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

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