Sunday, May 27, 2012

“I believe that the sound of this album is way more mature than the previous one.” – Zeeshan Parwez


After making their debut with One Light Year at Snail Speed in '06, Peshawar-based music duo Sajid Ghafoor and Zeeshan Parwez is back with a spanking new record, The Harvest

It may have taken them nearly five years to release their second album, but the result has definitely been worth the wait. Sajid & Zeeshan's sophomore album, The Harvest, is a confident record which proves that it was created by two very competent musicians.

The follow-up to their 2006 debut, One Light Year at Snail Speed, the new album was initially released online as a free download, one song at a time; the group put out two songs per week earlier this year, but the tracks were eventually pulled from their website. “We went ahead with a free release as enough time had passed and our fans were getting restless and so were we,” says Sajid Ghafoor. “We made it available for free to everyone but then after giving enough time, we turned off the download section. Why? Because we're planning on selling it and [we want to] see how it goes, though we're still thinking how to go about it.”

The artwork, as Sajid explains, depicts “a person who has covered enough distance in cosmic space and time, and ended up on a planet where his respective end of the journey relates to the scenery in place. The fields of crop - mature, ready to be harvested - are waiting to face the blade (if you will) so that the next cycle can begin. It's a platform of change, an end and a beginning.” Designed by Sher Jamal Khurshid, the image fittingly complements the album's title. “We did the work,” continues Sajid, “and did it more seriously this time and added more perspectives to it. It's all about making it through the hard times, growing, facing all the rains and storms, and still coming out a winner. It's about life.” “To sum it up,” adds Zeeshan Parwez, “it is a journey of the self but evaluating the journey itself in a way that the result doesn't matter as such as how you've attained it.”

The Harvest sees the Peshawar-based duo continue their own journey; they're still doing music in English, blending lyrical poetry with interesting tunes while experimenting with their musical canvas. Comprising of 16 tracks, three of which are instrumentals, the set incorporates a number of different sounds, instruments, and genres. “Each song relates to the title of the album but in essence is different from every other song,” says Sajid. “Each track deals with a different intensity, has its own flavour, and innuendos are of the utmost importance. It is acoustic, electric, dance, alternative, experimental; has a bit of everything for everybody.”

The songs that make up The Harvest were written and composed by Sajid, and produced and mixed by Zeeshan. “This album took quite a bit of time to record,” confesses Zeeshan, “not because we didn't have the material. We never rush recordings so that's why things like vocals and guitars would be taken care of initially and then the production of the rest of the things would follow and that would take a bit of time. Things like Coke Studio, Ufone Uth Records, and other video projects would take my time but I never rushed the production in any way.”

The tracks make use of a wide range of influences, which is something that listeners with a diverse musical palette will appreciate. “We actually had 18 to 19 songs on us,” reveals Zeeshan, “but we discarded the remaining three because of how they were sounding. All the songs, especially the second half have different dynamics but you'll still be able to spot a feeling of consistency throughout, and that is because of two things: a general flavour in sound that is recognizable by people who've been following us, and Sajid's lyrics that make songs connect with each other.”

Zeeshan feels that the group's sound has progressed since One Light Year at Snail Speed. “I believe that the sound of this album is way more mature than the previous one in terms of both composition and other technical things. There is significant sophistication in this album if you compare it with the first, but sophistication isn't naturally a main criterion to judge an album. Let's face it, 'King of Self' was one of the simplest songs we've ever made but it is the song that gets recognized the most and we stand by it because it is a great tune. The Harvest, however, doesn't have that sort of songs, but it still holds a special place.”

Fans got their first taste of the album in the form of 'Walk on Air' last year, when the band chose this track for the first video from the album. “There's no special reason why we went for this track first,” tells Sajid. “I guess it kind of sounded right that way.” And what is the song about? “The title says it, really. You gotta keep walking, even when you think it's all ended; no dead ends really, all are merely obstacles. So when you meet one, you don't turn back; you work around it, change perspective, rely on a deeper perception. It's about moving ahead and with your head held high.”

In a similar vein, 'Start with a Scratch', the second release from The Harvest, also makes good use of Sajid's lyrical prowess and Zeeshan's arrangement. “It's about not paying attention when you should,” explains the lyricist. “We all have our own fixations, deeper connections, be it with people or even things or concepts; it could be a habit, be it good or bad. Somehow the situation speaks of entrapment for the one who suffers it as a loop effect (going through it over and over again). He may or may not be aware of it but still pays the price for it, or in some cases others do, and at times it could be a heavy one.”

