The much-anticipated collaboration between veteran singer Atif Aslam and rising sensation Shae Gill titled ‘Manzil’ — themed around the fight against Covid, premiered on May 14th. Produced in collaboration with the US Embassy, the song is an ode to the collective hardships suffered during the pandemic, and a call to continue getting vaccinated and boosted against the virus.
The song features a stellar cast and crew of characters on all levels, from the singers, to the directors and actors, down to the producers of the song. The lyrics have been penned by Pakistani author Mohammad Hanif, who is known for books such as ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’ and ‘Our Lady of Alice Bhatti’.
The video, produced by Cannes-nominated director and producer, Sarmad Khoosat, stars veteran actor Sarwat Gillani.
Shamsher Rana, one of the producers on the song, told The Friday Times that while working on Khoosat’s film Zindagi Tamasha, he learnt that the director doesn’t let anyone or anything get in the way of the artists’ creative process.
“The complete creative freedom we had to do our job was a breath of fresh air, especially given the scale of this project,” he said, adding, “We didn’t have to pander to any template for the track or conform our creativity in any way.”
He talked about how Khoosat’s trust in them led to a truly unique project, saying that the reason him and his co-producer, Varqa Faraid, chose Atif and Shae to perform the song was because the contrast between the two would lend it self well to the dynamic arrangement the two were envisioning.
Rana was very proud of the end product he achieved with Faraid. “The track has over 400 live and synthesised sounds blended together to create weird multi-timbral instruments,” he said.
“All the way from a live Santur to a 5 rupee coin, there are some sounds in there that a listener probably can’t accurately identify even though the finished product will feel weirdly familiar to them,” Shamsher said, explaining the melodic layering of the song.
Varqa Faraid, the co-producer of the song, who runs a production studio in Islamabad, was also really pleased about the addition of the Santur. “The Santur is a hammered dulcimer of Iranian or Mesopotamian origins,” he explained, adding that it was really exciting to be able to introduce a Persian instrument in this song.
He explained that the song felt very different from other projects he has undertaken, explaining “It was a collaboration of artists ranging from the singers to producers to musicians, the lyricist and the director.”
Faraid said the beautiful vocal melody of the song was composed by Nimra Gillani and Ali Hamdani, who have also been credited on the song.
Speaking to TFT, Nimra Gillani said it was very exciting to make a song for the biggest name in the music industry at the moment and the most refreshing new name on the block.
“I came up with this composition, keeping in mind Atif’s long and strong notes and Shae’s quirky delivery,” she said, adding that she hopes the audience is able to connect to the song.
“The destination awaits. The path summons. Listen to the call // Even if we falter, we will rise, holding hands.” croon Atif and Shae, as the music video depicts Sarwat Gillani directing a children’s play about the production of the vaccines.
Shamsher said that he knew they had to tell this story in a colorful and dynamic way. “Even though the objective and purpose of the project was rather defined, we tossed all our preconceived notions of what a track with this message ‘should’ sound like out the window,” he said.
“The track was reinvented multiple times till it got to a point where it felt like it was bigger than all of us.”
Khadija Muzaffar is the culture editor at The Friday Times. Previously a Fulbright scholar at NYU, she enjoys writing about society, culture, music and food. She tweets at @khadijamuzaffar, but is far more interesting on Instagram.