Friday, May 22, 2009

It's raining books!

cover story

Summer vacation can be a good time to catch up on your reading, so this week we take a look at a few of the year’s best-selling and most talked about books as well as the most anticipated upcoming releases in the hope that some of them might catch your fancy. Happy reading!


The Associate by John Grisham
The latest legal thriller from one of the world’s favourite novelists, The Associate is the story of an idealistic law student Kyle McAvoy who has a secret that forces him to take a job he doesn’t want, becoming "a pawn in a deadly game of corporate espionage". The Associate is a typical Grisham novel, and based on the fact that his books have sold over 250 million copies, this can’t be a bad thing. If you’ve read any (or all -- don’t judge me) of the twenty novels John Grisham has written before this one, you probably know what to expect -- a riveting tale with lots of twists and turns, and a book that, once you start reading, is impossible to put down. Oh and be warned: a movie adaptation of this novel is in the works. And no matter how dreamy Shia LaBeouf may be, we all know what book-to-film transitions usually result in. So read the book before Hollywood ruins it for you!

Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer
Did you know that Edmund Hillary might not be the first person to ever reach the summit of Mount Everest? English mountaineer George Mallory may have accomplished the feat in 1924, but whether he made it to the top or not remains a mystery -- Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine disappeared during the expedition and Mallory’s body wasn’t found until 75 years later in 1999. The topic has been a source of much debate over the years, and in Paths of Glory, a book that was inspired by the story of George Mallory, Jeffrey Archer takes a look at the life of the legendary mountaineer and explores the mystery that has been left behind due to his tragic disappearance.

3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows by Ann Brashares
A continuation/spin-off of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series, 3 Willows is the first of three planned novels about Polly, Jo, and Ama -- three girls who are about to attend the same school that was attended by the original sisterhood (Lena, Tibby, Carmen and Bridget, who found a magical pair of pants that fit them all perfectly). Why do I get the feeling that no one who has a Y chromosome will want to go anywhere near this book?

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith
This year, Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series got a tenth volume. The very successful series that not only amuses but also gives a glimpse into the conditions of Botswana, has also made its way to television and radio. In Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, series protagonist detective Mma Precious Ramotswe continues to solve mysteries, including helping the proprietor of a local football team find out the reason behind their losing streak, while also trying to save her little white van.

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun by J.R.R. Tolkien
It is no secret that The Lord Of The Rings is the purest form of awesomeness. J.R.R. Tolkien was a master storyteller who revived the fantasy genre and has left a lasting impact on the world of fiction. Now, more than three decades after his death, a hitherto unpublished book that he wrote even before The Hobbit has been released. Written by Tolkien during the 1920s and 1930s, and published (with added notes and commentary from his son Christopher Tolkien) earlier this month, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun retells the "Norse legend of Sigurd and the fall of the Niflungs" in the form of an epic poem. Mythology fans ahoy!


The Bourne Deception by Eric Van Lustbader
The seventh book in Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series, and the fourth novel by Eric Van Lustbader since he took up the series after Ludlum’s death in 2001, The Bourne Deception picks up from where The Bourne Sanction left off, continuing Jason Bourne’s journey as he fakes his death to find out who is trying to assassinate him. Meanwhile, after an American passenger airliner is shot down over Egypt by what seems to be an Iranian missile, a massive investigation begins, which inevitably ends up intersecting with Bourne’s search for his assailant. Yet another action packed thriller by Lustbader. (And in case Bourne fans are wondering, an eighth book is also being written and is currently under the working title of The Bourne Objective. Expect that one sometime next year.)

The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly
Michael Connelly’s upcoming The Scarecrow is the story of crime reporter Jack McEvoy, who has been forced out of work; in his final days at the paper, Jack starts to focus on Alonzo Winslow, a teenage drug dealer jailed after confessing to a brutal murder, eventually realises that Winslow might actually be innocent, and ends up tracking a dangerous killer. The crime mystery gives reader a chance to hear the villain’s thoughts through its alternate viewpoints, and if nothing else, is likely to someday make a Hollywood executive very happy.

