Friday, December 02, 2005

Making a difference. Together.

The '8:51' concert was held in Lahore on the 8th of November and featured performances by EP, Jal, Call, Roxen and a special appearance by Ali Zafar. Marking a month since the devastating earthquake hit Pakistan, the event aimed to collect funds for the earthquake victims. We talked to the organizers of the event and the musicians who participated in it about the show. Here's what they had to say:

Ali Zafar
It was great to share the stage with all my extremely talented colleagues for such an important cause. I'm honoured to be a part of it and pleased to see the spirit and results.

Farhan Saeed Butt (Jal)
It was a great feeling that we could help the earthquake victims by donating whatever we could. We used our art to collect charity, and I was really happy to see such a huge turnout. So I think we all should continue these kinds of activities in order to collect more money to help the victims.

Goher Mumtaz (Jal)
We managed to collect approximately more than 4 lakh rupees by the end of the show in just 3 hours. It's always good to serve your nation, especially when it is really needed, and this was the right time to do that. And the bands other than Jal (EP, Call, Roxen) and Ali Zafar who showed up for this cause were amazing. The people at Kinnaird College bought the tickets generously to be part of the great effort as well. Everyone worked hard for the fundraiser. Thumbs up!! God bless our nation!!

Junaid (Call)
Participating in this event really made us feel proud. It was a great feeling that our music was being used for a very special cause. No matter how small did we contribute, it still makes us proud that at least we did something, and whenever we will be needed, we will definitely come forward.

Xulfi (Call, EP)
I did not know what the turnout was going to be for the concert, so was a bit confused but the attendance at the venue surprised us. I wish that this passion and motivation might last long.

Musti (Roxen)
It was an indescribable feeling when I came to know that we had raised over 400,000 rupees for the victims through this event. We have shown that we are a united nation and we stand tall.

Khurram Jabbar Khan (Jilawatan Productions)
Since the day this tragedy struck the nation, I was feeling guilty, as I was not able to participate in full. We contributed as much as we could, had already set up a camp at Mini Golf for two weeks, but I felt that something was still missing, and Mustafa of Roxen came up with the idea for this event, which we later named 'Umeed-e-Seher'. We started with a little hope and then things started falling into place and finally we were able to carry this out superbly. EP, Jal, Call, Roxen, Ali Zafar and the rest contributed greatly in making this possible.

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 2nd December 2005

Friday, November 11, 2005

Ali Zafar: A legend in the making

interview

Ever since 'Channo' hit the airwaves, Ali Zafar has established himself as a pop icon and has received acclaim every step of the way. Not only has this multi-talented 25-year-old made his mark as a singer, actor, and model, but he has also proven his worth as a director through the video of his track 'Aik Pal'. His debut album, 'Huqa Pani', was one of the best selling albums of Pakistan in 2004, and won him multiple awards. The album was released in India this year, where it continues to earn praise. We caught up with Ali Zafar to find out more about his musical ventures.

Us: Were you at all surprised by the massive success of you debut album?
Ali Zafar: Well, I made it to be a success and I believed in it and put in everything I had. God likes those who believe in themselves and Him, and thus blessed me with the fulfillment of a dream.

Us: How long did it take you to make the album?
AZ: Brainstorming for three years and then finally recorded it in over a month.

Us: How's your second album coming along? When will it be released?
AZ: I am working on the second album these days. I've composed more than forty songs and am working on ten for the next album. I hate and love being a perfectionist, so I'll take my time till I think it's the best I can do for now.

Us: You were in Norway a few weeks ago. How was the experience of performing there?
AZ: One of the best shows of my life. They told me it was the biggest turn up ever in Norway's history because it had about 8000 people there and I was the only one performing. It was so touching that they were there for me. Lovely crowd. Would love to go there again.

Us: How does it feel to get such an overwhelming response from the international audience?
AZ: Well, overwhelming responses always overwhelm you. It's an amazing feeling to realize that your music has traveled lands and seas.

Us: And success in India seems to have gained a high priority for our musicians...
AZ: You need to set new goals for yourself and new milestones so that they inspire you to work harder. As you go international the competition increases and makes you work even harder.

Us: So are you keeping the international market in mind while you're working on your sophomore album?
AZ: Yeah, you can say that.

Us: You did the cover of 'Every Breath You Take' for New Year's Eve (the MP3 of which is available on your website) - are you planning to venture into the English music arena?
AZ: Well, you never know. Let's see.

Us: Have you decided which video you'll release next?
AZ: Now, I think the next video I release will be from my next album. We might do one more with our Indian record company for further promotion in India.

Us: How was the experience of directing the 'Aik Pal' video? And how has the response to the video been so far?
AZ: Well, I loved it. I've always been fascinated with film making and had wanted to apply it sometime in the future. Good that it happened now. I love taking risks and trying new things out, providing an outlet to my artistic endeavors. People have taken it better than I thought they would. It was something very abstract but surprisingly a lot of people came up with brilliant perceptions and angles of it that I had wanted them to.

Us: Do you plan to direct more videos?
AZ: I do, actually. But I haven't planned anything as yet.

Us: And what about acting and modeling? Any projects lined up?
AZ: Well, I have been offered a couple of movies from here and abroad. But I really wanna do something for our rotten film industry. Might just take up one, but then that depends on a lot of things. Let's see how it goes.

Us: Do you read the stuff that's written about you in magazines and posted on forums and websites?
AZ: Yes, I do. It's a lot of fun until something is printed about you that you never did or never said.

Us: So how do you cope with people spreading rumors about you? And just how annoying are rumors?
AZ: Well, it was the toughest thing for me to handle initially. I would sit down depressed with my head in my knees trying to figure out as to why somebody would make up such a thing and how could they have the time to try and waste other people's lives, but then I learned that they actually waste their own lives by doing that. I couldn't let that affect my work and figured that it's a package which comes with being in the limelight. You should just concentrate on good work. Everything else will fade away but the work in which you induce your heart and soul.

Us: And what about the endless criticism that 'Channo' is a rip off of an old Indian song? What do you say in response to that?
AZ: I have been accused that most of the songs on my album are copies. In return to that all I've asked is to bring me the actual songs from which they have been copied, but no one's ever done that. Have you ever thought why? Regarding 'Channo', people relate it to Burman's 'Dhanno'. I will not deny that I am a huge R.D. Burman fan like almost all the musicians I know to date, and have been listening to his songs since childhood. Now if that inspired me (like every other musician who is inspired by someone) to create something of my own that sounded a bit like it, then I don't see a crime in that. The song 'Channo' has given pleasure to countless audiences all over the world and recognition to a Pakistani artist internationally, and thus to Pakistan. Those who can't accept that or don't want to, can't be helped. Just some informal information: I made twenty different people sit and listen to both the versions. Nobody agreed that it could be called a copy.

Us: Any comments for those who say that you don't sing live during your concerts?
AZ: We have the footage of almost all of my live shows. You're most welcome to come and see it also and check for yourself that I've always sung live on shows even in the worst of conditions with fever, cold and sore throat, just to make sure that people are not fooled and I don't ever feel guilty. For shows which are being recorded for T.V., nobody sings live because it's being recorded for the T.V. On the other hand I take it as a compliment when people think I'm not singing live because they probably think so because I sound damn good, or they're just tone deaf!

Us: What can we expect from Ali Zafar in the next few months?
AZ: The new album!

Us: Any message for your fans?
AZ: There has to be a way to meet each one of them! I wish I could. I love them all.

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 11th November 2005

Monday, November 07, 2005

Rock Star – reality TV in excess

reality bites

Every once in a while, a star is born, destined to dazzle everyone who catches a glimpse of it, only to disappear just as quickly as it emerged. And Michael Hutchence was the very personification of this phenomenon. The main force behind the rise (and subsequent fall) of his band INXS, Hutchence was a captivating frontman, the likes of which are very hard to come by, and his untimely death effectively marked the end for INXS – or so we thought. Just like Alice In Chains, The Doors, Nirvana, and many other bands that have lost their vocalist, no one expected to hear from INXS again, but then a reality TV mogul stepped in. Mark Burnett saw the chance of cashing in on the opportunity and selling some more mindless junk in the name of reality television, and Rock Star was born. First season: INXS.

Elegantly wasted
The story of INXS began in Sydney in 1977 when high school buddies Michael Hutchence and Andrew Farriss started a band called The Farriss Brothers with Garry Gary Beers, Kirk Pengilly and Andrew's brothers Tim and Jon. They eventually changed the band's name to INXS, just prior to the release of their self–titled debut album and first single 'Simple Simon'. Their international breakthrough came a couple of albums later in the form of their 1987 release 'Kick' that included the single 'Need You Tonight', the band's biggest hit to date. INXS was at the peak of its success during the late 80s and early 90s, but interest in the band soon dwindled and their popularity waned. A couple of commercially unsuccessful albums followed, and their comeback album, 1997's 'Elegantly Wasted', had just come out when tragedy struck and Hutchence was found hanging in a hotel room in Sydney. And it's been a downward spiral for the surviving members of the band since then.

