Its Qaddafi Stadium, Lahore. It is Fakhr-e-Alam's second Pepsi concert and he has this really fast entry with music where he is supposed to be running with the Pakistan flag in his hand - that's the riff for "Proud Pakistani" his song. The concert version is very rock based, and guitars play a big part. Only one spotlight is on, the entire arena is dark, and there are about 8,000 people in the audience. He comes in running, and the people are cheering. His guitarist is standing on his left, and he's got his wire running through to the amps. He trips on the wire, goes boom! bang! and falls flat on his chest with the Pakistani Flag in his hand. Face to face with the concrete, red to the ears with embarrassment, he pauses, and then he lifts up the Pakistani Flag and says, "Gir bhi jaayenge magar jhunda nahin girnay dein gay!" Who else could think of such a lifesaving sentence in two seconds but Fakhr-e-Alam, the hilarious 22 year old rapper and VJ who's made it big with the Pakistanis all over the world. No doubt about it, he was the life of the "World Tour 97" concert, with his amazing vitality and ability to hype up the audience.
As he walks into the Dallas Four Points Sheraton Hotel lobby in his black jeans and Hard Rock Cafe Singapore T-shirt, Fakhr-e-Alam still has that bounce and energy in his walk that he emanates on stage. All smiles and laughs, he immediately puts me at ease. He seats himself on the sofa opposite from me and shows me the shopping he has done: "I got a perfume for our promoter, you know, Raza Ali, its his birthday." What a sweeeeeet guy, I think. But, not for long. We pose for a picture before the interview, right before the shot is taken, he mockingly chokes me with his hands, and tells me, "This is what I think of people who want to interview me!" So much for first appearances! But then we get down to business, and I get to meet the real Fakhr-e-Alam.
So, I ask, did the audience know that you had tripped, or did they think it was part of the act? "They thought it was part of the act or something, and I got away with it. I don't know how I got away with it. It was the most embarrassing moment" he laughs: "My ears were hot, my head was itching, woh nahin hota jub khoon khol ne lagta hai? It took me at least five songs till I came to terms with the whole thing that it has happened to me!"
For sure, though, once he gets on stage, he is an entertainer. Explaining his philosophy on that, he says, "I believe that in a concert, its not about you singing. I mean look at me, Junaid, Ali, we can't sing as well as Mehdi Hassan or one of those legends, so our music is like an exchange of emotions with the audience. I give my energy to the audience and when they clap and scream I like to get that energy from them." It is no surprise then when he reveals that his favorite singer is Abida Parveen, or as he calls her, Abida Apa, undoubtedly one of the most enchanting performers of our time. "The way she improvises, the way she sings, she mesmerizes you completely. You're sitting there and you're like history. The woman would take you on a trip altogether," Fakhar marvels.
His admiration and closeness to Abida Parveen was heightened recently as the two composed three songs on his new album which were to be sung together by them as well. Unfortunately though, their timing in Pakistan never coincided and before coming to the US, he says, "I took Abida Apa's permission to record these songs with someone else. She was a little disappointed but she's a very nice lady and she said, 'Jao karlo.' And so I've done these songs with Ustad Hamid Ali Khan." Though Abida Parveen is his favorite singer, technically speaking, after working with Ustad Hamid Ali Khan, Fakhar has discovered that "that man has 26 years of experience, chabees saal ka riaz hai unko, that's like more than my age!" he exclaims. "With the time we spent in the studio together, I was like this man knows what he's talking about, you know, he is a complete vocalist." But wait, Fakhr-e-Alam and Ustad Hamid Ali Khan? A classical singer with the man who introduced rap in Pakistan, the two don't seem to mix. This is not your usual style, Fakhar, I tell him. "Yes, its because the new album isn't my usual style," he explains.
So, does he believe that rap has no future in Pakistan? On the contrary, a progressive, he believes it does, "but as time goes by, its not that your music grows with you alone but as a person you start thinking on different levels, you get more complicated as you grow older, and I felt very, very happy when I did this sort of music on this album." He hums a piece from his new album for me called "Allah Hu." It's quite soft and structured, and even the lyrics represent a more mature style: Kya tum ne sochi hai kabhi yeh baat, mushkil mein deta nahin kowi saath, kaam buss aati hai usi ki zaat, soch na ... Allah Hu Allah, Allah Hu Allah.
