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“For me, Ghazals means Mehdi Hassan” – Tauseef Akhtar

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Tauseef Akhtar describes himself as a singer, composer and performer on his website. When it comes to Ghazals, he has been quickly carving a name for himself both in India and on the international scene. He is one of the disciples of the Ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh and is widely recognized for mastering the Urdu language. After assisting popular music director duo Nadeem-Shravan for a number of years, there was no looking back. Known for creating original Ghazals, albums like “Ishq Karo”, “Ghazalaw” and “Aamad” have given listeners superlative Ghazals with excellent lyrics and singing. On Saturday 27 June, 2020, he is having an online concert – “Jazbaat” will feature his original compositions and work from many other artists such as Jagjit Singh.

What did lockdown represent for you and how did you fill up your time?
Lockdown actually made everyone humble themselves. We were all so used to liberated lifestyles, we were moving around the globe, enjoying our lives, we were careless and suddenly the pandemic hit us so hard that it made us realize the value of life within a fraction of second. Initially, I was very taken aback by the feel of being locked-up in my house, since I am used to travelling a lot. And I love flying. My shows were cancelled and I got stuck in my house but luckily, I am so blessed that I have my studio to explore some new ideas and I spent all my time working on new ideas and I have already started implementing them.

Rain” is a futuristic track. What was the main reason for releasing its video?
This was an initiative by my friend K.J. Singh of Asli Music. We had work on this track in 2008 and it was his idea to release it just before the monsoon sets in. Yes, it is definitely a futuristic track and it was recorded when I used to actually perform with a friend of mine, Cheryl Balwani and our band was called Soul Fusion. As the saying goes, a good track/music stands the test of time and so did this track “Rain”. I am very happy the way it has been received by people and the video is also beautifully done under the able guidance of my friend K.J. Singh and it has really come out well.

Do you plan to collaborate with Cheryl Balwani on more projects in the future?
As of now, there are no plans because I have a lot of other projects lined up for releases coming next year, starting with the album ‘Mirza Ghalib’. There are some songs that we have already recorded and in the near future, you will get to hear more singles from us and if things go well, we get time and space to work, you never know, we might work together.

You had a free virtual concert a couple of weeks ago on your official Facebook page. Were you satisfied with the response, audience’s expectations and your performance?
I am always satisfied when I am connected to my listeners. The expectations from the audience was to get entertained and I think I did a good job. It is always great to come online and sing for your listeners and connect to them on a personal level. Because when you go to the concerts, we don’t get a chance to mix around with our listeners. Social media has enabled that for us to connect directly with our fans and listeners. Yes, it was great and I look forward to many more such performances.

On which grounds did you decide to organize a paid online concert and what sorts of preparation are required?
As you all know that we also have to look after our sustenance and every artist needs finances to implement new ideas, to run the kitchen and to bear day to day expenses. Apart from all the free performances and appearances I have been doing over the last 2-3 months, I decided to announce a ticketed concert, which by the way, has been sold out. The preparation is immense because when someone pays for your live online concert, their focus is going to be on the sound, the kind of audio and video you are streaming. Why would someone pay for what we do on Facebook Live? So to make it premium, we had to bring in a lot of equipment and great technologies in place. We have put together a great show. I hope that when people will watch the show, they will realize what kind of hard work has gone behind that.

What can the audience expect from “Jazbaat” this Saturday 27 June?
The audience can expect a great technically executed show with lots of great compositions by myself and some amazing Ghazals by the legends. It is going to be a mixture of my own compositions and some hits by artists like Jagjit Ji [Jagjit Singh]. They can also expect the highest quality of audio one can expect in live stream. We are trying to achieve something beyond what people have been experiencing in live streams. So “Jazbaat” is going to be a great musical, emotional (as “Jazbaat” means emotions) and one of the best technically executed shows.

Describe your fascination with Mehdi Hassan.
I am in awe of Mehdi Saab. For me, Ghazals means Mehdi Hassan, Ghazals singing means Mehdi Hassan, depth means Mehdi Hassan, music means Mehdi Hassan. He is a galaxy within which a lot of galaxies exist. I am short of words because for such a great artist, words fail to explain how great he is. And all I can say is that there cannot be another Mehdi Saab. There might be different kinds of great artists coming in but Mehdi Saab was and always will be the number one when it comes to Ghazal singing. And I am his biggest fan.

It has been reported that some singers are lip-synching in online concerts and the audience feels cheated. What are your reactions when you hear such statements? What can be done about it?
I have earned a lot of displeasure from such people who are lip-synching because I raised a voice some days back. I have all my sympathies for them because maybe they are trying to come up with something unique but in my personal opinion, such things should be avoided by being natural and be true to yourself. The audience likes what is true and natural. We should use technology but we should be able to draw a line where we don’t mess up with the spirit of music. But to each their own, if they are happy lip-synching, God bless them. May they attain great heights in lip-synching and be experts in doing that. As far as I am concerned, I would prefer doing my ‘riyaaz’ (practice), making my small mistakes, realising where I go wrong and then correct myself and present myself in the purest way possible.

Do you believe that the virtual artistic performance could rise in parallel with the importance of streaming services like Netflix in the future?
Live stream concerts is the future of for performing artists. This is absolutely a new avenue to look into and I am very excited. Though initially, it came as a shock for me but it has opened a box of surprises and possibilities for me to explore my talent and bring it to a wider audience through live streaming. And the way films have chartered from theatres to OTT on services like Netflix, I am sure there are going to be a lot of similar services offered for musicians across the globe. Hopefully, we, my friend Devinder Walia and I, at Sabrang International which we have formed in the UK, we are planning to bring out a huge platform for performing artists across the globe to enable them to perform to the global audience out there with the best of technology when it comes to implementation and reach out to a wider audience. So, we are trying to develop something like that in the near future and you should get the good news very soon.

Paid music subscription services are on the rise. Is this good news for musicians?
It can be good news for those musicians when they can start getting a share of these subscriptions. Unfortunately, a lot of royalties and money coming from subscriptions or digital sales do not reach the artists or the musicians. So we are all awaiting that day when we genuinely have such aggregators and digital labels who are honest enough to give us our share of earnings which come from digital sales and streaming. The hopes are going to stay till they are fulfilled.

“Jazbaat” by Tauseef Akhtar, Saturday 27 June, 2020, 9PM IST. Tickets are exclusively available on www.tauseefakhtar.com/jazbaat

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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