One may be a famous personality or just a normal day-to-day kind of person, but what comes across and matters about a person is eventually his/her manners, inculcated perhaps in the home environment or by nature. One tends to meet all sorts of people very day of one's life but environment and attitudes, inborn in many, seldom change. One often hears of so and so having become a snob after attaining wealth, fame or both but my impression of Aaron Haroon Rashid of ex Awaz fame, now a solo performer, went up when having called him for an interview the day before, he sweetly agreed and kept his appointment with me without any excuses or hitches! Considering the tight schedule he was maintaining (he was going to India the next morning) and given half the chance, like maybe some other well known singers, he could have cancelled.
When we met, he was courteous, co-operative, relaxed, polite and apologetic (delays due to a previous appointment not having left), without any airs to boot. Greeting me in an all-black ensemble, he seated me with an offer of something to drink while he saw off his other guest. A product of a Pakistani father, and a New Zealander mother, born in London and educated in Pakistan and the US, the 30-year-old Aaron Haroon Rashid is an ambitious, focused, patient, caring yet private man. Here he speaks to SHE about his aspirations and hopes on the career and personal front. So here's Haroon for you...
Mehbooba is the hit song from Haroon's latest album, Lagan. The song is different from his earlier songs in the sense that it is a coming together of two very rich musical cultures, Arabic and Pakistani. The song is half sung in Urdu by Haroon and half in Arabic by two talented Lebanese female artists, Arlette and Silvie.
"I was always very inspired by Arabic music and as I have lots of Arab friends in Dubai and UK and everytime I go abroad I used to listen to Arabic songs. It just happened that once I was sitting at an Arabic restaurant in Karachi and they were playing some Arabic song and I liked it so much that I thought why not bring the two rich musical cultures together in one song. So I composed Mehbooba but for that I needed some Arab vocalist and I was lucky that there were two very talented Lebanese artists who happened to be in Pakistan at that time, Arlette and Silvie so I asked Silvie to come and sing and she sang the first few lines and left.
Once that was done I felt that's not enough I needed Arabic introduction, more in the middle but by then Silvie had left the country but luckily her sister Arlette stayed back for a week so I requested her to complete. At first she didn't agree but I asked her to come over, listen to the song and if she liked it then do it, so she came over and heard the song and just loved it and agreed to do the song! So she came back the next day and did the introduction and some parts in the middle as well, she had a great voice, I was lucky that she was here otherwise I had to go to Lebanon to get this song recorded." explained Haroon, when asked about the idea behind Mehbooba.
Haroon, keeping in mind the theme of the song chose the exotic location of Pyramids in Cairo, Egypt to film the video of Mehbooba, which was directed by the duo of Ahsan Rahim and Amena Khan. The location with its colorful Bedouin camps and ancient market place was the perfect backdrop for Mehbooba, how did he come up with the idea of shooting at the Pyramids.
"It just happened that I met Khalid Alvi and told him to check out this new song and after listening to it, he jokingly said if we are going to shoot it in Cairo and I thought that is a good idea actually!!! So I started working on that and naturally we had a certain budget to work within, so we started contacting production companies in Cairo and finally linked up with one Cairo based British company so I flew down there on my own to discuss eveything with them.
I reached there at night and next morning when I drew back the curtains of my hotel room and what I saw right in front of me were the great Pyramids, that was just awesome and breathtaking so I decided this is where we are going to shoot. So we discussed the cost and it came out to be around $60,000 which was way beyond our budget, so we contacted another production company, they liked the song and the cost worked out as well so I came back to Pakistan to form a story line and go back and shoot.
Initially, I just wanted to keep the video simple by standing in front of the Pyramids and do a little bit of bhangra but then everyone at Interflow and Pepsi sat together and decided to have a story board. The concept is that I play a tourist in Cairo and I find an ancient half map and go to discover the other half and I meet an old man who says that if you win this game of Dominos then you get the other half which I win and the map leads me to a jewel, which leads me to a Bedouin camp where I see this beautiful girl dancing who is wearing a necklace which perfectly fits the jewel, thus the mystery is solved!