Talking to him, it is hard to believe that this guy is only 22, and has only a high school degree to his credit. He tells me that his favorite book is "A Brief History of Time" because of one particular sentence in that book: "There was a time when time did not exist." As intelligent as he is, though, his biggest regret is still not continuing his education after high school but he thinks he "will cope with that very soon." Right after graduating from Government College, Lahore, in Government and Political Studies, Economics, and Journalism," he began singing and hosting music shows on Pakistani Television. At least in Pakistan, much of his fame came from these lively hosting sessions on shows such as "Pepsi Top of the Pops". His striking personality and humor has won him many fans. These days too, a show he has hosted called "Underground" is being aired on Asia Net, a British television station.
Very much involved with the British scene, he has been working in England on his first English release which is an international album being released by a British company hopefully by December. "Its a very rock pop oriented album," he explains: "Its what you'd say an English pop album would be like."
Although it might look like this young talent has his hands full, he still has yet another project; he is working in a Pakistani movie. This unique movie is the first ever India-Pakistan joint venture but Fakhar makes it clear that "it's a commercial film with songs, dances, and a story line. A lot of people think that since it's a joint venture type of situation it has to be very artsy, but no, it's not. The entire cast is Pakistani, the script is Pakistani, the art side has been taken care of by Pakistan, but the technical side, the dance director, and the extra boys and girls are from India, and the entire film has been made in Mauritius," he explains. Called "Very Good Duniya, Very Bad Log", the film is a direct adaptation of the American movie "Trading Places" starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd. Of course, Fakhar plays the part of Eddie Murphy. The girl opposite him is Resham, and the part of Dan Akroyd is being played by Shaan, who's co-actor is Neeli. The star studded cast includes Mohammad Qavi and Latif Kapadia.
Whew, I say, with all this work you must be away from your family a lot! "Yes," he admits, "but my family is very supportive of whatever I do." In fact, his father is his best friend. "We're completely sincere to each other where advice is concerned," he explains: "and not only that I get advice from him, I give him advice as well, so we are very very close." During the few times he actually gets to see his family in Islamabad, he enjoys spending time with his 12-year old brother. "Whenever we get together we have a wild time, I mean age does not matter at all," he says.
For the past two years, he has spent half the year in England. An avid fan of the London night life, he considers it a "happening and very accessible city." He tells me that's where he got his hair dyed orange from the front and his ear pierced because he had to do "something eccentric for the clubs." Hmm...I say, and what will the folks say back home. "Nothing," he says, "as I said, my parents are very supportive of me." Well, that is certainly an atypical Pakistani family for you!
Like Junaid too, his best concert was at Wembley, London. But why? What is it that makes everyone love the Wembley crowd so much? Laughing, he says, "What better thing to have than when you have the capacity of about 6,000 people of whom 5,000 are girls alone? So what better concert to have than Wembley, London!" Naturally, my next question, somewhat out of alarm is, hey, aren't you engaged though? I heard rumors... "No," he cuts me off, "that was a big rumor that I used to hear." He has a guilty smile on his face so I ask him did you start it? That would be a "Fakhar thing" to do! Sheepishly, he admits it but then says, "There was a particular paper where I read that I'd gotten married as well. I keep on getting married for some odd reason without my knowing it!" Okay, so what's up with Mishi Khan? "That's what I was talking about...hmm...nothing's up, we were very good friends, we still are, and we used to hang out a lot together, that's perhaps why the press got a lot of nasty ideas about us. That's one of the reasons why I like to stay outside Pakistan, because the people know to separate your friends from your girlfriends!"
Finally, I ask him whether he has any message for all of us. He thinks for a while and then says, "I don't want to be a role model or anything. I've got orange hair for God's sake!" We both laugh and then he gets serious. "The very very important thing is Pakistani youth, living here, getting educated here, they're all needed back home. It's very necessary for them to get their act together. While they're here, I'd like them to organize themselves here, you know, in terms of associations, in terms of clubs and all that. Exchange yourselves, all of you, who are getting an education here, get your act together because you are going to take control of Pakistan next. We've given a chance to all political parties in the country who exist right now, all politicians, all great political thinkers, and they have all failed us miserably. And before other influences outside Pakistan start taking control of it, its is better that the generations living outside Pakistan, getting educated there ... I keep on saying education because that's where we lack you know, so bring all that knowledge and that information and your talents and your skills back to Pakistan because Pakistan needs it. If you can do that, great. That's where your country needs you. You don't have to fight a war, you don't have to do anything, you just have to go back there, and even if you can't go back there, while you're here, at least stand as united Pakistanis. And make sure that the reputation that our country gains for just being Pakistan, we should try to improve that as much as possible. Instead of people saying 'umm...he's got a green passport,' no. We should all be very proud when we stand in that immigration line and say, 'I've got a green passport. I'm from Pakistan. If you've got a problem with that, too bad cuz I'm going back!'"
Well, all I can think is Fakhar, we definitely have fakhar over you.Asma Ahmad