T he Friday Times: You come from a musical family. Your grandfather, the late Hayat Ahmed Khan, was a founder of the All Pakistan Music Conference. What effect do you think that had on your understanding of music?
As a child I used to sit at the annual festival of APMC the whole night listening to classical music
Haider Rahman:My grandfather was one of the most important patrons of eastern classical music in Pakistan and the founder of APMC, but as such there has never been a performing artist in my family. It is because of him that I got exposed to eastern classical music and developed a taste for it. As a child I used to sit at the annual festival of APMC the whole night listening to classical music. He followed and monitored my progress very keenly and gave me opportunity to perform which really encouraged me to learn.
TFT: Why the flute?
Of all the countries I have performed in, the most appreciative audience was in Lebanon
HR: When I began to learn it was never with the intention of pursuing it professionally but the passion kept growing and overwhelmed me.
My sister started learning the flute and when I heard the haunting sound of the instrument I instantly wanted to learn. I was always deeply touched by the playing of Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia.
TFT: The stereotype has teenagers defying convention and doing the 'forbidden' thing. But in your teens you went for classical and folk music. How did your peers respond to this? Did you feel uncool at school?
HR: Well I have always had multiple interests. In my teens I was involved in all kinds of activities that teenagers pursue: at Aitchision I was involved in sports and other extra-curricular activities and actually I was really appreciated for being one of the only musicians among my peers. Also I would like to add that the flute has a universal appeal and is enjoyed by people from all walks of life.
TFT: Is it possible to be a full-time musician in Pakistan? Did you have to work on the side? How did your family respond to your decision to pursue a career in music?
HR: Generally it's extremely difficult to become a full time musician in Pakistan as the opportunities are limited and remuneration very low, especially for classical musicians, but if you're a successful pop star it can be financially very rewarding. For a person like myself it is very difficult to pursue music full time, at least at this stage. I am a full time banker but, as I said earlier, I am interested in exploring many avenues which I feel give different dimensions to one's life.
TFT: Tell us about your ustaads. Who are they and what have they taught you?
For a person like myself it is very difficult to pursue music full time
HR: My main teacher is and has been Ustad Akmal Qadri. I have been fortunate enough to realize one of my dreams by becoming a pupil of the great Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia. I twice went to Bombay to study under him and plan to go again. It was one of my best learning experiences. Muhammad Ahsan Papu has also been one of teachers. He really helped me to learn the technical aspects of the instrument.
TFT: You have performed all over the world. What was it like? Do foreign audiences understand and appreciate this music?
HR: I believe that music is a universal language and does not confine itself to any race or creed. I love playing for international audiences and they really appreciate my music. The flute is the oldest instrument in the world and is found in all cultures. In the subcontinent people associate the flute with the Punjabi folk hero Ranjha and the Hindu God Krishna. The Prophet David (Hazrat Dawood) is known to be a great flautist; Maulana Rumi, the great mystic of Konya, begins his masnavi with a mention of the flute. In western culture the children's story of the Pied Piper shows how popular and powerful this instrument is. I should say though that of all the countries I have performed in, the most appreciative audience was in Lebanon.
TFT: What is your riaz regimen?
Laal - Shahram Azhar, Haider Rehman, Mahvash Waqar and Taimur Rahman
Jazz is very similar to eastern classical as in both forms there is a lot of room for improvisation
HR: I am juggling two professions, so I don't have a set riaz regimen. On average I practice 2 hours a day, and more or less depending on the work load. I give preference to the most basic breathing practices as that is foundational requirement to play the flute. I spend time playing different raags with tabla or other instruments. Usually I practice and learn one raag for 1- 2 months, and during this time I try to practice different paltas or patterns of that raag.
TFT: You play Hindustani classical as well as contemporary free-style music. What are the liberties and constraints, the joys and sorrows, of these two types of music? Or do you feel they are the same?
HR: Different cultures have developed different styles to express themselves through music. Even within Pakistan if one travels from north to south one can feel slight changes in the musical sensibility, as it reflects the lifestyle of that particular region.
Eastern Classical music is one of the most ancient modes of music. It has developed over centuries and thus in certain ways is very advanced. Eastern music is more linear, whereas Western music is harmonically very advanced. Eastern classical goes deeply into scales and rhythm. The use of quarter-tones also makes eastern classical very sophisticated. Each genre has its own intricacies and is beautiful in its own way. Jazz is one form of western music which I find very similar to eastern classical as in both forms there is a lot of room for improvisation.
TFT: You play for the band Laal. Do you think music has a role to play in politicizing the youth of Pakistan? What was it like playing at the lawyers' Long March?
HR: Music has a very significant role in any movement. It very easily touches the hearts and minds of young people and can raise awareness without sermonizing. The Sufis used music to propagate their ideas. It was exhilarating to play for the lawyers' Long March: it created a great bond among the participants.
TFT: Please recommend five pieces of great music.
HR: I would recommend Zakir Hussain's music and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali's thumri 'Aye na balam'. But really there is too much great music out there for anyone to narrow it down to a list.