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Pak Folk Rock Singer Arieb Azhar To Release Second Album

Also hopes to tour India this year

Asif Akhtar Aug 30, 2012
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Arieb Azhar

Before becoming a household name with Pakistan’s Coke Studio Seasons 2 and 3, Islamabad-based singer and composer Arieb Azhar had been living the troubadour life. Like his travels, his music too goes beyond borders.

Since the age of 19, Azhar’s journeys across Eurasia made him cross paths with musicians across Croatia, Bolivia, Bosnia, Ireland and Macedonia. These collaborations helped him find his own sound, when he returned home to Pakistan in 2004. 

Though celebrated for his folk rock music, Azhar has also played in an Irish blues band called the Shamrock Rovers that he formed in Zagreb, Croatia. “I played folk music with Croatian and Bosnian musicians, Quechua Indian musicians from Bolivia and a lot of Irish Celtic music,” says 40-year-old Azhar over an email interview.

While his influences include reggae, Bluegrass, Balkan, Irish Celtic and gypsy music, Azhar’s songs are a nod to poet greats ranging from Baba Bulleh Shah to Latin American poet-musician Victor Jara. “Our music is urban folk music based on old and new poetry from the subcontinent. It carries a universal humanist message,” he adds. In Islamabad, Azhar began interpreting Sufi devotional verses and modern poetry in Punjabi and Urdu, though his sets also featured songs in Bosnian and Croatian including the love ballad, “Emina.” The singer feels that musicians don’t have it easy back home in Pakistan. “Being a professional  musician anywhere in the world is a difficult task and specially so in Pakistan,” says Azhar adding, “Of course the political and social unrest in my country has made it difficult for a lot of artists to survive but as they say, what doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger.”

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We heard Azhar perform earlier in July at the MichaelSchimmelCenterfor the Arts at Pace University in New York City where he won over a multicultural audience. The performance was part of the River to River Festival during which Azhar and his band toured venues across Washington D.C., New York City and Chicago. “The tour was hugely successful and we got a chance to see how we function as a band when taken out of our own environment for a longer period,” says Azhar.

Azhar’s last performance in Indiawas at the Lok Sanjh Festival in Amritsarin 2008 where he met flute player Akmal Qadri, who is now part of his band. The current line-up includes Azhar on rhythm guitars and vocals, classical virtuoso Qadri on flute, tabla player Kashif Ali Dani on percussions, along with Malang Party’s Zeeshan Mansoor and Zain Ali on electric guitar and bass respectively. “All the musicians come from different styles of music, from the classical gharana to western blues and funk, playing together to form a new type of eclectic groove,” says Azhar.

After the success of his first studio album Wajj that was released in 2010, Azhar plans to release his second yet-to-be-titled album, which combines live tracks with some studio recordings, in September. Like his previous work, the forthcoming album too explores the themes of mystical devotion; love, longing and heartache; truth, oneness and inner beauty. Except the second one, says Azhar, is sonically different. “It’s more of the band sound,” he adds.

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Azhar is also planning a series of performances in India this year. He adds, “We will finally get a chance to showcase the entire band inIndia.” In addition to his India tour, Azhar is also working on an international project with British folk guitar player, Martin Simpson. The two plan to perform at the Alchemy Festival in London next year.

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