"We got a great welcome wherever we went, whether in Delhi, Jaipur or Ahmedabad. In Ahmedabad we received an amazing ovation, the entire route from the airport to the public school was packed with people chanting slogans"
Chote Ustaad. This was one Star Plus music competition along the lines of American Idol that grabbed attention and imaginations like none other. It was a stroke of genius on the part of whoever thought of pairing, for the first time, Indian and Pakistani children together in teams rather than competing against each other, singing together and fighting for one title. There were plenty of highs and lows during the nearly three month long struggle of these Chote Ustaad (little masters) - who also undoubtedly learnt a lot about bridging gaps, through music and personal endeavour. Rising above the other ten pairs were Rouhan Abbas from Pakistan and Aakansha Sharma from India who clinched the coveted 2010 Chote Ustaad title.
Until this programme, no one outside Rouhan's small town in Punjab had heard of him. Today, the 13-year-old (born in Gujrat, Punjab, on January 1, 1997) is a show stopper and a household name across India and Pakistan. "I can't go to school regularly because the children recognise me and that distracts the entire school," the erstwhile student of Progressive Public School in Gujrat told Aman ki Asha. "I will complete my education privately."
Rouhan today finds himself in a place any teenager would dream of. He is famous, he has won a good amount of money with which he can buy trendy gadgets, he got to meet celebrities like Kareena Kapoor (although he hadn't until now heard of Aisamul Haq).
Following are excerpts of an interview the self-possessed young singing star gave Aman ki Asha in Lahore recently.
Aman ki Asha: From where did you get your early music education?
Rouhan Abbas: I received my initial classical music schooling from my father Farman Ali Jaffry. Then it was my elder brother who guided me to take singing seriously because in our family music is like a religion.
My paternal uncle Shaukat Ali, who is also my ustaad has set high standards for the family. I always knew that it would be tough to gain his confidence - one had to be brilliant in the field to win over his heart. But slowly and steadily I did that. After learning the basics from my father I became his shagird.
AkA: After getting this initial training did you ever think you would be part of something like Chote Ustaad - given that there aren't many platforms for artistes here?
RA: No, I never planned or set any goals as such but while following various Indian music shows I prayed that someday if auditions are done in Pakistan I might get a chance. In the past we saw many Pakistani singers participating in Indian shows, people like Amanat Ali and Mussarat but there was never such an opportunity for children.
My father was told about the auditions and after two weeks I got a call from the channel that I was selected. I couldn't believe it! I was really happy and wanted to make the best of this opportunity.
AkA: Your introductory song Sajda from My Name Is Khan really set the tone for you. How did you feel when you sang Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's song right in front of him?
RA: Honestly I was a little nervous and signing Sajda before Rahat Fateh added to the pressure. It was my first performance at Chote Ustaad and I wanted to create an impact on the judges and the people of India and Pakistan who were seeing me for the very first time.
At that point I just recalled what Ustaad Shaukat always taught us - you should never be afraid before your performance, leave everything to Allah and you'll do well. But singing in front of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Sonu Nigam was a big task!
Aka: How was Aakansha as a partner? And how much credit do you give her for this win?
RA: We won the title together. It wouldn't have been possible without her and she also feels the same about me. Aakansha is a very serious girl, if someone has to pursue a career in singing they should follow her.
She is serious and focused and I'm completely the opposite. At times I like to let myself go free. So even in rehearsals if I would joke a little she would get angry and say "Please concentrate, otherwise we will be eliminated." Because of this initially we also had some fights. But I liked her attitude, she was always open to criticism and would listen to suggestions. She didn't have any hang-ups about knowing more or less about music.
AkA: You improved with each week's performance. How has the whole experience changed Rouhan?
RA: When I left Pakistan I was trained in classical and folk singing but on Chote Ustaad I listened to western-pop genres and I tried adopting that. And you can see that I sang different genres; there were hardly any songs that were from my 'comfort zone'. Today, I feel that I'm more of a versatile singer.
AkA: What is that one thing that the Pakistani kids lacked if compared with their Indian fellows?
RA: We were all good in the Sufi genre, it came naturally to us. The Indian kids were good when it came to the western style. When we were paired for instance Aakansha didn't have any clue about Sufi singing but I guided her a lot. Similarly when it came to western rounds Aakansha helped me. So if they had a weak point we strengthened it... if we were lacking in something they lent a hand. All in all, it was a team effort which these young Indian and Pakistani children were doing.
AkA: Off the stage how was the atmosphere? Did you all become good friends?
RA: It was a great environment. We all used to have breakfast collectively, went to rehearsals together and just that activity of being one was unique in itself. Even someone who wasn't involved in serious music could sense the excitement in the air.
We got a great welcome wherever we went, whether in Delhi, Jaipur or Ahmedabad. In Ahmedabad we received an amazing ovation, the entire route from the airport to the public school was packed with people chanting slogans, Jeevay Jeevay Rouhan Jeevay or 'East or West Rouhan is the best'.
AkA: How much did you learn from your judges and the leading singers of India and Pakistan, Rahat Fateh Ali and Sonu Nigam?
RA: Learned a lot from both the maestros. Firstly Rahat sir, in the qawwali round he advised me to sing the qawwali soulfully, so that it would evoke the audiences completely and make a direct connection with Allah. He told me that i have to improve on the feel of this genre, he would say "heera hai tumharay pass isko tarasho" (you have a diamond that you must polish).
Sonu ji was also a great help, many times he guided me on various notations, like he would always suggest that instead of taking a lot of murkiyan in one note keep it simple and take one only. Or if it is difficult to memorise the taan then learn it with the help of numbers - and that did make things easy for me.
In fact, whatever they were teaching to the other contestants, I even listened to that very carefully because in future it will be helpful.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
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