Musician Shahabaz Aman is thankful for life’s kindness for it has given his music a healing touch. P. Anima talks to the music director of Indian Rupee and Spirit
Music doesn’t assert itself vehemently in this house. Instead, there are subtle signs — a book on Michael Jackson and another on Beyonce among others neatly piled on the shelf. An effervescent painting of flowers, dew and love by the relatively unknown Babitha Anek is a flourish on the wall. Little red seeds collected in bowls add colour to Shahabaz Aman’s home. It is like his music — simple, heartfelt, subtle, clear, uncluttered.
Shahabaz doesn’t know when his music began. Yet it speaks for itself. ‘Mazhakondu mathram’ from Spirit and ‘Ee puzhayam’ from Indian Rupee are merely poetic examples. He performed fleetingly as a singer with ‘Chanthu kudanju’ (Chanthupottu) and ‘Ishtamalle’ (Chocolate). But he bares his soul in his live concerts with ghazals and melodies and in his albums - Sajini, Alakalkku, Neeyum Nilavum, June Mazhayil, The Soul of Anamika in Black and White.
In his film music Shahabaz often lets the lyrics soar, accompanied by, at times, a sole guitar or violin. Each word is caressed and pampered. His ears are tuned to pick up the slightest nuances, says Shahabaz. Growing up in Malappuram, steeped in religious education, his early life charted a different path. “After class seven, I went to Arabic college where boys and girls were separated by partitions. We could hear their voices, yet never see them.” Shahabaz remembers learning to sift voices from the clutter. “Those are strong memories,” he says.
Art all around
The young boy grew up being a muezzin, painting pictures, playing football and singing all along. “I cannot look back without being philosophical. In one way everything around was art. In Malappuram football is an art for us. There were painting, acting and childhood games. The games we played were also art, we created and played them. Children today get readymade games, they just have to play it. In terms of music there was oth (holy verses) and musical nights especially on wedding eve. That way there was art all around. But if you look at tradition, a scientific reason for me being a musician, there is none,” says Shahabaz.
His music springs forth from memories, angst and emotions, a spiritual experience that comes from within. “There are still empty spots within me where a well can be dug, a house made. I have not been trampled upon much. I am not a busy man.”
If his music is soft, melodious and soothing, Shahabaz attributes it to the kindness he received. “In my life whenever there have been circumstances for anger and tension, I have eased through. There have not been harsh words or threats. There has been kindness in the air,” says Shahabaz.
The spark that lit his art has been love or the pain of it, for Anamika, now his wife. “That first triggered a series of 29 paintings which was exhibited.” It also percolated into music with the album The Soul of Anamika in Black and White.
Shahabaz began his concerts in 2000 and cherishes them still. “At a concert, unlike a film, a song is not a two- to three-minute item which is an accompaniment to something larger. In a film, people don’t come to hear the three-minute song. But in a concert they come wholeheartedly to hear music for a couple of hours. And it is spontaneous, unlike an album where a particular emotion has been gathered and presented. So I keep my albums, films and concerts separate,” he says.
He has consciously stayed away from playback singing despite thumping success. His dream-like whisper of a voice is not meant to be larger than life, he says. “Even a small sound gets magnified in films. My voice when enhanced loses its clarity. It is not a voice that can boom in a cinema hall.”
His music has also been about partnerships, with singer Gayathri for albums and as a music director for Ranjith’s films. Shahabaz links the success of an association to the similarity of thought the artistes share. “With Ranjith it is a friendship that extends beyond a creative exercise.” Shahabaz is now working on the music for Ranjith’s latest project. “Till now I have never been in a project in which I don’t want to be. I have been in those where I could do my own music. But I cannot say it is my signature, for it may not come tomorrow.”
Music and literature
In his albums, Shahabaz has composed songs from the poems of well-known poets, including Satchidanandan, Rosemary and Kamala Das. But he says it is a “strain” to blend the two. “To give poetry the skin of music is not easy, for poems are not primarily written to be songs. The character of music and literature are different. The two have to blend well to make good songs. For them to blend perfectly, a discourse should be on between music and literature, for the two to reach a point where they will become one, egoless.”
Shahabaz is now working on a book, Om Allah, a blend of memoirs and thoughts.