Tell us in detail about how you ventured into music? How did it all begin for you? I started showing interest in music when I was four years old. At six, I was sent to Sadiq Public School, Bahawalpur’s boarding school. The School had a Scottish teacher who played the piano and guitar. He noticed my keenness towards music and taught me how to play both instruments. Then at around eight years old, I inherited a massive record collection of Western/MoTown music from my aunt who lived in Switzerland. This record collection exponentially enhanced my musical awareness and I realised that I really liked the feel of the songs that were written by singers who were writers, so my interest in singer-songwriters grew and that is what I wanted to become. I also noticed that a lot of these songs were recorded in Hollywood. So very early on I had decided that one day I will go to America and learn how to produce music and that is exactly what I did. After clearing my Intermediate from Government College Lahore I travelled to the USA and landed in Los Angeles and luckily found a job working as a second engineer at a Black Music Production House. It is where I stayed for 14 years developing myself as a writer, producer, and learning about the music industry. Tell us about the time when your song “Like The River” was recorded live at the prestigious Sydney Opera House. Did you expect it would go #1 on the pop charts so soon? No, I had no clue it would go number 1. But I did work very hard to make it sound good. It took me two years to develop an all Australian band. I wrote new songs from scratch and developed my writing and singing skills. While researching Sydney Opera House’s history I noticed that no Asian Artist had ever recorded a Live album there, so I decided to make a push for it. The Opera House management was very supportive helping me achieve this unique milestone in my career. After the album was recorded and mixed I brought it to Australia’s MGM distribution for a release. We also worked really hard in promoting the album and got heaps of help from community radio and Television. Then one day it happened and the song was number one for three weeks. Your first album featured the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and sold over six million copies. How was your experience working with NFAK? There was a stage in my Artistic growth when I was obsessed with developing my voice. I had gotten training from many well-known voice coaches mainly Seth Riggz who was the voice coach for many big artists such as Michael Jackson. During this time, I stumbled upon the works of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and was inspired by his vocal strength and abilities. So I sent him my recording in hopes of getting his attention. I was tipped off that he was coming to Los Angeles for a performance and I went to receive him at the airport and for the next six months I lived with him in a beautiful penthouse in Santa Monica, California. I quickly put together a music studio in the home and started recording songs with him. We had planned to do many songs but his health was a barrier and sadly he left us too soon. After his passing, I was able to release the album in the USA and then it got pirated into Bollywood’s film Kartoos selling heaps of records. I always cherish the time I spent with Nusrat. He was into exploring new sounds and enjoyed working with me. I used to listen to him doing his ‘riyaaz’ in the wee hours of the morning. He loved his music and was a great human being surrounded by some very bad people who just used him for his money and fame. I still think if his circle was full of good people maybe he would still be alive today. Which song from that super-hit album remains your favourite and most special and why? All the songs in that album are extremely special. They all have interesting stories and experiences attached to them. Some of the songs were recorded at Morteza Barjesteh’s studio in Los Angeles. Morteza is a famous Artist from Iran, when he found out I was living and working with Nusrat he offered his studio for free which was very generous of him. He also loved Nusrat’s work tremendously. You are the first-ever Pakistani born artist to crack US world music radio stations. For those who don’t know what that means, please explain what a big deal that is. Well, the music industry is a tough nut to crack in any country but it is the hardest in the USA where artists are a dime a dozen and a lot of them are very good at what they do. The bar is set so high that it gets intimidating. You really have to believe in yourself and work at it constantly. I remember one time meeting the Indian music director Naushad and I asked him how many hours should I spend developing my musical works and he replied, ‘If you are doing it 24/7 you are not doing it enough’. To be successful you have to find your own unique sound which takes years of consistent work. Very few artists make it to the radio there so this is why when I broke into US radio it was a big deal and still is. My new single is running on US college radio stations currently and it feels incredible to know that you are being endorsed in this way. Why did you want to transition to film studies when you went to Australia to study at a film school? So in 2006, when YouTube started to spread I knew that one day I would need to create my own music videos and since I am not formally trained in music I decided to learn film making. I wrote to many film schools around the world expressing my desire to enrol. Few replied but the letter I got from Sydney Film School was exceptional and I was very impressed at how they had researched my career and offered a tailor-made programme for me. ‘All the songs in that album are extremely special. They all have interesting stories and experiences attached to them. Some of the songs were recorded at Morteza Barjesteh’s studio in Los Angeles’ What genre of music do you feel the most comfortable making and why? I grew up listening to American Motown/Black music. I was also into Country and Pop. Artists like Paul Anka, Carpenters, Crosby Stills and Nash, Kenny Rogers, and later The Bee Gees were a huge influence. I then worked at Black music production for over a decade where I produced and engineered hundreds of rap/hip hop records working with pioneers like Dr Dre, David Jones, Leon Sylvers and Wah Wah Watson. I also worked at Kenney Rogers’ recording studio in Beverly Hills and experienced a lot of Bluegrass, Gypsy and Nashville influenced recordings. I also produced a Brazilian band and got exposed to the sounds of Latin America especially the Mariachi. I hope to record a Mariachi influenced