Album Review – Shiraz Uppal’s Ankahi
Amongst the many releases this year that include Hadiqa Kiyani’s Aasmaan, Amanat Ali Khan’s Kohram, Rahim Shah’s Mamma Dey, Laal’s Umeed-e-Sahar and Overload’s Pichal Pairee (to name a few), one artist whose return is surely welcome is Shiraz Uppal. It’s not because of his arresting videos (although ‘Jhuki Jhuki’ was magnificent) or the over-styled glamour that sometimes comes with being a pop star.
Au contraire, it is Shiraz Uppal’s music that makes him so appealing.
A far cry from 2001′s Tu Hai Mera, Shiraz’s latest, Ankahi, is his finest. It must have been a challenge though. Jhuki Jhuki is a masterpiece and matching its success is difficult. With his fourth studio album that is Ankahi, Shiraz has proven that he ain’t no one-hit wonder. That urban-meets-rural feel – a staple of Shiraz’s music – is palpable throughout this record. There is a fine balance of melody and slick studio work and an understanding of the overall soft pop sound.
His comeback video, ‘Rabba’ with its ‘man falls in love with woman’ story is nothing to write home about but the song is something else. At first hear, it sounds interesting. And with time, it grows on you with the same charm that ‘Roya Re’ did. With fragile flute sounds and fleeting glimpses of past and a grandeur musical arrangement, it makes for a worthy listen.
Most of the songs on Ankahi are love songs but Shiraz knows how to do them with perfect instrumentation. There is no overplaying of guitars or any other instrument. It’s the collective sound that echoes that makes Ankahi impressive. The tone of the album stays true to its theme – love ballads. But the beat is not monotonous. This isn’t an electronica experiment like Overload. But the melodies remain powerful and that keeps them from getting monotonous. The record is not drenched in darkness but neither is it loud and garish. It’s the perfect blend of soulful pop and some grungy rock. There are tablas, flute and dholak, giving the record an feeling of slight tradition mixed with modern sounds of flirting guitars and tormenting piano.
Ankahi, which also features Shiraz’s Bollywood hit, ‘Roya Re’ has finally released after months of speculation and he lives up to all the expectations that were set by Jhuki Jhuki (2005).
The version of ‘Roya Re’ that we’ve all heard has music and vocals from Shiraz Uppal but the lyrics were written by Indian lyricist Saeed Quadri. Shiraz has smartly put the original version into the album as well. And while the melody is more or less the same but the original ‘Roya Re’ version is bluesy with guitars forming the backbone and is less filmi in sound. The lyrical change, in places, also gives the song a raw, unnerving and mournful feel. “Sochta Hoon Hum Tum Mein Hum Mein Pyar Kyun Na Raha/Thi Tumhari Ya Meri Bhol Jaaye Khata/Roz Jalta Hai/Dil Pigalta Hai/Yaad Karta…” – it accentuates the emotions running through the song.
The title track, ‘Ankahi’ flows beautifully like a soft, moody ballad. Zeb and Haniya step in for backing vocals, giving the song a striking, hum-like character. The vocals soar but never go aboard and the sound shapes nicely from sharp guitars to subtle piano.
Shiraz sings with sincerity as he say, “Aisa Bhi Nahi/Key Jo Dil Kah Wo Na Keh Sakay Zuban/Do Lafz Hain/Teray Liye/Meray Liye/ Dono Jahan” – it just gives a feeling of liberation and quietly grows on you.
The gradual crescendo that builds right up to the end with Zeb and Haniya joining Shiraz makes this tune a clear cut winner. It’s exactly the kind of magic that one head on the spellbinding record that was Jhuki Jhuki.
‘Nadaan’ drenches of passive-aggressive emotions, from resignation to moving ahead with some eclectic riffs and sexy basslines from Amir Azhar
‘Pehla Pehla Pyar’ is all about falling in love, the mills and boon brand of love, the unshakable kind, but the song has such a festive feel that it instantly commands a second listen. It’s not so much the melody but Shiraz’s voice that channels such a varied range of emotions that it is hard to forget.
‘Mann Laga’ has a rustic, slightly trippy feel as it opens and has a semi-classical qawwali harmony going for it. AR Rahman remains a huge influence on Shiraz Uppal and this song has a trace of that influence.
Most of the songs on this record may be lovelorn but it’s done with experience, panache and a skill that cannot be missed and judged.
Coming back to the record, one finds Shiraz on a more introspective note on ‘Terey Bina’. A rough guitar riff runs through while the protagonist sings with an air of mournfulness of the loss of a beloved and the infidelity of walking out.
The addition of the English verses such as (For You/I Did/Whatever I Could Do) ruins this otherwise decent ditty. There was no need to add these gimmicks.
A slew of electronic effects, lush guitars enter with ‘Kabhi Kabhi’ where the uncertain path of life can be a blessing. Shiraz sings with viguour and passion and that makes all the difference.
On ‘Tum Hi To Ho’, Fareeha Pervaiz duets with Shiraz. With its thudding beats, flourishing flute, it sounds like a song straight out of a Yash Raj Film. One can just picture floating saris and green earth around. The song is neither here nor there.
Shiraz Uppal is not just a good singer – he is a great singer. Ankahi is not a record to be missed. It is a well-crafted, coherent and sonorous record, which will further strengthen his star. It’s classic Shiraz Uppal and he is as much a singer as he is a composer. Most of the ditties on this record have Shiraz’s stamp on them and Shiraz has also produced this record. This is a trend that is common around the globe. Artists produce their own records but where many need expertise, Shiraz Uppal does fine just by himself. The wall of sound is not too eager to sound “different”. The fact that the songs are slicker in sound, lyrically rich and Shiraz’s command on his vocals have gotten stronger only goes to show his maturity as an artist. The sound is layered and has a clear texture.
Shiraz is not a marketing wizard when it comes to selling himself but he is learning with time. Ankahi also marks Shiraz’s entry on the Indian scene. He is releasing Ankahi in India and has already signed up with a record label. Indians lapped up ‘Roya Re’. Ankahi should make Shiraz a coveted name sooner than later - Maheen Sabeeh
Rating – 4 OUT OF 5