His fashion choices are controversial, his out and out commercial attitude has the hoity toity getting their knickers in a twist and Atif Aslam couldn't care less. There is a tide in the affairs of men and Atif Aslam is all about riding the wave. He follows up his Bollywood smash hits with soulful appearances on Coke Studio, moves on from there to pack the O2, one of the hippest arenas in London, and at a time when the Aman Ki Asha between India and Pakistan is gaining momentum, he will be seen on television screens on both sides of the border and around the world leading the Pakistani team against Himesh Reshammiya's Indian team in the ultimate desi style battle of the pop idols, Sur Kshetra. After that, he will think about releasing his next album. Love him or loathe him, you cannot be immune to this pop icon of the 21st century who put the “roll” in rolling stone. Over to Atif about where he's been and where he's going…
Instep: Tell us about your collaboration with Qayaas. 'Charka Nolakha' has quickly become a favourite?
Atif Aslam: I believe in supporting and promoting the youngsters and upcoming artists and if I feel I can help them in anyway which benefits them and their music, I would never say no. So when Sarmad approached me to collaborate with Qayaas, I decided to give it a try as I found the band really passionate and enthusiastic about their music. We initially wanted to do a rendition of 'Sun charkhe di mithi mithi kook' so we worked on the song and shared our version of the song with Rohail Hyatt who suggested to perform 'Charkha Nolakha' by Ustaad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sahib instead as he felt it was much better suited to what we had in mind in terms of our music collaboration for Coke Studio. So we decided to re-work 'Charkha Nolakha' and fused it with sufi, folk and progressive rock elements which you all saw and heard in the first episode. Like Bilal Khan, Umair (Jaswal) has done well for his first time in Coke Studio.
Instep: What can you tell us about your new song on Coke Studio, 'Rabba Sacheya'?
Atif Aslam: 'Rabba Sacheya' is a question-answer session between your inner self and your thoughts about the purpose of mankind's existence. Also I wanted to introduce the beautiful poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Khawaja Ghulam Farid to this generation. There is nothing better in this world other than having an association with Kaa'ba, Qibla, Masjid Mimbar and Mushaf Tay Quran. In other words, bringing my fans and myself back to reality of the existence of Allah.
Instep: Can you tell us about the outfits you're wearing during Coke Studio recordings. The turban and frock coat had everyone talking…
Atif Aslam: Well, the first one was designed by my brother Shahbaz Aslam but I always wanted a turban with that so I had to tie it myself before the shoot and it took me 30 minutes to wrap that piece. For the second episode, the churidar was made by Shahbaz again and then I added the jacket and traditional khussa with it. For the rest of the episodes, wait and see…
Instep: How was it working with Rohail Hyatt?
Atif Aslam: The best thing about Coke Studio is Rohail Hyatt! He is open to all the ideas we share with him - even on the actual recording days. He has done so much for the country and a lot of credit goes to him for bringing in some really good talent and rediscovering the old gems in our country.
Instep: Your appearance on the second season of Coke Studio reinvented you as a musician. Tell us what to expect from your appearance on the fifth season?
Atif Aslam: I wanted to show a different side of me, which is a complete reflection of my music as can be seen in my performance, both in Coke Studio Season Two and Season Five, as that is the kind of music I've always wanted to do ever since I started my career. I feel this time it was much smoother - perhaps the video could have been different, I liked the audio mix this year.
O2 Arena performance
Instep: You recently performed at the O2 Arena in London. How was the experience?
Atif Aslam: Alhamdulillah, it was amazing. I was surfing the high wave of love and energy of the crowd from the start to the end of the concert. I loved every bit of it. It was one of my most memorable concerts.
Instep: How did the performance go?
Atif Aslam: I was enjoying the acoustics of the arena a lot and the crowd responded brilliantly, which gave me more passion to perform for them in a unique way, dedicated to the O2 Arena and its audience.
Instep: How did the chance to perform at the O2 come up?
