The All-rounding Stakes

By Maheen Sabeeh and Sonya Rehman

Ali Zafar and Atif Aslam are without a doubt, the biggest music sensations of the decade. They’re young and popular (especially with the ladies), talented and in demand and as musicians, they have taken this nation by storm. Across the border, both enjoy tremendous star power and commercial success. Hot, happening and truly stars for the masses, Instep pits these pop princes against each other and analyzes who is the smart player, who is more popular and most importantly, who out of the two is a great all rounder in the field of music!

Atif Aslam

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Singing prowess
Atif’s voice is unique. He may not always be in tune, indeed his attempts at alaap are always off key, but there is something haunting about his voice. Yet it seems he’s afraid to experiment with his vocals which gets a tad bit monotonous. Atif leaves you wondering when his vocals will either hit a crescendo or a low note. But it just seems to waddle in the middle – and winds up sounding too ‘safe’. His extended, quivering ‘aaaaaaaaaaaah’s are his signature. Both musicians are neck-to-neck in singing proficiency. Zafar may have the voice of Kishore, but Aslam’s is all his own and his fans love it!

Albums
Atif’s Jalpari was pure pop/rock. Experimental to a certain degree, melodic and addictive, it was a great debut. Songs like ‘Ehsaas’ and ‘Yakeen’ (not on Jal’s album) proved Atif’s worth. However, Atif disappoints horribly with his second album. He went to India, got the songs composed and the only thing he did on Doorie was singing. Most tracks on the album are bad remixes, catering to Indian clubs where just the sound of Atif’s voice makes ’em move.

Live performance
Atif Aslam is one of the best livewire performers around. He also has some signature moves but he adapts quickly to the crowd around and what they are looking for. Atif is unpredictable and he changes songs without taking gaps at times. Going by his concerts, Atif is making an effort to play live. He still has a long way to go though.

Videos
Atif hasn’t made very wise decisions in terms of music videos. Take ‘Mahi Ve’ for instance – featuring a gori, one could see Atif either squabbling or getting cutesy. Nothing wrong with that mind you, but the execution was horrendous. The song was brilliant, but the video failed as a launch pad to set it off. ‘Yakeen’, although simple and low-budget, was nicer. Then there’s the latest mind numbing ‘Doorie’ and half-baked ‘Hum Kis Gali remix’ video, which negates the myth that big-budgets are necessary to create gems. Big budget, or low budget, a sterling concept is a video’s backbone. Bollywood is only capable of so much when it comes to creative videos.

Handling the media
When it comes to media, Atif is a loose cannon. He remains inaccessible most of the times. He refuses to take out time for interviews, doesn’t inform the media of concert dates, video releases, foreign shows – none whatsoever. He just doesn’t treat local media with integrity and professionalism. He takes out time to do shows for Indian channels but not two hours for our local papers. India maybe a bigger market but it’s the local media that gave him a launching pad. One can only hope that Atif develops a professional attitude soon and doesn’t wind up treading the similar path of Adnan Sami Khan.

Popularity
Between the two of them, Atif does seem to have a fair bit of mass appeal. And even though both Ali and Atif share the same pie of popularity, Atif gets a slightly larger slice. Ali’s ranking with the ladies (all age groups) beats Atif smack down in the popularity poll with the opposite sex.

Sex appeal
Atif cannot be classified as a drop-dead gorgeous male specimen on the other hand, because he has that whole clean-desi-preppy-safe thing going for him. Ali gets away with looking good without having to try too hard. Atif is no booty-shaker. His forward/backward torso gesticulations during performances look (uncannily) like that green-plasticine-cartoon-character Gumby having an epileptic attack. It’s pretty simple: if you don’t have the rhythm, don’t slip into those dancing shoes baby. Don’t mean to thrash Atif like a pinata but there’s nothing more annoying than watching a musician frolicking on stage that looks like he has his bum stuck in an oven.

Indian strategy
This year, Atif Aslam won a Filmfare nomination for his track, ‘Tere Bin’, beating out many big wigs of Bollywood. But it doesn’t change the fact that Atif has continuously done projects that have been mediocre at best. ‘Tere Bin’ may have made it but the film was awful, really awful. The song that made Atif a household commodity (‘Aadat’) – Aslam went ahead and let Indian music directors twist and turn it into an ordinary commercial number. And guess what? Credit for the tune and lyrics were divided between Anu Malik and Goher Mumtaz. Why Goher agreed is understandable but why Atif agreed is beyond comprehension. Temporarily, this approach may give Atif popularity but in the long run, it’s a bad deal. Musicians should see the mileage they drive out of projects and keep in mind they projection it gives them.

