The Friday Times: Your relatives include the Sufi kalam singer Inayat Hussain Bhatti and Ali Azmat of Junoon. Tell us about your exposure to music as a child: what kind of music did you grow up listening to, singing, playing?
Mustafa Zahid: I think I started listening music when I was 10 years old. My father got me a CD of Ace of Base and that’s how I was introduced to music. Then, during a family wedding, I found Ali Azmat singing and discovered Junoon. I went to the market, bought all of their stuff and kept listening to it. It was inspirational and there was always a sense of pride knowing that he was from my family. I was more of a listener while growing up. The first time I sang a song was in 2004, during a college function. I went on to form a band a few months later.
TFT: How did you come to take up music professionally? Was your family supportive of your decision?
MZ: My dad always said I should finish my degree and I would be good to go and do what I wanted. I think that was the biggest support from my family. Initially, when I got myself a guitar, I had problems getting it to my room while my parents would be sitting in the lounge, but like I said they were comfortable with me later doing anything as long as my studies weren’t affected.
Music was always a hobby until it hired me itself! I was doing it for the sake of it, and was thinking of becoming a pilot in the air force, or going into hotel management from Switzerland. I had it all lined up until I composed my first song ever ‘Toh Phir Aao’.
[quote]”Pakistani music has more soul”[/quote]
TFT: You have done some popular songs for recent Bollywood films. How would you compare the music scene in India with the music scene in Pakistan? Who’s more advanced? Who’s got more rawness, more talent?
MZ: I don’t believe in different music scenes in different parts of the world. Having said that, Bollywood is fun, it’s a lot of hard work plus a lot of competition. I am going into a market full of top-notch playback singers and competing with them. I enjoy doing that because it gives me a reason to work hard every day. Pakistani music on the other hand has more soul, more rawness to it, because back here in Pakistan we don’t make music for a director or producer. We make songs out of moments, what pleases our souls.
TFT: There was a rise in concerts and arts-related events in the early 2000s that seems to have died down after the terrorist attacks on Pakistan’s major cities. How do you, as a performer, sustain yourself in this time? Do you still do gigs?
MZ: We do five to six gigs in a month, which I agree is less than what we used to do earlier. But luckily, having international exposure through Bollywood, we tend to travel abroad a lot.
TFT: Playback singing can demand a lot of technical proficiency, and with singers like Arijit Singh and Shreya Ghoshal leading the charts in India, it seems classically trained voices are on the rise. Are you at all attracted to Eastern classical music? What do you think aspiring young singers in India and Pakistan should do to improve their voices?
MZ: I am attracted to anything that sounds good to my ears. From rock to classical, whatever can put my mind to ease attracts me. Although I think more then eastern classical, it’s raw pop music that dominates the music in Bollywood films. That’s one of the reasons we have done some 10 songs just in a couple of years for Bollywood.
I meet young boys every day who tell me they want to sing for films and I tell them that’s the wrong approach. Sing for yourself, compose for yourself and then on the basis of your identity, producers and directors will cast you for playback. How many reality-show singers have you seen making it big or doing playback once their show goes off the air? Hardly any, because they end up singing someone else’s song and that’s zero creativity for me.
TFT: Who are your favorite musicians, Mustafa?
MZ: There’s a long list full of singers, guitartists, DJs and much more but in short I would say Vishal-Shekhar from India, Ali Azmat and Soch from Pakistan, Bon Jovi and Maroon 5 internationally.
TFT: What are you recording next?
MZ: I am in the studio these days with ROXEN for our long-due second album. Besides that I have just dubbed for Salman Khan’s production Dr Cabbie and Vishal Mahadkar’s 3AM.