Ali Zafar - Masty (2006)

A visit to Karachi's ultimate stop for CDs and DVDs, Laraib Music Store revealed much to my astonishment that Ali Zafar's "Masty" isn't doing too well. "Why?" I asked surprised at the thought that our blue eyed boy of pop who has given us much groove with hip numbers in "Huqa Pani" is not doing well in his sophomore attempt at being a pop prince. The shopkeeper mumbled something about there being no nach in it Ali Zafar not doing any nach to be more precise. "But he is flying!" I argued back, not ready to accept his response he just shrugged indifferently and moved on to tell me who actually is doing well a band I like to call an Atif clone. I was flabbergasted. What is wrong with our youth? Why must they rather whine about lost love than feel good about themselves and their youth ala Ali Zafar's "Masty".

The answer might just be too multi faceted to attempt in these columns. But this little discourse made me accept the power of the video, and the inevitable truth, our masses don't like putting up with change too much. All Ali Zafar's videos from his debut "Huqa Pani", were colorful and fun, with the sole exception of 'Ek Pal' which again was an interesting attempt at some form of confused reinvention. However the shot-in-India video of the title track "Masty" is anything but colourful it's cutting edge, yes, (the man is flying for crying out loud, that too above a crowd of shrieking chicks), technically superior than "Channo" and very rockstar-y but there is no cute li'l Ali Zafar anymore. No sir, Ali has grown up. Gone are the days when he needed to woo a chick for his music to sell he has metamorphosed into a smashing 'rockstar', indifferent and slightly bemused at the number of babes throwing themselves at him.

But that apparently is not working for the throngs who bought "Huqa Pani". No problems there for Ali though, at least financially because it's not like he cares for the sales. With a hot deal that involved a lot of zeroes and no royalty, whether the album sells less than "Huqa Pani" or not is inconsequential at least for Ali. Am I being too harsh? Maybe, but it's true. In any case Ali might never know the real sales figure (thanks to piracy) and he will get critical acclaim because the album is good. Different but good. Even with the notably darker video, Masty's songs are much more chirpier and hip than "Huqa Pani".

Undoubtedly the music industry's has grown by leaps and bounds in a very short span of five years but there seems to be a negative relationship between the growth rate and the number of musicians actually coming up with good stuff. Good doesn't necessarily mean different or ground breaking but at least listenable. As the industry grows so does the number of bands who look and sound alike. Like the proverbial sheep, they follow and somehow even manage to sound like them. But Ali doesn't not only is his sound different than his peers but he keeps reinventing himself as far as the look goes. Two albums old and he has created a separate sound of music where I can gleefully pigeonhole him in.

Filmi pop might not be altogether new for Pakistani ears, with Runa Laila, Ahmed Rushdie and Alamgir having done that decades ago. But Ali's sound is definitely filmi if not Pakistani filmi, then Bollywood of the '70s filmi. One song after another sounds like a remix version of a song picturised on a swinging Amitabh riding his bike, getting jiggy with it at a disco or just goofing away randomly. An avid fan of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy might get a little uneasy after listening to "Masty", because it can give those three a good run for their money. Maybe that is what Ali is aiming at, that with Atif and Shafqat doing so well in Indian playback singing. Even with their distinctly non filmi style, they have been big hits compared to that Ali Zafar is giftwrapped for Indian music directors.

Ali admits to being a big Kishore Kumar and R.D. Burman fan and that is exactly where the inspiration for "Masty" comes from. The interesting thing is that though there are times one is reminded very strongly of the great Yodeller, one can also easily spot the distinct Ali Zafar. Maybe because the sound is coming from the same head that came up with the lyrics in the first place. "Masty" oddly stands out yet neatly falls into place.

One of the best thing about the album is that there are four absolutely refreshing songs about optimism, winning against all odds and youth a wonderful respite from one whining song after another about love lost. The title track "Masty" is an absolute youth anthem, with its arena-rock sound, simple sing-a-long hooks and lyrics celebrating youth. Even though "Jaanay Na Koi" sounds uncomfortably familiar yet you can't help love this song. A soft and melodic song where Ali sounds like himself and nothing else. Both these songs I heard for the first time at the World Performing Arts Festival's Pop Night along with everyone else there. After the first chorus the crowd was singing along to both the numbers, even though it was the first time they were listening to the song! The energy that Ali evoked through a CD rendition of these songs was also interesting; a live version would probably rock the house down. "Aag" and "Masty" also make for a very strong combination, with their hard upbeat sound especially Aag's techno sound.

Along with composing winning tunes, Ali Zafar also knows how to pen down some decent lyrics. This shows through out the album. When he writes about transcending difficulties, winning and touching the sky (in "Aasman"), instead of sounding cliched and oddly competitive it sounds humbling if anything. With songs like these one wonders if Ali isn't willing to do anymore "Channo" or follow in the same direction as "Rangeen" or "Huqa Pani". But he does. Unlike songs from "Huqa Pani", "Dekha" and "Sajania" are still quirky enough to meet the high expectations he set with hits from his last album. "Sajania" is especially fun with its unusual sound, lyrics and chorus. The '70s touch that creeps in the song at points makes this song very old school meet new school.

The softer side of the album however, is limited to two songs, "Kharayan De" and "Marey Haathon". "Marey Haathon" is completely unlike the yodelling love songs of yore; very soft and sweet, it's 'the' love song in the album. "Kharayan De" on the other hand is the Sufi number, that Ali performed at this year's Lux Style Awards. It definitely stands out from the rest of the album with its distinct sound and of course lyrics, showing the diversity Ali has as a musician.

A lot of people will feel that "Masty" is heavily inspired and hardly original but scratch the surface a little and you will have to agree that the treatment Ali has given these songs makes this sound his own. He is taking that particular '70s swinging filmi feel, mixing it with exotic world music and adapting it to Pakistani sensibilities all the while. Sales will definitely pick up as he releases more videos as most songs on the album are very "video friendly" if there is such a term.

If "Masty" loses marks on originality, it gains tremendously on lyrical quality and lasting popularity.

Rahma Muhammad
The News International, Pakistan