Image consultancy
Atif’s wardrobe is a mixed bag. He is never, ever stylized in videos by professionals or if he is, then they need a serious lesson on style. Initially, Atif was into tees and jeans. Adequate is the word for it. Now, Atif usually looks messy with those hair always out of place and not in a good way and clothes that make his look absolutely bizarre (watch ‘Doorie’ again). Atif desperately needs image consultancy. Any takers? A musician is a brand nowadays and Atif needs to play it like his counterpart Ali Zafar. Not everyone is born Ali Azmat who can wear red pants, flowery shirts, go bald and still get away with it!

Ali Zafar

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Singing prowess
Ali’s voice strikes a brilliant balance between ‘old-fashioned filmi’ and ‘smooth contemporary’. his tone is also very versatile Ali’s Kishore Kumar style singing makes him a hit with the older generation of music listeners as well as the young ones.

Albums
Ali Zafar’s Huqa Pani was very filmy with an ethos of Arabic sound. Melodic, fun and upbeat, it was catering to a generation of music listeners who had otherwise been starved from filmy music. Other musicians who launched onto the scene that same year were dabbling in the rock genre such as Noori, EP and Aaroh. With Masty, Ali Zafar repeats the formula but this time, his sound is far more sophisticated and one can see his progression as an artist.

Live performance
Ali Zafar can make any show a hit because his vocals are always in top form. But as a performer, he’s rather predictable. It’s pick-up-the-girl from audience, dance with her routine that is almost always synonymous with his performances. Because the sound of his album relies heavily on electronica, translated live the sound changes significantly. Zafar shouldn’t go acoustic. He needs an electronic-synth back up to do his thing.

Videos
Ali’s ‘Channo’ set the path for what was to follow in Zafar’s following music videos. ‘Sajania’, ‘Masty’, ‘Rangeen’ and ‘Aik Pal’ were not only refreshing, but they provided audiences with something new each time. In terms of music videos, Ali remains unpredictable while Atif, tediously predictable. To come up to par, Atif must pull up his socks and get cracking in terms of picking directors for his songs. Bad videos, Atif must realize, can be extremely detrimental to his image.

Handling the media
Ali Zafar makes sure that he is accessible for interviews and if he’s out of the country, he maintains contact via email. His manager is a delight to work with who makes sure that the media gets everything they desire – be it video stills or concert updates. Most importantly, Zafar shows respect to national media and doesn’t give preferential treatment. His success, it seems, hasn’t gone to his head (thankfully).

Popularity
There seems to be a bit of a tie here. Why? That’s primarily because both musicians have done a pretty good job at churning out music videos, songs, concerts, gigs and appearing in a few big-budget advertisements. To say that Atif’s popularity rankings are higher than Ali’s with regard to the younger (or older) lot and vice versa, would be a sweeping statement.

Sex appeal
Ali puts Tom Jones to shame with his jiggy-jiggy hip swivels and shaking his money-maker with reckless abandon. He’s like the male equivalent of Shakira (okay maybe that’s going a little overboard, but you get the picture)! During ovulation season, Ali can be quite the heartthrob. He’s just a very unconventionally good-looking lad.

Indian strategy
Ali Zafar has yet to lend his voice to Bollywood. But he is a sharp player. A while back, Sohail Khan approached him to lend his track ‘Channo’ to the film Fight Club. They had distorted Ali’s catchy ‘Channo’ to a mediocre vulgar number. Ali refused to be a part of the project. Ultimately, someone else sang the song. Ali got the producers to give him credit for the melody without selling out his artistic integrity. And that is the way it should be.

Image consultancy
Ali Z started off with Tariq Amin. His videos were stylized to the max. At shows, Ali Z is always decent, if not always impeccably dressed. He does not wear clothes that make him look cheap. Ali also worked with Nabila, showing that he understands the power of image. Professionals make one understand what goes with one’s style sensibility and what doesn’t. Whatever he wears, he carries it smartly. Be it leather jackets or three-piece suits.

Instep, The News

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