Medusa by Clive Cussler with Paul Kemprecos
Adventure novelists Clive Cussler and Paul Kemprecos have captivated readers with their NUMA Files series that started with Serpent in 1999. This year sees the release of the eighth book, Medusa, which continues to follow the adventures of NUMA’s Special Assignments division team leader Kurt Austin. The new novel involves a rare jellyfish known as the Blue Medusa, a series of medical experiments, an ambitious Chinese criminal organization, and a secret virus that could start a worldwide pandemic. Scary stuff shaped into a suspense thriller that is sure to dazzle NUMA fans.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
No book has generated nearly as much controversy in the last few years as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The mystery novel that took fragments of art and religious history, added a sprinkle of conspiracy theories to the mix, and then cloaked the whole mess in a shroud of fiction till you couldn’t tell it all apart, has been criticised, condemned, parodied, and then criticised some more, which might help explain why it has ended up selling more than 80 million copies worldwide. And now, six years after it was first unleashed on the world, The Code finally has a sequel. The Lost Symbol, once again, follows Harvard professor Robert Langdon; this time the story is reportedly set during a 12-hour period in Washington D.C. and focuses on Freemasonry. So come September, expect outrage, even more criticism, and a novel that will grip you, probably against your better judgement.

The Twilight Saga: The Official Guide by Stephenie Meyer
It is the new fantasy obsession of teenagers around the world. It is a captivating story set in a fascinating world that has established a global following and has generated a very loyal and devoted fandom. It is, in short, the new Harry Potter (cue: hate mail from Potter fans). Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series has become a huge phenomenon across the globe, so much so that people are even talking about how much people are talking about it. And capitalizing on the hype, Meyer is releasing The Twilight Saga: The Official Guide, which will provide readers with character profiles, genealogical charts, maps, and new material on the Twilight world. The book does not have a release date yet, so if you’ve read the other Twilight books and want to find out even more about Edward and Bella, you’ll still have to wait for a few more months as the book is expected to be published later this year. (You might also want to keep an eye out for the New Moon movie which is slated for a November release.)

By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 22nd May, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Circus

album review

Album: The Circus
Band: Take That

One of the many side effects of growing up in the ‘90s was the affinity one developed for cheesy music, primarily as a result of the constant exposure to boy bands, which were manufactured pop groups clinically proven to make teenage girls fall in love with them and consequently shift bucket-loads of records. The craze, however, faded with the ‘90s, and was eventually replaced by other teen fodder and atrocious pop produce that can largely be blamed on Disney (at least that would help to explain why it sounds like children’s music gone wrong). What became of the boy bands? Most of them disappeared into the murky waters of anonymity. Others tried solo careers, and when that went south they attempted reunions with varying degrees of failure. There is one boy band, however, that has actually managed to pull off an immensely successful comeback: Take That.

At the peak of their success, Take That were selling millions of records, thanks in part to the fact that the group possessed everything expected of a boy band: they had the requisite vocal ability (Gary Barlow), looks (Mark Owen), attitude (Robbie Williams), and (break)dance moves (Howard Donald and Jason Orange), and also because as far as pop music goes, they weren’t half bad. They dominated the charts during the first half of the ‘90s and were described as “the most successful British band since The Beatles in the UK”. But then came the end: Robbie’s departure from the group in 1995 led to the remaining foursome’s decision to part ways the following year. While Robbie’s solo career skyrocketed after the break up, the other four failed to find success, which would explain the subsequently decision of the quartet to re-band in 2005. Trigger nostalgia, and what you get is a ridiculously successful UK tour powered by the enthusiasm of their now-grown-up fans. This was followed by the comeback album ‘Beautiful World’, which ended up being a huge success not only because of the nostalgia the group evoked, but also because it really was a decent pop record.

And so, with a successful comeback to their credit, the band has now released The Circus, their second offering since the reunion (fifth studio album overall), and the band’s fans once again proved they still love Gaz and co. by making The Circus one of the fastest selling albums in UK history and sent the album straight to number 1, proving that good old-fashioned pop music can still do the trick.

