Taher Shah has become an internet phenomenon. The once completely unknown singer who released a song and video ‘Eye to Eye’ two months ago, recently found himself becoming an overnight sensation.
A number of theories have been doing the rounds about Shah’s sudden fame. But it is the lyrics of his soft, romantic ditty that have been (and still are) the central focus of curiosity among millions of listeners and viewers who continue to watch the video and listen to the song over and over again.
Taher remains to be a mystery. He’s in his late 40s and by the looks of it seems to be an accomplished singer and songwriter. But the question is where Shah was when Pakistan’s pop music scene was booming in the 1990s?
Dawn.com reporters covering the Shah phenomenon suggest that Shah is a trained composer, songwriter and vocalist who somehow missed the boom that Pakistan’s pop scene witnessed in the 1990s when Shah was in his 20s.
When, after a long wait, our reporters did manage to get through to Shah (on the phone), Shah claimed: ‘Now’s the times of love ripe patience beholds precious time.’
As is apparent, his response is as enigmatic as the much debated lyrics of his mega hit song, ‘Eye to Eye.’
But first, let’s again see the video and listen to the song …
Though Shah continues to withhold the details of his background and life from the press, saying ‘it’s a private part of my life,’ our reporters finally managed to get two of his close associates to reveal a few but vital aspects of Shah’s personality and life.
But they insisted that their names should not be published because Shah would then definitely fire them from his entourage of musicians, photographers, video cameramen and wardrobe designers.
‘He is a very private man,’ one of the two assistants that we talked to told us. ‘Even his closest friends rarely see him. He spends most of his time in his sprawling study doing research on love, spirituality and the human anatomy. Then he plays the saxophone deep into the night.’
According to his assistants, Shah was born in Mirpurkhas in the Sindh province of Pakistan sometime in the early 1960s. He comes from a family that struggled to make ends meet.
The assistants weren’t sure what kind of a childhood Shah had but added that he had to wait tables at roadside restaurants in Mirpurkhas to supplement his studies at school and college.
‘He would work at these restaurants from morning till afternoon, attend evening school and then college where he studied biology,’ one of the assistants informed us. ‘He would then read books on agriculture and botany at home and play the tuba deep into the night.’
There are also rumours about Shah being arrested in July 1977 when military General, Ziaul Haq, toppled Z A. Bhutto’s government.
‘It’s a very touchy subject for him’, the other assistant added.
Another rumour doing the rounds is that Shah played the saxophone on some songs recorded by Pakistan’s seminal pop vocalist Alamgir in the early 1980s.
‘All we know is that he moved to Karachi in the 1980s,’ said one of the assistants. ‘He used to wait tables at a restaurant in the Tariq Road area of the city to supplement his studies at the Karachi University where he had enrolled as a student of alternative psychology.’
The assistants, however, confirmed, that Shah did play the saxophone as a sessions musician on some songs recorded by famous Pakistani pop singer of the 1980s, Tehseen Javed.
‘Javed looked a lot like Alamgir,’ said one of the assistants. ‘Maybe that’s why some people think Shah Jee played with Alamgir. But it was on a few songs recorded by Javed that Shah Jee played the saxophone. He wanted to quit waiting tables and supplement his studies and research as a session musician.’
But we come back to the same question: ‘Where was Shah when bands like Vital Signs, Junoon and The Strings were kick-starting a major pop wave in Pakistan from the late 1980s and across the 1990s?
When our reporter asked Shah this, he explained: ‘I always been very studious man. When mouses play, cat delay …’
One of his assistants claimed that Shah almost quit music in the late 1980s: ‘It was a very stressful period in his life. Even though he was doing well at the university as a student, he wasn’t getting any gigs as a singer.”
According to the assistant Shah’s big break came in 1988 when famous Qawali group, the Sabri Brothers, asked him to join them for a tour of Dubai. He went to audition for them with his saxophone, but they told him that the dynamics of Qawali music had no room for a saxophone.
‘They just wanted him to sit there with the other qawals, clap his hands and go aaaaah, ahhhh … He later found out that the brothers had just wanted a man with long, curly hair.’