"For us, life is a jugalbandi of shared joys, successes and failures alike. But God has been kind to us, as we have carved a niche in the music industry," says married couple, classical vocalist-dancer Neha Azmani and Punjabi pop singer Ashok Mastie.
The marriage of London-bred Kathak and Odissi dancer, Neha Azmani, with pure Punjabi jatt, Ashok Mastie, was pre-ordained, feels the former, the disciple and niece of Kathak maestro Birju Maharaj. Brought together by music, the couple is now ready to bring out its Punjabi music album together.
Hailing from the town of Giddarbaha in Punjab, which has given Punjabi singers such as Gurdas Maan and Hakam Sufi, Mastie took to music following in the footsteps of next-door neighbour and inspiration Gurdas Maan. With a stint in Punjabi theatre under Kamal Vidrohi to music concerts for Delhi Punjabi Akademi to being a professional performer, Mastie's claim to fame was his hit Punjabi number, Glassi.
In city, for the recording of his forthcoming Punjabi album, which has wife, Neha, as his co-singer, Mastie shares his views on the fast-changing face of Punjabi music in general and Punjabi pop in particular. "Over the years, the formative or definitive concept of Punjabi folk music has undergone a lot of changes. With its traditional purity being diluted by new trends in pop music there is a paradigm shift in listeners' choice. Punjabi pop music has become the first preference of non-Punjabi speaking people, especially youngsters," says Mastie.
"But, as they say, history repeats itself, Punjabis are gradually returning to their roots, obviously, realising the need of soulful folk and its rich content," says the singer, who is quick to reason, "But pop music is patron oriented and is ruled by market forces. But unfortunately, Punjabi singers are the worst affected in the wake of piracy and the non-existent cultural policy." He adds, "All my six albums have done well in the past but I am cautious about launching my forthcoming albums, especially the one recorded with Ravi Bal in London."
"Currently, I am recording some of the unsung poetry of Shiv Kumar Batalvi with co-singer and wife, Neha. I know it is indeed challenging to bring alive the emotional content of all those songs, giving voice to the agony and anguish of Batalvi, but with my grounding in Punjabi folk, theatre and classical music, I had a grasp of the folk idiom and metaphors that embellish his poetry. God willing, the project under the music direction of ghazal maestro Vinod Sehgal, disciple of legendary Jagjit Singh, will be a milestone," says Mastie, expressing optimism.