Atif Aslam: Flex Effects always choose nice venues. Last time they arranged my concert at the Royal Albert Hall on the 14th of April 2007, and I was glad to perform there as the first Pakistani after Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sahib. This time they planned to go even bigger and booked the O2, which is the highest rated, famous, and finest venue in the world to perform at. It's like a dream of every international artist to perform there. I am glad I am, Alhamdulillah, the first Pakistani, or you can even say the first South Asian singer to perform there. It was covered hugely by the Asian and British media in the UK. I am really happy Allah gave me this opportunity to present a positive image of Pakistan to the world.
Instep: Was Sonu Nigam set to headline the event? Why did he pull out? And how did that impact your performance/setlist?
Atif Aslam: I don't know the reasons and it didn't affect our set list. We performed all our songs that we planned, and seeing the unstoppable energy in the crowd, a few experiments and improvisations were done too, which they loved on the spot.
Instep: Which other artists and performers were part of the event?
Atif Aslam: There was a 10 minutes dance performance by the dance group Bolly Flex. Alhamdulillah, the huge success of O2 was shown by the houseful audiences at the Manchester and Glasgow concerts. Loved the tour.
'Juro Gey to Jano Gey'
Instep: Please tell us about your new song, 'Juro Gey to Jano Gey'.
Atif Aslam: It's a commercial advertisement song shot for a cellular company. The song has the right energy of a rock number and the cellular company wanted to connect their brand with the youth of the country, inspiring them with my career's hurdles and success which Allah has bestowed upon me. The advertisement was shot in Bangkok.
Instep: Why did you choose to work with Mobilink/Jazz Jazba?
Atif Aslam: I chose the project as it is related to young people who need to redirect their misguided passions in a right and fruitful direction, and I'll be glad I can be an inspiration to someone.
Instep: How is Sur Kshetra coming along?
Atif Aslam: Most of the episodes are recorded already, and it'll be on air soon, Insha'Allah. It was a great experience, a test of physical stamina - 18 hours a day, 4 days a week, back to back shooting - and a lot of learning from the senior judges, Abida Parveen, Asha Bhosle, and Runa Laila on the show. I am satisfied that I tried my best to support my team.
Instep: How promising is Team Pakistan? And what can you tell us about the team?
Atif Aslam: If the results are decided on talent merit, then I am pretty sure the Pakistan team will win.
Instep: How soon is the show set to air?
Atif Aslam: In about a month's time.
Instep: You recently made an appearance in a video for the Bollywood film Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya. Why did you choose to be a part of this project? And are you satisfied with the choice and how it turned out?
Atif Aslam: It was just a promotional video which was done to advertise the film's music. I was not very satisfied with my get up in that video, as the whole video was done on an ultra short notice. But my song is being liked by a lot of people, and has about 3 million views on YouTube already, so I am happy.
Instep: Do you have any other Bollywood films/ performances in the pipeline?
Atif Aslam: Yeah, some new songs will be coming, Insha'Allah.
Instep: You have been working on a project of collaborations with international musicians. How is that coming along?
Atif Aslam: The album is being prepared, and it will be released in due course of time, Insha'Allah.
Instep: What other projects are you working on right now? What can we expect from you in the coming weeks?
And is there a new album on the horizon?
Atif Aslam: There's Coke Studio, Sur Kshetra will be on air soon. My album is already complete, so let people enjoy Coke Studio and Sur Kshetra first, and then I will think of releasing the album.
Atif's collaboration with Qayaas on 'Charkha Nolakha' became the first smash hit from the new season of Coke Studio. It wasn't just the song that had people talking. While some loved Atif's Balochi warrior-like outfit, others didn't find it inspiring. On his part, Atif is promising more interesting looks as the season progresses...
Rocking the arena in London: Atif was billed to share the concert with Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam at London’s famous O2 Arena. Once Sonu pulled out, it was left to Atif, who performed for nearly four hours and had the audience captivated. At the 02 Arena show, Atif showed up in an outlandish headgear but fans lapped it up.