“And be yourself is all that you can do all that you can do/To be yourself is all that you can do all that you can do/Be yourself is all that you can do.” -’Be Yourself’ by Audioslave
Looking at Azaan Sami Khan, the progeny of the vibrant and intelligent Zeba Bakhtiar and the music man Adnan Sami Khan (based in India), you can’t tell he is a star-kid because he carries no airs. He is gracious, polite (he adds ji to my name as a sign of respect), surprisingly forthcoming, introspective, private and eager to learn. His career graph is reflective of the last one publicly.
Between our last interview and this one, Azaan has gone ahead and created a solo music album that is far removed from his identity as a music director in films. From music direction to editing, producing and writing (and on and on it goes), he seems to have done it all. It is something he credits his mother for.
If there’s anything that was missing from his resume, it was a non-filmy record. He’s gone ahead and done that as well with the title song (‘Main Tera’) out with a smashing music video.
Actors dabble in music and musicians especially double as actors. The new wave of cinema (and television) can confirm this. Azaan had what was his strongest year as a music director in 2019 with films such as Parey Hut Love and Superstar. Some of the biggest and most iconic names in cinema were involved with the films. He wrote the screenplay for Superstar. And Azaan’s next will be acting in a film.
However, the year 2020 and 2021 (so far) have been aberrations where so much has changed that the abnormal has become the new normal. Azaan, too, went for an aberration. Attached to cinema for so long, the young artist decided to create an independent solo album in which he would be singing while giving us his own narrative, experiences and homage to the kind of music that first and foremost appeals to him. When you hear his voice, it will throw you off for a couple of seconds at least. When this strong voice settles down, what does come across is how deeply personal this record is going to be, going by the first track alone.
To create something and put it before the public is courageous enough but to do it for the first time is tougher. Add to it the growing tradition of singles-only and a 9-track album is indeed an aberration from someone so prolific. But Azaan, sitting before his computer monitor and ready to talk via Zoom, about his upcoming album, thinks otherwise.
“It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you/Everything I do/I tell you all the time/Heaven is a place on earth with you.” -‘Video Games’ by Lana Del Rey
As the conversation oscillates between Azaan’s accomplishments and his upcoming non-film debut album, it is impossible to not segue to what is now a global question. How has Azaan been dealing with the coronavirus and the way it has changed the world?
“I was in London a week before they were literally shutting down everything. I was recording there and since then I haven’t been back. I’ve been in Pakistan,” he reveals. Azaan has spent (approximately) the last 10 months in Pakistan.
“I need to go back and record some stuff but I’m waiting on that. I remember when I was in the UK initially people were not taking it seriously.”
Before getting into Azaan’s reasons for wanting to put out a solo album, we go back to the Lux Style Awards (LSAs). Azaan produced a song for LSA featuring a slew of artists. It also included Macedonic Symphony Orchestra.
I wonder whether the LSA single that featured the symphony from Macedonia fueled his imagination to add them to his record. Azaan confirms in the affirmative; his album features 65 musicians from 5 countries and a total of 9 songs.
Apart from the title track, the plan to release the record, according to Azaan, is to first release 4 to 5 original singles and then “drop the audio”. The aim is to do all this by November of 2021.
The addition of symphonies has its own meaning to Azaan that can be heard in the upcoming album in various musical hues.
“When I was doing film scores, whenever we were recording string sections and the orchestra parts, I always wanted to record them live. I had the opportunity to assist on different scores and things when I was younger. I was aware of the difference(s) in sound.”
As Azaan notes, there is no comparison between recording live as compared to music being programmed. “It expands the sound greatly and changes the dynamics of it.”
“Traditionally, film scores have always been done like that but a film’s budget sometimes doesn’t always allow for such things. When it came to the album, I was like I want to pull out all the stops.”
Azaan never expected the kind of love and response his music received from Parwaaz Hai Junoon to Parey Hut Love to Superstar. He believes in longevity of music (and he achieved it with the trio of films). When Azaan comes across people, say a group of boys, listening to his compositions like ‘Ghalat Fehmi’ years later and it still resonates with them – that means more to him than any tangible form of appreciation. That longevity is what he yearns for with every composition.