The album kicks off with the uplifting The Garden, a power-pop epic à la Rule The World, which sees the band members sharing vocals, as does most of the album, in fact – a marked difference from the pre-break up Take That releases which usually saw Gary as the frontman. Mark reprises his jaunty style in the Shine reminiscent Hello and the delightful Up All Night; and with Gary on lead vocals, the first single Greatest Day aspires to be the new Patience. The Howard-fronted What Is Love offers more cheesy goodness, and the somewhat angsty How Did It Come To This sees Jason lamenting the condition of the world, and is surprisingly catchy despite its inclusion of words like “schizophrenic” and “compartmentalizing”. Amid the blissful harmonies, the songs reveal the solid songwriting talent of Gary Barlow; the post-reunion Take That material as well as the songs he’s written for other artists like Delta Goodrem, Lara Fabian, and even Geraldine McQueen (Peter Kay) have been a brilliant showcase of his ability to put together epic ballads/massive pop anthems, not to say that this album comes off as a one-man show; anything but. The quartet are all credited as writers, while the songs nicely display their individual personalities.

All in all, The Circus exhibits what has been Take That’s biggest strength and success: keeping it simple. The current music landscape so often sees pop pretending to be rock or urban or alternative, but the triumph of Take That comes in the ease with which they deliver their tunes with a jaunty, fun persona that offers an almost Beatles-esque catchiness. Even if you aren’t a fan, you’ll have to admit that Take That’s comeback has been immensely successful and surprisingly respectable. And yes, their music may be all kinds of cheesy, but it IS pop music; it’s not going to change the world or bring about world peace, but ultimately, the band sound like they’re having fun, and thanks to them, so are their fans, and isn’t that what pop music is all about anyway?

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Quarterly, May '09

A chat with Tooba Siddiqui


Ink: Tell me about your educational background.
Tooba Siddiqui: I did my schooling from City School Islamabad, and my A levels from UCI, and then I got into modelling and moved to Karachi, and it’s been a great journey so far.

Ink: What obstacles did you have to face to get to where you are today?
Tooba: Actually no obstacles as such. I always believed in myself, and people who I’ve worked with believed in me. I was lucky enough to find good people and very professional people as I started off, and I never had to face any problems or troubles regarding unprofessionalism or something like that. So I’ve been lucky that way.

Ink: How did you groom yourself to become a successful model and actor?
Tooba: Well, modelling taught me a lot because I entered modelling first. I’ve gained huge self-confidence from the industry. That’s how I got into acting as well. And it was a hidden talent; since my childhood I always wanted to be an actor. Since I was always very amused watching the Oscar and Golden Globes and everything, so I always thought one day I’d probably come somewhere close to that.

Ink: What do you think makes you unique from other models/actors?
Tooba: I don’t know what makes me unique but I guess everybody has their own personality. I have my own personality. I am very confident about myself. I guess that’s what makes me unique. I believe in myself.

Ink: Which fashion shoot have you enjoyed the most so far, and why?
Tooba: I’ve done so many shoots, I don’t know, I think I’ve done almost 97 covers in my life. And I’ve enjoyed working with people a lot. There are a lot of designers I love working with – there’s Nomi Ansari, Sonia Batla, Hassan Sheheryar, Umar Sayeed, and many others.

Ink: And what about acting? What’s been your favourite role?
Tooba: I have done quite a few roles up till now, but again I wouldn’t say I’ve done my, as in, I’ve tried my hundred percent but I guess the dream role that I’m waiting for hasn’t come yet.

Ink: What do you enjoy more: acting or modelling?
Tooba: Well, acting is, I think, something I was born with. Modelling gave me a lot of self-confidence, so I guess both. I love ramp; ramps just really take me on some other level, but acting is a completely different medium. In the future I see myself more as an actor.

Ink: Do you have any other activities besides this?
Tooba: Activities, I would not say as such, because I mostly travel a lot for work and I don’t get time off that much. The only time I get off is spent with family and friends. Or I watch movies. I’m a big time movie buff. If I have two days off or three days off, I just rend out films and I just watch films all the time.

