A musician based in Islamabad, Pakistan, Arieb Azhar,says he’s fortunate to be surrounded by great musicians and friends. A weekly columnist for a local daily newspaper called The Islamabad Dateline; Arieb leads his own band and enjoys composing poetry that touches the heart.
Please introduce yourself.
Arieb – I’m Arieb Azhar, a musician based in Islamabad, Pakistan; fortunate to be surrounded by great musicians and friends. I lead my own band and enjoy composing poetry that touches the heart. I’m also a weekly columnist for a local daily newspaper called The Islamabad Dateline, and try to involve myself in any project related to the promotion of good music.
What made you want to start playing?
Arieb – I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. Both my parents were involved in the founding of PTV and as a result many great musicians used to frequent our house when I was a child. These childhood inspirations played a great role in igniting my own passion for music. My primary school choir teacher, an energetic old Parsi lady, also played a crucial role in encouraging me into pursuing music. Then my brother brought a guitar into the house when I was about 12 or 13, and after learning my first chords from him I started learning simple 3 chord songs I could play along to.
How long have you been playing?
Arieb – I’ve been singing since I was a child, and playing the rhythm guitar since I was 12, 13.
Where did you get your influence from?
Arieb – I have been inspired by so many people that I’m sure I’ll forget to mention some of them. First there were the legendary folk singers I started listening to live, at a very early age, such as Reshma Ji, Abida Parveen, Pathaney Khan, Tufayl Niazi, Shaukat Ali, and Sain Jumman. Then there was Victor Jara, a singer and poet from Chile who was killed during the Pinochet coup. I also used to love some country music as a kid, and later got exposed to the Rock n Roll of the 60-s. I grew to love the early blues and jazz masters of the West. Then I got inspired by and played a lot of Irish, Balkan and Gypsy music, in my 13 years I spent in Croatia. The Qawwali masters, such as Nusrat Ji, Aziz Mian, Sabri Brothers, Munshi Razziuddin and Farid Ayaz I also consider my teachers. I’m also immensely inspired by Fela and Feme Kuti of Nigeria and a lot of African music and grooves; and Leonard Cohen is one of my big inspirations in soulful singing.
What made you pick up Sufi style?
Arieb – I never consciously picked up a certain style. Initially I enjoyed singing more in Punjabi, Sindhi and Siraiki than in Urdu. I later discovered that nearly all the folk music that used to inspire me as a kid was the poetry of our great Sufi teachers, such as Baba Bhulleh Shah, Mian Muhammad Baksh, Shah Hussain, Sultan Bahu, Baba Farid, Khwaja Ghulam Farid, Sachal Sarmast, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Guru Nanak and Kabir Das. I find it to be some of the most moving and poignant poetry in the world. I just try to do justice with the poetry that moves me, in a Pakistani context, and as a result people have started categorizing me as a ‘Sufi singer’.
What’s the most fun part of being a musician?
Arieb – The most fun part is how playing music can break through even the most stubborn of prejudices in the world and brings joy into people’s life, by connecting them with themselves, each other with and the mystery of life.
What is the hardest part?
Arieb – The hardest part is finding a balance between the spontaneous process of creation and the practical requirements of day to day life.
How does it feels about selling music online and how it feels about illegal music downloads?
Arieb – Sharing music online is the new model in the world, which has the advantage for the artist to connect with the whole world without the interference of record labels and businessmen. One of the disadvantages is that most of the music that is being shared is in compressed format and naturally lack the vitality of old analog tapes and records. I think people should be free to download as much as they want and pay as much as they want for it according to their own conscience and circumstances.
What are your future plans?
Arieb – My future plans are to share a lot of our new music online, as well as to tour and perform for new audiences in Pakistan and abroad. I will also be collaborating with some folk musicians from the UK very soon.
Last but not the least, what is your advice to young musicians out there? What should they do to maintain the quality of music?
Arieb – Young musicians should never lose faith in themselves and pursue their music in whichever direction it leads them regardless of whether they feel it’s going to be a commercial success or not. I believe if we succeed in doing that honestly and diligently then all our needs are eventually fulfilled.
“Maali da kam paani paana, bhar bhar mashkaan pave;Malik da kam phal phul laana, laave ya na laave!”
Interviewed by: Kartika Sharma