a craftsman.
Should artists consider the art aspect only or they should look for the commercial/financial aspect as well?
In general, and specifically in Pakistan, sadly, it is a bit tough to live and lead an economically stable life. Well, the financial aspect never really bothers a true artist, the drive to express himself, keeps an artist going. Historically, the people who made great art were usually not well off. And unfortunately, there are only a few platforms to exhibit their art too. Art suffers when there are less forums. I also believe, any performing artist should always look forward to finding new spaces and avenues to perform. The people should come forward to support the artists as they are the real face of the society.
How would you compare the scope of performing arts from the earlier ages to now?
Historically, Urs and Lok melas were platforms for the artists. The emperors also hosted and patronized artisans in their courts. Today, most of the platforms are virtual. There’s less grooming for the artist in this era as there’s less on-stage exposure.
What would you like to say to the emerging and aspiring young Pakistani musicians?
I tell you what, our society is not welcoming when it comes to art or music, just be brave enough to face the facts! Make your music presentable if you truly believe in your art and keep working on your craft. Do not compromise. Work on it, work on yourself, keep growing. You can make music on your own. Just do your thing and achieve wonders.
Thank you for your time Arieb Saheb, how was the interview?
Yaar, to be honest, I expected a conventional interview, and anticipated only generic questions about my music like who your inspiration is (laughter). Thank you for having me, it was a fun conversation, and overall a good experience for me, you made me ponder about so many things. I will be looking forward to seeing more of your work.
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