It wasn't easy getting the permission to shoot at the Pyramids but luckily there was a person we used to call "The Don" because of his get up, slick hair, body guards running around him and his contacts so he got us the permission at very low rates, all in all, it was a great experience shooting in Cairo, we shot day and night for three days. I think this is probably the best video I have done so far and I enjoyed working a lot with this team of Ahsan and Amena, Interflow and Pepsi." narrates Haroon.
ON HIS FAMILY. EDUCATION, MUSIC, IDEAS..,
What made you choose music as a career?
What made me go into music... The first conscious, clear thought that I had of becoming a musician was when I was about nine years old. I'd decided to put on some background music of the 'Beatles' while sitting and doing my homework. Suddenly this song came on and I just left my homework and listened to the whole tape for an hour. It was great music! I'd heard them before off and on, but that was the first time I realized these are great songs and all by the same people. That's when I felt a real inspiration. I felt something inside me! Each song evoked different emotions in me. I did a little research... not research really (starts to laugh, a little embarrassed by his own words), I basically asked my Mum about them and she told me about the 'Beatles' being a famous band of the `60s.
Tell us something about your family?
My mother plays the piano and she sings... She was an opera singer in New Zealand. So that's where I get my musical source. Because of her, there was always a piano in our house. So we used to tinker about on it.
We're four siblings in all. I am the eldest, `the responsible one'. I used to look after my siblings, if my parents went out I would be put in charge. I have two younger brothers. One of them, Daud, is also a very talented musician, he became a computer systems analyst, now he's itching to make some music.
The brother younger to Daud - is a businessman. And then I have a sister, she's the youngest, and we're pretty good friends. She did mention to me that she wants to do some recordings (he starts laughing at that). That's the good thing about having a sibling with a recording studio.
As for myself, I've been writing music now since I was about 12 or 13 years old. After the Beatles experience, I sort of hounded my family to buy me a guitar, and at almost 13, I got my first one. I wrote songs, and they were awful! I also have the advantage of playing by ear and write songs in English and Urdu. I express myself better in English though. However, when I think of releasing an album here, I think from an Urdu point of view.
I've spent most of my life in Islamabad but have been in Karachi for the last few years now, because that's where you've gotta be `to do what I do'.
What about your father, does he also have a musical bend?
No, not really. He's more into his business. It's mainly my mother. She's always encouraged me, supported me. My family's a very open-minded one.
I've done my BBA in Business Finance from the George Washington University in Washington DC and then I did my Ph.D. in Physics (just kidding and bursts out laughing at his own quip). But I have done my BBA and once I graduated I came back and got into music.
Not everybody makes it in this line, do you think it essential to have a relevant education, considering the insecurities involved in this field?
I think if you have belief in yourself and a vision, you should just go for it, especially if you get positive feedback from the people around (he emphasizes on the vision, very firmly). No doubt education does matter, but it's not as important as experience, which does count and educate you. I wish I'd done something in music (educationally speaking). I just took my time once I did my degree, then I became a professional singer.
Did your parents insist on your going this far in your studies?
Yes, they wanted me to do this and I wanted to oblige them.
Do they interfere in your career?
I might discuss things with them generally but they don't interfere, they're very supportive. They did show some concern after Awaz didn't come up with any new projects, saying, `You've been up there in Karachi for years, so what are you doing?'
But back then, with Awaz, it was a pretty laid back kind of a thing. We didn't have a manager, management or any sort of serious systematic way of working, `Chalo yaar, let's do this, or hey guys we need to practice'. We were just friends making music, but it doesn't work like that because its a very serious thing, its not a joke. It was good fun, but hey, you gotta get serious about things. And now I'm doing things differently.
ON HIS CAREER...
How have you enjoyed the musical trip so far?
I've had some incredible highs... and some lows as well, but generally I think it's a great profession to be in. And especially as a solo artiste, I feel a lot more satisfaction. Because the work you do is you! If it succeeds or fails, you know that's because of your work. While if one's in a band, and there are three other members, the success and failures can be spread, and if something doesn't work out, one can pass the buck.
Why did you feel the need to go on as a solo artiste and break away from a band that to date has a name to contend with?
