Famous Pashto singer Nazia Iqbal has a huge fan following not only in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Gulf, but all over the world in areas where Pakhtuns live. She sings in Urdu, Punjabi, Persian and English. She has also performed in the Waziristani accent of Pashto and released dozens of albums in it, which is her big achievement, because this is a difficult accent of Pashto.
Iqbal was born in 1983 in an artist family of village Guldara in Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Her father was a tabla nawaz. The eldest of seven siblings, she was always a ‘musical’ child and would accompany her father to different musical programmes. She started training in music at age 6. Soon she had begun to sing.
As her family was very poor and her father a patient of hepatitis, her family moved to Peshawar in the early 1990s in search of a prosperous life. When her father died, she started learning music from a renowned musician, Ustad Nazir Gul. In ‘98, she started professional singing at Radio Pakistan, Peshawar. She went on to train with maestros Ustad Amanat Ali in Peshawar and Ustad Sawan Hasan in Lahore.
In 2012, she was at a music concert in Dubai when she received a call from unknown men that they had kidnapped three of her children (she has six in all) and if she wanted to get them back, she must quit showbiz and pay ransom. Therefore she announced in the concert that she was going to quit showbiz. However, when she came back to Pakistan, she found the kidnappers needed only money and had no issue with her profession, so she restarted her work.
She recently spoke to The News on Sunday about her life, career and experiences. Excerpts follow:
The News on Sunday: How did you join showbiz?
Nazia Iqbal: My father, a tabla player, had command over all aspects of Pashto music. He also used to train girls. I was around four when I started visiting my father’s classes and learning music.
TNS: Did your parents support you?
NI: When I was born, my father told my family that he would make me an artist. Some people in my family opposed me; however, my father showed enthusiasm.
TNS: What type of music do you like?
NI: I love ghazal. I also like semi-classical music.
TNS: Did you receive any offers to act in films?
NI: I have received many such offers. However, I have no interest in acting. My husband is interested in my starting acting and wants that we should both perform together in a film. But I will never do this.
TNS: Do you face any security threat?
NI: No. The Dubai incident is the only time that I faced in my 22 years of professional career.
TNS: Whenever you hear negative things about yourself through the media, what do you do?
NI: I get worried every time I am informed of negative news stories about me. Media should verify the news stories prior to printing and broadcasting them, because it is dangerous for the life of artistes.
TNS: What have you achieved in showbiz that you are proud of?
NI: The goodwill and respect of my fans is an asset to me.
TNS: What about the role of radio and television in your success?
NI: Actually, Radio Pakistan and PTV have been like academies for artistes. So, they have a big role in my success. I had started my professional career from Radio Pakistan and then also performed on PTV.
TNS: Any awards?
NI: My real award is the love and appreciation of my fans. However, I have recently received many awards from different associations and organisations. Recently, I got the ‘Saqafat Kay Zinda Amin’ award from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. The provincial government once nominated me for Presidential award for Pride of Performance but I did not get it because I was young.
TNS: What is the difference between classical and latest Pashto music and are you satisfied with its future?
NI: Actually, there is a big difference. That is why I am not satisfied with its future. In the past, singers like Mahjabeen Qazalbash performed according to the social and cultural norms of the Pakhtun society and got fame and respect. However, vulgarity has destroyed today’s Pashto music. Nowadays, vulgar words and poetry is being used in Pashto songs, and one cannot watch their videos with family. That is why the future of Pashto music seems dark.
TNS: What is the solution to this problem?
NI: Vulgarity should be eliminated and Pashto music should be brought in line with Pakhtun culture and social values.
TNS: What is your opinion about young Pashto singers?
NI: Many young singers don’t even know the basics of music. Actually, computer has made them singers. One who can perform live is the real singer. Modernisation is not a bad thing but one should never forget the principles of music.
TNS: What do you think about the status of the workers of the Pashto music industry?
NI: There was a time when Pashto music albums were in high demand. Whenever an album was released, singers, producers, distributors and other workers earned decent amounts. However, the internet and mobile phone have affected the business to a great extent. Now, when an album is released, it reaches cell phones which spread it broadly, reducing the purchase of CDs of the album. Due to this, distributors have started other businesses. This has led to the closure of most CD shops.
TNS: What is your opinion about the situation of Khyber Pakhunkhwa (KP)?
NI: The situation of the whole country in general and KP in particular has improved, compared to the past. A few years ago, musicians and singers had to go abroad but now they are not interested in leaving the country and want to perform for the locals.
TNS: How do you think unsatisfactory relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan affect the artistes?
NI: Like other professionals, artistes have also been affected due to unsatisfactory relations between the two countries. There are restrictions on visas, due to which our artistes are unable to perform at concerts in Kabul and Jalalabad etc. Artistes are the cultural ambassadors of the country. Therefore, both countries should make their visa policies better.