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Of music and lyrics


Alamgir leads the Benjamin Sisters at the PTV tribute.–Photo by Mohammed Farooq

He hasn’t changed much physically during his time away from Pakistan. Except for a few more laugh lines, his features still retain a youngish look and he even sports the same hairstyle.

Almost pushing 60, Alamgir is as slim as he was four decades ago. His zest for life and robust attitude belies the fact that he is suffering from a kidney ailment. As the leading pop icon of the country for years, the singer captured the hearts of the younger generation with his style of singing. Today, that generation, well past its prime, still remembers his romantic anthems.

Here, Alamgir talks to Images on Sunday about his visit to Pakistan, his music plans and about his illness.

Q. Do you find Pakistan a changed country?

A. I have come back after 18 years. I came here for a short visit in 2006, but very few people came to know about it then. This time it’s a three-month visit and I promise I will come every year now because of the love I have received. Things have changed so much here—people, traffic, politics. Karachi has become more modern, progressive and fashionable though.

Q. Why did you leave the country?

A. There was only Mohammed Ali Shyhaki and I in the ’70s with our style of music. I had to do music albums and perform in different cities. For 22 years I was in that cycle of work and I got really tired. It was a relief to get away from it all by relocating to the US. But after having been away for so many years, I now feel guilty. It’s good to meet my old fans and I love performing for them again.

With the PTV tribute, I couldn’t ask for more. I’m overwhelmed. PTV belongs to me and I belong to them. I started my career with it in 1972, as a teenager. Sunday Kay Sunday hosted by Moin Akhtar and Khaled Nizami was the first pop music programme from Karachi and I sang Albela Rahi which launched my music career.

Q. What do you think of the current music scene?

A. Music here has changed with the times as it has throughout the world. In the West, technological changes have made the making of music easy but people now miss the tunes of the ’70s and ’80s, much like in Pakistan. It was a magical era, really.

The music is both good and bad here. Instruments, software and computers take care of the music, but there are only a few good singers. Shafqat Amanat Ali, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Atif Aslam are good. It seems the rest are singing the same songs in the exact same style. We should not let traditional music by Roshan Ara Begum, Farida Khanum and Iqbal Bano fade away. It is sad that new talent does not want to learn proper music. As I was singing pop, I also focused on good music. In India there is diversity of music because there are listeners for the different genres. Here everyone concentrates on pop.

Q. How are you and your music faring abroad?

A. I do concerts in the US and Canada on weekends and sing my old songs. I have not made a new album. There is a cultural organisation in Canada which recently made a remake of my song, Kehdena Aankhon Se, in which a Chinese-Canadian girl has sung with me in Urdu.

During my time there was no concept of videos. I have 300 songs so I can make lots of them. I plan to come back in September and then I will do it in an organised manner.

Q. How is your health holding up?

A. My kidneys have failed and I am told by doctors that I have inherited the condition from my mother. It was diagnosed in 2004, and I was told to go on a special diet. In 2008, I started dialysis and go through it three times a week.

I went to Bangladesh looking for a donor relative but couldn’t find anyone. I am on a waiting list in the US and in two years I will get a donor kidney. I have arranged 30 per cent of the cost for the operation, and hope to be fighting it soon.

Q. How was your meeting with film star Shabnam and Robin Ghosh?

A. It was pleasant to meet them in Lahore. They are family friends and as I lived in Lahore for four years when they were there too, we met often and Shabnam took good care of me. Robin was composing the music for Aaina then and I sang the songs.

Q. Have any other TV channels approached you?

A. I have done two programmes for Hum TV. I also performed at the Style 360 Bridal Couture Week in April.

Q. Who do you mostly listen to these days?

A. When I started singing Elvis Presley was my inspiration. Then it was the Beatles, Elton John and Mehdi Hasan as the years passed. Today, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan inspires me with his brilliance.

Power-packed performance

It was an emotional reunion as Alamgir came on stage amidst thunderous applause and sang Dekh Tera Rung, immediately transporting the audience back to the ’70s.

PTV Karachi centre arranged A Tribute to Alamgir at the Expo Centre last week in which both new and seasoned singers presented remixes of the pop icon’s songs while those closely associated with him were invited on stage by hosts Anoushey and Faizaan to speak about him.

Former PTV producer Zaheer Khan said that he introduced Alamgir in a music programme in which the singer played the guitar in the orchestra. During the break he heard him sing and was so impressed that he asked him to perform in the following episode. Thus began Alamgir’s career with the song, Albela Rahi.

The hall sprang to life every time the singer stepped on stage to perform songs Mujhe Dil Se Na Bhulana, Shaam Se Pehle Aana (composed by Alamgir) and Tumhi Se Hai, the latter requested by a PTV official. Alamgir, who suffers from a kidney disorder, was so fired up singing the request that at the end of it he had to be assisted off stage. The crowd gave him a long, standing ovation.

Delightful moments in the programme were when the Benjamin Sisters sang Woh Jo Sapnoon Jaisa Hai, composed by Alamgir for Anwar Maqsood’s programme, Silver Jubilee. After regaining his strength, Alamgir came on stage to sing Khayal Rakhna with the Sisters. At this point, Shabana Benjamin requested him to join her in singing the song from the film Aaina, Tere Bin Mera Jeevan, and together they created sheer magic.

Seasoned singers Hasan Jehangir, Rahim Shah, Ahmad Jahanzeb, Faakhir and Mohammad Ali, and new singers Tipu Sharif, Sarah Baloch, Zuna Qureshi and Fiza Abbasi presented his songs. But the remixes did not do justice to the original numbers. The dances were performed by the Sonu Dangerous Group.

Messages by A. Nayyar, Shabnum and Robin Ghosh were relayed on screen from Lahore, all praising Alamgir’s talent and hard work in music. PTV also presented a show reel of his music career from his early days, showing glimpses of his songs ranging from pop, geet, ghazal to semi-classical for TV and films. The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Lipton PTV Lifetime Achievement Award to Alamgir by sitar maestro Raees Khan.

Moved by the adoration bestowed on him, he said that his career began with PTV and would end with it. Alamgir then brought the house down with his famous ditty, Dekha Na Tha Kabhi Hum Ne Yeh Sama.

Despite the momentary glitches, such as the sound system going off-key and the hosts’ bungling up their lines, all in all it was a memorable evening. — K.H.