Abbas Ali Khan

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Abbas Ali Khan

Dawn

Straight from the heart

By Huma Khawar

Abbas Ali Khan

Abbas Ali Khan has no fear of the revolutionary, the untested and the creatively strange in his life and his work. His innovative music videos never cease to amaze viewers. A vocalist, composer, keyboardist, rhythm guitarist, graphic designer, animator and visual effects artist, his recent album Sun Rey has made people sit up and take notice of his talent and efforts.

Standing at six feet two inches and with an identity of his own, Abbas was never a man in a hurry. His style is slow but steady. I remember him as a teenager — he was a stark contrast to the rowdy boys of his age, an introvert, arty type who loved to draw and paint.

Abbas does not belong to any musical gharana; he is in fact the great grand son of Nawab Liaqat Ali Khan, the first prime minister of Pakistan. Going down memory lane, he remembers the day he found his brother's old key board by chance. "I was intrigued and asked my parents to get me batteries to play it." Instead of playing a famous tune, he composed his own. Abbas was hardly six years old. His parents observed his seriousness and got him another key board. Since then, there was no looking back; the key boards kept getting bigger and bigger with time.

He soon realised that he needed to train himself and find a proper ustad. He considers Adnan Sami Khan as his first teacher who gave him his initial taste of raagas and fusion music at an early age when he joined one of his programs, Behta Daria. Soon after that, Abbas became a disciple of Ustad Fateh Ali Khan of the famous Patiala Gharana, and learned about the classical school in more depth. "I just didn't go to Ustad to improve my vocals; I was really interested in raagas and eager to learn them. I knew that if I learned them, it would be easier for me to compose."

‘I am an introvert. I speak less and listen more. I don’t like socialising and my family has come to terms with this attitude. I love to stay home and am a very romantic person; that is why I mostly write love songs. I am working hard. The graph of my success has been really slow but it is steady. I am in no hurry,’ says Abbas Ali Khan

Having done his bachelors in computer sciences, he has commendable skills at computer graphics and has worked as a graphic designer for different companies before starting his own production house two years back. "We don't do typical drama serials or sitcoms. We are more into documentaries, commercials, animations and music videos." His own two videos were directed by his partner, Shehryar Hydri while the post production work was done by Abbas himself.

Sun Rey, his recently launched album, is named after his popular 2003 single. "A bandish in Raag Bhopali, it was written by Ustad Fateh Ali. He asked me to fuse it with my own style," he explains. Abbas came up with a unique concept for the video, focusing on the character of a clown who yearns for his lost love, changing his exterior again and again, trying desperately to be at peace with himself. "I like the circus culture, its mystery and ambience. The video juxtaposed a dark mood on top of a sweet sounding mellow song, and kept the images stark, minimal and focused," he explains.

They knew that the only man who would do justice to this video is Tariq Amin. "We thought he would like it but were not sure if he would do it. He had done some well known songs before." Tariq heard the song and loved it and decided to do the styling for free as well. The success of Sun Rey was quite unexpected. Abbas never thought it would become so popular, especially as it was a slow number.

"Since I produce myself, I like to experiment with different styles of music. Sun Rey has classical fusion, piano based orchestral tracks, hip hop, disco and soft rock. I think the classical element was appreciated as very little classical fusion was in the market at the time." The video had the highest number of nominations (five) at the Indus Music Video Awards, and won in two categories. Both the awards for best male model and best styling went to Tariq Amin and he signed up for the record label, Indispensable Communications.

Following this came the video of Teri Yaad, more of a commercial Punjabi-Urdu-English hip hop track which instantly grabbed the attention of music lovers. Teri Yaad started playing on all television and FM channels, winning the award for best ballad at the third IM awards.

Experimenting with different genres, Abbas came up with Malaal, a piano based song with an orchestra accompanying his voice . Interested in vampires since childhood, Abbas wanted to broach the subject in the video, again a concept never tried before in Pakistan. The story was mutually developed by Abbas, Shehryar and Tariq Amin and based on vampires. Malaal's casting was a star-studded affair with Samina Peerzada, Mishi Khan, Mehreen Raheal, Fahad Panni and Tariq Amin. "We shot the video in an old warehouse in Lahore cantt," says Abbas. "Although there haven't been awards yet, I am pretty sure it will get recognized. People say it is a very dark song." Malaal became a video of international standards.

He is still pleasantly surprised by the response that his album garnered, especially considering that it is not a stereotypical album with bhangra elements. He wants to make two more videos from this album - those for Najaney Kyun and Aa Zara, because "every song has a different feel to it. Each song tells a different story."

As far as performing live is concerned, he does not care much about variety programs and commercial shows. Rather, he prefers solo gigs but feels that there is not enough promotion of these. He believes that event management companies should take the initiative and introduce noncommercial artistes, bring out alternate bands and see how they fare with crowds. "I am not being a snob, but I have my own identity. I want people to listen to me when they come to my show," he says with conviction.

Abbas was always very quiet as a child. "I had very few friends," he admits. "I am an introvert. I speak less and listen more. I don't like socialising and my family has come to terms with this attitude, specially my wife. I love to stay home and am a very romantic person; that is why I mostly write love songs. My daughter, Eshal is perhaps like me; she keeps me company. But I strongly believe in riaz - I try to find two to three hours to practice at home. I used to do it on the harmonium but now I have a tanpura loop on CD. I do khyal or any bandish."

Abbas has a passion for eastern classical music and loves to explore raags. He believes there is no age limit for this kind of music. "In fact, it matures with age. Any music that has roots will stay. It's the melody that remains. Songs that are based on music are popular for a certain period of time, like dance or hip hop songs. They give temporary fame but are not long lasting. Teri Yaad may not be remembered but Sun Rey will be remembered. I am working hard. The graph of my success has been really slow but it is steady. I am in no hurry."

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