It has been long overdue but Ali Zafar’s fans can finally stop calling him “Channo Boy” now that his Huqa Paani and Masty days are over. An era of bubble gum pop is blowing away with drastic winds of change. These winds have brought Ali new horizons and escalated heights of stardom, making this boy from Lahore a man of the world. And the genre of music he was known for has been popped, overwritten and replaced by a much more mature sound that comes as an ode to self-discovery rather than an urge to please teeny-bopper fans.
Reading between the lyrics of this twelve track album, one senses the nomad in Ali Zafar overshadow the urban, city slicker. And it’s a quest for truth and identity that he searches for in Jhoom. As the title suggests, it is an attempt to blur dividing lines and hone into the self as an integral part of the universe. The essence of Jhoom is pertinent at a time when Ali sets up a workplace in India while his heart and family reside in Lahore, Pakistan. To feel oneness with the world, the universe is what he needs most and that poignancy comes from his heart and soul.
The title track Jhoom dictates the tone for the entire album. Contemplative as well as introspective, it uses the symbol of the chakra as the focal point and blends religion, society, nation and knowledge together. Jhoom is a mesmerizing track, undoubtedly the strongest on the album, and very easily one that a person can get addicted to.
Having witnessed Ali recording the video of Jhoom in a studio in Mumbai (Breakthrough Kid, Images 2010) it is easy to see how easily he is adapting to this new avatar. Seldom do musicians make it big in films; Madonna and Hilary Duff are prime examples of cross over failures and there are hardly any examples in India at all. That actors of the golden era (like Ashok Kumar) sang their own songs was one thing and that contemporary actors choose to croon a song or two in their career is another. But balancing a film and music career successfully hasn’t been done in this part of the world (unless you count Himesh Reshammiya as a success) and Ali Zafar certainly did need the grounding and balance of Jhoom to manage it. One has to see him amongst his cast and crew to understand how dignified he is in doing so.
Three other songs on the album – Jee Dhoondta Hai, Koi Umeed and Jaan-e-Mann – follow the path Jhoom carves out. The former has him soul searching into Mirza Ghalib’s mesmerizing lyrics. This ghazal was, of course, made popular in the 1975 Bollywood hit Mausam starring Sanjeev Kumar and Sharmila Tagore. And while Lata Mangeshkar, Bhupinder and Madan Mohan will always be associated with the original film composition, Ali’s vocals on this track only strengthen it as the melody lingers on. While the lyrics are bittersweet, the production value is very crisp.
Koi Umeed Bar Nahin Aati, another great Ghalib ghazal, takes the pathetic fallacy a notch deeper into melancholy. Following Ali Zafar on Facebook, reading into his updates as he sits out the Mumbai rain or Valentine’s Day alone in a hotel room, one can almost empathize with the split his soul suffers for success. Jaan-e-Mann is a product of that loneliness in the madding crowd though as a melody it doesn’t measure up to the former two.
Fortunately, the optimism in Ali’s personality takes over in Nahin Re Nahin, a gentle and elevating track. There is hope in Jhoom, the album, and it is best revoked in the four brilliant tracks better known for their triumph on Coke Studio. After Nahin Re Nahin play Yar Dhadhi Ishq, Daastan-e-Ishq and Allah Hu, which need absolutely no introduction in Pakistan. The good thing is that Ali Zafar has transported the Coke Studio phenomenon to India, and there’s a very good chance these tracks develop the next big Sufi following since Rabbi Shergill’s Bulla. They certainly merit it.
Playing out the balance one would need to survive in a cut-throat Bollywood climate are two songs on the album: Tu Jaaney Na and Jab Sey Dekha Tujh Ko. They seem like the ideal Hindi film playback tunes that can lead to nothing but a happy ending. Tu Jaaney Na is peppy and youthful, albeit a bit of an anticlimax in the otherwise mature soundtrack. Jab Sey Dekha Tujh Ko is also a love song but much more effective.
The album tops up an R&B version of Jhoom, which is in no terms as effective as the original, and a dhol version of Daastan-e-Ishq. The ricochet of dhols makes this track extremely strong and it’s crystal clear why Yash Raj Music would choose to distribute Ali Zafar’s album worldwide. His own record company, Alif Records, has undertaken the task within Pakistan and thank God for that as they have added a thirteenth track, the Jazba anthem, that comes perfectly timed with cricket fever. Without the irritating advertorial quality of the song (that one has to bear on television), one realizes exactly how addictive it is. Let’s just hope the number thirteen doesn’t fall for bad luck in cricket.
As for Ali’s music, it certainly has come a long way since Masty, as he joins the Sufic dervishes in a new trance, a newly replenished oath to his identity, which is subliminally Pakistani. One feels that the tone of this album is also an attempt to retain his identity as a musician while he succumbs to the glitz of the golden screen. It’s all about balance. While Jhoom may be too mellow for his young fans and still a bit aspiring for Sufi purists, it is nevertheless a strong voice in transition.