Ink: Any films/genres in particular?
Tooba: All sorts of movies. I love movies. The latest that I saw was Slumdog Millionaire, and I saw Rachel Getting Married, and Milk. I want to be a film actress one day very soon.

Ink: Where do you see yourself in the future?
Tooba: I see myself very satisfied with my work.

Ink: Any advice for people who want to pursue modelling or acting?
Tooba: I think you should be very confident and you should be open to learning a lot of stuff, as in professionalism, confidence, the right attitude, no arrogance, and give respect to the seniors.

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Quarterly, May '09

Rock Funda


Providing musicians a means for visually expressing their musical creations while exposing their music to a wider audience, music videos are a vital tool for both expression and promotion for artists around the world. Influenced by diverse styles and visual effects, videos can play a huge part in defining bands and musicians in the minds of viewers. Pakistan, too, has had its share of ambitious and critically acclaimed projects, like Saqib Malik’s Khamaj (Fuzon) and Na Re Na (Ali Azmat), while at the same time there have been countless releases that have gone largely unnoticed. So as Akash release their new video, Rock Funda, we took the opportunity to talk to the band’s front-man Sam, and discuss with him the band’s new clip, as well as the importance and standard of visual media in our music industry.

Akash is:
- Sam – Vocals, lead guitars, song writing, and composition
- Fiz – Bass guitars
- Miki – Rhythm guitars
- Kenny – Drums

Ink: Tell us about Akash. How and when was the band formed?
Sam: Akash came into being in 2001, some six years ago, but our line up wasn’t finalized until around 2004-2005. Initially we didn’t release any audios so that we could concentrate solely on improving and polishing our musical abilities, and at the same time gain more confidence as we saw ourselves and our music grow. The band is basically a blend of four talented young musicians with highly diverse musical backgrounds brought together through our love for music. Having played sessions extensively, I’ve had experience playing with eastern classical musicians. I decided to start my own band with Miki and Kenny after playing professional music for two years. Fiz joined the band in January 2005 as the bassist. While Miki and I both have classical influences in our music, Fiz and Kenny are into hard rock and metal. Coming from different background has helped us in creating a unique sound with a lot of soul and rock feel to it.

Ink: How was the response to your debut album?
Sam: Our debut album, Aks, was released on the 24th of November 2007. It was the first debut album in Pakistan to have 19 tracks on it, and it was one of the best selling albums of that year.

Ink: How has the experience of making videos been so far?
Sam: We have released three videos till now: Ji Liya, Hum Azad Hain, Armaan and we have now released the video for our song Rock Funda. We are planning to release two more videos from our album in the coming months. The experience so far has been good, but in the future we are trying to improve our videos and their quality because we have learned a lot of things from our releases.

Ink: If you could change something about any of the videos you’ve made so far, what would it be?
Sam: I wouldn’t like to change anything about our videos, because those projects had a very limited budget, and in a limited budget we tried to do our level best.

Ink: Tell us about your new video.
Sam: Our new video ‘Rock Funda’ is quite different from our previous videos. The song, like ‘Armaan’, is an upbeat punk-pop track, and I’m sure people will enjoy it. Making the new video was quite an interesting process. We have played the role of mechanics in the video and we shot the video in Master Motors, so we would like to thank Master Motors and especially Shawash Sehgol for letting us use the facility and bearing us for the whole day and night. While we were making the video, police stopped our shoot because of the loud music, as you are not allowed to play music after midnight in the Defence area. We requested them to allow us to do so for shoot, but they did not. And when we started our shoot again, this time on a very low volume, they came again and misbehaved a lot. In short, a lot of bad things happened on the set!

Ink: Why did you choose to director the video yourself?
Sam: Why not? I directed the video myself because I believe that in a limited budget, I can express our music better visually.

Ink: How did you come up with the concept of the video?
Sam: I’ve always wanted to do a colourful video for this song because it’s fast and energetic. Never wanted a big storyboard for it. A performance video with a short concept, an energetic performance, and different style, that’s it.

