In the early hours of Saturday, the Crystal Ballroom at Marriott reverberated with melodies that seemed to hit all the right notes.
The orchestra shifted its rhythm as the tunes changed every two minutes and a new voice took center stage.
As the crowd swayed to the soul-touching music, it was easy to get lost in the lyrical notes, and forget that the singers were not professionals, but children and teenagers.
A 500-strong audience was gathered to witness the final round of the singing competition ‘Obhartay Sitaray’ organised by The Citizens Foundation (TCF). It was the closing day for a six-month long competition in which around 550 students took part from over 120 school campuses in Karachi.
For the TCF, a non-profit organisation working for education in Pakistan, it was a fundraising event for the less-privileged students enrolled in TCF schools and also an endeavor to encourage young emerging talent towards music.
In the final round, the contestants were fighting for the title of the ‘Winning Voice’ at primary, secondary, senior and college level.
As parents cheered for their children and cameras flashed away, the competitors displayed both their singing and performance skills with immense confidence.
Sajar Nafees from the Hampton School bagged two awards ‘Best Team’ and ‘Winning Voice’ for her rendition of Mala Begum’s ‘Akelay na jana’.
Achieving the award had been no easy feat for Sajar. She described how she had avoided all drinks, oily food and cold water a month before the competition and had only limited herself to drinking the traditional antidote joshanda.
“My mother selected the song for me. She loves classical music and is the one who developed our interest in it,” shared Sajar. The 13-year-old found her inspirations in Pakistan’s legendary female artists like Noor Jehan and Nayyara Noor.
“I would definitely want to take up a career in singing in the future and I know my parents would love that,” she added, while shooting a glance at her mother who beamed at the statement.
At the centre of much praise and congratulations was Sajar’s mother, Erum Nafees, who could not stop smiling. With three of her daughters performing at the competition, she was overwhelmed with joy.
“I personally am a big fan of classical music and I wanted my daughters to love it too," said Erum. "I wanted to be a singer in my youthful days but there was no one to give me direction, but I am here for my children and I will do my best to help them get a shot at a music career.”
No stranger to the limelight, Karachi Se Lahore's lovable child star Asher Wajahat bagged the runner-up Winning Voice trophy in the secondary level for singing ‘Tere bin dil na lagay’.
“The main thing is to smile on stage. My father and ustaad both told me to dance confidently and stay close to the mic while singing but don’t forget the pitch,” said the amiable 12-year-old, recounting the days spent in training and practicing. “The hardest part was to stop drinking cold drinks; I used to have honey water for my voice.”
Amongst the winners was an energetic 11-year-old Muheet Irfan, who dreamt of becoming the next Atif Aslam one day. “Why should I not be confident? Atif Aslam is never scared on stage and he never makes a mistake when he sings. People always clap for him. I just want to perform exactly like him,” he said.
Although the TCF students did not compete with the other schools since they were the organisers, a separate category was added in the competition in which TCF students competed for the ‘Winning Voice’.
Thirteen-year-old Anas Khan came all the way from Hawksbay to participate in the event and bagged the winning title. In his neighbourhood, Anas is known for his exceptional voice and is called in for Milads, or an even for an occasional game of antakshari.
“I want to serve in the army one day but my passion for singing is never going to stop,” said Anas while tightly holding his gleaming silver trophy to his chest.
Nilofer Saeed, Supporters of The Citizens Foundation (STCF) Chairperson and Director, spoke about the main premise of the event, which was to make privileged children aware of the underprivileged living around them.
“We had a lukewarm response to Obhartay Sitaray four years back but now more schools are showing interest in signing up their students for the competition,” said Nilofer.
In terms of getting sponsorship for the event, the organisers did get rejection by some companies due to the musical nature of the event but a majority had shown a positive response.
“Saying that music is not welcome by our society is more of a myth. TCF’s students come from very different areas and backgrounds who we might think are not open to the idea of singing, but quite to the contrary they are very supportive,” she added.
Ateeb Riaz, co-founder and director of TCF believed that times were changing. People no more believe that music is just ‘dhol dabba’. “It’s an aesthetic way of living life; just talking nicely has a positive impact on people and sounds like music to the ears.”