Interview with Ali Ashraf

We speak to Ali Ashraf, a Pakistani Singer/Songwriter and the Founder/CEO of Echo Records and EchoMusic.tv, who has successfully dabbled in music for many years and recently has released a number of catchy singles during quarantine and the Pandemic. Holding on to his singing and songwriting, he lives in his dreams and floats through reality. He has been a singer and songwriter while being a law student, an ad man and a filmmaker. His notion of music is, “A mystic divinity that flows through the instruments and manifests through spoken word, connecting one person to another through pure emotion with a personal interpretation of every song by every listener”.

  1. You released your first album in 2015. Tell us about your musical journey which eventually led up to the release of that album.

I wrote my first track called Sitam in 2004. As a student back then I could not afford to produce a whole album so I had to wait till my Law Degree and Film Degree finished. I started working for an ad agency for a few years and then saved up funds to record my first album.

2. You collaborated with various cafes around Islamabad to create exciting content for social media. Tell us how and why that opportunity came about and how you have expanded on that business.

The Live music scene in Islamabad was next to none and in order to connect my music to the audience, I had to develop a circuit of live gigs around the city to provide musical entertainment to our people. Many musicians and bands joined this cause … we had a good café’ circuit with regular gigs every weekend.

This collaboration lead to creating new audience, venues and digital content for social media marketing. My team and I took on more artists, motivated them to create original content, brought them onboard and gave everyone an opportunity to be a part of this experience, which lead to a bigger audience, more venues and more music for everyone. Meanwhile we started working on our digital platform and raised a team to cater to all ends of the Echo spectrum.

Today the team is providing both live and digital music experience of Pakistan. I personally mentor musicians and bands to find their voice and creative expression – both off and on stage. I have a dedicated space in Islamabad called Echo Lounge where artists are invited to come and jam for free and create music.

 3. You are the CEO/Founder of ECHO Records and EchoMusic.tv – tell us about these projects and how they came about.

Echo Records was established to release my own album as back then in 2015, there weren’t any records labels distributing music and promoting it. So I decided to start my own label in order to cover the entire value chain of music business that includes content production, distribution, monetisation and promotion along with live concerts and events. Echomusic.tv is our online music channel that promotes the videos we create.

 4. You have done your Masters in Film from the UK in 2009 and before that did your LLB (external program) from Islamabad. How has your educational background in film and law helped you?

I can’t say about how LLB has helped! But film definitely has. I combined filmmaking and music to create some valuable content.

5. By profession you are a documentary film maker with 12 years experience. Tell us about some of your best work in this field to date.

For almost ten years I have been associated with social development communication. Recently I directed a documentary film on Polio Eradication in Pakistan that played the WHO Geneva Convention in 2018 to highlight the challenges in Pakistan.

6. You recently spoke at SEPMA (Shaan-E-Pakistan) 2020’s Digital Summit Islamabad chapter – what was your topic and what were some of the main points you covered?

My topic was music and mental health. Especially in times of the pandemic, a lot of mental health issues surfaced and over some time I have realised how we all can empower our mental faculties to understand its mechanics and help improve them through meditation and control over breath and heart rate. Some main points I covered are: Inclusiveness, Internal Harmony, Finding Equanimity, Tune Your Mind … Tune Your Life Energies, The Source and Flow of Life, Understanding your Psychology, Harnessing Thought, The Space Between two Breaths, Music and Mysticism and The Psychology and Physiology of Sound and Music.

7. How have you, as a musician, dealt with the Corona pandemic and everything coming to a standstill for 5 months? Do you see things improving now?

The lockdown was a breather for the planet and for myself. I made the best use of it and reached a creative point I had not reached in a while. Also, I released two three songs Dhotay Raho, Bharam and Kuch Na Bol. Yes, I see things improving for all of us and for the planet as this was a huge wake up call!

8. You just released ‘Mein Pakistan”, a patriotic number. Tell us about this song and its video.

I have never written a song on Pakistan ever before but this time I wanted to celebrate its creative spirit. This song is a tribute to all the souls who have played a key role in shaping our creative landscape – from the moment the independence journey started, to the decades where we saw our land prosper and give us creative legends like Ustaad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Madam Noor Jahan, Mehdi Hassan Khan Sahab, Amjad Islam Amjad, Ahmad Faraz, Parveen Shakir along with the souls that uplifted the spirit of Pakistan like Moin Akhtar, Tariq Aziz and Abdul Sattar Edhi.

9. What future music releases are you working on currently? Can we expect another album?

I am working on my third album with my longtime producer Jonah Brockman. This album will have a mellow sound with some soothing vibes.

10. What is NMX Bajao and what is your role in it? How can people send in their content for consideration?

NMX Bajao is a music channel. It is promoting the young musicians of Pakistan and also reviving the golden era of music. I believe or many years, artists have been under-served due to lack of a platform to cater to an end to end solution. Platforms could not and have not generated revenue for themselves due to a non-subscription based model and hence they were never able to pay or share that revenue with musicians. That gap is now being filled and www.bajao.pk (web and app) has been launched for this purpose. NMX Bajao is currently transmitting via Nayatel HD box on Channel 180 and on normal cable, across Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Faisalabad and pretty soon will be starting in Lahore as well.

My role with NMX Bajao has been to organize its creation, operations and day to day management.

11. What kind of music do you listen to? What’s on your playlist these days?

I am listening to Colors by Black Puma and a lot of Michael Kewanuka.

12. How in your opinion has the music industry in Pakistan evolved, if at all? Where are we headed?

We are headed for good times. Trust me. I can feel it!

13. Any message for aspiring musician out there?

Work hard on your skill and continue singing, playing and writing. Don’t settle for basics and keep writing.

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