Last year, as I was interviewing filmmaker Nagesh Kukunoor and his partner Elahee Hiptollah, in between the conversation, I found the director humming a song. My recorder caught the tune as I was keying in the interview. It was the hauntingly soulful Aankhon ke Sagar sung by Shafqat Amanat Ali – a voice discovered by music composer Shankar Mahadevan that later won hearts across the Indian subcontinent and worldwide. The ‘rock ustad’ as Shafqat Amanat Ali is fondly called, hails from the Patiala gharana of Pakistan and has a spellbinding effect on audiences when he renders his heartfelt numbers. During a concert, it’s not uncommon to see him leave the stage and mingle with the crowd and sing along with them. It’s a gesture that wins the hearts of his fans who, in turn, embrace his soulful voice and become a part of the rich tapestry of music that he weaves.
There is good news for Shafqat’s fans in Dubai. The singer, along with Sufi queen Rekha Bhardwaj, will be in the city for a special concert organised by LiveLife.Rocks at Dubai World Trade Centre on 8 September as part of its Legends@DXB festival series. We chatted with the maestro ahead of his trip to the city...
You have performed several times in Dubai. How is this year’s concert different?
This time I am singing with the very talented Rekhaji (Rekha Bhardwaj). I respect her immensely and have performed with her before. But this is the first time I am performing with her in Dubai. Her voice is very strong and she has a unique ability to mould herself. It is a very pleasant experience singing with her. Yes, we will be singing a few songs together and that’s all I am revealing at the moment.
Can you tell us more about the very popular Aankhon ke Sagar? No concert of yours is complete without it…
The song is really special because people of the Indian subcontinent have shown me a lot of love through this number. I made friends because of this song. When I visited Mumbai for the first time, I was part of an MTV show that Nagesh Kukunoor was hosting and we became friends. The next I know was that I was singing for him.
The most memorable being Yeh Hausla from Dor…
Yes! It is a special song indeed because it is on most people’s playlists. When I was told that the composers were Salim-Sulaiman, I thought of them as these hip boys who only belted out ‘item numbers’ but when I met them, that image changed and they became dear friends of mine. When I heard the melody, I was hooked. It is like a soothing prayer. It is one of those melodies that you don’t need to memorise and I didn’t have to put too much effort to render it. It became a part of people’s lives because it is simple, uncomplicated and serene – a true prayer to the soul. That’s how it was composed.
Is there any new album you are working on?
A new album is on its way. It has a few singles including a foot tapping number and a romantic Punjabi song that I hope, will be liked by all.
Which director in Bollywood do you think has a keen ear for music?
Nagesh Kukunoor, of course. Karan Johar is immaculate as well. He has the eye for good cinema and the ear for great music. Nikhil Advani and Mahesh Bhatt saab are great to work with as well.
You have been the voice of Shah Rukh Khan in several films, do you have a favourite Shah Rukh number?
No, each song has a specific mood to it and it is very hard to choose. Mitwa from Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna is a high intensity song, Tere Naina from My Name is Khan is a soft romantic number, O Meherbaan from Ra.One sets another mood. In Pakistan, Shah Rukh Khan has a huge fan following and it is an honour to have been his voice for some of his most loved films.
People are in awe of your music; do you have an awe moment with some star yourself?
Yes, it happened I worked with Naseeruddin Shah on Dil Dhadakne ka Sabab Yaad Aaya. I can’t tell you how honoured I felt when he came to meet us. Here I was, standing next to a legend who was this humble and down to earth! It was my awe-moment! I am not too much of a reader but I am surely going to read his autobiography.
During concerts, we have often noticed that you mingle with the crowd as you sing. Have you always done that?
Mingling with the crowd releases the distance between the performer and the audience. I have always strived to break the style of performing on stage. We need both the audience and the performer to create magic. This brings out more in them and me. There is a special connect this way.