Switch on your TV and chances are that you will find Fariha Pervez on the screen. The attractive female singer is in demand on TV music programmes, live shows, tributes and the rest. World Music caught up with her when she was in Karachi to appear in the Eid Show for Indus TV.
What are you up to these days?
I am working on my sixth album. I am also compiling an album of my remixes and I plan to release both in the beginning of 2005.
Have you tried doing anything new in the remixes album?
I would say it is a commercial album. When you are singing on the pop scene, you do numbers that are purely for the masses and are not for your own pleasure. All that you do for your own satisfaction is that you work on the music, while the lyrics and the thought behind it appeals to the mass taste – you know, a lot of dhoom dharaka, bhangra and that sort of thing. So, the ‘A’ side of my albums – there is no ‘B’ side on CDs – the songs in the beginning of the album are for the masses – tied up to various events like shaadi or Valentine’s day, etc. What is supposed to be the ‘B’ side is the experimental part.
Wouldn’t it be useful to include some of your experimentation on the ‘A’ side so that people could know about all the new things you are doing right in the beginning of the album?
Yes, why not. If there is something interesting, I do include it on the ‘A’ side. I have tried to bring some change in my music. It basically relates to Mehmood Khan, who is a good music composer as well as a lyricist – this is quite rare in our industry – the same person writing lyrics and composing the music. He has a mazzay ka style, so I have included two of his songs.
Your songs normally have a cultural touch, like ‘Bo Kata’, Khokla Chuppa Ke, etc.
Well, I have worked with various aspects of our music and have tried many things but there is nothing like the pleasure that you get out of things rooted in your own soil, your own folk heritage. In Punjab, we have the sur, we have listeners with a good ear for music and we have lots of really good voices. We have all kinds of skills and I really love to infuse the flavour of the land in my singing – it gives me a lot of pleasure. Most of the time you are just making stuff for others but there are things that you should sing and enjoy for yourself. Khokla Chuppa Ke was one such cute melody that I thoroughly enjoyed singing. It becomes interesting when you take a theme, like something based on a game and you make your song around it – so that it is both to entertain the masses and something to satisfy your own artistic urges. It should also have a touch of sweetness to it.
What is the experimentation all about in your new album?
I still have to work on two more songs for the album. There come moments in life when something dominates you. Like when you get upon the stage and a whole lot of people start dancing to your beat, your song or your performance, you think, yaar, this is it, this is our line and we have to follow it. In fact, the people will go along with what you present to them and they will start accepting it. We have a lot of people nowadays who are offering new things – melodious, classical, etc. But that was something that had scared me a bit in recent times. This time, I have included a classical number that will be guitar-based fusion music. I thought I must include a bit of that because my music training is classical. I started my career by learning classical music. My ustaad was Master Feroze Gill Shagan – he is from the Shagan family. His brother Ghulam Hussain Shagan is a big name in the Punjab and they are from the Gawalior gharana. My ustaad trained me from day one in the classical tradition.
How did you get to sing Patang Baaz?
It was again one of those things – trying to do something new that really caught on – a young female singing this patang baaz song – an entirely new idea that captured the people’s imagination. It was a new topic that normally would not have been touched before, but that is how you experiment.
What are your preferences in pop music?
Well, bhangra is very ‘in’. When you switch on a music channel, you find it has everything – pop, rock and the rest. But when you hear the dhol, it has a different feeling altogether. Perhaps, being a Punjabi, it is in my blood and I love rhythm. I am not attracted by angraiziat because my ears are not attuned to that sort of sound. You have a lot of rock these days as well as other things. I will certainly include classical fusion in my album this time. I have also taken a song from Shuja who recently arranged the music for Channo ki Aankh. He is a newcomer with good beat and he is doing good work. When I asked him for a song, he was nice enough to compose it as well as do all the musical arrangement. I am trying a lot of new things. So far, I have not taken much work from Karachi for my albums. It is now important because all kinds of music is being done here such as fusion, rock, desi and the rest.
Would you say that Karachi has more variety? In Lahore, whether it is Abrar, Jawad or you, one finds a lot of the bhangra beat in the music? Do you think it is the native element that has something to do with it?
