The story of Atif Aslam is an inspiring one. Atif was middle-class boy who came out of nowhere, blew onto the scene with one song (‘Aadat’) credited to a band called Jal which no one had really heard of and miraculously never looked back.
As the ‘Aadat’ phenomenon grew (it was the era where Junoon was on the rocks and Noori and Strings were really the only ones making cutting edge music Atif parted ways with Jal. There was one consequence: his debut album was shrouded in controversy. There were beautiful songs…’Jalpari’, ‘Dil Haarey’ and ‘Aadat’ but we listened to these songs in wonder. And because of their popularity, the controversy grew.
Who wrote it, really? Jal’s debut consisted of exactly the same songs. The press, kept grilling the issue because it was interesting. The real truth lies with Atif Aslam and former band mate Gohar Mumtaz. But that was a long time ago. And since then, Atif has proved his credentials time and again as a star and a talent to be reckoned with.
And he did it on gut instinct alone. Atif ventured into India where doing songs for B-grade films didn’t bother him. It was his way of reaching out to another audience, one that could choose to not welcome him. But Atif was always confident. Whether it was Kalyug or Zeher, bad club mixes of Atif’s haunting tracks or Emraan Hashmi killing the visuals, Atif didn’t stop.
He went one step further with Doorie, his second album. The album was a super hit although it was painfully commercial stuff that sold on the shoulders of Atif’s unmistakable voice. It wasn’t coming from him, though. There was no ‘Kinara’ there. In an interview after the record, Atif had said, “It’s more difficult to do commercial music like Doorie because it is more challenging in a sense.” He was right. And at that point in his career Atif wanted to sell records.
He believed that getting a fan base would allow him to do what he really wanted to do later and he admitted that Doorie was music to sell and not necessarily good music. Indeed, in his pursuit of fame and fortune, Atif was as unabashed as the Indian superstar Shah Rukh Khan who was the first star to openly claim that he would dance at weddings for money. We may have criticized Atif for selling out, but we could never call him a liar. Even back then, his honesty was endearing.
Then came Meri Kahani on which Atif teamed up with the Overload guys Farhad Humayun, Mahmood Rehman and others. It didn’t have the magic of Jalpari. And Atif’s vocal experiments in the studio didn’t have the same effect. The record was, at least honest. And that was Atif returning to his roots. Under heavy firing for his weird sense of style (which has gotten better with time), unapologetic for his not-so-inspiring tunes in his early days, the star of Atif Aslam continued to rise.
As Atif Aslam joined the ranks of Coke Studio this year, the haze around him disappeared altogether. Atif for once gave in completely to the joy of making music for music’s sake. The musician in him danced and charmed, inspired and experimented with some of the finest musicians this country has produced and the rest is history.