Name: Shafqat Amanat Ali

Nationality: Pakistani

Occupation: Singer, songwriter, composer

If you enjoyed this interview with Shafqat Amanat Ali and would like to find out more about his work, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.

Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?

I wish I knew where it comes from. It’s just something natural in me. It’s just as natural to me as anything else I do.

Composition and creating also depends on what one is working on. If it’s a political song, it depends on the political atmosphere in the country or the world. If the situation is encouraging it moves you to create a composition that is positive. If the situation is oppressive, you want to create something that can be cathartic for the listener as well as for yourself.

It also depends on your personal relationships. It depends on what you are going through in your life, your relationships and how you want to portray a particular person or your own mood.

For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?

It depends on what you are working on. It also obviously depends on the brief and the project at hand.

If you are working on a specific brief for  a romantic song or a national song then you create accordingly.

How well you begin completely depends on the talent and ability of a person.

Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?

Normally, I don't follow a strict process. I have a natural process. I start composing and as I go along the composition or the melody or the lyrics just start flowing out of me. I prefer a more organic and natural process of creation. That‘s how I have always been.

If you start with pre-paved things, that doesn’t feel like pure creation to me. Normally, any tools that you do employ come after the basic creation has happened, more for enhancing it or putting it in a required format.  

Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?

From the list given here, I will pick out a few things that do help when I am in the creation phase of a project.

Certain aromas and scents do aid the creation process as they inspire so many emotions. They make you nostalgic and bring back memories. Sometimes, seldom, they bring back bad memories but mostly aromas are accompanied by good memories. Perfumes definitely make you travel back in time and inspire you to create something interesting.

What works for me is also good weather. I love the cold and I am most inspired when in hilly areas. If it’s the perfect temperature and it’s breezy or dark clouds hover over a hilly area, that‘s perfect lighting too for me. Cloudy areas, rain bring out the romantic side in me and affect the creation too. Even relationships influence the creation process.

Coffee does help in warming the throat when I am dubbing my vocals. But it plays no role in the creation process.

What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?

There is no hard and fast rule.

Mostly singers place their finger on their keyboard and play a certain chord or there is a certain chord progression they instinctively play, which becomes their starting point. If I sit with my harmonium and fiddle around with it, I mostly turn to a raga called Yaman and play certain notes and note phrases from the raga, which then get me into the mood and become a starting point.

But from there it can go in any direction.

When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?

Again there are no rules. Sometimes you think of a good melody and write lyrics to suit that melody or inspired by that composition. Other times you hear some good poetry or lyrics and you compose a melody to suit the mood of the poetry.

Sometimes poetry inspires you. Other times you write lyrics to decorate a melody you made.

What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?

According to me, you can‘t choose words, which are very hard for people to understand. I don‘t go for very easy lyrics either. Certain songs have lyrics which may not be used in every day life but they are still easy to undersatnd and sound beautiful.

For example, the words “Jaan Nissar” in the popular national song “Ae Watan Pyare Watan” are beautiful, yet easy without being trite.

Lyrics should be beautiful, yet not very tough to understand. That’s what I keep in mind while writing.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?

It varies from writer to writer and composer to composer. If a composer or singer has been given the task of creating something romantic, bringing something fresh or novel to the idea of romance is welcome, but you can‘t move completely away from the brief in the name of creativity and create something irrelevant. You can‘t create a revolutionary national song instead of the romantic one.

But sometimes while working on the brief, if something interesting emerges, which is not relevant to the current project or piece, I just like to save it, keep it away for a while and keep working on it until I am inspired by what is emerging as a separate creation. But I do not let it interfere with the current piece I am working on and like to stick to the brief.

There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?

Spirituality is definitely a part of anything in which you pour yourself with such passion. Music and all creative arts and perhaps anything that you immerse yourself into with single-minded focus ultimately becomes a spiritual experience. That’s my opinion anyway.

For me music has always been a spiritual experience and by that I don't mean it has to be something which needs a ritual and custom, but just something that connects me to my higher self and makes me feel one with myself. To me there is no better definition of spirituality.

Every creation is a spiritual process. And composing or even just doing riyaz [training, practise - 15Q] does have a spiritual element to it for me.  

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?

Every time you create something new, and once the process is finished you do go back to it and almost always feel like you could have just improved it a tad here and there. There are always improvements you keep thinking of. That is what creation is all about. I think every singer feels that after listening to their own piece. You are never satisfied.

But when you are in the middle of working for a project, you are mostly on a deadline and you are under pressure … At that point you go with whatever you think is the best. All thoughts of improvement or changes happen on revisiting later.  

What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?

Every singer or musician knows how important mixing and mastering are and that they are the backbone of any song. A bad mix can completely ruin a perfectly beautiful song.

I don‘t sit for the mix of every song, especially if it’s out of my hands and only comes to me for doing vocals on. But for my own compositions or even songs that are someone else’s composition but very close to my heart, I am part of the mix and master process because I know what part needs to be just a bit softer and what needs to be enhanced where.

After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?

I don't think this stands true for people who are professional musicians. This question is for people who release one song in 3-4 years. For us, once we have produced and release one album or single and are already working on the next, we get involved in that new process.

In fact, I have to keep in mind what I want to do different from the last one and work on that. One gets busy with creating new ideas.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

I look at it differently. Creativity emanates from you.

If you are an observant person and keep your eyes, ears and mind open and have absorbed good moments and melodies, what you create emanates from all of that and reaches other people, the listeners. You draw fom your experiences and create from there and affect others with it.