Calling all nations
After Hutchence's death, INXS tried to continue with various temporary vocalists, including ex–Noiseworks singer Jon Stevens, who appeared with the band at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in a performance that went largely unnoticed by the international audience. Jon was officially named a member of INXS in 2002 but left in 2003, after recording just one song with the band. In 2004, INXS announced that they were going to find a new vocalist for the band through a reality television show called 'Rock Star: INXS'. Chosen by the band from all over the world, and housed in a Hollywood mansion, 15 contestants were to vie for the position of the band's lead singer. The show turned out to be everything that an INXS fan would label cringe worthy.

Fabricate. Emulate.
Irrespective of the mess his personal life turned out to be, Michael Hutchence was, without a doubt, one of the most charismatic frontman the world has ever seen. So the mere idea of having a whole Big Brother meets American Idol setting to find someone to fill Hutchence's shoes was enough to generate ridicule. But that didn't stop the surviving members of INXS from lurching clumsily down that road.
The news that INXS had signed on to do 'Rock Star' was met with disbelief, so the fact that the show initially generated low ratings hardly came as a surprise, and it's quite easy to see why the show got such a lukewarm response. To begin with, many have argued whether a reality TV show (and all the melodrama that comes with it) is a legitimate way for a rock band to find a new lead singer. Whatever happened to good old non–televised auditions that bands normally have? And to someone who isn't a big fan of covers, the very concept of the show appears to be highly flawed. Just how does the performance of cover versions of Rolling Stones, Queen, and Radiohead tracks merit a place as the frontman of INXS? And why would the rest of us want to hear someone else's rendition of a Pink Floyd classic when we (thankfully) have the original version?
Here's yet another thing that was wrong with the show – the hosts. Everything from Brooke Burke's outfits (or lack thereof), to her shrieking voice and tendency to over-pronounce every proper noun that appeared on the teleprompter, left one cursing the person who had picked her as the host. And one could easily spend half the show wondering what former Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro was doing there. They might as well have had Carmen Electra along with Dave instead of Brooke. It would've made more sense anyway.
As for the competition, well, as with all television shows, we'll never know if they even considered the votes or if the bottom three were actually determined by the viewers, not that it really mattered – look closely and you'll see how the outcome of the show was completely under the band's control at all times.

Old world, new world
The contestants on the show were a mixed bag. Some of them could transform a pop song into a haunting rock anthem, but, highlighting the pitfall of the plan, the others could just as easily make a rock classic sound like a pop ditty. And it finally came down to choosing between a former Elvis impersonator, a theater performer, and someone who has been termed the 'mad conductor'. Yeah, a really tough decision indeed.
Sarcasm aside, it was hard to picture most of these contestants fronting INXS, and it came as little surprise when, after everyone else had been told that they were 'just not right for the band', Jason Dean Bennison a.k.a. J.D. Fortune was chosen as the winner. Quite obviously, the fans of the other fourteen contestants weren't all too pleased about it, and conspiracy theorists even allege that JD had been chosen long before the show's finale, and that 'Rock Star' was nothing more than a publicity ploy by the now forgotten INXS members to return to the public eye. And in all honesty, I really can't think of any other reason the band would attach themselves to such a show either.

Are you ready for a new sensation?
So whether we like it or not, J.D. Fortune is the new vocalist of INXS, and their new album, 'Switch', their first album in eight years, will be out on November 29th. But I still think the surviving members of INXS should've moved on – in their own lives and in their own ways - just like so many others have. Look at how Joy Division morphed into New Order after Ian Curtis' suicide, and how Nirvana gave way to the Foo Fighters and Sweet 75. Perhaps it would have been better to bow out gracefully.
Quite predictably, the majority of those who followed the first season of 'Rock Star' were completely indifferent to INXS and more interested in the contestants than in the band. As for the INXS fans, they really don't want to listen to the back catalogue in someone else's voice, and they didn't want this show. Sure there was the "nostalgia from the time that INXS was at top of their game", as Dave Navarro put it, but the show left a bitter aftertaste for those of us who actually saw the band in its prime. Then again, it's obvious that the show wasn't aimed for that faction. For them there is no INXS without Michael Hutchence. And the 'new look' INXS might turn out to be a 'new sensation', but that's exactly what it'll be: a 'new sensation', not what we knew as INXS. The band has alienated a huge portion of their original fan base by doing the show, and for me, 'Rock Star: INXS' was nothing more than a marketing gimmick and a disgrace to Michael Hutchence's memory, for the INXS that we know died the day Michael Hutchence did.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News - 6th November, 2005

Sunday, September 11, 2005

X&Y

album review

Album: X&Y
Band: Coldplay

Following an enormously successful album with a new record is never easy. First, there's the hype and the expectations that the artist is trying to live up to, and then there's the added pressure from the many who are waiting with a fine-tooth comb to rip the album to pieces. This is precisely why some of the most anticipated releases end up getting the most criticism, and the very reason behind one hit wonders and sophomore slumps. The pressure is enough to put an artist in defensive mode, as a result of which they end up getting stuck in the mould of the songs that gave them the initial success, unwilling (and sometimes unable) to try anything different.

So when A Rush Of Blood To The Head ended up selling over 10 million copies, the question that came to mind was this: what would Coldplay do next? True they were past the sophomore step, the one that so many stumble at, but what would they do on number three?

And when first single 'Speed Of Sound' got one too many comparisons to 'Clocks', the ringing of the alarm bells was way too loud to go unnoticed. Had Coldplay too succumbed to the pressure? Listen to the first few tracks on X&Y and you will probably be inclined to answer in the affirmative. But a couple of songs and some fifteen minutes later, you'll find reason to change your mind. With some luck (and a little help from Kraftwerk), the album takes a turn for the better, and for the most part, sticks to this improvement.

Everything from the album opener 'Square One' to track number three 'White Shadow' is standard Coldplay material. While the songs aren't bad per se, there's nothing special about them. We've heard similar stuff from the group way too many times, which is why these songs don't register a wow. Similarly, 'Fix You', the second single off X&Y, is an exercise in predictability - not one listener, fan or denigrator, would be surprised to hear the same safe song scheme once again on a Coldplay record. Song number five, however, offers the first signs of variation. The album starts on the route to recovery with 'Talk', a track that's built around the synth-line to Kraftwerk's 'Computer Love' and makes even better use of the guitar lick than the original song. A very wise move in all absoluteness. When you can't come up with something new, borrow. Always works. Stealing, though, is a completely different issue.

Songs like the piano-glazed 'Hardest Part', the very U2-ish 'A Message', hidden track 'Til Kingdom Come' (the song that was originally written for the late Johnny Cash who passed away before he could record it), 'Swallowed In The Sea' with its dirge-reminiscent start, and title track X&Y which holds some great musical moments, save the album from falling into the abyss of all-things-unmemorable. The lyrics however leave a lot of question marks. While tracks like 'Fix You' and 'Til Kingdom Come' offer some lyrical gems, many of the other songs (including 'Speed Of Sound') are perhaps the most ambiguous lines Chris Martin has ever penned down. The socio-political commentary (if any) is lost beneath layers of overly vague verses, although love, loss and insecurity appear to be the predominant themes underlying Martin's words. I wonder if being married to Gwyneth Paltrow had anything to do with it.

But the lyrics aren't the only mystery hosted by X&Y. The album cover art follows suit, and left fans wondering as to what it referred to until the secret was finally revealed. What appear to be coloured blocks put together in a seemingly random pattern is actually a message in the Baudot code. The front cover simple reads the album name, X&Y. And what does the back say? 'Make trade fair'. Yeah, should've guessed! A fine attempt at making up for a rather plain album by thrusting an intriguing mysterious message on the listener for deciphering in their spare time.

Ultimately, for me, the untainted sound of Parachutes still remains the best Coldplay release to date, even though it was Rush... that garnered the most acclaim. But I wouldn't draw a line over 'X&Y' altogether. The album might be a bit formulaic and at places it might even sound like Coldplay are recycling tunes, but after giving the album a couple of listens, X&Y, like all previous Coldplay records, has the power to get the listeners hooked. That said, I know Coldplay isn't everyone's cup of tea. Yet, it's very hard to stay indifferent to their stuff: while some can't get enough of the band, others hate their music with a passion. And after listening to X&Y, none of them are likely to change their mind.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News - 11th September, 2005

Friday, August 19, 2005

The magical spell of Faakhir

interview

Us: From Awaz to ‘Mantra’ – how has the journey been?
Faakhir Mehmood: Tense, exciting, nerve wracking, exhausting, yet immensely satisfying.

