|Alamgir – A Legendary Singer
by WAJIHA JAWAID
"I am Bengali by origin but a Pakistani by heart," says Alamgir – the pioneer of pop music in Pakistan. He landed in Pakistan in early 70s with a deep passion to sing. A fine arts graduate, Alamgir got his first break on Sohail Rana's kids' show and from there onwards there was no looking back. Popularly known as 'Elvis of the East, Alamgir introduced the pop genre in Pakistan and soon his distinct style of singing became his identity. Some of his evergreen tracks include Dekha Na Tha, Mai Ne Tumhare Gagar Se, Yeh Shaam Aur Tera Naam, and Hum Chalay To Hamare Sang Sang. The legendary singer has sung in more than 17 languages including Spanish, Japanese, Bengali, Urdu and English. In early 90s he bid adieu to his music career in Pakistan and decided to settle down in USA. However, the immense love of his fans brought him back to his homeland. Unfortunately, both of his kidneys have failed and he has been on dialysis for a while now, but even his illness has not stopped him from entertaining his fans. Recently MAG had a candid rendezvous with Alamgir, as he talked about his musical journey so far. Excerpts:
How different have you found Pakistan having returned after so many years?
I have returned to Pakistan almost after 18 years. Obviously a lot of things have changed here, whether it's the infrastructure or the law and order situation. But one thing that has remained constant is my fans' love for my music. They still love me and are crazy about my music, which is a great feeling!
You are considered as the pioneer of pop music in Pakistan. Was it tough to establish yourself as a pop artist then?
Yes it was difficult in those days, I was banned twice. My song, Dekha Na Tha was banned by some religious groups because it had the word 'nasha' in its lyrics. Later on, I remade it with the word 'jadoo', but it didn't click for me.
In your opinion, what is that one thing that gives your music a timeless appeal?
I think it's the melody and texture of my voice which gives my music that timeless touch. It's an honour for me that youngsters, whose parents used to be my fans once, now attend my concerts with equal enthusiasm.
Throughout your journey, who has been your musical inspiration?
I have grown up listening to Elvis Presley, Beatles and Rolling Stone. When I was young, I used to sing western songs all the time. However, at the age of 14, I sung my first Urdu song, Albela Rahi.
When was the first time you actually sang? Please share with us the first memory of your singing.
It must be a surprise for many people to know that I showed inclination towards music when I was barely 10 months old. My mother told me that I used to crawl to my father's gramophone to see who was singing inside it. I sang my first song at the age of 10, it was Elvis Presley's song and I started learning guitar when I was 12. I used to sing whenever my school friends and neighbours requested me to.
How did you get your break into showbiz?
My first song was a Spanish number, Gauntanamera which was later remade as Albela Rahi along similar musical notes. I sang Albela Rahi on the first music show of Pakistan that was hosted by Moin Akhter and Khalid Nizami. They experimented with several new artists on the show and Karim Shahabuddin recommended my name to the producer.
You bid adieu to showbiz at the peak of your career, why did you quit?
The main reason was my mother's illness, she was living in America and there was no one there to look after her. Secondly, it was my dream to give my son American education, so I had to go there. Another reason was that when I left, both Shahky and I were in high demand. There were hectic recordings, rehearsals, shows and public appearances. Every year people waited for my new album and I realised that I wasn't working from my own free will. Instead I was just living up to others' expectations; I decided to live life on my own terms and so, left Pakistan.
How did your comeback materialise?
In 2006, a private channel invited me for their music awards and Bushra Ansari especially persuaded me to come back. The amazing response that I got there was beyond my expectation. People showered me with their love and I realised that I had taken a selfish decision earlier when I had left Pakistan. I felt guilty and from that day onwards, I started planning for a comeback, and now I am here.
So was your comeback as smooth as you had expected?
Honestly speaking, the reception has been much more than what I had anticipated. I recently did a concert for a private channel, and it was truly an honour for me when the audience there gave me a standing ovation.
Many Pakistani singers have turned to Bollywood for fame, have you received any such offers?
Fame is not something that I am looking for. The kind of love and appreciation I have received here is enough for me. This country has made me a super star, so obviously I wouldn't turn to Bollywood for fame. But yes, if I get a good offer, then it would be a bonus for me.
What is your opinion about the current music scene in Pakistan?
There are both good and bad musicians working here. There are some people like Shafqat Amanat Ali and Rateh Fateh Ali Khan, who are promoting true classical music. On the other hand, artists like Ali Zafar and Atif Aslam have taken pop music to a whole new level. Even these two guys made a ground for my comeback by redeveloping a taste for melody in pop music.
You have sung some phenomenal patriotic songs, nowadays we lackg in that area. What are your comments on that?
It was my love for Pakistan that was reflected in my songs. This patriotism is missing in the work of our young musicians and they should focus on it.
What advice would you like to give to other musicians who are trying to get a big break?
My comeback should be an inspiration for them. If they sing with passion then they can be popular. Don't make music to earn fame, just do it from your heart and people will automatically love your work.
Are you content with whatever you have achieved so far?
Yes, I am totally satisfied. I was satisfied even when I left the industry!
You have been ill for quite some time. How are you feeling now?
My kidneys have failed and I am on dialysis these days. Infact, I have been raising money through my concerts for my treatment.