Pakistani Ghazal singer Tina Sani is all set to enthral the audience at The November Fest

“Music found me! Again and again!” exclaims Pakistani artiste Tina Sani, renowned for ghazal singing..

What Sani considered a one-off radio debut (1980) became a hit, and she was on demand for TV/CD recordings, even before she felt confident about her technical prowess. Producers wanted pop, besides. Despite training in classical music from Ustad Nizamuddin Khan, Delhi gharana, she did not believe that she was yet good enough for ghazal gayaki that she loved. So she opted to teach art instead!

Five years later, serendipity saw her render a nazm by her favourite poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. “And I never looked back. I'd found my niche. I knew why music happened to me. I'm grateful. I believe there's a reason why things happen!”

What is so special about Faiz? “I am at home singing verses of hope. Verses that lead me to believe in myself, to speak up, to rise against injustice. In short, poetry with a cause.”

Sani continued to learn – briefly with the fabulous Mehdi Hasan, and more regularly with thumri expert Ustad Chand Amrohvi. Influenced by illustrious ghazal exponents Malika Pukhraj, Begum Akhtar and Farida Khanum, she has imbibed as much by rapt listening. Many more, notably, Roshan Ara Begum of the Kirana gharana, have been inspirations.

She has chosen to sing inspirational, conscience-arousing lyrics from many different sources, “addressing humanity, with a universal message for the goodness of mankind and for the planet.” Contemporary verse is her specialty, but she is equally at home with voices from the past – Mir, Zauq or the inimitable Ghalib. Pakistan's “Pride of Performance Award” recognises her versatility. Sani's project for next year is to record Rumi's Mathnavi, translated in Urdu, with musicians from Iran and Turkey.

“I'm a very quiet person, not even a hummer, and yes, I do find that a bit strange!” she laughs. Sani reveres silence, and finds riaz meditational. No surprise that she is a voracious reader, devouring four books at a time – mostly non-fiction , history, biography, works on Sufism and religions. Sophie's World is a favourite, as is Caroline Myss' Defy Gravity. She loves movies. TV? “I hate sensationalism!”

What does she expect from her audience? “An open mind. There's nothing more powerful than an involved listener. That's when the golden circle is completed.”

(Tina Sani will perform as part of the Friday Review November Fest on November 13 at 7.15 p.m.)

‘Music itself needs no words'

Q: Born in Dhaka, now Bangladesh, educated in Kabul, Afghanistan, living in Karachi, Pakistan -- what have these different cultures given you?

A: Dhaka, I was too young to remember. But Afghanistan left a very deep impression on me. At American International School Kabul (AISK), my adolescent mind had its first encounter with the real world, and exposure to an international community. I learnt tolerance, kindness, patience, and respect for other belief systems.

Q: Why did you opt to study design and take up advertising?

A: In advertising you have to study people. I have always had this desire to communicate with people. I find it interesting to see the way individuals, communities, nations think. To know any community, just watch the commercials directed by and about them.

Q: Understanding the language, its nuances, is essential for enjoying ghazals. How do you manage when you sing for a non-Urdu speaking audience?

A: A real challenge! I try my best, keep my fingers crossed! Not always easy, but then music itself needs no words. I was once told by a teary-eyed Croatian in Zagreb, that he understood what I was singing, through my music and the emotions in my voice.

Q: What is the atmosphere like in Pakistan for a performing artiste today? Especially for someone whose music has political overtones?

A: For years now, we've been able to sing a lot of poetry that is scathing. Hardly any censorship. We had it good till the explosion of private TV channels, though, recently, the highly popular “Coke Studio” broke age barriers and many young listeners heard me for the first time.

Politically aimed creative work is not always against governments, but wants to get at the root of social problems. Faiz's famous Bol ke lub azad hain teray that I sing, is about what anyone can do – take up a cause and speak up. The Buddha warns us - it is not enough not to lie, you have to speak the truth.

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