We weren't clicking anymore. Somehow the excitement of getting together and doing a new album wasn't there anymore. Initially, we used to be psyched up, but maybe that excitement disappeared. There was a bit of boredom, maybe a clash of musical ideas. Since all of us had our own ideas, each of us in our own right, as composers, wanted to try out different things. Despite this, we still didn't have any intention of breaking up the band. It was as if being in Awaz was like being in a sort of safety net. But four years is a long time for any band not to have done an album. We did a couple of singles and were still doing shows, but that wasn't enough for me. I was beginning to get frustrated; especially in the last couple of years. From '98 onwards, I started, started feeling very itchy to do more work, to do music, to get it out... that's when I made the decision to go solo. Initially, there was obviously, a bit of shock. But then I guess they all realized that this was the best route to take for everybody involved. There was no new music coming out and for all intents and purposes, Awaz was pretty much a dead band. So now all of us are doing new music and going solo, which is great.
What do you feel when you compose music? Is it for the masses, for yourself?
With this album, in some ways it's not a safe album , in some ways it pushed limits - it's not your typical commercial album. People nowadays are doing very `ethnic oriented' stuff- Bhangra or it's very folk. 1 generally steered clear from that. Even when I did use elements of folk, I used it in a way that is very folkish in melody but western and clubby.
I didn't do your stereotypical album for the masses. I did music that I wanted to do. Stuff that I thought was cool. It was a risk. Yeah, I'm satisfied. I think I really understood everything about mixing by the time I'd done the last track! Maybe I could go back and do it again, but then you have deadlines. I enjoyed doing this album. The rest, it's a skill that will stay with me forever, and I'll keep using it.
Did you set up the studio in your apartment especially for the purpose of the album?
Originally, it was set up to do Awaz albums, then when I found myself working on it on my own, I felt this is not an Awaz album, this is more of a solo album. So I went ahead and made a solo album.
Is music, for you, a full-time career or is it just a part-time activity?
It's a full-time career. To do this successfully, it has to be a full-time job. There's so much you can do and there are so many rewards of being a popular singer, apart from a lot of financial rewards.
A lot of singers (famous and wanna be) feel this is not a very secure line to be in?
I think once you become popular, then you're fine and if you're not to stupid but smart, you can sustain that. It's a matter of breaking through.
What was your first break in music as a band like?
After I graduated, I hooked up with Fakhir, who was a friend. We happened to do a few shows. But I decided that wasn't the way to go, we had to make an album, a video. First thing to do I felt, was to get a record deal. I made a video of a song I'd written called `Janeman'. We gave the video to a couple of TV people but they were all very negative and said you guys don't have what it takes. Then I sent it off to MTV with a forwarding letter and they played it. It was enough to make an impact locally. That was our initial break. After that, people started calling us with offers. The whole idea of a video then ('91) was a very new concept.
Was making a music video then difficult/expensive, as compared to now?
There was a company in Islamabad that we (Awaz) worked with and they gave us a very good deal in Rs. 15,000 and `Janeman' from our first album was released. The videos we are, doing now are on a very high budget. The last video I did, cost anywhere between 12 to 13 lakh of rupees. A huge difference - a lot of responsibility. Ahsan Rahim, a very talented director, did the last video. It was four days of work. The song was Tara', and I was very concerned, this being my first solo, luckily, it turned out good.
Where do you see yourself seven years further down the road?
(Ponders) It's hard to say. Its a matter of what's attainable. I think I would like to, in the next seven years, still be making music albums, doing shows. ,But at the same time I see myself getting more involved with the production side of music. I produced this album, I composed most of the songs. I engineered and recorded them. It's something I'd like to keep at as I enjoyed doing up. I'd also like to work with other people on different projects.
When are you planning to work on your next album?
I'd like to have an album out sometime next year. Right now, I'm working on some melodies, ideas and songs; the shape is what takes time. Anyone can come up and hum a nice tune but to put it in a form which will appeal to people is a difficult thing to do.
Why is it that on MTV, the name Pakistan never makes it on air? Nobody seems to know it's a Pakistani video or singer...
That's because MTV is based in India.
But MTV is not Indian, is it? It's global...
MTV is supposed to be global, true, but I never thought about that. I do agree that MTV and Channel `V' should be more international.
Will you be going to India soon to promote your video/songs?