album one day. So I take all these influences and try to create my own unique sound which comes naturally and it is what I enjoy most creating. I consider myself truly blessed. Growing up, which artist did you admire the most and who was your biggest inspiration? The BeeGees hands down. I loved and still do their harmonies and vocals especially Robin and Barry’s voices. I also admire the producers who work behind the scenes in creating these iconic recordings- names like Arif Mardin, Albhy Galuten, Mutt Lange just to name a few. Is it challenging for a Pakistani to make his/her mark abroad? Sadly, Pakistan never really took off as a musical haven for artists. All Pakistani artists want to make it in India and I did the same but I was very quick to realize that India has nothing to offer to a ‘thinking’ artist. India has no room for a spiritually oriented singer-songwriter who wants to fly solo Especially if he is from Pakistan. To make it big you must adhere to the ways of the industry which are corrupt and mindless. In Pakistan, things are so bad that soft drink companies have become the main producers of music. Of course, their main interest would be to sell their products and it would be in their best interest not to help develop a proper recording industry that is based on growth. So when a Pakistani artist wants to make in the West he has to start from the basics and it would take years and years to make a dent if ever. What were some of the initial challenges that u faced in trying to create a mark in the industry abroad? Well, you have to know about many things and then you have to consciously develop the skills. You have to be a master of all. The artists who do well here are also great businessmen. They are very humble and very hard working. It is understood that one will take years to develop. They also understand the value of teamwork and then you need financing because media is very expensive here. You have to know how to promote and market yourself cleverly and learn how to make lasting relationships. And most of all you must sound good- you must have good songs with great arrangements. It is hard to capture all these skills but can be done. Are you content with how the journey of your life has turned out to be or do u have any regrets? I never think of regrets. There is only one way for me and it is forward. I also have learned that if you keep moving, keep developing all your losses turn into your wins. This effect is experienced if you hang in there and believe in yourself. I only wanted to always be able to write and create songs and I am so lucky to still be doing it which brings me tremendous amounts of content. Of course, there are challenging days and my sacrifices have come in many shapes and sizes but as long as I get to make music I am happy. Then once the music starts to touch other people and inspire them it all becomes extremely rewarding. What is it that you really want from life? Becoming a better human being every passing day has always been a high priority. The solace of realizing who you are and how to get better, become more emphatic, more aware, and to be able to carve a better life for myself and others around me is what I have always wanted and have worked towards throughout my life. Name five artists that you wish to collaborate with. Believe it or not, in my case there is only one artist I always wanted to work with and that is Barry Gibb. He knows this. Every day just like a child I wait to get his call. I think it will happen one day and if it doesn’t it is still ok because one can’t change destiny. It is fascinating that I still think of working with him with such naive romance. ‘Dreams do come true’, I have heard Barry say this to me. It is a love affair of a higher kind. How receptive is a foreign audience towards Pakistani singers? Not receptive at all. They get bombarded by their own artists so much and a lot of these artists are really good and they sound incredible so they don’t have the need to look at Pakistan to give them songs. They are very comfortable in their own groove. To get them out of their groove you must present them a ‘Familiar change’. Of course, there is a set formula I’m just talking about the ways I used to crack this Industry. What are you currently working on? These days I am busy recording a new album with Producer Doug Emery who is Barry Gibb’s musical director and is credited for working with Madonna and Barbra Streisand. I am also recording with my longtime producer friend David Jones whom I have known for over 30 years. David has worked with some amazing names including Paul McCartney, Elton John, Janet Jackson, and Bon Jovi. I have also improved in writing and singing and looking forward to the sound of the finished album. You are the only Pakistani artist to record original songs with a Symphony Orchestra. This album is currently #1 in seven countries around the world and #7 on Billboard magazine charts. How did you pull that off? It was a dream of mine to record with a Symphony Orchestra. The larger than life sound it creates fascinates me. So I decided to make it happen. I wrote the songs and then got them arranged, hired a conductor, and then presented the songs to Symphonies around the world and got the best response from Willoughby Symphony Orchestra. We recorded the album last year and it took me 10 months to finish it. During the production of the album, I was lucky to team up with some amazing promoters and marketers and they really are the main reasons behind the commercial success of the album. Your song ‘Ginoo’ became the first Urdu song to crack the US Billboard charts and album ‘Tere Baghair’ became the first foreign language music album to go to number one in Australia and USA. Tell us about that. Ginoo is a very special song. The lyrics talk about being content in life. Thanking the creator for whatever u got – Sacrificing but not compromising. Not letting go of your values and always believing in yourself and waiting patiently for better days to appear. The song is produced by the great trumpet player and producer/engineer Gary Grant whom I met in Los Angeles back in 1991. We have been friends since and often talked about collaborating on a song. Gary loved Ginoo’s vocals and phrasing and worked really hard and smart to make it into a beautiful sounding record that it is. It’s chart success proves its worth. As for the album Tere Baghair going number 1, it feels like a dream, very surreal that I am blessed with all this success. To be known the world over for your work is truly humbling and the feeling of it cannot be expressed in words. I just know that all of this will make me a better human being.