“My mum said to me right after Parey Hut Love that either you open a shop and keep churning out work constantly and say yes to whatever work that comes your way or you go away for a while and come back with something that is your best. The audience will be happy to see you and realise that at least he has done something instead of showing up week after week, rehashing old work.”
Azaan chose the latter and wanted to showcase some growth and evolution musically. It is reflective in the effort that has gone in his upcoming 9-track album. The first song alone has crossed 5 million views and is going strong.
The making of the album began with development of compositions followed by the lyrics. “I genuinely wanted to make an album that carries the sound that is synonymous to me. I own it.”
A team was assembled including people Azaan had worked with before as well as new names. That is how it was built and the sonic landscape now features different symphony orchestras like the Turkish symphony on one particular song or an Irish-Celtic musician from London and so on.
Azaan admits that he was told that independent music is for a niche audience (the greatest misconception). “I don’t believe that,” he says, “If you create the right sound and correct music videos, I think it can reach a larger audience.”
“Two hundred miles to clear/Chasing a sound I hear” -‘The Bandit’ by Kings of Leon
Azaan agrees that a film score is tied to the film’s narrative and an independent album has its own narrative. What, then, is the story of Main Tera?
Azaan agrees that an independent record has its own story, whatever it maybe. “I’m glad you said that because I’ve had this battle with people for ten months about wanting to do an album. I’ve had those situations in a movie (as music director) where I’ve gone through some heartbreak or some joyous moment. I’ve presented a melody that’s been composed on a very personal note. I’ve been told this doesn’t fit in the film. And then I’ve realised that I’m inserting something personal and that’s how the melodies got collected overtime.”
Main Tera is Azaan’s debut album and he says “I’ve heard artists I love and respect say that your first album is a lifetime’s work but the sophomoric effort is a year and a half.”
“This album is my life so far. My first crushes, my first heartbreaks, my first encounter with betrayals, euphoria, ultimatums, unimaginable happiness…”
In a nutshell, this is Azaan Sami Khan’s emotional journey in life so far in a musical format. He’s been asked often if he will only make romantic music. But Azaan is articulate and confident about his ideas. “You know I say that I don’t know because I’ve been inspired by people like Kishore Kumar sahib, R.D. Burman sahib, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and many classical composers. But, I’ve also been very fascinated by bands like Coldplay and Muse whose albums have a very socio-political context as well.
They talk about A.I (artificial intelligence) and robots, etc, so I don’t know what I’ll be making two-three years later. The one distinction I found between independent music and film music is that the former has taken a much bigger, emotional toll on me than film music. I don’t think I could churn out a second album within a year. I know that I need to live a little and have something to talk about before making another album.”
“There are songs on Main Tera that take me to happy places and some do not take me to happy places and it does take an emotional toll. It’s vulnerable, raw and romantic and a collection of who I am and is biographical in a sense.”
Technology made it possible for Azaan to connect to other musicians and “monitor” sessions from around the world.
“Oh, take the time to waste a moment/Oh, face it where the lines are broken/Oh, name a price to all that’s living...”
-‘Waste a Moment’ by Kings of Leon
A strong musical career doesn’t mean Azaan is unwilling to consider other roles within the entertainment world including acting.
“It is on the cards,” he says about acting in a film. “I’ve been clear about this that if I do it (a film), I’ll give it my 100 per cent or I won’t do it. There are things in the pipeline; there are conversations but the stress has always been one fact: I would never want to jump and do two things (music, acting) at the same time. If we’re doing a film, we’re spending time on it.
For me though, 2021 is about getting each song out correctly in the best possible way I can and then perform the songs when things open up. I want to sing songs with the audience and get that sense of community going because – I said this to you the last time as well – I want to be a performer and entertainer. And whatever acting does happen will and from my end, it will get a 100 per cent,” he says on a parting note.