Pop music isn't just about copying chart-topping stars, Zaheer Abbas Khan gets his inspiration from real musicians as Diya Navlakha found out
What strikes you immediately about Zaheer Abbas Khan is his charismatic, friendly disposition. He is enthusiastic and genuine, whether it be in his interactions with people or in the pursuit of his music career, where his successes include getting 7000+ You Tube followers in just six months. It isn’t rare to find pure passion in new talent, but it is uncommon to see the kind of ambition and confidence that Zaheer has when it comes to his rising career. His bona fide love for music and art, especially in the Indian subcontinent is exactly what the industry needs at a time when so much music by British Asian stars is feeling a bit 'same same.' Diya Navlakha caught up with Zaheer when he popped into the Asiana office.
Why did you decide you wanted to pursue music?
As a child, I sang one song to my mother from the movie Sangharsh. It was a Sonu Nigam song, Mujhe Rat Din Bas. I didn’t really sing it with any thought, I just heard it and I liked it. And my mom was like, 'You’re quite good, you could do something with this.' I didn’t really think about it then, because I was only a child. But it was always in the back of my mind as I was growing up. As a teenager, I listened to Mohammad Rafi, who was a big influence on me, and I thought that this was something I’d like to do. And then I thought I’d better learn classical music. Pure Indian classical music.
You’ve been learning classical music, but you do want to pursue songs that are more pop culture-centric?
The beauty of classical music and Asian classical music is that it produces a base for any genre. It’s a very rigorous art, and I learnt what is known as Khayal music. And that’s actually built a base for me to go into any other genres, because it sort of trains you to become perfectly tuned, obviously if you practice. It trains you to understand music in your head. It’s not written, so you have to just think about it and do it though my main ambitions is to go into popular culture music.
Has it been hard to break into the music industry? How has being in the UK influenced your career?
At the moment, it’s relatively early in my career. But I find that times have changed in terms of how it used to be back in the day, where a singer had to go to a record label or a music producer and that was really the only entry into the masses. The technique I’ve employed is that I’ve sung cover songs, I’ve built up a Facebook page, and social media. I’ve got about eight thousand followers on that in the last six months. There are many different avenues available now than there were, say, 10 years ago. I also put my stuff on YouTube. I think when I release my album, that will determine how I’ll find it to get into the industry.
Where do you want to see your career go? Will you be focusing on Bollywood mainly?
I’m a composer as well as a vocalist, so I make my own music. I don’t sing western songs because I’ve always historically just stuck to the subcontinent – Indian and Pakistani music. So I hope my career goes toward that direction where I am singing main popular culture music within the subcontinent. Hopefully both India and Pakistan.
What are your favourite Bollywood movies?
I love Kal Ho Naa Ho, that’s a great movie. Lagaan is a great movie. Sholay is an old-time classic, I love that. I’ve seen some really good movies that aren’t mainstream, like indie movies. Drishyam and Wazir were really good. Both these movies aren’t mainstream, but they’ve got great stories. I’m also a film graduate, so I like to see film as an art form as well.
How was Desi culture integrated into your childhood?
I was born and brought up in the UK. I’m Pakistani, and my mother ensured that we had a very cultural upbringing. We spoke Urdu at home, and she ensured that we had our roots instilled within us as we were growing up.
Who are your favourite artists in the industry?
Loads. Within mainstream music, it would be Mohammad Rafi. I listen to a lot of classical music. Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was one of the greatest vocalists of the last century within Asia and has influenced huge singers. He’s a massive influence. In recent times, people like Sonu Nigam, Arijit Singh, Shaan, Udit Narayan.
If you could start a band, which artists would you want to join you?
I would love to have someone like A. R. Rahman as a composer, that would be amazing. And as a female singer, it would have to be someone like Shreya Ghoshal, she’s amazing as well. And for fellow singers, obviously Sonu Nigam, people like that.
Which artist would you love to open for at a concert?
If it was someone from today, it would probably be Sonu Nigam. If it was back in the day, it would have to be Mohammad Rafi.
When you’re not focusing on building your career, what can you be found doing? What are your hobbies?
I like to play and watch cricket. It’s an amazing sport and I’ve always been involved in it. I like to spend time with my family, go out with friends, socialize, watch movies. But I’m often doing a lot of creative stuff, so I do video editing. I love getting involved in that sort of stuff.
How do your film studies play a part in your career?
I graduated in film studies because I loved creative, visual art. I’ve always got a vision in my mind that if, and hopefully when, my music career takes off, I’d love to venture into making movies as well. I do see myself one day making documentaries and movies, hopefully for which I can use my own music as well. So I’ve definitely not given up on it.
What inspires you when you’re writing music?
Loads of things, actually. Nature is very inspiring, so sometimes when you’re out and about and you look at beautiful scenes of nature, that’s very inspiring. My mother is very inspiring actually; she is very positive. She’s always my go-to person when I’m not feeling right or if I’m feeling down. She has always inspired and encouraged me. Other peoples’ music is always very inspiring as well, so listening to the greats like A.R. Rahman is very inspiring.
What is your biggest fear?
I think one of my biggest fears is to be in a place where I’m not motivated in life anymore, because ever since I can remember I’ve always been motivated to do stuff. To lose that would be a massive fear, to have no more drive in my life, that I wouldn’t want to do anything anymore. So that would be my biggest fear, to lose that drive and compassion.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I hope to be doing what I love in terms of music and creative arts. And I hope to have made some sort of a mark on the Asian music circuit, within the sub continent and here. I hope to have achieved most of that by 10 years.
Interview: Diya Navlakha
Follow Zaheer on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/zaheerababskhanofficial