Friday, July 29, 2005

Hail the new kings!


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, 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