Growing up in the nineties, there were very few role models in the Pakistani media that one being a female one could look up to. More so, there were even fewer that one could relate to. But Hadiqa Kiyani changed all of that. She is perhaps the only female vocalist who has managed to stand on her own and establish her own identity and sound in what continues to be a largely male-dominated industry. And she has remained strong for years to come. This is further proven by the fact that the Herald’s 2005 annual issue has a foldout in which all of the top pop industry’s music makers are posing on a four-page spread. Hadiqa is the only woman in it.
Since the re-boom of the entertainment industry, we’ve seen a host of aspiring female vocalists try and take her place. But none of them have so far managed to come close or show signs of even having the potential of reigning for as long as Hadiqa has. Following a career and a personal life that has had its own share of ups and downs, Hadiqa is more than just a signer/composer: she represents Pakistan on state-related foreign trips and was recently awarded the coveted Tamgha-i-Imtiaz. Once banned for not wearing a duppatta, although still dressed modestly, and for saying ‘I love you all’ to her audience, Hadiqa has managed to survive the best and the worst that working in the music industry has to offer. Now, she is back with a much-awaited album by a musician who, for most part of his tenure, as been regarded as a maestro in his own right but has chosen to remain shrouded in mystery.
At first glance Hadiqa appears almost fragile. It is difficult to imagine a nightingale voice such as hers coming out of such a thin, petite frame. But as the interview (‘conversation’ as she called it) progressed, she not only appeared friendly and somewhat talkative, she also sang excerpts of foreign language songs here and there. Although sounding perfectly alright, she apologised for still having a ‘morning voice’.
“I always love to sing in different languages. Ever since I was a child, I was a member of the National Council of Arts and used to go to different places where children festivals were held such as Bulgaria, Turkey and Jordan,” she says about adapting to singing in different languages. “I recently got the chance to go to Malaysia and sing in Malay. I’ve also sung in Chinese on my visit to China, in Turkish (Turkey) and in Arabic on my visit to Jordan.”
So does she know these languages or does Hadiqa learn them at the spur of the moment? “You have to pick up the right accent. And you have to listen to it over and over again and you hear it and then you grow with it. And I’ll hear the song maybe, a thousand times, over my iPod with my headphones on,” she replied, “listen to it a countless number of times, till I’m totally ready to perform it.”
Her collaboration with Aamir Zaki on their much-anticipated, full-length English album, aptly titled Rough Cut, is finally set for a release. What does she have to say about it? “It was a great honour for me to work with such an artiste as Aamir Zaki. Because people know him as a good musician and as a good guitarist, I think he’s a good lyricist as well. He understands what you really want to say,” she says enthusiastically. “Fifty per cent of the songs in the album are his and 50pc are mine. The concept of the song you’re hearing nowadays on television, Living This Lie, was mine. I wanted to talk about showbiz, I wanted to talk about the spotlight and the fake smiles that we give sometimes.” Elaborating on the song further, Hadiqa said, “We go on stage and we’re feeling low and all that but we still have to perform. Sometimes there is a lot of pretension that is going on. I try not to pretend which is why I avoid interviews and the like.”
The buzz surrounding Rough Cut began a couple of years ago. The recording, mixing and mastering had been done and it was set for a release several times in the past but was never launched. “It wasn’t years ago but it was a long process. Once you start working on something, it doesn’t take that long. But the whole process of putting things together, giving your input, etc, takes a long time. In my and Aamir Zaki’s case, the major factor was availability because he is mostly in Canada and I, here. The fact that we weren’t working as a band but as individuals working in our own environments, so putting things together took longer than usual.”
Hadiqa and Aamir have been acquainted with each other for quite a few years now and it was about time a collaboration such as Rough Cut came out. How did they finally end up working together? “I’d asked him to write an Urdu song for me, Iss Baar Milo, which formed the basis for everything. He writes in English mostly and he feels comfortable in that. So he said to me … no, asked me very casually that ‘what if we do an English project together?’ I said why not. Music is music, and for me it doesn’t have any linguistic boundaries.”
With the video of the hauntingly brilliant Is Baar Milo (directed by Jami) already having scored a hit with both the critics and the masses alike, and with Living This Lie (directed by Sohail Javed), what more can we expect next from the album Rough Cut? “A video for the song, All The Same, directed by Kookie (Hamza Ali Butt).” According to Hadiqa, the video has a very youthful element to it and “to me All The Same means that it’s really all the same and that there’s nothing new in life. It doesn’t really matter what happens, it’s all the same,” she says on a pessimistic note.
Talking about the musical aspect of the album, she says, “It’s a new genre and Aamir has defined it in a way that it’s ‘eastern alternative rock’. It has him on a six-string bass and guitars, flute by Ustad Baakir Abbas and tabla played by Arshad Ali.” One can’t help but wonder whether Zaki has also played his latest favourite, the fretless bass guitar on it as well? “Yes, he has.”
At this point, I can’t help but beg to differ. The music on Rough Cut isn’t out-of-the-ordinary and no, Aamir Zaki has not defined ‘eastern alternative rock’. If anything, that credit should go to Faraz Anwar’s collaboration with Yasir on Kalavati, with Yasir on the sitar and Faraz on the lead guitar. Having already heard it, the music on Rough Cut is anything but out-of-the-ordinary.
Perhaps the only song in which Aamir Zaki lends his vocals is City of Fallen Angels. It sees Hadiqa crooning to a certain Mr Caretaker with Aamir replying in the midst of fast-moving guitar riffs and music. “He wrote it about Karachi and the chaos that goes on in it. It’s a very good song,” says Hadiqa. She added that the video of City of Fallen Angels would be directed by Sohail Javed and contain footage of Karachi in chaos without including any performance-based clips in it.
When two of the best artistes in the industry come together to work on a project, you cannot help but build expectations about what that collaboration will result in. Hadiqa has proved that she can make it in a man’s world, while Aamir continues to remain a silent legend despite being a well-known recluse and shying away from the media. At this point, one feels the need to point out that had Rough Cut been released around the same time the buzz surrounding it had begun to build up, it might have had a chance at scoring a massive hit. At this point, with all the delays the album has suffered, it sounds slightly dated and lacks the expected impact.
With Hadiqa working on her next solo album that, according to her, would be a tribute to all the ‘world legends’, i.e. includes her covers of all of the foreign language songs she’s performed abroad and with a collaboration with Ali Zafar on an English track in the UK in the pipeline, we might not have seen (or heard) the last of her yet. Having listened to her vocal versatility when it comes to switching languages, one can safely say that might just be a good thing.
– Photography by Hadi Habib