Pakistani artist Ali Zafar, known for his multi-talented roles of singing, songwriting, acting and more, dropped into the Khaleej Times office today to break some exciting news which no doubt promises more visits from him in the future.
The highlight of his visit to Dubai, he admitted, was being bestowed with the coveted UAE Golden Visa.
Always charming and engaging, Ali, who last visited KT to promote his Bollywood film Total Siyapaa in 2014, spoke at length about his regard for Dubai and the UAE, his latest music and what getting back to live performances after the Covid pandemic has been like.
Blessed with a mesmerising voice, Ali also regaled us with a few bars of his latest track, the Pashto song Larsha Pekhawar.
Excerpts from our interview with Ali who will be visiting Expo 2020 Dubai this evening:
What brings you to Dubai?
I’m here because I have been honoured by the UAE government with a Golden Visa, and I want to thank the UAE and its government for bestowing this honour on me.
I’ve had a long association with Dubai, UAE, the MENA region, the entire media here as well as the people. It feels good.
The last time I was here was before Covid, which was in February for an awards show. Now that I have come back here, the place looks even more promising and absolutely delightful. And what I really admire about this place is that it sort of sets an example for the world as to how people from different cultures, ethnicities, and faiths can co-exist so harmoniously together and thrive in a society and in life.
So that’s a beautiful concept and I’m proud to be a part of this concept.
What does getting a Golden Visa mean to you personally?
For me, the spirit of an artist is all about freedom, to express oneself through one’s art; the freedom to be able to move around in different countries and states and meet your fans freely whenever you wish to, without having to go through the process again and again.
And especially here, there are so many Pakistanis and Indians!
For me and my family, it will just be convenient to be able to travel a lot more, produce a lot more work, do a lot more collaborations in the field of arts, primarily music and movies, and now we have OTT platforms (also).
Already very interesting things have been cooking since I have been here for the last four-five days, which you shall Inshallah see in the future.
Coming to your songs, your most recent release was Larsha Pekhawar, a Pashto folk song. It’s been trending and has over 20 million views so far. What made you decide to record the song and how do you feel about the appreciation it’s been getting from fans across boundaries?
I started doing regional numbers (because) I felt that Pakistani culture was largely misrepresented globally. We have a beautiful culture; it’s diverse, but at the same time cohesive also.
So I felt that people from different provinces - like Baloch people, or sometimes Pashtuns, are misunderstood, the sort of perception that they have and the kind of people that they are. It’s the same with Sindhis and Punjabis. So I decided to sing in their language and project their culture through whatever humble means I could - my songs. I started with a Baloch song, and that got such huge appreciation; it was a song with a 12-year-old girl, Urooj Fatima. Then I did a Sindhi song. These are folk tunes, and people said 'you have to do one in Pashto', so I did Larsha Pekhawar.
I’m going to continue this series, and I plan to sing in different languages of the world - I’ve sung a song in Chinese - that was the most difficult language to sing in!
How do you feel about uniting people through music?
If you look at history, do you think there is anything above and beyond music that really unites people? I don’t think so. Music is that one force where if a song or a piece or a symphony is playing, everybody is tuned into that same frequency with each other.
That binds and brings people together in a way that no other force can.
We also loved your recent song Pehli Si Muhabbat from the soundtrack of the television drama of the same name. It has got a lot of love from fans - do you feel the soundtrack lends a special element to the show?
They tell me it does - the producers and the director say that the soundtrack has really helped people connect with the emotion and the ethos of the series.
For this song in particular, the brief was that it had to be used in different situations, whether it was a sad situation or a happy one. So then I tried to render it in a way that it has happiness, sadness, longing and closeness. All those emotions in that one song - that’s what I tried to do with it.
You’ve connected with your fans mainly through your music but at the same time it’s as an actor that a lot of people from all over the world kind of relate to you. So what can we expect from you in this regard in the future?
If cinemas hadn’t shut down there would have definitely been Teefa In Trouble 2 and more movies; the scripts were written but we couldn’t go on the floor because of Covid.
And then times change so rapidly that you look at a script which is a year and a half old and you look at what’s happening today and you say no, let’s scrap it and let’s start over.
Because things are changing so fast. But now that things are getting better in terms of cinemas opening up, (there will be) more movies, more acting jobs but music is something that will keep on happening.
Would we ever see you on an OTT platform because a lot of major actors are going into that?
Your wish is my command! If the fans want me to - why not? Because OTT platforms are a big thing now. There are certain things in the pipeline.
We also saw a clip of you performing Larsha Pekhawar live at a cricket stadium in Pakistan. You also recently hosted and performed at the Hum Style Awards. What’s it like getting back to live performances after the pandemic?
I thrive and feel live when I’m on stage. I’m a performer - that’s what I do! During Covid when we couldn’t perform in the open, that was a difficult time, but one gets to learn a lot.
The stage is my thing; I love to be on stage, and I especially wanted to go and perform at the Rawalpindi Stadium after the New Zealand team left. Just to show that, here I am among thousands of people, performing, and I am absolutely safe.
We would love for cricket to come back to Pakistan. It has gone through a lot. It deserves the glory, the recognition, the support of the international community. In my own way I keep contributing to my country’s image and its prosperity.
What can fans expect from your visit to Expo 2020 Dubai today?
This is the first time I am visiting and am particularly excited because of the kind of Expo that is happening in Dubai. I wasn’t surprised when I was told that it is going to be amazing. For my children, it’s like a big artistic experience. It’s about creativity, bringing people together, the vibe, the positivity, everything that the idea of Expo is.
And also, the Pakistan Pavilion was designed by my teacher in the National College of Arts, Rashid Rana. He’s very excited about what he has done and I am very excited to see it (in person) because when I saw how it sort of changes colour and everything, I felt very proud as a Pakistani and not just his student.
What is your message for Khaleej Times readers?
To all my fans - you guys are the best, you guys rock. All my love to you forever.
Ali on his social media popularity:
I just try to be honest. You should just say and do positive things. There is already so much fear and stress in the world and (there are) unwanted emotions… our job is to give people relief and give them happiness. If we also start giving them stress, there would be no joy.
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