Irfan Ali Taj is a very well known artist not only in Chitral but all over the country. His songs Ashiqi Angar, Ishq Daryah, and Dunya Ju Baso are still the favorite bookmark of people around the country and his upcoming compositions are being waited by his fans.
We were fortunate enough to have an interview session with Irfan. This is what he says
You first instrument?
The first instrument that got my attention was called Garba in Khowar (Oldest form of Rabab which Syed families (Khalifa) use to recite Persian Sufi poetry). I remember I must have been in 4th grade when I told my late uncle (Dinar Alam Taj) about my love for Garba. He went to all the Khalifas in near towns but none of them had an extra one to give him. Mostly they have one Garba coming from generations in the family. Later my friend and mentor Athar Hussain found me one and from then on it was a world full of music and a Chitrali boy.
How was your Childhood, education and growing up in Chitral to ending up choosing to do music professionally?
I spent my first half of childhood at my birthplace, a small village called Pasum in Mastuj tehsil. My childhood was lovely. Have a joint family and so many genuine people to take care of us and guiding in the right direction. I was raised by a very rational family; they never taught me to make easy decisions. They taught me that we have to work hard to earn something and to earn respect especially. My father (Mohsin Ali Khan) and his elder brothers (Dinar Alam Taj, Sahib Nadir Khan, had to work hard during their youth to become who they are now MashaAllah!!. Their way of life made it more challenging for us to follow their footprints, from the very childhood. I was good in education and thus my family decided that I should move to Chitral town to live at my uncle’s (Sahib Nadir Khan) and continue further education.
I was in 5th class and moving away from mom and moving to Chitral Town, which was much different than home, was difficult and challenging at the beginning but life finds a way and so did I. After passing school my uncle’s son, my Brother and my role model (Amjad Nadir Taj) asked me to come to Karachi and I did, and it changed everything, In a good way, biggest credit goes to my brother for sure, for being there. I dropped myself out of St Patric’s College after 6 months, first 6 months in Karachi. I waited 5 months and got admission at Aga Khan Higher Secondary School for my Intermediate. With education, music also came back to my life when I saw a friend playing guitar and cheered me when I sang them some songs. I became the voice of AKHSS when I was passing out. My teacher (Rabiya Malik) was the first person who encouraged me and motivated me a lot along with another teacher (Hassan Abbas) who polished my Urdu poetry which now helps in writing lyrics. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do after college. I did engineering but I had poor marks in Maths. Somehow I got into the Institute of Business Management for business studies and trust me it was such a pain. In the very beginning, I hated the idea of business institutes which I thought was training people to follow a capitalist formula of life which I don’t think might be wrong for most of the people but at times for me it was not something to take lightly. But honestly speaking I wasn’t truly enjoying business studies and was always thinking about music but now I know I was there for a reason and my university has a role in making me who I am today.
In the second year of university I lost my scholarship and life started turning into a real mess, but I was never taught to give up that’s why I tried to find a way and I started doing a job to support my education. At times I wanted to just leave the bachelor’s studies and do something else but the pressure that what people will think, the fact that my father and brother had invested a lot in my education and leaving my degree after 42/48 courses wasn’t just the solution. The solution was to make it win-win. This was indeed a difficult time but it taught me a life lesson that now I think was necessary and was training me. I started doing a job and I felt good to support my education. Soon I was making good money and was progressing in my business development career side by side with my degree and I started feeling nice about university too when I went back to complete the last few courses. At IOBM I met some great teachers, met amazing people who made all those years specials are now somewhere on earth, and always there for me and me for them.
All together today if I look back and look at the future then I feel good about the people I met, I feel good about what I think and what it took to bring a change from within and be a better person every day. With age, I am getting to know more about life and I feel to be such a blessed person to have my parents, my family, my friends, and my fans. I am making new music, working on my first Album “MAHAL” which is dream come true and some amazing singles to get you guys out of the depressive 2020. On my Birthday I am releasing the Long waited for song #IBNEADAM finally, with Pakistan’s first aggregator and Music Label (A for Aleph) with whom I am going to record very interesting songs and my Album Mahal.
How did you develop love for Music?