My music is a bit upbeat because that is suitable for all parts of the country. Even my Punjabi music is guitar-based. I always try not to be typically Punjabi. My music should not be restricted to the beat but should have a bit of guitar and other modern elements in it. For instance, my videos like Hanrian and Gal Muk Gaiyee were made in Karachi but I have blended my musical sense in it. Even in Fusion, when you look at the combination, you find that while the musicians are from Karachi, the lead vocal is from Punjab who is from a classical family and they are a good combination.
Is there a possibility of you working with Karachi-based performing artistes in future?
We have quite a dearth of duets and I cannot say why this so but perhaps it is because we are a bit shy of experimentation and are afraid whether the result would be acceptable or not. We have also not paid attention to duets because you get bound. Both singers have to be available on the spot wherever you are performing. That affects budgets as well as schedules – sometimes one is not free or the other is not available. Then there are such things as the fear of one dominating the other. As far as I am concerned, I would love working with other artistes. Like Shalum is a good artiste and I hope I can do something with him for my forthcoming album. I am trying hard this time to offer something different.
Tell us a bit about the remixes album that you are planning to bring out?
I have touched all the singers in this album, such as Madame Noor Jehan, Shamshad Begum and Inshallah, I will also include Mehdi Hasan Sahib.
You have a classical background and your voice is also well suited to ghazal. Then, why is it that you have focused more on commercial singing?
Yes, I haven’t made any effort in this regard. I had released an album called Jhumka, which had a khayal-based thumri ‘Jaag Rahi Main to Piya Ke”. People really liked it. But when you are concentrating on one aspect of the music, you don’t think of a lot of other things. Now with a career stretching over seven years, people do ask me as to why I don’t sing classical or why don’t I sing ghazals? I think there is a time for everything. I do sing ghazals a lot and love singing soft melodious numbers. In fact, the B side of all my albums have ghazals.
What are your other interests besides music?
I am a very simple person and I have all those hobbies that would be typical of an eastern woman. I love decorating the house or cooking. When I go shopping and I see some good crockery, I cannot resist buying it. Actually, my profession is so time-consuming that I hardly have time to do something else. My total mentality is that of a house-bound, eastern woman. But, because I sing and my father used to sing – he was my ideal – though he was not a professional singer because he only used to sing at home. He encouraged me a lot and that is how I got the confidence to sing. My mother is a very simple person. She is a Master’s in Psychology and she trained me to be myself, to emerge in life on my own merit. She has never pushed me into anything and has always said that if you are talented, you are bound to come up and be noticed.
Talking of your first album, what was it that encouraged you to go ahead and take up singing?
I started my career in 1989 when I was in school because singing was then just a hobby. There are many big names in my family like Arifa Siddiqi and Naheed Siddiqi, both daughters of Talat Siddiqi – and they are all very talented. Rehana Siddiqi is another of my khalas. I got a chance to sing on TV because they used to be at the TV station almost all the time and I used to go with them as well. It was almost as if PTV was our home. So when the producers and directors noticed me, they thought that I must be equally talented, being from the same family. I would say, however, that I got my voice quality from my father, it’s hereditary and it’s not necessary that if your khalas have it, you will have it too. Then I used to do jingles for ad agencies and someone suggested that since I had such a nice voice, why I didn’t make an album. My father said, yes, why not, go ahead and do it. So, it was his encouragement that helped you did not expect to get that kind of push from your family.
My first album had 12 songs and all the numbers were really good. The name was “Nice and Naughty” and it really clicked. Patang Baz was the tenth number so I sang it almost at the end but it came out so well that we all decided to make it the lead number in the album. The theme was also entirely new because no one had thought of such a subject before. We also produced a video based on the patang baazi and people started recognising me. I used to find it shocking when I would be out and people would point out and say, “Hey, that’s Fariha Pervez!” Interestingly, I had appeared a lot on TV and had even done plays but it was Patang Baz that brought real recognition.
Whose songs have inspired you the most?
I really like Asha Bhonsle and Madam Noor Jehan. I like the voices of Mehnaaz and Nayyara Noor as well. These are cultured voices and I like voices that have a bit of sweetness in them.
“I really love to infuse the flavour of the land in my singing”
You mention Asha. Her singing career is spread over four or five decades and her voice has evolved with time.
