His song 'Sun re sajaniya' shot Ali Zafar to instant fame in India about a decade ago. Even today, his baritone, Sufi-esque voice and pleasing demeanor make the Pakistani musician-actor a popular name among music lovers in the country. While he's also pursuing an acting career in Bollywood, he prefers being addressed as a musician. When we caught up with him at the Fever 104 office, Ali's mannerisms and body language were indeed striking. He greeted us with a polite "Hello, aaiye... aaiye" and requested if he could grab a bite while we spoke about music.
'Sajaniya' earned you instant popularity in India. Why didn't you come up with more singles?
I know, and I regret not being able to do that. But now I will. I did compose a few songs for Coke Studio Pakistan. But Bollywood has taken over everything, so pop music hardly gets any space today. When 'Sajaniya' came out, a lot of pop music used to play on music channels on TV. But now, it's mostly paid content. It takes a lot of money to put a song on air. That is why private albums suffer.
Since you've started acting in Bollywood, do you get enough time for your riyaaz (practise)?
I hardly find time. I just try to keep myself engrossed with music by doing concerts. The training that I've done in the past really helps.
But doesn't one need to spend time in the studio to compose music?
Music can be made anywhere, mujhe sirf mahaul chahiye hota hai (I just need the right kind of ambiance). I compose most of my songs in the flight. I feel that is a place where there is no disturbance. 'Sun re sajaniya' was one of them.
What's the current state of independent music in Pakistan?
Independent music has a lot of presence Pakistan because the film industry in there doesn't dominate the music of the country. In India, Bollywood is the biggest thing and every musician wants to be part of it. But in Pakistan, artistes make songs for themselves. Work there is not driven by the demands of the producer.
While there is a perception that Sufi music is the biggest thing in Pakistan, apparently, there is a lot of demand for western genres too?
The younger generation in Pakistan is hugely influenced by western music. A lot of underground rock bands exist there. I was also part of one such band.
You also sing and compose Bollywood songs. What is your opinion of Hindi film music?
To be honest, there is some great music and some not-so-good work as well. Considering how big the industry is and the kind of infrastructure available for musicians, a lot more good music can be produced here. I look up to the Bollywood music of the '60s and the '70s and that is the kind of potential the industry in India has. I think there is desperation to bring in western music influences. So, the strength of the indigenous sound of India and of instruments like the sarangi, tabla and sitar is getting ignored.
Do you feel the friction in the relations between India and Pakistan affect music too?
Yes, of course. I feel art and entertainment ko sabse pehla jhatka lagta hai (the first shock is felt by art and entertainment). No one can deny that there is friction; we just need to keep working. I am an optimist and I feel art goes on despite all difficulties.
How often do Indian artistes perform in Pakistan?
Security is an issue in Pakistan, and that's why India is a much safer place to perform. Over the past few years, even we've found it difficult to perform there at times. There was a time when I used to do 11 concerts in Pakistan in three days, and now I do those many concerts in six months. But Indian stars do visit our country. Mika Singh (singer) and Naseeruddin Shah saab (actor) performed there recently.