With great ‘talent’ comes great responsibility. That’s more than true for the young breed of artists like Zaw Ali, who have the daunting task to outshine those before them. And in Zaw’s case, that’s her father, Sajjad Ali!
After listening to Ronay Na Diya, we can safely say that she is one talented singer. Her high notes and vocal tone has us floored. Now, we’re eagerly waiting for her to give us a low-key number so that we can claim: Like father like daughter!
Meanwhile, we have a tête–à-tête with Zaw to know how singing happened, what is her favourite TV show, and many such random facts that we’d like to know about this budding star.
What does your name mean?
Zaw is derived from Arabic/Persian and it means ‘the first ray of sun’ or ‘light/glow’.
What do you miss the most about Karachi/Pakistan?
I miss the mouth-watering street food and… this will sound cheesy, but since I was pretty young when we moved to Dubai, I miss my school and friends a lot. Haha!
When did you realise that you wanted to take up singing professionally?
Actually, I have been singing all my life so I never really thought about picking it up professionally. I always wanted to be a filmmaker, which is why most of my focus has been on Cinema, Literature, and History.
You directed a music video for your father – so what’s your real calling direction or singing?
Real calling… Well, in this day and age I believe that a person can most definitely be multi-talented and make it too. Yes, there’s always that one thing that one is their absolute best at, consciously or subconsciously.
I have always been a film freak and a bibliophile since a very young age, so Film was what I followed.
Music has always been around me. And I’ve always seen my father as a director, writer, poet, composer, actor, philosopher and intellectual and he’s been the no.1 inspiration in this regard. All his knowledge and genius rubbed off on all of his kids in different ways.
Tell us a bit about your experience as a Music Video Director?
Having grown up in a family that’s very heavily related to the show business, I was practically brought up either on location or in the recording studio. When I made my very first music video ‘Nakhun’ [which got nominated for HUM Awards earlier this year], that experience put everything in place for me.
The feeling of combining my love for music and my passion for film together gave me an indescribable high. It suddenly became the perfect art to me: combining sound and visual art to create something beautiful. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Recently when my father asked me to collaborate for Coke Studio, I felt it was about time I should do some singing as well and have some fun. That’s what life is all about. So if you’re lucky enough to find yourself at a place where you can merge passion and talent, then that’s just brilliant.
Have you received a formal training for any of the two?
My training for both began at home at a very young age and I have my father to thank for it. I owe most of my film education to my father, who introduced me to film at a very early age.
My teachers have been Melies, Fritz Lang, Ozu, Eisentein, Satyajit Ray, Kurosawa, Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, Fellini, Antonioni, Truffaut, Oliver Stone, Kubrik, Spielberg, Edgar Wright, and many other masters of the art.
As for music, training lies in listening and reading. I grew up with music from around the world covering pretty much every genre, from Western to Eastern classical and almost every major language.
As a singer/songwriter, I’ve been blessed to have a guideline in the form of our family library which consists of classic audio records, world cinema and the essentials of literature from Meer to Jaun Elia and Alf Leilah, Masnavi to Shahabnama, it has had everything to offer to nourish an artistic soul. I strongly feel that knowledge has a very key role to play in a singer/songwriter’s journey.
What have you studied so far?
Such obsession and knowledge landed me a writing job right after I finished my A-Levels. I became a film journo and critic.
I got to present my critique on world cinema, write scripts for corporate videos and interview A-list celebrities from around the world including Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Naseeruddin Shah, Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Ranbir Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Akshay Kumar, Sonakshi Sinha, Vidya Balan, Javed Sheikh, Ali Zafar, Ali Azmat, Humayun Saeed, Fahad Mustafa, Bilal Lashari, Pixar’s co-founder Dr. Alvy Ray Smith, Stephen Lang, Andy Serkis, Palestinian actor Ali Suliman to name a few.
How difficult is it to be Sajjad Ali’s daughter with all the expectations?
Hahah, it’s not difficult at all but yes, there’s always a certain amount of pressure.
How did Coke Studio happen?
As I mentioned earlier, my father was going to be part of the latest season and one day he heard me sing Begum Akhtar Sahiba’s ghazal. I had just discovered her and got addicted to that sound. He was rather surprised at me listening to classical music so he decided that this generation needs to be re-acquainted with the legendary singer through someone from their own generation.
Then both of us started planning on how to design ‘Ronay Na Diya’.
Who did you meet as soon as you entered the Coke Studio and what did he/she say to you?
Hmm… my memory is a bit fuzzy, because I was extremely excited. I think it was the house band whom I met right away on the first day of rehearsals, but I remember my eyes focusing on a dozen of flavoured donuts staring at me from the table, beckoning me towards them as soon as I entered. The donuts won. Then, [I met] the awesome Strings of course.
What’s the most memorable response you’ve gotten for Ronay Na Diya?
I’ve been getting calls/messages and comments from so many artists on my debut and for me all of them are extremely precious. But if I had to pick one, it was when the legendary ghazal singer, Ghulam Ali Sahab, called me up to congratulate me and told me that my voice reminded him of Barkat Ali Khan Sahab.
How did the jamming for Ronay Na Diya go? And is it difficult to work with your father?
Working with my dad is the best thing ever. We’re both usually in perfect sync when we’re in our zone. The jamming was so much fun. All the musicians coming together and putting their energies into it.
When we headed towards the final jam, we did it in just one take! And when we were done with it, we all just looked at each other and started clapping. I was told, it had never happened before. It was simply magical.
What do you do in your downtime?
Recharge my batteries with books, coffee, long-drives, and movies.
Name the song that you guys hum A LOT at home these days?
Has to be Ronay Na Diya, since we’ve been really excited for it (grin). One person would start it, another would pick it up from a different room and it basically creates a chain reaction, so everyone is singing the same song but in different parts of the house. It’s hilarious. It is pretty much like a jam session everyday.
Name three of your most favourite Sajjad Ali songs?
Totally unanswerable. Sorry guys!
One show that you CANNOT miss?
Game Of Thrones! Did you see that finale?!! Oh dear God!
What makes you mad?
One song that instantly puts you in a good mood?
‘Love Today’ by Mika.
What’s your greatest indulgence?
One item in your closet you wear the most?
My black jeans.
What should a woman try to do at least once in her life?
Travel. On their own.