A MAESTRO IN THE MAKING: An interview with Zain Ali

Tell us about the Zain Ali journey so far. What have been your major influences, both as a singer and as an actor? What major challenges have you faced?

First of all I would like to give thanks to God and the blessed Panj Tan Paak (blessed five of the family of the Prophet, Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Hussain), whose blessings granted me the ability to sing and become a musician. It has not been easy but I have tried to remain dedicated to this art and willing to learn.

I was exposed to music from an early child- hood and it quickly became my passion. I began to listen attentively to artists like Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I was lucky enough to become a student of the late tabla maestro Ustad Naseeb Hussain. I started to play tabla in 2004. I come from a musical family so was fortunate to have been taught by my late grandfather, Ustad Haji Rehmat Ali. This gave me the foundations and with my brother, Zohaib Ali, along with our grandfather we started our path in Qawwali music.

I have faced many challenges but the biggest challenge for me was the sudden death of my father, Zakir Naeem Abbas Naeem. It left a void as a young person growing up. With the support of my mother, friends and cousins I was helped at this very difficult juncture to pursue my passion for music.

As a singer and musician, I have realised how powerful a tool music can be in making one ma- ture when going through tragedy as a younger per- son. Of course as an artist I appreciate a lot when anyone hears my music and enjoys my work.

Tell us a little bit about Qawwali and the group you are a part of. How does it compare to other music genres?

Qawwali is a soulful and mystical music genre which was invented by the Sufi Saint, Hazrat Amir Khousrau. He was the first to employ con- sciously the racy indigenous Urdu for any literary pur- pose. He was also the first to write a verse in Urdu. He wrote the first Urdu ghazal but it was a hybrid composition. He became a distinguished disciple and friend of the celebrated Sufi Saint Khwaja Nizam Ad’Din.

I am fortunate to belong to a Qawwal family. My grandfather, Ustad Haji Rehmat Ali taught us the art of Qawwali. He was a student and companion of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Myself and my brother Zohaib Ali are both part of a Qawwal group which also includes my cousins Ehsan Ali and Abid Ali. We are twelve group members in our Qawwali group. Although I consider music to be a universal language I think Qawwali is a very difficult genre, compared to others.

What instruments can you play?

I can play tabla and harmonium, guitar and piano.

How easy has it been to produce music in Pakistan?

There is no shortage of talent in Pakistan. There are lots of music houses which produce many kinds of music. This is important to nurture new artists and also provide people with exposure to their rich heritage. I have been very fortunate.

Tell us a little bit about your work with Nescafe Basement? How important are such platforms in Pakistan?

Yes Nescafe-Basement is a creative music show. It is creative because like Coke Studios it looks to bring together different styles and genres which are important in the globalised world we are all part of. I enjoyed what I was part of immensely especially being able to collaborate with different artists. I learnt many things from Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan (music producer of Nescafe) who gave me the chance to work with such talented people.

Nescafe basement is a very important platform for new comers in music industry. This kind of initiative can serve to nurture the talent of our nation.

How important is your Pakistani heritage and how easily are you able to connect with it?

I think every nation has its own heritage and it is very necessary to present the culture Pakistan. My heritage is very important to me and I want to
make this available to the world. Qawwali is actually part of that heritage of Pakistan and also from my family. This is why I have a close affinity to Qawwali and Sufi music.

Do you have new projects in the pipeline?

Yes, we are working on a new Qawwali album along with a fusion one featuring Qawwali, pop and rock.

How can fans connect with you and do you have any message for them?

I respect all of my fans and I consider them to be my friends. Social media is the best way to connect thorough Facebook and Instagram.  My advice to all is that hard work is a sure way to success, so keep on persevering and that day will come.