Yes, I will definitely have to go because unless you don't release your album in India, they're not going to play your songs on MTV or Channel `V'.
Is that in a contract?
Why is it understood that you have to release it in India, if it's not in the contract?
(Thoughtful) Because... um... they're catering mainly to the Indian market, as far as they are concerned. That's a huge market for them. Maybe Pakistan isn't such a huge market for them, although it can be. They're looking at the bigger picture. I think one should try to get their music out to all the different regions, that's the whole object of doing music
Are the tours tiring?
(Replying enthusiastically) The tours in UK are incredible - you're on an adrenaline, exciting, incredible venues... venues that some of my personal idols have performed in. Last year, in October, I performed at the Wembley Arena, there were 10,000 people. It was an incredible feeling. There were a lot of Pakistanis there and they all knew the Away songs. I will now be going as a solo artiste... just `Haroon'! It's a major change, but I'm ready for it.
What about adulation?
It does feel good. But at the same time I know that it's a sort of a temporary thing. When you're performing in front of people, you're entertaining them and so the adulation thing is all a part of the business. It's not real. I'd never let it go to my head.
Do you ever wonder whether a person is going for the actual you or your star status?
I think what happens is that because of you being a public person you can make friends easily. I think it's a nice thing. It often opens doors for me. You get to meet people and make friends and then in the next phase they get to know you as an individual. And the whole star thing, the whole wall, just sort of evaporates and it becomes a one on one thing.
What about girls coming up to you, writing or calling you ? does it bother you?
No, no, it doesn't bother me (laughs). I think it's okay to meet them at concerts. I'm a good boy (Haroon says this with a twinkle in his eye).
ON A PERSONAL NOTE...
What about late working hours?
The only time I have a late night is when I'm doing a show. And then you're so hyped from the show it takes time to come down... to unwind. But generally, I don't think my lifestyle too wacky or wild. I am not a parry person, I'm a home-bird. I do like to socialize, I do like to go to parties, but generally I'm the sort of person who'd like to chill out with close friends and maybe sit at home, do a bit of music, play my guitar, maybe watch a movie... stuff like that.
I really enjoy playing squash, sometimes I go for jogging and very occasionally I might go to the gym and lift a few weights, which is quite boring, I do it now and again to keep fit.
What about your own image?
I think image does count. Whatever goes. I often go for the cheap and flashy image. I wouldn't be caught dead walking down the street in those clothes. You don't wanna dress like the guy on the street, you want to look different.
Getting back to music, have you had any formal training in classical music?
With my solo album, I did some voice training with an Ustad. I believe it definitely helped me.
Would you suggest vocal training?
It definitely helps. Some people have a natural talent, while others need to work at it, but either way you can really polish what you have.
ON MARRIAGE, RELATIONSHIPS...
Do you think getting married would affect your career?
I don't think so. At the end of the day if your music is good, that's what counts, if they really like you. There are lots of other people who are married... Look at Junaid Jamshed, he's got legions of female fans and he's been married for years. It didn't affect his popularity, did it?
You're now thirty, do you also feel the need to get married, settle down with someone? Do you think being married, shows, late night recordings etc. would affect a fiancé, spouse..
Yeah, now and then I do feel the need and other times I think no, this is fine. I'm concentrating on something and I need to give my all, effort and time. But then I feel that it would be nice to settle down. Start a family. Luckily, I have my own recording studio so that won't be a problem. If I go on a long tour I'd take my wife with me, I wouldn't leave her behind.
I like to keep a pretty sane way of living. A lot of pop singers I know like to wake up at four o'clock in the afternoon and they sleep at nine in the morning, but I don't. I like to get up early in the morning. I try to get up by eight and get on with my life in the normal way.
What kind of a woman are you searching for?
I love our Pakistani women. I'd like to be with somebody who obviously connects with me... you have to be attracted to the person... you have to be able to enjoy their company. Someone who's a friend as well as a... and my little kitty (we're interrupted by his cat), someone with whom you can be yourself. Someone who has shared experiences... the usual... someone attractive.
Have you found someone like that?
Well, by the time this is released I won't be married, that's for sure. There may or may not be... (thus he ends on a mysterious note.