Once the most underrated singer, composer and musician of Pakistan, Shiraz Uppal now rules the music scene in the country. Be it film music or his work for Coke Studio – Shiraz has always been on top of his game but success doesn’t happen overnight, does it? His journey of launching himself as a professional singer was a long one, let alone being a prominent figure in the industry. Like any other desi father, Shiraz’s father was not very fond of his singing. “My father was in the army and he didn’t quite like the idea that I was singing. He was a little conservative and wanted me to focus on my studies. He thought I will get carried away, so he never wanted me to become a singer,” quips Shiraz. His mother, on the other hand, was his ultimate support system – just like any other desi mom! “My mother used to support me a lot back then. She would hide it from my father when I went to concerts or sang somewhere. She wouldn’t sleep until I was home.”
Well, when there is a father in opposition, a supportive mom and a strong desire to achieve your dreams, there has to be a solid bargain. “My father wanted me to do MBA. He told me I could do whatever I want once I was done with my studies. So, I fulfilled his wish but unfortunately he died after a year and he could never see me succeed as a singer,” he said in a low voice staring blankly at the table.
Shiraz didn’t completely quit music, while pursuing his studies. “I had been singing on stage since 1992, as a hobby. I wrote and composed my first song in 1995. Someone told me that there is a company that creates videos free of cost, if they like your song. So, I took my song Deewana to them and they made a video for me. It ruled the charts for six weeks. After that a record label wanted my albums, they wanted to sign me but I didn’t have any album, I didn’t even know if I wanted to make more songs. I was doing my B.Com at that time and didn’t have any album.”
After missing a golden opportunity, Shiraz decided to work on his music along with his MBA. “I worked on my music and songs while I was doing my MBA. I wanted to release my album in 1997 but by that time my music was old because I had been working on it for two years, so I created the music for my songs all over again,” he says with a hint of frustration in his voice. But that’s not where it ends, “My father passed away and I had to take up the responsibility of my family. I started working in a bank and I used to hate it to the core of my heart. I would stare at the clock and wait for it to hit five, so I could go home and work on my music.” How long can an artiste be confined to a 9-5 job after all? “I quit my job in a year or so. I told my mother and wife that I wanted to work on my album and that would mean I won’t be earning anything for two years. They supported me. My wife said she didn’t want me to feel that I can’t do something because I am married. It was an embarrassing time for me, I had to ask my mom for money to get pampers for my son,” he smiles sheepishly.
After having worked on his music once again, he finally released his first album in 2001. His album flopped massively because at that time pure bhangra was popular and his style was very different. Being an MBA student, he did his market research to get a better idea of the then popular musical trends before launching Tera Te Mera, which was an instant hit. Shiraz has been unstoppable since then. He has given music and voice to many Bollywood songs. He has even worked alongside the legendary A.R. Rahman and has even performed with him on his tour to the US back in 2015.
Having music credits for most of the recent Pakistani movie songs to his name, Shiraz believes film music is one of the most important genres when it comes to establishing a strong music industry in Pakistan. Commenting on the importance of local films, he says, “If you look at the films we were making in 80s and 90s – our films were great. Then we lost the charm and there weren’t any good movies for a long time. When Shoaib Mansoor revived the cinema, it was a great change. I like the films that we are currently making. We are making a lot of good movies. Directors and actors are learning and improving as they work more.” He has worked on the music of Pakistani movies like 3 Bahadur, Karachi Se Lahore, Bin Roye, and Lahore Se Aagey.
Shiraz has closely worked with Bollywood biggies and therefore has a fair idea about how both the industries work. He believes that our cinema is as competitive as theirs but we need to be professional when it comes to movie-making, “Because it is an established industry, Bollywood is highly professional and there are no compromises. There, a director won’t even compromise on anything as small as the colour of a tea cup. We need to start doing that as well.” With the growing film industry, the music that is being produced becomes better, “They [Bollywood] were ahead of us in film music because we didn’t have any films for a long time. Our pop songs are better than theirs and a lot of our pop songs have made it to Bollywood.”
It’s hard to believe that the man who writes extremely emotional and sad songs has a very happy-go-lucky personality, “I am totally driven by emotions and therefore most of my songs are sad. I love to make sad songs,” shares Shiraz. When asked, if he sings for his wife at home, he declined with a shy smile, “I don’t sing for my wife but she is a very good critique. She listens to my songs and tells me what parts I need to rework on and I do that.”
Talking about his future plans, the singer unfolds his mantra of life, “I am the person who lives one day at a time. I don’t think about the past because I can’t do anything about it and future is somebody else’s domain. The Almighty is there to plan the future,” and we hope to hear more and more of his melodious voice and enchanting music in the future.