2010 is already becoming a busy year for Ali Sher

Ali Sher is hard at work with Rafaqat Ali Khan for a series of collaborations; the first being 'Ishq'. The song comes at the heels of his third studio album Beetaye Pal, which enjoyed reasonable success with the masses but not enough to be labelled a massive hit.

But this time, Ali is once again giving Rafaqat's next album (Rafaqat is from the Sham Chaurasia Gharana and contributor to soundtracks of Bollywood hits like Krrish) and the first fruit of this labour is the song 'Ishq'. A song composed entirely by Ali, featuring Rafaqat Ali Khan's traditional kafi style of singing.

The track was originally written by Ghulam Farid Khan and heavily influenced and inspired by the Sindhi Bharwain raag. Ali's composition mixes east and west with traditional percussions and contemporary sound as well. The result is a fusion track intertwined with traditional and contemporary instruments, a groovy yet sombre beat - something Ali describes as "dark" - and the free flowing vocals of Rafaqat Ali Khan. The two had been planning a collaboration for quite some time and only recently did they find the time to work on this single.

"I've known him for a long time now and seen him perform numerous times and his command on the raags is truly amazing. I had spoken to Rafaqat bhai about collaboration a while back, and it was just talk but to work on this, both of us had to take out time to put this track down."

And that's not all. Currently Ali and Rafaqat are working hard towards completing at least two more collaborations. It's clear that they are really getting along.

"Totally, he's a very humble and down to earth person to get along with and it just comes naturally," says Ali about working with Rafaqat Ali Khan.

Though he has worked as a composer before (for the likes of Hadiqa Kiyani and others) when does Ali feel most comfortable? As a singer or a composer?

"I find that I'm more comfortable doing both," he says. "If I do one and not too much of the other, I feel that I'm not doing things right. Especially with my own music, I just don't think about anything else and go in on all fronts trying for the best composition and music for myself."

After having been part of the music industry since 1994, how does Ali Sher react to or treat criticism? Ali's last album-although enjoyed by listeners-wasn't too well received with the critics.

"Criticism itself doesn't bother me at all," he says, adding, "however, if it's baseless criticism, putting someone down just for the heck of it, well I don't agree with that." Ali adds that he enjoys hearing from his fans about what they thought of the music and wholeheartedly welcomes creative suggestions.

'Ishq' will be enjoyed by listeners here and abroad. It will enjoy radio airplay in Houston, London and other major cities around the world. Not a bad first step for Ali Sher in 2010 but can we expect giant leaps? Only time will tell.

Shallum's Solo Sojurn

“The first thing people ask me is whether I’m still with Fuzon.Yes, I am. This is just a solo project.”
– Shallum Xavier

Shallum Xavier has been a staple musician for nearly a decade. It was his guitars and tunes that brought about Fuzon, combined with the singing prowess of Shafqat Amanat Ali and maestro composer Immu. The three of them took the music scene by storm and even though Shafqat might have left, they now have Rameez and are stronger than ever. But where does that leave Shallum’s solo project? A project comprised of a collection of songs composed, co-written, and performed by Shallum along with other local–and even international–musicians. Have Immu and Rameez heard the album? “Yes, they have, ” said Shallum. “And they’re very supportive.”

Shallum takes a moment to reflect on people’s immediate reaction when he mentions he has a solo project. “People fail to realise that musicians don’t limit themselves to one group or one project,” he said. Commenting on the current atmosphere for musicians in Pakistan, Shallum said that it was very suffocating if they don’t get to perform regularly. However, no matter how far he tries to go away from Fuzon, he might not be able to escape the band’s shadow.

“There will be comparisons, of course, I am the same musician that performs with Fuzon and this is my solo effort; yes of course there will be comparisons and I’m okay with that.” There’s also the suggestion that the songs featured in his album are the ones that didn’t make the cut into a Fuzon album. “That’s absolutely not the case,” he said. “When Fuzon starts off to make a record, we start off with, suppose, 12 songs and we record 12 songs, no leftovers.”

The song, called ‘Payam’, features vocals by Zara Madani, the singer featured in Shoab Mansoor’s Khuda Kay Liye. She is also occasionally seen and heard with the Kolachi Quartet, a jazz supergroup which features Gumby, Immu, Khalid and Abbas Premjee. I immediately asked Shallum if there was a big idea behind the song.

“In 2007, I submitted this song to a competition held in Norway, they had asked Pakistani musicians,” he recalled when he first came up with the idea or rough composition of the song. “It was during the shoot of ‘Dewaane’, that I came up with the idea for this. I quickly sorted out the lyrics with songwriter, Jaffer Sadiq Anthony, and although it may sound like a love song, it really isn’t. It’s about hope and how many different meanings it has for many people.”

The video features Zara intertwined with shots of Shallum, performing amidst the backdrop of an elaborate farmhouse. The video is simple, to the point and doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. “This was pretty much Nasir’s idea,” Shallum said, about the concept.

“He had heard the song and knew right away what he wanted to do with it.”

Shallum says of the video’s director, Nasir Tehrany. The video also features model Nausheen Shah, lost in thought in the farmhouse. She seems to be seeking hope, in whatever form it may be; a manifestation of the song’s theme, suggested by Shallum.

So now that the video’s been shot, what’s the status of the album? “Well, I’m about to go to Oslo in a couple of weeks. There, I’ll get the album mixed and have a few more unique instruments placed into the songs.”

The instruments Shallum plans on using, he says, haven’t been heard of before in this region. The sound will be familiar but multilayered. He also plans on collaborating with musicians from around the world. But that’s for something else entirely. “I wanted to release ‘Payam’ as more than just an Urdu track,” Shallum said. “I’m also working on a Spanish and an English version of this song.”

But what about the album in question, his first album itself–which will probably be called Payam–when should we expect to hear it? “Soon.” Has he decided on which record label he will go with? “I was approached by Universal in India and I’m in talks with them, let’s see how that turns out.” And what about local record companies? “I haven’t decided anything, just that I’ll go with whichever company will give me the best comprehensive plan and coverage.” He also stated, push comes to shove, he might even release the album through Amazon or iTunes.

Finally, what about Fuzon? What’s in store for the band that brought us Shallum Xavier in the first place?

“We’re back in the studio, we’ve put down a few songs already.” And what’s it like recording an album with Rameez? “It’s terrific, it’s amazing actually,” Shallum speaks only highly of the new Fuzon singer. “I think this recent tour in Bangladesh we did, the two back to back concerts, really stemmed Rameez into the group.” He recalls how the singer wooed the Bangladeshi audience with his performance of a Bengali song sung by Kishore Kumar.

Shallum plans on going to Oslo for his own album, before touring with Fuzon around the U.S. Till then his fans will have to do with ‘Payam’, from his upcoming solo album of the same name.