An extremely talented musician, Tauseef Akhtar needs no introduction. He is the new face of contemporary ghazals and has been around long enough to understand all the complexities of this genre, which he has mastered over the years. A disciple of Jagjit Singh and a kind and humble person at heart, he has come up with his third album, ‘Aamad: The Arrival’. Unlike his previous work, ‘Aamad: The Arrival’ tries to move away from the niche image associated with ghazals and attempts to reach a wider audience.
Tell us how Aamad was conceptualized.
‘Aamad’ is the brain child of a very good friend of mine, Mr Devinder Walia. He is a big fan of my work and a connoisseur of ghazals. I was conducting a ghazals workshop in London and he happened to meet me with another dear friend of mine, Roop Sagar, who happens to be a poet, by hobby and passion. It was Mr Walia’s idea to record Roop Sagar’s poetry. We formed a music label by the name of Sabrang International and started working on the project. Sabrang aims at producing premium quality music albums and ‘Aamad’ is the first stepping stone towards that aim.
In your view as a composer, how is Aamad different from your last album?
‘Aamad’ is definitely different from my previous album in terms of mostly everything. In terms of poetry, it is more contemporary. In terms of arrangement, I have kept the youth in mind as it is my target audience of this album. My loyal listeners are always going to be with me despite all the efforts I put in. I wanted to reach out to the age group of 15-21 and bring them towards ghazals. This is what I have tried to achieve through this album and I hope that it works out. In terms of the packaging of the album, it is more youthful and appealing to a wider audience. It does not come across as ghazals for niche which in my view, after ‘Aamad’, this will change and will be for a common listener. We tried to make it more approachable and easier for people to understand in regard to the poetry and the music. But the flavour of ghazals still stays.
If you must sell your new album to a 15-year-old, how would you describe the songs?
A musician hardly uses words to describe his/her songs. It is the melody and the poetry which speak for itself. We are going to reach out to 15-year-olds through a particular way of promotion so that they can listen to my work and I have full confidence that at the moment, they will listen to it. I don’t need to build a story around my work. When I was in the process of recording the album, I took a wise decision of taking on board my son Rehaan Akhtar, who is in that age group. When he came in as a music producer, all the essence that the youth looks up to, it has been automatically added to the album.
Why did your fans had to wait for a year to hear your new album?
‘Ishq Karo’ was literally released at the start of 2015. ‘Ghazalaw’ was released in 2016. You have to space out a little bit. Then I released a couple of singles in between. Personally, an album is a reflection of my thoughts and feelings, which keeps changing from time to time, according to what I see and hear around me. I think you cannot really work with a fixed time parameter. Then it becomes very technical. It has to come naturally and this was the right time for me to do this album.
How important are the video clips in reaching your audience?
Everyone knows that social media plays a big role in reaching out to people nowadays and it is all about audio-visual. Visuals are more important now because people want to see some action. My personal experience has been that, whenever, I have communicated with my audience through videos, it has been more impactful. It means that videos are a must. Whenever I do live sessions with my listeners or when I release my singles, they have done tremendously well. I have also noticed that the tracks that I could not make videos for, they have been lost and have not been noticed. Nowadays, it is all about video. In the future, I believe it will be compulsory to have videos for everything that we do.
Was it a conscious decision to work with only one poet for this album?
Absolutely, it was because I personally believe that the new generation should get a chance to exhibit their work and it should be done properly and professionally. To bring that focus on the poet, I decided to actually do this entire album based on Roop Sagar’s poetry. I also like the kind of work that he does; he is very modern and meaningful. His thoughts are deep but are conveyed in simple words. This is what I was looking out for – the words should be simple but the thoughts should not be shallow. They have to have a certain meaning and this is what Roop’s poetry is all about. I have read all his work and I decided that this person needs to be recorded properly.
What is the main idea with having Vidhi Sharma and Sunil Sajal in this album? Are they also going to be part of your international concerts?
The main idea is to genuinely create a platform for good talent. It is very difficult for a new talent to get the right kind of break and platform to exhibit their talent. It is usually done half-heartedly and I have personally experienced that. When we were conceptualizing this album, the idea was to bring in the unheard talent. Vidhi Sharma is not an unheard talent and she has done a phenomenal work in devotional music and in a few Bollywood tracks. I wanted the ghazals’ listeners to listen to such a talented singer. I had heard Sunil and I loved his voice. Sunil Sajal is very dedicated to the art singing of ghazals. When I found that that he is doing his PhD in ghazals, that really pulled me towards him. He is so committed, and he deserves to be in this album. I would really love these guys to be part of my international concerts as they deserve them. I have already spoken to some promoters to have the new faces come on-board now.