Us: Tell Us about your latest album.
Faakhir: The album contains 12 tracks. I have experimented a lot in this album; each song carries a different mood. I have done an 8-½ minute musical which is called ‘Mantra’; this was done for the first time in Pakistan. The most interesting part of this album is the way our own eastern scales, such as bilwal thaath, pahari, darbari etc, are fused/blended with east European, Mediterranean and bluesy scales in a very simple and subtle way. The choice of instruments is very rich, classy yet extremely contemporary wind instruments, saxophones and brass section eastern and western string instrument, rhythm section, violin and viola orchestras are all recorded live and are a treat to the ear. Arrangements are least predictable, the production is slick and I feel the melodies are soulful.

Us: What’s your personal favourite from ‘Mantra’?
Faakhir: ‘Jiya Na Jaye’.

Us: Your latest videos have been getting a mixed response from the viewers. Do you focus on any target audience while you’re working on your videos?
Faakhir: My music and videos are not targeted towards a particular audience. Rather, it is meant to cater to people of all ages and backgrounds.

Us: In your opinion, how much importance do the videos hold in moulding a musician’s career?
Faakhir: I believe having good videos is important. It adds a visual element to the song and helps the viewers identify more with the song, thus making it more popular. But at the end of the day it is the song and the melody that determines its success.

Us: Out of the videos that you’ve done so far, which one’s your favourite?
Faakhir: ‘Mahi Ve’.

Us: What’s your opinion about the current Pakistani music scene?
Faakhir: There are a lot more opportunities now…Pakistani music channels have helped a lot. I have always believed Pakistani artists have terrific potential. Some of them are making great music.

Us: Conquering the Indian audience has gained high priority for our musicians, hasn’t it?
Faakhir: Very much so. It’s a bigger market with far more opportunities

Us: What kind of music do you like to listen to? Any favourite artists/bands?
Faakhir: No particular type…I listen to all kinds of music from rap and hip hop to ghazals etc. My favourite musicians are Nusrat Fateh Ali, Mehdi Hassan, Jean Michael Jarre.

Us: Do you give more importance to the lyrics of a song or to its musical composition?
Faakhir: Being a composer myself, I put special effort in the compositions of my songs. The lyrics and musical composition go hand in hand. For a song to be good, the lyrics and composition must complement each other

Us: Now that you have been so successful as a solo artist, would you ever consider reuniting with the members of Awaz for a project if such a chance ever comes up?
Faakhir: No I wouldn’t. Being a solo artist gives me the opportunity to experiment and explore my creative side, which wouldn’t really have been possible in a band as a consensus has to be reached regarding the direction in which the band wants to move.

Us: Any message for the readers of Us and for all your fans out there?
Faakhir: To my fans I want to say that have the courage to follow your dreams. Good things happen to those who work hard.

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 19th August 2005

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Club 27

A look into the intriguing deaths of famous music stars at the age of 27

"Hello candy cane children. I broke my finger, three breaks, car wreck, horrible left turn in front of me, no chance of escape, air bag, the air near my fingers, devil in my left hand, doctors say no way, lots of pain, typing with one finger, made it through year of rock n' roll death, got off with just a warning."

So went the post on the White Stripes' website by the band's frontman after he was involved in a car crash that left him with a fracture in his left hand. The accident happened on the 9th of July 2003 - the star's 28th birthday.

While Jack White has been lucky enough to live beyond his 27th year, many other musicians haven't, unwittingly becoming members of a rather exclusive group, for Club 27 is one club that very few would like to join willingly. Some of the most prolific musicians of recent times have died at the age of 27, the 'year of rock n' roll death' as Jack puts it, and Club 27 refers to this very group. To add to the intrigue, most of these deaths have been surrounded by controversy in one form or the other.

Lewis Brian Hopkin-Jones (February 28, 1942 - July 2, 1969)
The original lead guitarist, backing vocalist and one of the founding members of The Rolling Stones, Brian Jones played many instruments on various Stones records and also worked with a myriad of other musicians including Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and the Beatles. A big influence on the '60s London fashion scene, Jones started off as the band's creative leader but because of his drug abuse ended up getting sacked from the group in June 1969.
Around a month later, he was found dead in his swimming pool, seemingly under the influence of alcohol and sedatives, even though it is believed that he had stopped most of his drug use towards the end of his life. All of the reports collected from the many people there at the time contradicted each other, and while the coroner's report stated 'death by misadventure', his girlfriend Anna Wohlin claimed that he had been murdered by Frank Thorogood, a builder they had hired for renovating their house, who had been staying with them. Thorogood is said to have confessed to the murder on his deathbed but passed away before a confession could be recorded.

James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix (November 27, 1942 - September 18, 1970)
American guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer, Jimi Hendrix is widely considered to be one of the best guitarists in the history of popular music, so much so that the Rolling Stone magazine has named him the number one guitarist of all time.
Hendrix was found dead in the basement apartment of the Samarkland Hotel in London after he reportedly took nine Vesperax sleeping pills. His girlfriend Monika Dannemann claimed that Hendrix had been alive when placed in the back of the ambulance, contradicting police and ambulance reports that state that he was dead when they arrived on the scene, the apartment itself empty and the front door wide open.

Janis Lyn Joplin (January 19, 1943 - October 4, 1970)
Blues-influenced rock, R&B, and soul singer, Janis Joplin is best remembered for her offbeat style, lyrical themes and distinctive voice. Janis fronted the Big Brother And The Holding Company before forming various backing groups. While working as a folk singer around the mid '60s, her drug use began to increase. She was a heavy drinker throughout her career, and occasionally used heroin and other intoxicants, the very thing that would become the reason for her untimely death. She passed away due to an overdose of heroin in a Los Angeles motel room.

Jim Morrison (December 8, 1943 - July 3, 1971)
Jim Morrison, the lead singer and lyricist of The Doors, shot to fame with the success of his band's self-titled debut album. Under the pressure of fame, he ended up becoming an alcoholic, and then moved to Paris in March 1971 to concentrate on his writing and to quit drinking, where he died a few months later. Conspiracy theories about his death ensued, ranging from speculations of a possible drug overdose, to the possibly of assassination by American government authorities. Some fans believed (and still do) that Morrison faked his own death in order to escape from the spotlight. The official report, however, listed the cause of death as a 'heart attack'.
After the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison is quoted to have said "I'm number three".

Kurt Donald Cobain (February 20, 1967 - April 5, 1994)
The lead singer and guitarist of Nirvana, and the force behind the popularity of grunge music, Kurt Cobain struggled with the massive success of his band after the release of 'Nevermind' and felt persecuted by the media. Cobain battled with depression and pain due to a chronic stomach condition for most of his life and self-medicated by the use of heroin, ultimately becoming addicted to the drug.
His body was found on the 8th of April, 1994, three days after he is believed to have died, in a room above the garage of his Seattle home by Veca Electric employee Gary Smith who was there to install security lighting. Though Cobain is legally documented to have committed suicide with a shotgun bought for him by his best friend Dylan Carlson, the unclear circumstances surrounding his death have inspired a multitude of alternative theories. According to toxicology experts, the amount of heroin injected into his body was over three times the lethal dosage even for an addict and would have been more than enough to kill him. Other factors, like the angle of the wound, the absence of fingerprints on the gun, and the doubt over the authenticity of the last four lines on what is considered to be a suicide note, have led some to believe that his wife Courtney Love had something to do with his death.
Kurt Cobain's mother, Wendy Cobain O' Connor, while referring to her son's death at the age of 27, said the following words to a news reporter: "Now he's gone and joined that stupid club. I told him not to join that stupid club."

To this date, the reasons behind these deaths still remain uncertain. And the number 27 is perhaps nothing more than a mere coincidence. But even in the short time they were given, each of these musicians has left a lasting impact on the world of music - and that is one thing that no one can ever have any doubts about.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 14th August, 2005

Friday, August 12, 2005

58!!


Celebrating 58 years of Pakistan


It's Pakistan's 58th Independence Day ... and here's what our musicians have to say about it:

Ahmed Ali Butt (Entity Paradigm)
It's a shame we couldn't make it for the shows but Inshallah one day we will come and play for our fans, and then all hell will break loose! Pak zindabad!

Ali Zafar
Our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Long live Pakistan! May this year be the best for all the Pakistanis around the world and the greatest year for Pakistan ever. Love to all.

Atif Aslam
For me, 14th August has a lot of memories associated with it. Badges aur small flags milnay ki sab ko khushi houti hay but mujhay zyada khushi houti thi when my brothers also gave me something, like small flags to decorate our house with. In college life, I represented my college PAF Lahore in Sargodha and we took the first prize in the national song competition. Us brothers also used to go out on the streets of Lahore to celebrate the evening of 14th August with the lively Lahorites. I would like to convey a very important message in this regard to youngsters: do celebrate your independence day but don’t do motorbike wheelies or anything that is risky. Your loved ones are waiting for you at home, so please don’t do anything which thrills for a while but kills in the long run. I’m a humanist first and then a nationalist. Respect your motherland, as it is sacred to you. Alhumdolillah we are better than many nations of the world. We must keep in mind that we should not misuse our motherland if somebody is not watching us. If we misuse it we are disrespecting ourselves, as this land is our identity.