They are playback singers and they have a great edge in terms of their film industry. When Asha started singing, she had a wide range of songs to try her talent. We too have a lot of talent but the Indian film industry is so vast and varied and they have so many great music directors like S.D.Burman, R.D.Burman, Naushad Sahab, Madan Mohan, etc. Working with such big names, each with their own individual style, a singer is bound to be noticed sooner or later. Asha Bhonsle is such a brilliant singer that she won recognition as the best in all categories of singing.
You see Asha doing all kinds of music. If she is singing a ghazal for Gulzar one day, she is doing a remix with Hariharan the next. Do you think you too can experiment with your music at some stage?
Yes, I can. Fortunately, the trend in our music has now developed in such a manner that we are open to anything. If I sing something in a show and get a lot of applause, the next performer, even if he is a singer in the classical mould, thinks that he too should sing something fast and also get clapped. I can tell you about one experiment I have done recently. There is a poetess by the name of Adeem Taji. I have done a beautiful song for her collection of poetry called ‘Chalo Aik Saath Chaltey Hain.” Music director Amjad Bobby, who is a big name in our film industry, has composed the melody. It’s a ghazal or, more precisely, an azaad nazam and I have really enjoyed doing it.
Why is it that female singers are still reluctant to come into the field, the way so many new male bands are entering the music scene?
I think a lot of females are coming but there is still a lot of room. Hadiqa and I released our albums in 1996. Then there was a gap and that situation has continued. That is the reason that we are the only ones who are prominent. The other new female singers will take some time to come to the front. We have a good new crop of female singers emerging like Khadija, Seher and Humaira Arshad and there are many others too. Now audiences too want to see female singers as a part of the combination in the entertainment package. There is a demand for females who have good looks, good voices, good stage performing abilities, the right skills and the gift of being able to talk intelligently. The requirements are quite demanding these days because this is the era of video performances, of visuals, where everything is visible and upfront. An ordinary looking female singer could perhaps get away on the strength of her voice in the days of playback singing but not anymore. Today, however highly talented a female singer is, if she is not good-looking, she will not find public acceptability. This is even true for men – like Ali Zafar, Ahmed Jehanzeb and the others – it’s a whole package that the public wants.
So, you think videos are important these days?
Yes, because the audio sound or radio has lost its place despite the fact that radio is making a comeback with FM channels. When I released my first album in 1996, I got a big boost because of FM radio. In fact, in those days audio cassettes and FM radio helped in popularising my songs more than the video. Now video has overtaken radio and all because so many new TV channels have come up and we are visible on these channels. Now everyone is making videos and people want good videos.
Do you plan to sing with any Indian artist?
I haven’t made any efforts in that direction so far and I have not paid any visits to India in this context but I will think about it when I get the opportunity. It will be an honour for me because it is only when we work together that we will have wider exposure and we will come to know about each other better
Do you plan to do more songs for films?
In films I am not quite comfortable with the recording scene. They are not as professional as I would have expected them to be. I found that I couldn’t quite fit into the film-recording environment. I have done a lot of songs for films for some very good music directors like Amjad Bobby, M. Arshad. Chief Sahab was my first film, and then I sang for Samina Peerzada’s Inteha. There was a lot of activity but I couldn’t cope with film playback singing. I found doing recordings in private studios much more professional – the environment is good and you start working right away. There are only one or two people in the booth and not a whole lot staring at you. You can’t work in such an atmosphere. Another reason for my not doing many film songs was that the industry slowed down, specially the kind of songs that I wanted do, the kind of lyrics I preferred, the sort of situations I would have liked to sing for. The style of our film music has now completely changed.
What is your educational background?
I have done my graduation and I couldn’t do my Masters because I was in this field. Over the past few years, I just did not get the opportunity to pursue my education. Luckily I grew up in an educated environment, my parents are educated and we talk on each and every subject. I read a lot; these days I am reading a lot of poetry. I feel quite enriched when I read the works of some of our great poets. I also like reading National Geographic.
So, would you say that with all your success, you are still the girl next door?
Well, this is the way I am. I have seen a lot of people who change their attitude once they become popular. You know, their style of salaam changes. I don’t like that – it should not happen. We should meet and try to find out about the welfare of people around us. Just see how the stars mix with each other in India when they come to attend award ceremonies. They mingle so happily among themselves. On our side, you find just two performers sitting at a distance from each other and that does not seem proper.