Ink: Which videos are you planning to release next?
Sam: The videos for Na Mil Saka and The 3-4 Song are in the works and we are going to release them one by one, you can say a new video every month.

Ink: Any director you would like to work with in the future?
Sam: Steven Spielberg of course. ;) Seriously though, I like Saqib Malik’s work and I would really like to work with him.

Ink: How important are videos for any band/artist in our industry?
Sam: Videos are quite important for any artist, especially in Pakistan, because if you have a good video, television channels will give you decent airtime, but there is no room for average or bad videos. Internationally, it’s the record labels that bear all the costs of videos and album production, but unfortunately that is not how it works in Pakistan, and our system is quite wrong.

Ink: Any comments on the standard of music videos in Pakistan?
Sam: The standard overall is very good, but it largely depends on the budget. If the budget is high, then the video will turn out to be a good one, but I think that the audio is more important than the video because in the end it’s the sound that breaks through. But I also believe in good postproduction, because it can change a lot of things for you in video making.

Ink: Do you think there are any other factors that play a role in the success of a music video in Pakistan?
Sam: I think teamwork (between your DOP (Director of Photography), the lighting team and the whole ENG) is very important if you want to make a video that will be successful. And in Pakistan, if a channel plays a bad video with a bad audio, a lot then people here will still start recognizing that video; isn’t that amazing?

Ink: What’s your favourite i) International ii) Pakistani music video?
Sam: I don’t know why, but I like every English rock video I’ve ever seen. For instance, the Foo Fighters’ ‘Best of You’ is among my favourite videos. From Pakistan, I really like the ‘Khamaj’ video because it’s a very well executed clip.

Ink: What can we expect from Akash in the coming months?
Sam: We are working on the second Akash Album. About 70 percent of the work is done, so let’s see when it comes out.

- Sameen Amer

Ink Quarterly, May '09

Kehna Chahta Hoon


Lahore based band Inteha, comprising of brothers Naukhez Javed (vocals) and Nausher Javed (guitars) recently released their debut album. We got a chance to talk to the band and find out more about their musical ventures:

Ink: What distinguishes Inteha from other bands?
Nausher: I think our music distinguish us from other new bands as we believe in giving our own identity to our listeners, not copying the music or style of top artist. Though being influenced is not very wrong and we ourselves are influenced by a lot of artists, but we don’t believe in copying their style.

Ink: And what would some of these influences be?
Naukhez: Umm, like, we are heavily influenced by Nirvana on one hand and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on the other. So you can sense that our mood is our inspiration and our influence horizon is broad.

Ink: What is it about being a musician that you guys enjoy the most?
Naukhez: I always enjoy when I jam with different musician; in that way you can learn more.
Nausher: It’s an old quote that “mosiqi rooh ki ghiza hai”, so listening to music is like peace of mind, and if you are a musician you can let your emotions out easily.

Ink: Is it difficult for new bands to establish themselves in Pakistan?
Nausher: Well the system of our music industry is totally different than that of other countries, because overseas people come on the screen with a whole package – album, video and their sponsors. There is no band that comes up with a single in USA and because of that they are pre-established by the record label, whereas in Pakistan you have to produce your own video, you have to record your own album at your own expense, and whether you have an album or not it’s always about one hit wonders. So yeah, there are difficulties for every other artist in Pakistan to get established.

Ink: Why do you think some albums fail to get noticed in Pakistan?
Naukhez: Several reasons – bad production, bad promotion, lack of good strategies to promote artists, channel wars and so on. Any minor issue can disturb the album.

Ink: Do you think being a two-member band (as opposed to, say, a five membered band that includes more musicians) has its downside?
Nausher: It’s a duo. We have a separate band set up for live performances, and I think two members have an advantage that as a band you can play with anyone, and everyone has a different style of playing and adds to the diversity of the music.