Fahad Khan (Call)
Happy Independence Day! Make your country proud. This is our homeland. We are its name, so lets all celebrate our independence with peace and harmony. Pakistan zindabad!!!

Farhan Saeed Butt (Jal)
On our recent US tour, when we had to stay there for over a month, I realized that no matter how good or bad we are, we are Pakistani and we are representing our nation when we are out of Pakistan. We can make a bad image of our country and a good one too. We can never be anyone but Pakistani. Realize that and make this country the best. I love Pakistan! And I’m proud to be a Pakistani.

Goher Mumtaz (Jal)
I wanna convey a message that everyone has to think that what have we done for our country? This country can give a lot of respect and identity to us if we do something innovative...so believe in yourself and come out with your talent which everyone must have, and serve your country with all your potential. May Allah bless Pakistan. Peace.

Iftikhar Habib (Rungg)
As I grew up listening to some of my favourite rock bands from the USA, I sometimes saw superstars like Axl Rose (Guns 'n Roses) standing on stage, performing in front of 100,000 people and having the American flag wrapped around them. As a musician I want to see our stars doing that (wrapping the Pakistani flag around them) not just in Pakistan, but also when they perform abroad. This would be done in the true spirit of national pride. 14th August is a day of great patriotism, but the patriotism should follow through to every single day after that as well.

Junaid Khan (Call)
14th August has always been a day of inspiration for me. The efforts and the blood we have given to become a nation to represent a Muslim power somehow seem to have died out. My message is to think for Pakistan first then anything else. Recognize your nishaan your pehchaan, it’s Pakistan.

Sarmad Ghafoor (Rungg)
I never celebrate 14th August because I think we haven't achieved what Pakistan was made for...we have a long way to go before I start celebrating it.

Shazi (Jal)
I am proud to be a Pakistani and am a great admirer of Quaid-e-Azam. I have full faith in this country. We, as Pakistan, should always be together as one. Always. Love you all.

Sultan Raja (Call)
I never knew the meaning of azadi till I got into college. During my school days I was someone who remained to himself and was scared too. As soon as I got into college, I felt freedom and realized that freedom is a blessing. Our Quaid-e-Azam got us this country and we have taken it for granted. It’s a moment of pity. We, as a whole nation, must make this country, and we haven’t done much for Pakistan.

Wasim Kamal (Rungg)
14th August is a very normal day for me. I get excited because it is a holiday. I don't think Pakistan's current situation as a nation is cause for celebration.

Xulfi (EP, Call)
Jau chahoon agar mein banoon roshnee
Jau chahoon tau kismat likh daaloon nayee
That’s what we should believe in, and make that belief drive us to attain even bigger things in future.

Zulfiqar-ul-Hassan (Rungg)
When I was younger, my friends and I used to buy flags and paste the little paper 'jhandis' all over our houses. I miss that, as now I am too busy and don't get the time to celebrate the day or have any affiliation with it. The only thing I get excited about is the 14th August march, which symbolises the great unity and power of the nation.

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 12th August, 2005

Managing success


interview


Khurram Jabbar Khan, the man behind the artist management company Jilawatan Productions, is better known to the masses as the manager of Entity Paradigm, CALL, Jal, and Roxen. He started off as the original drummer of CALL, but has since given up the drums to devote all his energies to management and has established a powerful empire on the music front. We caught up with Khurram Jabbar Khan to ask him about the music industry and artist management, and to find out more about the person behind the persona.

Us: What's it like managing some of the most popular bands of the country?
Khurram Jabbar Khan: I have always been a manager, and by the grace of Allah Almighty and with the prayers of my family, I have done a pretty decent job at it. And even though these bands are among the most popular ones now, there hasn't been much difference - the bands that I manage and the environment we have created is quite humble and they have not made me feel like they are big or have any kind of attitude problem at any time. We are all a big happy family.
With the passage of time, from a one-man management show, I have developed a proper network of my company, Jilawatan Productions, throughout the globe that now helps me to do my job more effectively. Personally, I believe that there is no limit to what a man can do if he does not care who will get the credit...this is what my father always tells me and this is the reason I have been able to make an impression.

Us: How and when did you step into artist management?
KJK: Actually, I had never thought I would ever end up managing bands. It was just that Xulfi, my baby brother, and the rest of the EP gang asked me to help them out during their initial times after the Battle of the Bands, when they decided to go on to make an album. I, at that time, had come back from the US and was quite eager to start CALL as a new band. The thought of managing bands and then actually doing it really got me into it, and then there was no stopping. Now, it's like I can't live without it. It's addictive.

Us: Out of the four bands that you are managing right now, which one do you think is the most promising?
KJK: All of them. And sometimes I feel scared that I am creating competition within. I am, on the other hand, happy to have the cream of the bands with me.

Us: Would you like to add more bands to the Jilawatan fold?
KJK: Definitely, but with talent. And my adding a band means they have to go through a rigorous path that I will design for them and it won't be that being with Jilawatan will give them instant success. It's not true, because I won't sign anyone who is going for a short time thing. It has to be a long time penetrating approach.

Us: Why did you choose to be a part of the bands' online forums actively?
KJK: Well, sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't feel like responding. I love all the fans on the forums, but there are other 'anasar' who are just there to irritate and to make me react. Sometimes they succeed and I feel like I should not actively be a part of the forums. I am only there to keep the fans updated with the current happenings.

Us: There has been some controversy over some of your posts on the forums. Any comments on that issue?
KJK: I just want to laugh at the whole thing. Some people, not the fans of course, want to gain importance on the forums by placing misleading facts in front of the naive fans to gain advantage or to degrade me or the band members, which after sometimes gets unbearable and so I decided to react. Actually, in our forums we have given liberty to people to say whatever they want - whether it's in favour of the band or not - whereas none of the other forums do, and even the irritants who are moderators do not allow anyone to speak openly or against any issue in their respective forums. And some people started insulting and degrading band members. When this had gone beyond tolerance, I started banning all such culprits and decided to stick to certain levels of acceptance.

Us: And what was the whole Mizraab incident about?
KJK: Mizraab is one of those bands that have tried to make a difference in the rock scene/music industry of Pakistan. They are and will remain one of my favourite bands in Pakistan. Faraz Anwar will remain the best guitarist of Pakistan and I adore his playing. Jamie, who was in Mizraab, is like my younger brother. He was with my brother Danish J. Khan in NCA, and because of him I have promoted Mizraab whenever and wherever possible. Unfortunately, instead of promoting Mizraab or Faraz Anwar, some of the Mizraab fans always try to get into comparisons and start insulting other bands, which indirectly hurts the band (Mizraab), not anyone else.
The same incident happened on the forums when some guy degraded EP and said Mirzaab stole the Islamabad show, which certainly didn't happen. They are a good live act, but not better than EP, as the crowd is always with the band that has mass appeal. To that comment, I replied that Mizraab didn't steal the show but they stole our bass guitar gig bag instead. Actually, Faraz Jr. took the bag by mistake and when he realised this, he gave it to someone at the gate, who he thought was an organiser, and the bag then ended up lost. My expression was only a sarcastic reply to the guy who had posted the comment on the forum. After this incident, I decided that I would never reply to such elements on the forums who want to create controversies by insulting others. My message to them is this: do not harm your band - it has the potential to be at the top, but fans like you are only doing the opposite.

Us: What do you think is the best and the worst thing about our music industry?
KJK: The best thing is that the industry is blooming and there are lots of opportunities for real talent, and the worst is that every one thinks they can do music and they want to be famous within days.

Us: Any advice for bands that are trying to make it onto the music scene?
KJK: Don't be scared of failure. Just keep on trying with full faith. You will be able to do it. Remember that going through the shaft gets the grains. This industry will soon be quite competitive, so mastering your instrument will become real important. Best of luck, and always obey and respect your elders and stay away from drugs. This is not only a part of music learning, but should also be a cornerstone of life - not following this will take you guys straight to hell, both in this world and the hereafter.

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 12th August, 2005

Friday, July 29, 2005

Hail the new kings!


interview


The music scene in Pakistan is undergoing a lot of changes with many new bands coming up and making their presence felt. In this scenario, the emergence of two Peshawar based singers who sing only in English is definitely noteworthy. 'King of Self' is the first good English song the country can boast off! Sajid and Zeeshan have become quite the rage in a very short span of time, and are doing amazingly well on the charts. Their songs have been getting regular airplay on both radio and TV channels, and the guys have even bagged the best alternative song award for 'King of Self' at the 2005 Indus Music Awards.

