When you listen to Sameer Rahat’s latest album, ‘Aamad’, you aren’t merely a listener. The musician almost invites you over to confide his personal sense of loss and liberation unto you and you surrender yourself to the experience. Personally, ‘Aamad’ made me realise that alike Sameer, somehow I was contemplating and reflecting upon how love can tear one apart yet shape him/her like nothing else can. While traversing through the serene lanes of Varanasi in ‘Jo Bhi Hai’, you almost feel as if you’re there, taking a stroll alongside somebody special. ‘Khat’ is a reflection of words left unspoken. ‘Tasalli’ is medicine to wounds that might take forever to heal. ‘Uss Paar’ is a ray of hope that you might cross paths again with those who’ve left you in the wilderness. ‘Hum Kaun The’ asks you to look within yourself. In short, ‘Aamad’ as an album is an outlet of emotions withheld since eternity. It has taken Rahat, a decade to put together his labour of love and the runaway success of it across leading music platforms speaks hugely about how his journey of love and self-discovery has culminated into music that feels urban, millenial, yet retains an old-school charm.
I spoke to the much-celebrated singer-songwriter ahead of his latest album’s reception of rave reviews across the board, for Radio City Freedom.
Safe to say that 'Aamad' is a journey of personal and professional fulfillment? Also, since it means arrival, how does it summarise your journey as a musician?
Sameer: Yes, 'Aamad' literally means arrival but the same word is also used metaphorically in Urdu poetry and writing quite extensively. In the context of this album for me, it means a thought that comes to someone's mind without really thinking about it. A fleeting thought in the subconscious. Also, the album comes after a long waiting and even a longer journey of pursuing music. It has songs that I've been writing during the last decade but they never really fit into any ongoing project or they were always concrete unfinished ideas. I've definitely released music in the past with my band, Joshish, and a lot of singles from the film, web, and TV work that I do, but this is still my debut solo album. It's a beautiful feeling to arrive at a juncture where I'm ready to share these personal and vulnerable songs with the universe.
‘Jo Bhi Hai’ which talks about prized possessions of the beloved, is poetry in motion. The promotional music video of it has been skillfully shot in Varanasi. Why was the city, the preferred choice to shoot at?
Sameer: The video for 'Jo Bhi Hai' is a concept film made by Tanmay Saxena. He's a dear friend, mentor, and a very talented individual who's also the founder of the London based clothing brand, LaneFortyFive, I'm wearing them in the video. Poetry in motion is such a lovely way to put it. The video shows me roaming around in a vast barren landscape and also sitting quietly in a boat. It essentially shows my wandering thoughts but still feels so open for interpretations. I was in Varanasi to spend some time with Tan since he was visiting India then and we had only thought of doing a little photo-shoot during my visit but the serenity of the city sparked something in both of us. So, we ended up waking up at 4 am every morning in shivering cold temperature and rowed our boat to the other side of the Ganga to shoot for this film.
‘Hum Kaun Thae’ which is a beautiful ode to noted poet Jaun Elia is a seven-minute long celebration of self-discovery and realization. In an age of three-minute chartbusters, what were your thoughts about offering a seven-minute long track?
Sameer: This song is really close to me and the only one not written by me on the album. I had genuinely detached myself from it being the popular choice from the album. To my pleasant surprise, so many people have written back to me about it and the streaming numbers are in flying colors. Despite being a long song and also being quite heavy in terms of the poetic idea, it has been adored so much. It was obviously not a conscious decision to compose a 7minute long track but in fact, I just went with the flow. I did have my doubts about cutting it short while we were producing the track but then I remembered why I started recording this album in the first place. Which is expressing my music and poetry in a truly independent and free-spirited form, not confined or governed by labels or any outside influence. I'll make those 3 min chartbusters in my films.
The album marks some memorable collaborations with the best indie talent on board including Mir Kashif Iqbal from Parvaaz, Akshay Dabadhkar, Rashmeet Kaur and Barbie SIngh Rajput? How did they come through?
