He’s got the talent, the looks, and the charisma, and he’s ready to take the entertainment industry by storm.
Danyal Zafar is following in the footsteps of his famous older brother, Ali Zafar, and trying to establish his name in the world of music and acting. In a chat with Us, the budding star talks about venturing into the music business, his upcoming debut album, and the experience of working with his elder sibling.
Us: Could you please tell Us a bit about your early life, upbringing, and education?
Danyal Zafar: My most vivid memory of childhood is when I lived at my grandparents’ house. I must have been four. I used to live with my cousins and went to the same school as them - it was LGS in Lahore Cantt. I then moved to Beaconhouse Defence Campus, and stayed there from grade one till my O and A Level graduation.
I think growing up I was more privileged compared to my brothers [Ali and Zain]. I went to the same school as them, but where they took cycles and vans, I had the luxury of going in an air-conditioned car every day; where they got gifts once a year on their birthdays, I’d get toys once a month at least. But I did make sure to make my parents proud and happy when it came to my studies. I wasn’t too bright initially, but after middle school I went on to score six A*s and three As in my O Level and two A*s and a Distinction Level 2 in my A Level.
Right after that, I took two gap years as some work prospects came by, films in particular, that would’ve required me to spend a lot of time in training (for acting) as well as shooting. Some didn’t go through, and when I had some free time on my hands till the next projects, I decided to attend the New York Film Academy in L.A. and take on the one year conservatory filmmaking course. However, the funny thing is, the very day I landed, I got an audition call for another film in India. But since I had paid for the first semester, I tried delaying it till at least it was finished - and then sent the audition. It went through and after my first semester I packed my bags and left for India.
My parents have been extremely supportive of my decisions. I don’t think parents usually let their children skip on bachelors or getting a degree; even if they do they’d hardly be in favour of it. But in my case I was extremely lucky and fortunate enough to have parents who let me pursue my goals and heart the way I wanted to, despite being professors! Though my mother said to me once, “You’ve scored good grades, it’d be unfair if you never pursue knowledge and education at a higher level as well; when you do is another thing, but do go for it”. I just completed first year of my Bachelors from University of London!
Us: You are still in your early 20s, so you must have been very young when your elder brother Ali started gaining prominence in the entertainment industry almost 15 years ago. What impact, if any, did his fame have on your life in your childhood and teens?
Danyal: Well, I know the feeling that’s always been persistent and always will be, too. I felt immensely proud of him. When he would come to pick me up from school - I think I was around nine at that time - I’d ask him to sing in front of everyone, or flaunt his muscles! When I grew up and got into music, I was nothing but inspired by him. The talent he has is something different, but to see him work so hard was what would inspire me. Growing up, I kind of changed a bit. There are people who love introducing themselves on the weight of their popular or powerful family members, but I was always taught to work towards building my own identity. So I would never straight up tell people about him, though from the slight resemblance in early age and the surname people would just figure it out on their own! But he’s so humble, even at home, that I never felt I was the brother of a star!
Us: What inspired you to become a singer? Did your elder brother’s career and success influence your decision to venture into the music industry?
Danyal: Every individual’s success is his/her own. Of course watching someone suddenly become successful does inspire you to take steps for yourself, too. But there were personal factors as well that led me to get into music. My brother gave me his Zen music player (like an iPod), and I was travelling to the United States then. It had all the western classics one could wish for. I started listening, and I took a guitar with me, which I did not know how to play much other than a few chords my brother had taught me (he just put a guitar in my hands and in 10 minutes taught me three chords, and I went off from there!) But this trip changed a lot of things for me. I heard Pink Floyd and Jeff Buckley for the first time and I remember I immediately started taking lessons online.
Certain moments really inspired me like being out and about in nature, in small tourist forests, by the beach, by the sea, a river, walking by myself in Manhattan, late night walks in beautiful neighbourhoods and so forth. Then I started playing the guitar nearly every day at some park or the other, and the next thing you know I was humming originals.
Apart from this, what really inspired and pushed me on a personal level was the feeling I would get when I would listen to music. I would feel so connected with myself. Music helped me express; it would help me experience my emotions much deeper. It was like therapy! If I was down or sad, listening to sad music would actually help me vent and feel better. I wanted to help others experience this, too. I wanted to make music that would let others experience what I did. Help them feel better or relate to something at least, connect with something; that inspired me a lot.