Sajid Ghafoor: Vocals, Backing Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica, Lyrics
Zeeshan Parwez: Bass, Synthesisers, Breakbeats, FX and Effects, Production

Us: When did each of you decide that you wanted to do music? And how did you both get together?
Sajid Ghafoor: Well, in a way I was into music, or more like doing music, way before we made it public. But then I guess the time when I really decided to go public with it was after I had a little talk with Zeeshan and felt that he wanted to do something similar, and so we made a little plan for a project and went on with it and basically that's exactly what we're on to at the moment. As for how we got together, well Zeeshan was Sarmad's friend (Sarmad is my younger brother, and guitarist for Rungg) and I knew Zeeshan's elder brothers and our parents knew each other as well, so it was more like a family thing plus friendship, though the main thing being that we both appreciated each other's music and the understanding of it.
Zeeshan Parwez: Ahem, my turn! I always wanted to do music since I was a kid. I started learning keyboards at a very early age. I actually wanted to follow what one of my elder brothers was doing with his workstation. I got to meet Sajid through Sarmad. Even though our families knew each other very well, we hadn't met ever. One day Sarmad came to me and told me that Sajid's band, 'STILL', which Sarmad was a part of as well, needed a keyboardist for their upcoming concert back in 1999. I did a few jam sessions with them, and that's how Sajid and I got together and I've known him since. The reason I'm doing a project with Sajid is because I felt that there was never a communication gap between us. He's been very open to my ideas as much as I've been open to his thoughts. He's understood the kind of things I want from the project, even though he has not been familiar with those genres of music, he still holds a keen ear towards new ideas that I present to him. Last but not the least, he's a brilliant songwriter and guitarist, I consider it a big deal to be doing something with him.

Us: How did 'King Of Self' happen?
Sajid: It usually happens when we close our eyes and let ourselves drift away on a calm comfortable night into sleep. But then consciously we have to do more than just that to truly be the 'King of Self'. It was Zeeshan and me, and we were in his room and were just talking about music related things and then Zeeshan just said let's jam and try to make some new song. That was the idea and so I just started playing the riff for the song and Zeeshan liked the way I could see it progress, so I started writing the lyrics and basically wrote the song in 20 to 25 minutes and then we just recorded it within 45 minutes and that was it. It all sounds too simple but then sometimes it isn't really just easy to put all the pieces together and sometimes it just happens.
Zeeshan: 'King of Self' happened in less than an hour, believe me. I told Sajid we have to work on a House track together with a consistent guitar part being played throughout the song, 'looped' that is. After a bit of jamming, we selected two little pieces from the whole 20 minutes jam session and based everything on it. Then I programmed the beats and bass lines and the arrangements. The production (mixing and mastering) was done in a couple of days.

Us: Why did you guys choose to do vocals in English?
Sajid: I felt I could lyrically and vocally express myself much better in English. I did write a couple of songs in Urdu and did record them too, but I donít plan to start on the Urdu project until I feel I can enjoy the same level of freedom in expression as I do in this current project.

Us: So you would consider doing Urdu vocals too?
Sajid: Yes, I certainly would want to at some point.

Us: Where does a band that's doing English music stand in our music industry? And what's the future of English music in Pakistan?
Sajid: English music in Pakistan isn't a big attraction since the listeners are a very small percentage of all the people who actually listen to music. We are aware of the fact that our music won't get or might not get the same kind of exposure we would want it to have. But then the question of reason pops in, which is, why we want to do this. Is it to make money and make a business out of it? Well, the answer for that surely is no. Not that we won't want to get paid for what we do, but the motive surely isn't business. It is something we really want to do and do it with our hearts into it. Having said that, we all pay the price for the things we want. The future for English music in Pakistan, in the long run, isn't that bad, but I still believe it will take some time before we can really say that it has a future.
Zeeshan: I believe it is slowly catching up with the rest, but you have to acknowledge the fact that it is going to take some time for that to happen. How long? No one really knows. I mentioned this at an interview before this that our audience is a very limited one, but that doesn't discourage us in anyway. Success and heavy listenership come if you follow market trends and capitalise on a formula, which we don't intend to do. You have artists/musicians like Hash, Corduroy, and Coven etc. in the country who have amazing stuff. Seriously, I've heard a few songs of all of the artists/bands mentioned here, and I can tell you without any doubt that it is 100 per cent up to international standards.

Us: How soon will the full-length album be released?
Sajid: Hopefully soon, because that's all we're doing these days.
Zeeshan: The production work is near completion. We can't say when it's going to be released; that depends on whether we land a deal with a label, but we'll definitely complete it in less than two months time, Inshallah.

Us: What kind of music do you guys listen to? Any favourite artists/bands?
Sajid: I listen to every kind of music except country music and some rap. I like Coldplay, Keane, Counting Crows, Maroon 5, Doves, Hendrix, Led Zep, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Marillion, REM, James Brown, Bob Marley, The Police and Small Faces. Basically the list is a never-ending one.
Zeeshan: I listen to a lot of New Order, BT, Cinematic Orchestra, DJ Shadow, Radiohead, Chemical Brothers, Brian Eno, LTJ Bukem etc. It's pretty much electronic music to some extent, but diverse in sub-genres.

Us: Your songs and videos are available for download on your website. What's your take on music downloading?
Sajid: I'd say, if it's legal, download it. And since we ourselves uploaded our music on our website for the general public at www.sajidandzeeshan.com, it means itís for everyone to download and enjoy.
Zeeshan: I support it, but to some extent. I believe in an idea that an artist/band should release either one of their main tracks or a B-sides single through the net, for the purpose of gaining traffic and being known to the masses. But the downloading should stop after sometime when that artist/band signs itself to a label and releases it's own album in the market. Our story is that we've released three of our main singles and two B-sides singles on the Internet because seriously, we did not know that it was going to go that far. I used to get nightmares sometimes thinking whether we made the right decision, releasing 'My Happiness' officially, because that's the track which normally no one would want to invest in as his/her second single and video; it's too experimental in nature. I couldn't believe my ears when I heard that 'My Happiness' got more coverage than 'King of Self'. Downloading has surely helped us very much in a lot of things.

Us: Any comments on the ongoing piracy issue?
Sajid: It's a problem and I'm glad finally someone is doing something about it. Pakistan, for that matter, isn't the only country facing such problems but then in this country the artists really can be damaged to a greater extent since artists such as musicians are still struggling here. It's a good thing now that Pakistan has woken up to tackle this problem.
Zeeshan: It's a fragile issue seriously. It has its ups and downs. I can't say I totally support it nor can I say that I'm against it as well. If piracy laws are implemented in the country, there is a big chance that foreign labels will enter the industry. Music acts, both mainstream, diverse and underground (if it still exists in this country) will probably get signed to these labels, get their rightful share of earning through them (more than what they've been receiving from Pakistani recording companies) and also, if lucky, their albums will be released internationally.
On the other hand, if this thing happens, many websites are going to lose their charm because they won't be free to share songs on the Internet anymore. Radio stations probably will have to pay royalty fee to these companies to play their songs (that's how it happens in some countries abroad), DVDs and CDs will become expensive (the average person wonít be able to afford it), television channels will actually have to pay to use copyrighted material on their segments etc.

Us: Zeeshan, you also have a show called 'On The Fringe' on IM. How is that coming along?
Zeeshan: It's coming along very nicely, Mashallah. Other than being a music show, it shows artists/bands being interviewed in a manner never tried before. We also try to link music and its impact on our society. To be honest, we don't know how many people actually watch the show. That's because we're doing everything from Peshawar and we donít know what's happening in the other parts of the country, where music is discussed as if it were a British Parliament Session. The only feedback we get is from people we know on Orkut (yeah yeah, we use Orkut), the feedback we receive is excellent, we have big smiles on our faces on Mondays. We have earned the respect of a limited audience and that feels very nice, because the topics and the manner in which things are discussed are quite away from mainstream outlook programmes. And the humour we use in the show is totally deadpan and black, which sometimes people don't get so easily. But that's what Fasi and I enjoy the most, sometimes explaining to people that there is no intellectuality in the fifteen seconds intellectual film of the week (one of the segments of the show); they shouldn't search for any hidden meanings.
Like my project with Sajid, 'On The Fringe' is the other part where Fasi and I work to death to get everything done, that's why it's so dear to us.

Us: Do you see music channels (television) as a positive or negative influence on the music that is being produced?
Sajid: Well, the introduction of music channels in this country is/was a good move. It does help all the musicians to bring out their act on the main screen for the public, so it certainly does help. But then at the end of the day we're left with good music and music which isn't that good. Which is something that only the listener should have the right to judge, since it could all be based on the difference of taste. Though where ever quality is in question, I think the music channels should insist on some level of quality because if they allow otherwise, they'll only be feeding the public with something which won't last for very long, which also means losing viewers and that's something they really wouldn't want.
Zeeshan: Of course the music channels have a positive influence. We need music shows with good concepts, proper music journalism and ideas that are original. At the end of the day, whatever is produced comes down to the same old routine that producers have been following for some years now.

