Changing lanes: Atif Aslam
Atif Aslam is back in the spotlight with Meri Kahani - the album in which he not only sings but also dons the role of songwriter and lyricist. Instep takes a look
By Maheen Sabeeh
The upside and downside
A lot can be said about a musician who has managed to bowl out everyone and is still standing strong at the crease. The magician bowler in this case is Atif Aslam, who has managed to make himself the biggest artist of our times. And now he's back, with a new album, Meri Kahani, that he himself has claimed, is the real deal.
This album has come after Atif has made it in India, sung for Bollywood which led him to pick up his first-ever Filmfare nomination. In the last three years, Atif managed to team up with Indian composers and released Doorie, which made him an even bigger icon and made his mark in and across the border, which is as successful as it gets.
One example is the fact that he has sung on the upcoming Bollywood film Race, which features some of Indian cinema's biggest actors such as Anil Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan, Akshaye Khanna as well as babes Katrina Kaif, Bipasha Basu and Sameera Reddy.
Amidst all this success there has also been criticism, for selling himself short to Bollywood, going totally over-the-top filmi with Doorie and not making an effort with his image as far as videos go.
But all that is perhaps in the past. To his word, Atif has indeed changed gears and has made a visible effort in surprising listeners, vis-ΰ-vis the music, lyrics and vocals.
In Meri Kahani he has teamed up with some of most exciting musicians of our times such as Farhad Humayoun, Sheraz Siddiqui, Mahmood Rehman of Overload as well as guitarist and producer Sarmad Ghafoor and has attempted an album that is definitely different than his previous works. It is a milestone compared to Doorie.
But does it surpass the magic of Jalpari is the big question...
Inside the story
Meri Kahani is an album that sees Atif Aslam in a composition mode. He has composed most of the songs himself while some he has co-written with his brother and manager Shahbaz Aslam. The bulk of lyrics have also been penned by Atif along with Shahbaz, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sarmad Ghafoor and Shah Hussain.
The debut single off the album, 'Meri Kahani' may not be the album's shining moment but it is a start as one unravels the sound behind the album. That said, this particular tune and its video is not too impressive. Even though it is sharp in terms of sound, it sees Atif downplay his vocals. Atif has vocals that shine out. One could identify that voice anywhere. But not on the tune that is 'Meri Kahani'. The full throttle of Atif Aslam's voice does not ever come through on this tune. And that remains the biggest disappointment. You have to listen very hard to decipher the words and while that mystery element is fun in some musical cases, here it isn't. Plus the video is also another dud that is a cut between 'Ehsaas' and 'Hum Kis Galli Ja Rahein Hai'.
But the single is just a teaser. The real distinct ditties are really inside. And this is an album split between hard rocking numbers, soft pop ditties with ballads here and there.
The mood, like the music varies. It is fiery and optimistic at times, introspective and heartbreaking at others, showcasing the varying emotions of the icon himself. And that really is one reason why it is a commendable effort. Meri Kahani is personal reflection and that is the exciting bit.
From the blistering and meaty, 'Yaaro' which is a confident nod to friendship as Atif sings, "Kitni hai khusiyaan/Kitney gham/Milkey raheingay sada/Hongay na yaaro kabi juday" to the aggressive and socially-conscious, 'Hungami Halaat' where the music like a riding rollercoaster and full credit to Mahmood Rehman for some solid guitaring. Lyrically, this is a well-thought out song. As Atif sings, "Kab tak samaiton ga/Kab talak behlaon ga/ Dil ki mein jout ko/Kaisay Jalaon ga/Kis ka hai saath yahan/kaun zakham bharey/Yeh josh hai rawan/Tum jo ger sung/Chaley hangami halaat" - it is a fine angst-ridden number. Of course had Atif been aiming for a higher pitch, the impact of the tune would've been double.
Then there is the relatively softer and sober, 'Chor Gayai' which leaked on the internet as a rough cut with the title, 'Chupke Se Aaye' and is simply superb. In some ways it is reminiscent of the softness of 'Kuch Iss Tarah' but a lot more mature. As Atif sings, "Kyun chor gayai woh rassetin/Kabhi saath chaley thay jin pey" - it remains the most melodic song on the album without a doubt and in many ways, is a signature Atif Aslam tune. Brilliant.
'Joug' with its tipsy mood and mysterious air where deciphering words is a task but its softness, qualifies as a worthy listen. As Atif croons, "Hum sab jhoom lay" - you end up intrigued wondering where the song goes next. And that is a really beauty, the unpredictable nature of the song.
A duet comes through with 'Kaun Tha (Kapkapi)' and this is perhaps the slowest song on the album and has a really morbid feel to it even though the melody is a tad weak. The female vocalist whose name is given as S.K.J has a honey sweet voice and Atif has downplayed his own vocals but that factor is one that I am not fond of at all.
Another ballad-like number is 'Mann Hota Hai' where the beginning of the lone piano teamed up with Atif Aslam stuns with its morbid character as Atif croons, "Khabon sey khilanay ko mann hota hai/Kisi ki na pey ro du tau/Khiloney tuut jayein/Koi mujhe sey poochey/Khun rota hai/Mann Hota hai", it works as a moody song.
Introspection gives way to 'Kinara' where Atif has gone demure in his singing as he says, "Pal ka yeh jeevan hai/Kaisey yahan jeena sikhon/Dhundla say eh manzar hai/Sehmi si khamoshi hai/Yeh meri zindagi bus ek khwab hai" - it is a lyrical gem.
Continuing the soft trend is 'Humrahi' but it neither shows off Atif's vocals too well and neither does this have a melody that sticks to you. On the other hand, while 'Mai Nee' is musically an interesting number even as it struggles with the melody and consequently struggles in grabbing one.
The big verdict
Compared to Doorie, Meri Kahani is a mature step up. It is sharp in sound, guitaring by Mahmood Rehman and Sarmad Ghafoor in most places is excellent. And as far as sound goes, this is an album filled with rock ditties and spread well throughout. Even the soft songs are musically interesting as well as distinct. As a songwriter Atif has grown up and that reflects throughout.
The one and the only problem is the vocals. It is as if is deliberately trying to downplay his voice, which is a factor that plagues this album throughout and doesn't work. In other words, he sounds suppressed. Atif has been criticized for being off-key in the past and perhaps that has led to this strange fact. But even so, one ends up missing the voice that was present on the average Doorie and the fun-loving debut Jalpari and the sheer power and impact that came through.
Atif's voice is his biggest asset and one doesn't feel the full-throttle, which is a huge disappointment. The impact of even good songs like 'Hangami Halaat', 'Yaaro', 'Chor Gayai' among others, hence is diminished tremendously and that just shouldn't happen.
And ironically enough, the man who replaced Atif in Jal and since then has struggled, namely Farhan Butt, has done the exact opposite in Jal's new record, Boondh. Where Atif sounds restrained, Farhan has never been more exciting, loud and clear.
Meri Kahani is patchy in places, partially because melodies are weak in some places and the voice at others. However, Atif has taken a crack in trying out a different, somewhat beefier sound. And as a result, Meri Kahani has some solid rock elements in it. Meri Kahani is proof that Atif is a talented artist. And just for making a conscious effort, this album should be heard.