When I came back, my brother saw me evolving as a musician, and he took me to his studio every day. I’d be playing guitar on his songs and what not, and at this stage, seeing him sing, seeing him make music, working so hard, then inspired me on a more practical/executional level.
Us: We saw you performing as a vocalist and guitarist last year on Coke Studio, which is the country’s most prominent musical platform. Why did you feel this was the best vehicle for you to make your musical debut? And why did ‘Muntazir’ feel like the best song to introduce yourself to listeners?
Danyal: As you’ve just mentioned, it is the country’s most prominent musical platform! It enables you to voice yourself in front of the whole country, and not just that, Coke Studio also has a huge international following! I don’t think it’s an opportunity anyone will pass, as you’re getting a chance to showcase your talent in front of millions of people.
‘Muntazir’ was right up my alley at that time. In those days, I was trying to figure out what sound I would have for my own music, and pop rock and soft rock was really taking the lead. It’s like they say, when you’re working towards something, the universe starts aligning you to it. And ‘Muntazir’ happened! It was like a breath of fresh air, though it had hints of a classic Strings tune, but I felt connected to it.
Us: You also worked with Ali on the music for the film Teefa in Trouble, which is a huge box office hit. Congratulations on the success of the movie! How was the experience of working on the soundtrack? And how different was it from recording your own songs for your debut album?
Danyal: Thank you! Up till this film we had worked together so much that we just had this flow of working with each other without having to say much even. That’s how the songs happened - we would discuss everything once and just get to it. And whatever we made first would just be it. There wasn’t any single song that got scrapped or reworked! But of course the music was film based so the experience was different such that we had to align with the situations in the film, but when I saw the final product everything just settled so perfectly. It was just the way we envisioned everything!
When I work in isolation, not just the thinking and the approach, but even the process is very different for me. That’s because my sound is very different from his. Apart from the fact that the music for the film was situational, and the album was just music itself, my way of writing, structuring the song, figuring out the sound, all was entirely different in every way.
Us: Speaking of your own music, you are planning to release your first album, Ek Aur Ek 3, soon. What can you tell Us about the album?
Danyal: Well, I’ve put my blood and sweat in it. I’ve produced most of the tracks myself. It’s taken me long to figure out how I wanted the album to turn out; a lot of songs were scrapped, a lot added, a lot changed entirely in their production. Here’s how it happened: I kept going to the studio for about eight to nine months, and would make a new song nearly every day. I just kept making songs after songs, and when I felt like I can’t anymore or there was monotony, I stopped. And from what I had made, I chose the best lot and decided to come out with it. And it’s not like I’m going to drop all the songs together on one day; albums in Pakistan don’t work that way, unfortunately. They’ll be released with 2-3 months of gap between each song so that every song gets its recognition . Still I chose for them to be part of one album because they are songs I made in one phase - I want for them to be considered a ‘phase’ as well, hence the album.
Us: You are releasing the title track ‘Ek Aur Ek 3’ as the first single. How would you describe the song?
Danyal: All I can say is that it’s a blend of blues, R&B, and funk fused with our traditional and cultural musical elements. I’ve tried doing something experimental hence don’t want to give away too much. But there’s definitely a surprise to look forward to!
Us: You also have acting aspirations. Any projects in the pipeline on that front?
Danyal: As of now, none. I’m trying to focus on music as much as possible and have my energy channelled in one direction.
Us: What kind of music do you listen to? Who are some of your favourite artists?
Danyal: I listen to everything. I’ve never looked at music in genres. Though, I’m always in the mood for some blues, funk, R&B, chill vibe, psychedelic rock. These days I’ve discovered some lo-fi stuff so I’ve been really into that. My favourites are John Mayer, Pink Floyd, and Jeff Buckley.
Us: And who are your favourite actors?
Danyal: Favourite actors are Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Adrien Brody, Robert De Niro, Margot Robbie, Sharon Stone, Charlize Theron, and Helena Bonham Carter.
Us: What are your hobbies? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time (presuming you have any)?
Danyal: Oh man, I am a sucker for gaming! I play Counter-Strike 1.6 on LAN with my friends like crazy. All-nighters maybe every weekend, sometimes even every 2-3 days. I’ve wasted a lot of my time gaming and I’m not even ashamed of it!
Us: What can we expect from you in the coming months?
Danyal: Lots and lots and lots of music! Of all kinds, some that will even take people by surprise!
- Sameen Amer