Us: What about the radio? How important is that medium for our music industry?
Sajid: Radio is responsible for sound without images and therefore is a very important medium in the music industry, especially for artists related to the music field, since it can access those areas where the television or cable cannot. Radio plays a major role.
Zeeshan: The radio and the net are probably two mediums that give underground musicians (who can't afford to capitalise on a music video) a chance to showcase their stuff. Otherwise, the television is pretty much dominated by big names and sponsored flicks. Radio stations in this country are doing a very good job, some of them have excellent play lists to offer. Let's step away from music for a minute ñ the concept of community radio stations with social awareness programmes is being introduced in this country and journalism departments are also trying to establish FM radio stations to showcase their educational segments.

Us: What can we expect from Sajid and Zeeshan in the coming months?
Sajid: Effort, devotion and hopefully the results.
Zeeshan: You can expect an album. Inshallah, some more videos, some shows on the way, and some surprises for all the people who've been following our music.

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 29th July, 2005

Sunday, June 26, 2005

In need of some Band Aid


review

Someone needs to tell Hadiqa Kiyani that she isn't Mariah Carey. Aamir Zaki needs to be reminded of the great things he's capable of. And can someone please tell Dino that being a great VJ does not mean he's a great singer?

We've hardly ever seen any artist-collaborations in our music scene, but as far as the rest of the world is concerned, the concept of collaborations isn't a new one. And between some of the finest charity singles ever and those absolutely awful group performances they have during the Idol result shows, the 'various artists' label has produced some very interesting, albeit not always good, results.

So it was inevitable the trend would eventually make its way to Pakistan. But even though having a dozen or so vocalists and musicians do a new version of Najam Sheraz's 'In Say Nain' sounds like a good idea theoretically, reality has shown us that the goodness of this idea is purely theoretical. Yes, some of the best artists from our music industry, and Dino, did get together to do a new version of the song. And yes, it's almost as bad as the Idol collaborations. Oh, who am I kidding? It's much worse.

Marking Najam's ten years in the music industry, the song is perhaps a tribute of sorts to the singer. 'In Say Nain' originally found home on Najam's 1996 release 'Khazana', and now, almost a decade later, the song sees a revival through his new album 'Menu Tere Naal', and because the original was so well liked, the nostalgic value is perhaps the biggest asset of the new version, as it has little else to offer. There are too many vocalists and hardly enough lines to sing. The underlying music is too weak and at times it seems like everything has been patched together in an attempt to make a lot of incoherent noises pass off as a song. But it's not just the song that's a complete mess. The video falls in the same category too.

Still, seeing all the controversies that are plaguing our music industry, it's a bit of a wonder how they got so many artists to work on the same song. But there's something even more peculiar than this about the track: it doesn't appear to be sponsored - not even by a certain brand of tea - though considering subliminal messages, one can never say for sure. Yeah, no more 'Josie and the Pussycats' for me.

As for the artists, one can roughly divide their performances into three groups: the good, the bad, and the inexplicably weird.


The Good:

It comes as no surprise that Najam's vocals are among the better ones on the track. After all, 'In Say Nain' was his song to begin with. And I'm anything but an Ali Haider fan, but keeping the rest of the song in mind, I think his vocals were pretty good. Gosh, I never thought I'd be using 'Ali Haider' and 'good' in the same sentence, but I never thought I'd see so many of our artists working together either. It's hard to believe they don't have even a single court case between them. At least not so far.

Fuzon's Shafqat Amanat Ali was good as always, as was Aaroh vocalist Farooq. And both Shallum and Asad's guitar solos weren't bad either. As for the Strings, well, they weren't a part of the project. Good for them.


The Bad:

True they were given little to work with, but still, some of these people have been in our music industry since, like, forever, and you'd expect them to make something of it. Take Hadiqa for example. She's one of the very few female vocalists of Pakistan who can actually sing, but it looks like she's paying more attention to her appearance than to her music, and, frankly, isn't doing too well in both departments. And in the song under discussion, she comes off as nothing but a Mariah Carey wannabe. For someone with her talent, her vocals on this song are appallingly bad.

The same goes for Zoheb Hassan. Nazia and Zoheb's contribution to our music industry stands unparalleled. And it's no secret that Zoheb is immensely talented. But listening to the lines he sang on this song, it doesn't even sound like the same guy. And someone seriously needs to take that outfit and those dance moves back to the '80s and leave them there.

Danyal and Saleem Javed? Well, the less said the better. But coming to Tanseer, even though he is brilliant with Karavan, this song just didn't suit his vocals. The guy does rock vocals quite well, but Najam's brand of pop just doesn't sit well with him.

And Aamir Zaki...he's an excellent guitarist, but what on earth was that?? To begin with, his solo seemed like it had been forced into the song. And besides not fitting into the song, the guitaring hardly went with the beat of the track. Which brings us to another issue: drums. They have half the music industry on there but couldn't find a drummer?


The Weird:

There is a reason why Ali Azmat, and not Salman Ahmad, has been the vocalist of Junoon for more than a decade. If only someone would tell Salman Ahmad what this reason is and put him out of his misery. Or put us out of our misery rather - the misery that comes with listening to him trying to sing.

And Dino. Dudo, you can't sing. Period. Do yourself a favour and stick to VJ-ing. If 'Pari' wasn't enough torture, Dino returned to the studio to record various out-of-tune phrases so that they could put them all over the song in order to make it even more unbearable than it already was. Brilliant.

So, to sum it all up, the new version of 'In Say Nain' comes off as an audio/visual example of the phrase 'too many cooks spoil the broth'. But now, enough about the song. Tea anyone?

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 26th June, 2005

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Hopes & fears


album review


Album: Hopes And Fears
Band: Keane

Riding on the success of their hugely popular singles including 'Somewhere Only We Know' and 'Everybody's Changing', 'Hopes And Fears' is the twelve-track debut by Keane, the three-piece from Sussex who specialise in piano-driven ballads. The album was even nominated for a Mercury Award and proves that a band can indeed survive without a guitarist!

An indie crossover of sorts, Keane has often drawn comparisons to the likes of Radiohead and Coldplay. True, singer Tom Chaplin's voice is somewhat similar to that of Thom Yorke and the band's overall sound is at times reminiscent of Coldplay, but what Keane lacks is the edginess - the very element that makes Radiohead great and Coldplay so critically acclaimed. The album offers absolutely no surprises and sees Keane stick to the same sound as the singles, which is probably why half way through the set the monotony factor starts to set in.

The current formulaic pop vibe that can be heard on tracks like 'Bend And Break' and 'Can't Stop Now', even though fine as such, would have been more effective if the band was willing to take a bit more chance and not bind the structure of their tracks to that one blueprint. While the easy-listening aspect works for the band in most parts, but its this same factor that makes the album quite predictable and repetitive.

The tracks from a standalone view are all nicely done piano filled anthems, but the album does not have as powerful an impact as it should have had. That said, 'Hopes And Fears' isn't altogether bad. It's a better debut than many bands can even dream of, and if you like the singles the band has released so far, then you're very likely to enjoy listening to the album too.

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 27th May, 2005

Monday, May 16, 2005

Pulling heartstrings

video review

Song: 'Kahani Mohabbat Ki'
Band: Strings
Director: Umar Anwar

Since the release of their latest album Dhaani in 2003, Faisal Kapadia and Bilal Maqsood have established themselves as the leaders of our pop scene. With an appearance on the Spiderman 2 soundtrack, and after receiving multiple award nominations and bagging most of these accolades, the Strings are one of the most popular bands of the region, and Dhaani has been a major force behind this success. The set has spawned many hits for the band, and they have just released the sixth video from the album.

The new offering, 'Kahani Mohabbat Ki', is a mellow song about lost love and all the yearning that comes with it. Penned by Anwer Maqsood, 'Kahani' is both lyrically and vocally one of the more powerful songs on Dhaani and it comes as quite a surprise that the duo would wait this long to release its video. 'Kahani' showcases what the band does best -- rich mid–tempo vocals blended with that typical Strings–ish guitar–flute fusion.

And with the video, the track gets the Umar Anwar treatment, and that can only mean something good. The brains behind the clips of Jal's 'Aadat' and EP's 'Waqt', this relatively new entrant in the music-video-direction arena has become well known for his deep, offbeat ideas, and he continues to uphold this reputation with 'Kahani' by delving into the rather risky area of murky feelings, the result of which can either be very effective or very insipid. Fortunately, in this case, it falls right on target.

Very different from the previous Strings videos, 'Kahani' is rooted in emotion, and all that can be felt better than it can be explained. It portrays the feeling of loss, of loneliness, and of waiting...perhaps even waiting for something when one knows deep down inside that it ain't coming.