Tell us how you find your inspiration to compose these days.
‘Aamad’ arrived from somewhere (laughs), like all inspirations come from somewhere but it is mostly from day to day life. I am a very sensitive person and I express what I see through my compositions and my music. This is why sometimes it becomes very difficult for me to compose romantic ghazals because I don’t feel I have been in the world and it affects me deeply. And if you look at all the singles I have released in the past 1-2 years, they are all for social causes. I also like to do some spiritual work. The inspiration comes from the surroundings where I am and ‘Aamad’ was composed in the UK and this is where I feel inspired the most. When I had to compose this album, the producer (Mr Devinder Walia) flew me down to London and all the compositions were made in my hotel room in London. Most of my beautiful compositions happened in Wales or in London and this is mostly because of the vibes. My audience in London knows that very well!
How much have you matured as a music composer? Is that reflected in this album?
As you grow older and the more you see the world, the more you learn and the more you absorb what is around you. It comes out in your work, provided you are a sensitive person and you care for the world. Definitely, I have matured as a composer. I think I understand human feelings deeply now. I have become more real and I connect to more real things than fairy tales nowadays. I am not here just to entertain but also to give out something in my journey.
You use tabla, guitars, violin, flute, santoor and harmonium in your songs. Is it possible to experiment with more musical instruments?
Of course. Ghazals do not bind you in your musicality – it is an open ground. Ghazals depend on the poetry and you cannot mess up with the poetry. You can obviously use any instrument that you want which goes with your composition. I have used the Celtic harp in ‘Ghazalaw’ and for “Woh Chilman Se” in ‘Aamad’, I have used the melodica, which have never ever been used in ghazals before. It is a blues’ instrument and is even used in a blues’ style. I can hear a lot of new instruments already playing in my mind. Very soon, I am going to record a single with another very rare instrument, which has not been used ever in Indian music…
Can we safely say that people should now listen to ghazals for melodious verses rather than searching for that in Bollywood music?
I am a huge Bollywood freak myself (laughs). Recently, I have been very busy and I don’t have much time to listen to Bollywood music. But film music is a part of my life. I have grown up on listening to such music, I have been a music composer myself but ghazals are very special and precious. It is like a Kohinoor because it has all the ingredients to touch your inner-most layer of your soul. People have always listened to ghazals mainly because of the poetry. And with the kind of work which I am doing now, I am so assured that people will be compelled to come back to listening to ghazals in a mainstream format and may even treat it as a mainstream genre. And because of the way I have recorded ‘Aamad’ and the style I have chosen, it is going to erase that thin line of distinction between Bollywood music and ghazals.
Do you consider yourself to be a trendsetter in ghazals?
In all humility, I follow a mantra given by my father, “Don’t follow the trends, set the trend!”. Well, I follow his guidance. This is for the audience to decide. I think I am doing a good job. I am being very honest to my work. I am bringing in new trends and that is for sure. I feel blessed to have all these experiences in life, from classical to films, ghazals and all. A complete amalgamation of all my experiences now is turning out to be a very beautiful product and outcome. I am happy that I am bringing that to ghazals. ‘Ghazalaw’ is one of the most unique efforts ever put into this genre.
How influential is your father, Akhtar Azad Sahab in your success?
It is all his guidance from the time I started listening to music. He made sure that I start listening to the right kind of music since my childhood. From that day till now, he makes sure that the quality control is there. He is my quality control guy (laughs)! For me, success is doing good work and definitely, he has a great influence.
We talk about this every time we do an interview but the question remains, why haven’t you composed a song for a Bollywood movie yet?
I just go with the flow, where my heart goes and I don’t plan things. I let my spirit guide me. If it leads me back to films, why not? I have learned a lot from Bollywood. It is not that I am not interested. If I need to get back to doing a film, it will be very easy for me in terms of approaching producers. I will just let it go naturally in this journey.
What ghazals are you currently listening?
I have grown up listening to Mehdi Hassan Sahab and Jagjit Singh Ji. It is a part of my life. Both of these great artists are an institution for me. Each time I listen to them, each time their music imparts something to me. I have been listening to both of them and I am sure till my last day, I will be listening to both of them. They are the foundation of the ghazal gaayki and the world that I know.