Over six feet tall, clean shaven with coiffed hair and brawny physique, Aijaz Rah easily passes as a Hollywood superstar. In fact, the gene of acting occasionally drives him for a role or two in DD Kashir serials. But for Aijaz the first love remains singing, and he proficiently carries forward his legendary father Ghulam Mohammad Rah’s musical legacy.
Aijaz Rah started his career quite young in 1977, singing mostly for Doordarshan Srinagar. He trained under renowned singer Ghulam Nabi Sheikh and music director Muhammad Ashraf and even briefly enrolled in Music and Fine Arts in 1982. Later, on his friends’ suggestions, he went to Bombay in 1986 where he got a breakthrough after two year’s struggle to sing for Jhankar Orchestra. It was during this brief stay in that charismatic city that he got under the tutelage of Karim Chacha, the renowned tablaist, and learned nuances of music.
In recent years almost all songs of Aijaz Rah have been hits. With his Mauj Chi Aekher Mauje Asaan, a painful and melancholic song, he stirred million hearts. The Mauj album earned him Khilat-e-Mehjoor Award in 2008. His Rinda Ho became a rage.
For the Kashmiri music lovers talented Aijaz Rah has now come up with his latest offering Badlaav, a unique music album that is sure to make you tap your feet on high octane Punjabi tunes. Yes, you heard it right. For the first time, Kashmir meets Punjab in a musical feat that mesmerizes with its enthralling music and profound lyrics of our own patrons of literature: Shamas Fakir, Souchi Krayal, Neyami Sahab, Rehman Rahi, Mahmood Gami and Munawar Khadim.
It took over a month for Aijaz to compose the five songs in an expensive Ludhiana studio in Punjab. And his creative efforts and hard work have finally paid and all the songs have been rendered so beautifully in innovative beats (fusion of Punjabi folk tunes with Kashmiri music) that Badlaav has become a must buy. Aijaz Rah’s thirty years experience comes through his songs. Creating suitable rock tunes for profound lyrics of existential yearnings and metaphysical desires is no mean feat.
On a pleasant April afternoon in a calm Boulevard restaurant, Aijaz Rah had a freewheeling chat with GK Magazine. In bluish patterned sweater over a pink chequered shirt, Rah exuded confidence and restrained excitement.
How the idea for the album struck you?
Actually, last year two of my fans, very well established businessmen, approached me with a very curious question: Why there aren’t any high beat Kashmiri songs? Why can’t we produce songs on the pattern of Punjabi music? I told them in plain words: it takes a good amount to create such kind of music. A few days later, to my utter surprise, I discovered that they had deposited money in my account and they told me: now give us the songs.
Why have you chosen a title like Badlaav for a musical album?
It was the suggestion of some of my friends who said that this album is bringing a kind of change in Kashmiri music so we should name it Badlaav (Change).
You have recorded your album in Ludhiana Punjab. What difference did you find in terms of the professional environment?
Well, Punjab has a thriving music industry with numerous studios all around. Punjabi music industry has adapted to new times catering to the modern tastes, which is the reason why they are hugely successful. While I was working there I did not find myself bound professionally. In fact, I was struggling with a tune for the song Bulbula while being in Kashmir, but as soon as I entered the Ludhiana studio with its stimulating ambiance, my creative juices just began to flow.
It is perhaps for the first time that a Kashmiri singer and Punjabi artists have worked on a commercial musical project?
Yes, Badlaav boasts of being the first such collaboration between Kashmiri and Punjabi music industry. The people I worked with in Punjab were all highly professional and they are big names in the Punjab music industry. When you will listen to the songs in the album you will surely feel the quality and high standard of work.
You have selected Sufi lyrics for this album, any particular reason?
Basically, my idea was to take great Kashmiri poets to the younger audience so that they hum and remember their rich and soulful poetry and to do that I think high beat music is the right medium since it is of their taste. Rendering such mystical Sufi poetry in rock music demands real hard work and research and I am very thankful to Ghulam Mohammad Shaksaaz sahab for helping me in getting correct pronunciations and rhyme.
Now that you have put in so much hard work to produce this album, what are your expectations?
I am satisfied with my work as it has come out as an excellent piece and I believe Kashmiri music lovers will definitely like the songs. But the problem is not whether people will like it or not, the problem is the devil of piracy which is killing the music industry in Kashmir. And then there is reluctance on the part of distributors and wholesalers who prefer to sell low-grade music albums because they fetch them good profit. If people buy and support good quality Kashmiri music it can flourish; ultimately when an album sells, artist survives. If we don’t recover the costs that go into the making of a good quality music album, how are we going to invest again!
This interview was first published in Greater Kashmir on 6 April 2012.