The video shows a lonesome maiden who sits all forlorn outside a railway station, waiting for someone's arrival. But he doesn't show up. Under the shining sun or falling rain, she just sits there, oblivious to reality, thinking of all that used to be. Then the loneliness sets in, and that's when the tears begin to fall. With the rain pouring, she reminisces with a picture and some old tickets in hand, and cries hysterically. She walks away in the end, but will be back the following day; she's just stuck in that furrow, clinging on to the past, and never getting on with life. She'll sit there and wait for him to come, through he never will.

The lead character is the main element in propelling the feel of the video, and forms the fulcrum of the clip, even so that the band takes a backseat while this character takes centre stage. Played by ace actress Iffat Rahim, whose resume also includes an appearance in Junoon's 'Yaar Bina', this role is the backbone of the whole video, with the entire concept revolving around her. Iffat shines in the portrayal of a person who is lost in her own world, distant from reality, and everything fits perfectly with the visuals.

The second important element in the video development is the ambience. From the rain and the fallen leaves to the very generous helping of orange hues, depicting an autumn-like feel, it all complements the lyrical content quite well. The ambience umbrellas the central role, and it all gels up to envelope the feel of the song. Surely nothing could've stirred up emotion better.

Everything from the rain scenes to the Strings performing in an alleyway-type-place is very nicely executed. But the video isn't just good because of what it is, but also because of what it isn't -- it isn't a rip off of a foreign clip, it isn't inspired by a musical, it isn't a paperback-novel storyline, and it certainly isn't an attempt at following the crowd. And originality always scores high, at least in my books.

Fresh off directing the new video for 'Hai Koi Hum Jaisa', this is the second Strings video that Umar has worked on, and the Strings–Umar Anwar collaboration seems to be going great guns. The short-film feel of 'Kahani', perhaps one of the most touching clips to hit the screen in the recent past, makes it all the more dynamic. With no elaborate costumes and without intricate tangled up characters, it's actually the simplicity of the video that makes it all the more effective. High on murky sentiments, perhaps even to the extent of entering the depressing category, the point behind the video was to evoke emotions, and that's exactly what it manages to do. Kudos to Umar Anwar for yet another subtle piece of work.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 15th May, 2005

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Whisper to a scream


interview

Even though he's a relatively new entrant in the music industry, Atif Aslam needs no introduction. Going from Jal to 'Jal Pari' since 'Aadat' hit the airwaves, it has been quite a ride for the vocalist. So we caught up with Atif to talk about his music, fame, and his plans of venturing into the acting arena! By popular demand, here's Atif Aslam...

Us: Your debut album 'Jal Pari' has done extremely well since it was released last year. Were you expecting it to be as successful as it was?
Atif Aslam: First of all, thanks a lot for giving me this opportunity to speak to the readers of Us. I was also a very regular reader of Us in my school days. This is a wonderful platform for the young and talented people of Pakistan to express (themselves). The majority of my fans are teenagers and this interview will provide me a nice bridge to approach those fans.
Coming to my album, I wasn't expecting it to be this big a hit. Although I worked hard to record it and was considering it to be a good album according to my input, but God has been extremely kind to me by giving me this much success, which is far beyond my expectations. He has showered His enormous blessings on me, and I'm always thankful to Him for this.

Us: Any personal favourites out of the tracks on the album?
Atif: All of them are my heart's favourites, but I personally like 'Aadat' and 'Bheegi Yaadain'.

Us: In your opinion, how much of the success does the album owe to 'Aadat'?
Atif: Well, you always need to have a strong kind of song for entering into the music market, and 'Aadat' did really well. I owe a lot to it, but the biggest thing that came with it was the confidence boost I got, and I really felt that I should do more and better songs.

Us: So, how has fame been treating you since that song became a hit?
Atif: Everything is nice, but it is not an easy profession, even though it seems to be. It demands more attention and input than any other profession. Sometimes it literally burns you out because of the hectic schedules. It really feels great to give autographs and to receive special treatment, but at the same time, I feel that its a great responsibility on me not to disappoint my fans, and I also feel that when people love you more than anybody else, then they honour your words and they can be motivated to do good deeds because of this bond of likeness. I wish I could really do something for the youth of this country.

Us: How has your experience of performing live been so far?
Atif: I think the real spirit of any concert is that it should be live, from the vocals to the instruments - everything. This shows the real capability of the singer, whether he can rock the audience or not. By the grace of Allah, most of my concerts went very well. The livelier the audience, the better the performance.

Us: Any performance that stands out from all the rest?
Atif: One of my best concerts was the one that took place on the 29th of December last year at Alhamra Open-Air Theatre. Fun, screams, clapping, dance, autographs, photographs...there was everything. It was one of the highest-pitched crowds I had ever heard in my life, due to the screams of the 3000 girls in the audience. Second good one was at the National Park Islamabad with Noori where 32,000 people were present to attend the concert, and it really boosted our confidence manifold.

Us: Of the videos that you've done so far, which one is your favourite? And which one did you have the most fun making?
Atif: My personal favourite is 'Aadat'. Being my debut video, it was really full of excitement and fun. I performed 18 times on the whole song. It was shot at a warehouse in Karachi and we did continuous shooting for 15 hours. It was really tiring, but in the end I was really satisfied.

Us: Which video are you planning to release next? And when will it be out?
Atif: We are working on some other projects right now, and as soon as we get some time, we will be launching our next video. It will most probably be of one of the best hits of my album. I think there should be a balanced number of TV appearances. Otherwise, if you overdo it and release a lot of videos, then people get fed up of you.

Us: Your entire album is available for download very easily on various websites, including your own website (h3o.info). Don't you think this hurts album sales?
Atif: Well, this is a small world nowadays and the Internet is one of the best sources to send your message to a maximum number of people around the globe. So we've put the album there for our projection. Talking about the cassette sales, there are so many people who are producing pirated mp3 CDs underground and selling them in the market. So we thought that it's better that they should download our music from our website rather than downloading it from other websites and buying pirated CDs.

Us: What kind of music do you like to listen to? Any favourite artists? Influences?
Atif: We have a collection of more than 8,000 songs at home, and I have a very diversified kind of absorption for music of almost every nature. But my personal favourite is Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Sahab. He has been a great source of inspiration to me. He is a heart mender; the healing capability of his songs and voice is matchless. The conditions of isolation, betrayal and being down to earth are so very well depicted in his songs that he is one of my all time favourites. His voice and music is so powerful that it literally shifted our youth towards our basics and core values. Along with Khan Sahab, Kishore Kumar is my inspiration; a very natural singer who never learned singing from anybody. The way he sang tragedy songs in India, no one else did.

Us: You've been juggling studies and music for quite some time now. Doesn't it all get too hard to handle?
Atif: It was really tough when I was in the last semester of BCS but again God was very kind to me and I cleared my graduation with a respectable GPA. I immediately joined MBA after graduation, but right now I am unable to give proper time to studies so I thought I'd better take a semester break.

Us: According to your website, cricket has been one of your biggest passions in life and you wanted to join the Pakistan cricket team as a fast bowler. Any regrets on going for a music career and not taking up cricket professionally?
Atif: Well, I think whatever God does, holds some good in it. I don't have any regrets for not taking cricket as my career but I would love to play a one-day international for the national team.

Us: When are you planning to release your second album?
Atif: I think it will take another year to release it, and I will try my best to give quality music to my fans.

Us: What's planned for the coming months?
Atif: Nothing special - doing music, concerts, and probably some TV serials as well to test my acting skills.

Us: Any message for your fans?
Atif: I would like to say that I would always need your support and prayers. I would also like to advise them not to waste their time and spend their free time in some kind of creative work, whether it is music, sports or something which makes their senses more sharp and active, rather than chasing girls in shopping malls.
In the end I would love to thank all of my fans, friends and family, particularly my parents and my brothers Shahzad, Shahbaz and Sheraz, for their unremitting support. God has bestowed me with a very supportive and talented family. My eldest brother Shahzad is an engineer as well as a photographer. He has always been a sincere guide for me on all the aspects of my career. Shahbaz is an MBA and a great dress designer. Also, he is managing my concerts and TV appearances. Lastly, Sheraz is a computer graduate like myself, a very creative graphic designer, and above all, my very good friend. God Bless you all. Love you all!

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 11th March, 2005

Monday, March 07, 2005

"I want to be a part of history"


interview

The last few years have seen massive change in our music industry, spanning from the experimental music joining the mainstream to the development of concept videos. Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan, a.k.a. Xulfi, has greatly helped the cause. The younger brother of Khurram Jabbar Khan (manager of EP, Call, and Jal), we first came to know about Xulfi during the by now legendary Battle of the Bands as EP's lead guitarist. Since then, this software engineer–turned–musician has come a long way, establishing himself not only as a guitarist, but also as a director, producer, composer and lyricist. Along the way, he has paved the path for new bands to come forward, playing a pivotal role behind the success of EP's Irtiqa and Jal's Aadat.

