A kaleidoscope. The tiny, claustrophobic streets of Mochi darwaaza ka mohalla in Lahore. Haunting, amused faces. A spiritual song woven around a Sufi poem. This was the music video for "Husn-e-Haqiqi (Beauty of truth)", Arieb's first single, released just a few months ago. Done in a 'kaleidoscope' effect (where two different pictures/scenes merge into one), the video depicted images moving and merging, dissolving and fading at a pace that matched the cadence of the song.
The result is absorbing.
While the video was done on a tight budget, its simplistic uniqueness was best suited for this melodic, chanting-like number. While it borders on the plain, at the same time, it is a visual mind-trip.
Arieb Azhar's story as a musician is a fascinating one. I recall watching his interview on On the Fringe a few months ago.
Having left Pakistan at the tender age of nineteen, Arieb settled in Croatia for the next thirteen years to come. "Growing up, I went through several music phases," said Arieb who was part of an Irish band in Croatia for five to six years - producing two albums of purely Irish music. But there was something missing. Something that didn't quite feel 'complete'. "I was feeling a level of insincerity. I felt I got too caught up in the stardom aspect and strongly desired to reconnect back with my roots. I just kept going to whatever was pulling me," and so, putting thought into action, Arieb finally moved back to his motherland three years ago.
But what was it like when he moved back? Did he find it hard to adjust, spread his wings as an artiste in a country he was away from for thirteen long years? "My album took too long, almost a year and a half when in actuality it should have taken around three to four months. But finding the right musicians I could gel with was one of the reasons for the delay." Some label Arieb as the next Rabbi Shergill - an insult rather than a compliment. Just because both musicians incorporate Baba Bulleh Shah's poetry into songs does not by any means denote they're cut out from the same cloth. Each is distinct, individual and has his own approach to Sufi thought and poetry.
"Wajj", the name of Arieb's first album, stems from the Punjabi word 'wajnaa' - meaning an 'impact' of sorts, something being 'struck', 'cha jana'.
When "Wajj" was originally released, it encountered distribution and availability issues, as Arieb's label decided to go through their own distribution channels. Now that it's been re-distributed it has finally found its way into the market.
Comprising of eight soulful Sufi songs, "Wajj" caters to serious music listeners, those interested in 'spiritual lounge music'. The album comprises of poetry by reputed Sufi poets (and saints) such as Khawaja Ghulam Farid, Bulleh Shah, Mian Muhammad Baksh, and Sarmad Sehbai (a poet and playwright). Vocalizing poetry of such profundity is a task in its own, something which seldom suits voices. Arieb seems to carry it off pretty well in his deep and throaty vocals.
Each song featured on the album feels like a haunting journey such as "Verhe Aa Varh Mere" - it is mellow, neither happy nor sad, and sounds like a traveler's desert song. Track number five, "Saif ul Maluk", from Mian Mohammad Bakhsh's 'Safr ul Ishq' (Journey of Love) is rich, emanating a certain kind of magic or mystery where one feels amidst mountains, the mist and forgotten love stories. Arieb sings: "Destroy the mosque, destroy the temple/ Destroy all that you wish/ But do not destroy one person's heart/ For that is where the Lord dwells!" "Kahe Rokat/Tede Nena" - merges two songs into one. The latter part, "Tede Nena" is like viewing a dark cave from the outside. All that you can make out are shadows that flicker, dance and sway making "Tede Nena" sound like a song from the past. "Husn-e-Haqiqi" on the other hand is more forceful including an element of the 'present', calling: "Love and knowledge/ Superstition and belief, conjecture/The beauty of power, and conception/ Aptitude and conscience".
"Emina", the last number, which has an evident opera-ish touch to it, comes as a bit of a surprise. It is a Croatian love song written by a Bosnian Serb poet, Aleksa Santic. Arieb's cross-cultural diversity in music is evident as he croons in Croatian superbly.
As mentioned before, "Wajj" caters to those with an ear for music, the casual lot may find it slightly repetitive, but it grows on you and is extremely soothing. With instruments such as the violin, banjo, sitar, and flute integrated into the music, the songs are given that extra 'zing'.
Through the years man has been able to channel his emotions, thoughts and ideologies through various art forms and mediums. This 'channeling' leads one to great inner 'release' a certain liberation from the now, the present - where the artist finds himself suspended within the fluidity of time yet, traversing to magnificent transition within. "I've always been interested in music that gives comfort to my soul," Arieb had said.
Lyrics and poetry regarding finding inner strength or regaining courage, melodies or tunes that inspire or captivate are spiritual in their own right. "Wajj" the album being Arieb's 'reconnection' with his roots is nothing close to pseudo, rather, heartfelt and sincere. That music (which is genuine with the intent of its message), which can enthuse an individual to change, make the soul soar or make one disengage from the physical to connect back with the metaphysical - truly is the greatest thing a musician can give back to humanity.Sonya Rehman