After doing 3 years of corporate jobs I came to a realization point. I found out I wasn’t born to do corporate jobs, I thought life is not just about doing a job, eating food, bringing another generation to the world, and then dying. I believe life on earth is so much more than that because there is a difference in surviving and living. Life is a beautiful gift from God and it should be lived with joys and gratitude, not with anger or hate. And what you can do with the money when you hate the job and do it every day with an excuse of saying what else can a man do. I believe each one of us is special and has a special purpose to serve, and I am a storyteller from Pasum.
How hard is it to take music as well as personal life together?
I believe everything is hard, in fact very hard, but everything is in the head basically, we get what we think. When you have a direction then everything can be fun as well. If you look at artists of any form in Pakistan, they have been struggling with their work.
The music industry in Pakistan is not big enough to make opportunities for musicians and people who expect the system to provide them something will find it very hard in Pakistan but people who are genuinely doing music and looking at all the possibilities to create opportunities for themselves will always find a way to happiness, and to make it real they can push their limits.
Life today is very hard, with more and more people filling the land and making it less to serve them back. I am 90s born person. I have seen life with no electricity, no telephone, no cars, no products to life in 2020 and it is depressing to see where we are going as a human being, that’s why life altogether in this frame of time is very hard, challenging, and yet thrilling for people like me. I believe our purpose is to stay positive, happy, and humble and that’s what makes my life very easy.
What do you feel when you play music?
Every musical note we play is connected to millions of neurons in our minds and feelings in our hearts. I have a very emotional attachment to music from the very beginning. In my childhood I was in love with Sufi music and music has always been a way for me to connect with my higher self and Allah. As a human, we go through a lot of things in our life and when you don’t express those feelings they can become toxic inside us, and eventually, they will come out badly. Even the most beautiful emotions if kept inside can turn into a burden and I play music to take those emotions out of my head and sometimes those feelings give birth to songs. So music for me is a way of life. It’s a discipline and I love the challenges it brings and the way it shapes out our mind is extraordinary.
How do you see Chitrali traditional music?
It’s raw and it’s amazing. I believe Chitrali folk music is the most amazing thing yet to be known. Because Chitral has diverse people from different parts of the world, thus our music is diverse and unique too. I recently started exploring world music from all over the world and I found motives of our music in African music, the sound of Surnai, Dol and Damama in Moroccan king music, and the sound of sitar obviously connecting us to the great Central Asian Music. We have mind-blowing Archives of folk music from the past which is huge and our artists never stopped making music, our people have an interest in music, and music is mostly part of life for a Chitrali family.
But these are all the good things. What bothers me is that we are not progressing and societies who don’t cope up with time eventually fade away. For me progress is very important and here is why, imagine a Chitrali kid living in the US, Canada, Karachi or forget it, imagine a 16-year-old in Chitral town with internet on phone connecting him/her to the world. He or she is one click away from whatever he wants to listen to or watch. On one side he has the world on a click and on the other side he has poorly recorded amazing songs which could’ve been a lot better and more pleasing to ears and eyes if produced well. The songs are so poorly recorded that a 21st-century kid don’t relate to it and don’t feel the attachment to the culture or language. We were lucky to see it live but most kids don’t get to experience the music because of the poor quality of sound available on the internet, which can be presented in a much better way even with fewer resources if we use our brains and be more realistic about things. In the old days these were understandable problems but today if someone is not doing it then it’s an excuse. It’s a shame if one can play an instrument but can’t communicate what they are playing to others, producers or fellow musicians, and it’s a huge problem when you see how seriously important is to understand music and I really hope our youth will do Art seriously if they ever have to do. I am learning from the day I started the music and I am still nothing, I am not even close to being called a singer or musician because I know where I am and what are global standards, standards to make a difference, to inspire, to create.
Hats off to the old musicians of Chitral who were more musical and contributed a lot to the music of north learned to make instruments created original melodies, wrote stories but now time is changing and musician of Chitral also have to take art more seriously. On the bigger picture, I see a huge music industry in the Northern region, and people who will invest their time truly and develop themselves to global standards then they will have a great time coming.
Any message to upcoming singers
Stay true. Be a good human first and don’t let a day pass without practice. Music is a responsibility because as I said before, “every note we play is connected to emotions”. People are looking up to Artists as role models therefore it’s very very important to be responsible Artists, who respect Art in the first place then do music responsibly, humbly and positively.
LEARN EVERYDAY AND DO MUSIC HONESTLY. MAKE ORIGINAL MUSIC