Instep: EP's 'Aghosh', Call's 'Pukaar', and Jal's 'Lamhey' and 'Ik Din Aye Ga' – the four videos that you've directed are all very different from each other. What do you keep in mind while directing a video?
Xulfi: Directing a video for me is not really different from creating a song, a vocal melody, or a song arrangement, and I've already done all that in EP's Irtiqa. First of all, I have always related visuals with music. I used to compose and play live background music on theatrical and mime performances that my elder brother, Danish directed at NCA. All the songs on Irtiqa are different from each other because I always make sure that every song I make should be different from the previous one. I don't follow any specific formula in music and the same goes for music videos. I hate formula videos and formula music.

Instep: So how do you come up with the concept?
Xulfi: The core of the stuff that I do comes to me at night, just before going to sleep. That's the most creative time in my opinion, because you are in a sleepy state, plus your mind is thinking about whatever happened during the day; it is a recount of sorts. That actually gets me going somehow. And at those times, thoughts and visuals start appearing in my head and I keep thinking of more visuals, and finally I write all the thoughts and visuals down. Sometimes, the thoughts and visuals come out as music, sometimes as lyrics, and sometimes as a concept that I put out in the open in the form of a video.
Plus, I would like to mention that Omeir Zahid, one of my best buddies, who also co–directed 'Aghosh' with me, helps me a lot in linking all those random thoughts that come to my head. Similarly, Khurram and Danish (my brothers) help me with music, videos or anything else for that matter.

Instep: You've previously directed clips for bands like Jal and EP, and will be working on the videos of Roxen's 'Yaadein', Sahil's 'Tu Bol', and Call's 'Kash'. Why do you always work with newer bands?
Xulfi: Because those are the bands that will actually form the crux of the new generation that is finally going to replace the older bands and artists. I am not saying that all of them are really good enough to do that, but honestly speaking, I have given up hope from most of the existing mainstream bands and artists to actually come up with something different, as they seldom want to experiment. They are now here to just earn some fast bucks. A revolution always comes with daring acts. Our industry lacks the will to support this revolution and to be daring. I just hope there comes a time when there are more bands and artists avoiding the easy way to fame by satisfying just the entertainment aspect that the audience strives for. I want artists and bands to focus on something larger than just fame and fortune, because in sometime, people are going to forget you. So while you are here, and you have respect, then why not do something that makes you a part of history? That's what I am here for. I want to be a part of history.

Instep: None of the videos you've directed so far have been sponsored. Would you consider doing one?
Xulfi: Well, I'll only do a sponsored video if the sponsors allow me to do my own thing and not stop me from experimenting the way I do. Frankly, most sponsored videos in our country are actually quite stupid. But I believe that sponsored videos can have a better future if the requirements of the sponsors become a little flexible and the director is given room to experiment.

Instep: There is a marked difference between the quality of 'Lamhey' and the other videos that you've directed. Why so?
Xulfi: 'Lamhey', as I've explained quite a few times before, was made in a rush. Goher asked me to do the video of that song at the end of an EP and Jal concert. I said, fine, let's do it, but as the shoot for 'Ik Din Aaye Ga' was already scheduled for five days later, I was of the view that 'Lamhey' would be done after that. But I was shocked to hear that we needed to do the 'Lamhey' video that very morning and all this persuasion was going on at twelve at night. And now, we had to shoot the video at 6 a.m. the following morning. I decided to take this up as a challenge. We didn't have any sets or anything. So, with the camera crew and the band and Khurram bhai, we finally landed on an old Sikh worship place a few kilometers from Lahore. So there I was, with only that building and a jeep courtesy of Goher and Farhan's friends. I thought of a few shots right then, made a concept and shot the video in just three hours. Then got back home and started editing and within the next 24 hours I had sent the video to the music channels. And if you are wondering why the hurry, that was due to another artist (Atif Aslam) having the same song in his album, and he was about to release the video of this song. That news wasn't for sure, but we couldn't take any chance at that time. 'Lamhey' was the video that established Jal with their new lineup.

Instep: The video of 'Ik Din Aye Ga' was placed at number two at a music channel's Top 100 videos of 2004, while 'Pukaar' and 'Lamhey' were also in the top 20. How important has this success been for you?
Xulfi: It's an achievement. I'll make sure I mention this every time I get the chance to. I mean, I only made three videos in 2004, and all of them were in the top 20. That proves that a high budget and technical gimmickry are not the only ways to make a video look good. Some people believe that's the only way and they are quite successful. Our audience understands everything that has the simplest degree of simplicity. They like what is ordinary. I applaud the audience that has started to understand conceptual videos. It's only because of them that the viewership of abstract and different videos has improved, and will improve even more with time.

Instep: You produced the albums Irtiqa (EP) and Aadat (Jal) and are currently working on Call's Jilawatan and the new EP album. You also have your own music production and video postproduction studio, Xth Harmonic. Would you like to do more work as a producer?
Xulfi: Well, I will definitely continue my role as producer. I believe there has to be someone guiding young musicians. I have always wanted to make sure that new artists keep coming out because that's the only way we can begin to change the existing scene. Now, with my own studio Xth Harmonic, I have the opportunity to do that myself and guide the change.

Instep: Coming to EP, you composed Irtiqa, wrote and co–wrote some of the songs and even sang some of the parts. Does the new EP album see you as a composer, lyricist and vocalist too?
Xulfi: Yes, I have always been the main composer for EP. That doesn't just include the composition of my guitar parts, the keyboard parts and most of the drum sequences, but also most of the vocal melodies in the songs. As far as the lyrics are concerned, I am a better lyricist now than I was before Irtiqa. In fact, I have composed 'Kia Hota', the first song from our new album. My elder brother Danish and I have also penned the lyrics and I am singing it as well. So that probably answers your question.

Instep: Director, producer, composer – which role do you find the most challenging?
Xulfi: Being a composer is the most challenging because one has to concentrate on so many aspects of music. And as far as video direction is concerned, I have so much to learn. I am still a beginner in that department. But, I'm sure that when I know as much about direction as I know about music, then direction will become more challenging too.
Being a producer is really different from composition and direction. It has different technical details, and then, when you are producing someone else's music, it becomes really difficult too as you have to understand the artist's preference as it's their music that you're producing. So every role has its own set of challenges.

Instep: With the success of bands like EP and the Mekaal Hasan Band, where do you think experimental music stands in our music industry?
Xulfi: If I consider the music situation in our country four years ago, then it finally stands somewhere. One has to admit that two bands cannot change the face of the music industry in Pakistan. Experimental music needs an audience that wants to be experimental in their musical taste as well. But here, there are people, who criticize EP on their choice of words in the lyrics. That's actually quite shameful as Urdu is such a beautiful language, having so many beautiful words that lyricists seldom use. How will we know that there are more words to describe one feeling in Urdu? For example, we use 'qaed' to describe being in prison, but do we know that 'mahboos' means the same? Shamefully, we don't. We, the audience, will never try to make an effort to learn words of our mother language and when someone is trying to use these words to describe their motives and feelings, then, the audience criticises us for putting them through the ordeal of opening up the Urdu dictionary to learn new words. However, the situation is much better. A portion of the audience is finally evolving with the prevalent change in the mainstream music industry.

Instep: What about the general music scene? Where does it stand now and where is it heading?
Xulfi: I believe the current music scene is very fresh, but at the same time, it's very pop–oriented. The good thing is that the emerging musicians are more daring than their predecessors and they tend to experiment more. For this reason, I believe that there will be a lot more to look forward to. As for the future, one never knows what the future holds for them. We can't tell what the future holds for the music scene in Pakistan. For example, four years ago we couldn't tell that people will be producing experimental music like they are now. So I can't tell where it's heading, but I do hope it heads in the right direction.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 6th March, 2005

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Reason


a page of my diary

We all came into this world for a reason. Or at least we would like to think we did. How do we know what that reason is? How do we know if we aren’t just traveling down the wrong path? How do we pick our battles? How do we define our victories? How do we tell apart our foes from our friends? How do we choose who to trust?

Do people come into our lives only to go away? Do they even realize that they all leave a mark on us? Why do people go away? Can we make them stay if we try? If we really really try?

Is there any such thing as normalcy? Who defines the range of normal functioning? Who decides when the line is being crossed? How can we tell between the good and the bad? And what about the ugly?

If we do something right, can it still feel wrong? Should we apologize for something we didn’t do? Should we forgive and forget? Do we really have to forget?

How do we know when to wait and when to go for it? When to speak and when to remain quiet? When to laugh and when to cry? When to hold on and when to let go? Should we go with the flow or make a statement? Sing along or march to our own beat? Be a part of the crowd or be different and risk being termed a freak?

Should we prefer silence over noise? Solitude over company? How do we know if someone is genuine or fake? How can we tell if someone cares?

Does anyone care?

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 14th January, 2005