Sameer: Most of the collaborators on the album are my long-time friends. Kashif is someone who's been asking and motivating me to put out this album for a couple of years. His music has always inspired me and we both mutually decided that he'll play some guitars on the album but ended up almost co-producing the entire project. On the other hand, Akshay is such a talented music producer and we've been working together at my Baqsa Studios in Bombay for the last three years. He's seen the production process of the album since its inception and he knew he'd inevitably be a part of it. Again, Rashmeet and I had been discussing to collaborate on a song since we met last year. I was thinking of ending the album with a duet on 'Uss Paar' and having her to sing it just felt right. I'm so glad and grateful that she sang for me. The collaboration with Barbie is a special one since I had an idea from the very beginning of having a constant female voice on the album that you hear in almost every song. The voice of the muse, the calling, or the sound of that recurring conversation in your head with the person who's not there anymore. Her voice was the perfect casting, eternally thankful to her. And then there are some other beautiful musicians singing the choir and the immensely talented Jivitesh Kharbanda has played the bass. The album is also mixed by Martin Merenyi in London and he mastered it too. The thought-provoking artwork is done by Pulkit Kamal and it was shot by Prachi and Shikhar from 13Voyage. It's incredible to look back at 'Aamad' and realize that so many people have contributed to this propitious album.
How do you look at the evolution of songwriting in the indie space?
Sameer: I think our indie scene is still young but the level of experimentation amongst artists is at its peak right now. Musicians have become braver in terms of their songwriting and they are open to being honest with themselves. Truly doing what comes to them naturally backed by the certainty of having an audience because of so many avenues and streaming platforms that are at their disposal. It's definitely not like the old days and I'm glad it is not. The artists feel more empowered nowadays and that is a good thing. But surely with this kind of freedom also comes lethargy and a casual attitude towards the overall journey because of the ease and the availability of resources. And of course, for the audiences, it is becoming difficult since there is so much to consume. So much being thrown in your face too. Not exactly the good stuff often and mostly the ones that are backed by labels and a hefty budget. I'm always excited and on a lookout for new Indian artists and most of my discoveries surely excite and inspire me.
You describe your genre as Urdu Blues. Is that a conscious effort to revive the love and fondness for a language that many fear, is scarce today?
Sameer: Yes, That has almost become the moniker for my music but interestingly it was given to me by my friends and fans. Technically I do play Urdu-Blues in my blues band setup, which is basically Blues music sung in Urdu. I find it interesting that everyone notices that I embrace this USP.
Although, ‘Aamad’ is not a Blues album. It is a folk-rock/pop album with my film music influences, hence the cinematic ambiance and scape. A lot of people were expecting at least one of the famous Blues tracks that I regularly play in my live sets on the album. For everyone who was disappointed, you'll be happy to know that I'll be releasing a full-length Blues album by the end of this year with 10 tracks.
Yes, there is certainly a conscious effort and motivation to write and sing in Urdu, driven by my love for the language. And of course, the ghazal style of writing and composition too. Not many people are doing that in India or even in the entire Indian sub-continent. Hopefully, my little effort and consistency shall inspire more artists and this will become a movement.
What’s the status on Ibtida, the travel-photo-poetry book that you’ve been penning?
Sameer: Well, that will be my first book with my poems in it. The photo part of it is just the pictures that I take while I'm traveling that inspired a poem or prose. I've been writing that for 3 years or so now and I might not even call it 'Ibtida' eventually. The lockdown has definitely helped with speeding up the process and I'm really determined to finish the collection of 50 plus pieces by the end of this year. And if all goes well, it should be published next year.
How are you spending your time in this lockdown period? Also, what is the first thing you look forward to resuming once this is over?
Sameer: I'm staying with my cat, Zauq in my apartment in Bombay. He's 5 months old and keeps himself busy with me and he's also a great listener. I've been cooking a lot and I've able to read a lot too unlike my usual days when I'm working. Sometimes days are heavy and some days I feel very motivated, but that's life irrespective of the lockdown, isn't it? The first thing would be to go and see my mother in Bhopal and buy some wine too.
Lastly, singer-songwriters from the scene who inspire you?
Sameer: I think Ali Sethi has been very consistent. Khalid Ahmed from Parvaaz. Osho Jain has some tricks up his sleeve. Kamakshi Khanna, Rashmeet Kaur, Harpreet, Bhrigu Sahni, Peter Cat Recording Co. to name a few from the indie scene around.
‘Amaad’ is now streaming on Radio City Freedom and across all leading music portals.