Ink: Tell us about your debut album.
Nausher: Our debut album Kehna Chahta Houn was released a few weeks ago and features ten tracks. Some of the best musicians from across Pakistan have worked with us on different tracks, including Javed sahib, who is the best violinist in Pakistan; Shabir sahib, renowned tabla player from PTV; Hassan Badsahah on flutes - an underground gem; Waqar Ali Khan (EP); and Fahd Khan (Meekal Hassan band) on drums. The album has been produced by Xulfi at Xth Harmonics studio.

Ink: How has the reception to the album been so far?
Nausher: We’ve received an awesome response so far from our beloved listener, which motivates us even more to give our best in our music, and by the grace of God ‘Kehna Chahta Houn’ has been on the top of the charts ever since it was released.

Ink: Do you think it is difficult to promote the album?
Nausher: I think it’s a mutual collaboration between the record label and the artist. And I believe that in Pakistan, an artist can go to any level because we are so dedicated to our albums, and if the record labels facilitate artists then it’s easy to promote the album. But unfortunately the labels in Pakistan do not even know the definition of promotion.

Ink: Tell us about your latest video.
Naukhez: Our latest video is for our song Pyar, the main concept of which is that love is blind and it’s a mystery and no one knows what it really is. The story revolves around a protagonist who is a serial killer.

Ink: What inspires you to make music?
Nausher: Feelings. Expressions should be strong to make good quality music; without them you cannot make anything.

Ink: What has been your most memorable live performance so far?
Naukhez: The most memorable live performance for me so far is my first live gig at Alhamra Cultural Complex in 2005 along with Ali Zafar and Jal. Our first single Dastaan really got a tremendous response.
Nausher: For me, when we performed live at Aurangabad, India in 2008, that is the most memorable performance so far. We were very surprised that even though our album had not been released at that time, people were still very aware of our music and our two songs ‘Dastaan’ and ‘Anjana’ were very popular with them because they were singing along with us.

Ink: What are some of your achievements so far that you’re most proud of?
Naukhez: There are a lot of achievements which have made us proud, like having our debut single at the number one slot on all FM and music channels for approximately six months, Inteha being voted as the most listened-to debut band of the year 2005 on all FM station, and most recently our song Pyar being declared the most wanted song of the week by BBC’s Asian Network which is another feather in our cap.

Ink: Do you think television channels or the print media influence the success (or failure) of a band in Pakistan?
Nausher: They do majorly, but in Pakistan it’s all a PR thing, which should be abandoned because do to that a lot of artist suffer though they have mass appeal.
Naukhez: It’s all about talent. If you have it, you get it and you get noticed by media, but the Pakistani media needs ‘pakki pakai kheer’, otherwise they go with their personal contacts.

Ink: What about the radio? How important is that medium for our music industry?
Nausher: Radio is the backbone of the industry. Music needs to be heard and radio is the medium through which anyone can established himself as an artist – it’s the first step. Without it you are not an established artist.

Ink: What is your take on the Indian music market and Bollywood?
Naukhez: Bollywood is a big market for music, but they know nothing about genres of music. Whatever is popular around the globe, they copy their style, earn money and search for another style. I don’t think they have their own identity.
Nausher: But promotion-wise they are much, much better, and provide a lot of exposure for artists. They know how to promote an artist. I remember one of the renowned directors telling me that if you focus on 16 crore people (he meant Pakistan) then hardly 60 thousand will notice you, but if you target 1 billions people (India) then you will be noticed by at least 1 million people, along with the 16 crore of your own nation, and I think he was right. We have so much talent but we have to follow the Indian industry just to get fame and recognition.

Ink: Do you guys plan to release the album internationally?
Naukhez: Yes, it will be release in India soon; just waiting for the tension to ease between India and Pakistan. As far as the release overseas is concerned, that will be in a month’s time.

Ink: What can we expect from Inteha in the coming months?
Nausher: We will release another video in a month’s time to promote the album, along with launch shows in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, and Dubai, and we plan to go on a UK tour this summer. A couple of our songs will appear in Indian movies, and we are working on some projects for the corporate sector; all the details will be disclosed later with time.

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Quarterly, May '09