Throughout the album, the duo hasn't shied away from trying something different and adding subtle, unique touches to their songs. “There have been small experimentations done in the album in the form of sampling,” says Zeeshan. “You'd be surprised that some of the songs have audio samples of things like an old jazz and blues record, ISDN modems starting, actual rain in Peshawar with music playing in the background, tin cans being beaten with spoons, and over-processing of beats played over certain tables and chairs.” 'Black as White', the duo, agrees, is the most different and experimental song on the album. “I would have to pick 'Black as White' because of the intense programming needed to be done on that track,” says Zeeshan. “Mind you, that track was made in 2008-09, and back then we didn't have glitch producing real-time software. We had to make it ourselves and it would take hours. Now I just got some software that would enable me to do that with the touch of a button. I'm happy that the stutters of this track were done manually; I'm proud of that.” “I had to rap for this one,” adds Sajid. “It was fun but different than what I am used to. Plus it's not a typical rap song, so in that sense it's quite different than what one would expect.” So why did he choose to rap? “Choose to? It demanded it instead and so I humbly submitted to the vibe. And yes, I am glad it came out the way it did.”

The group has drawn on their experiences to construct some of the songs, like the touching 'I Hope We Remain', which has personal significance to Sajid: “For me, they're all personal - my expression and interpretation of something I considered worthwhile. Though 'I Hope We Remain' is personal to me for one more reason: I wrote it for my late parents.”

Album closer 'Sanity' is going to make its way to television screens soon, and it also happens to be Zeeshan's favourite song from the album. “I fell in love with it when Sajid called me over and he said he had a tune. He started playing it on the guitar and I was mesmerized. The way it's been constructed is because I always wanted this to be the big end of this album. It's special for me and Sajid, and I hope it is for all who listen to it. I should also at this point tell you that 'Sanity' is the first video that is not being done by me. It's directed by Shahab Qamar, an extremely talented musician and motion graphics artist (of Naseer and Shahab, 'Za Pukhtoon Yam' fame) who stepped forward and made a video for 'Sanity' using typography. It'll be out soon, Insha'Allah.”

Also set to receive the video treatment are the tracks 'Personal Beast' and 'Everything Changes a.k.a. Out of My Way'. Why these songs? “Just because we cannot at this point afford to make videos for all of them, or else we'd do that too,” answers Sajid. “They are all special to us in their own way.”

“Every song has a different impact to be honest,” says Zeeshan. “'Sanity', 'Cause & Effect', and 'We Make Up To Break Up' make me want to keep on driving on a clear road; 'Personal Beast' makes me happy; Every song has a different feeling and I guess that goes for everybody. I think to date it's one of the things that I'm proud to have constructed with Sajid. No matter how it does in the market, I'm proud of this album's honesty and its purity. We've given it our best shot and we always will. I don't think we compromised on anything as such, took our time, and then released it over the Internet. It'll be out on CD soon, so keep a look out for that.”

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 27th May, 2012

Friday, May 25, 2012

Summer Movies 2012: stars, sequels, and superheroes

cover story    

It’s an attack of the franchises once again this summer, as the film world gets ready to unleash what will surely be some of the biggest blockbusters of the year. 2012 is set to offer one of the strongest summer line-ups that Hollywood has had in recent years. So ready the popcorn, and prepare to be enthralled by the motion pictures that this summer has in store for you...


We’ve got Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, and Captain America...all in one summer! The season has already seen a Marvel-ous start with the release of the superhero blockbuster The Avengers, which has been smashing box office records ever since its release earlier this month, while leaving moviegoers with a craving for shawarma. The Amazing Spider-Man (July) arrives soon with Andrew Garfield taking over the lead role in the franchise reboot. And Christopher Nolan will try to live up to the unbridled expectations of fans as his Batman trilogy comes to an end with the series’ final instalment, The Dark Knight Rises (July); one of the most anticipated films of the year, the movie better be exciting enough to justify the months of tizzy that have surrounded the project.

A number of other franchises also continue this summer. Get ready for some time travelling as Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin) team up to battle aliens in Men in Black 3 (May), the third film in the sci-fi comedy MIB series, which comes a decade after its predecessor. The G.I. Joes are back with a sequel and try to overthrow Cobra Commander in G.I. Joe: Retaliation (June). The Bourne series returns sans Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), as The Bourne Legacy (August) puts Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz in the protagonists’ seat. The ensemble cast of action heroes are back in The Expendables 2 this August, shortly after a remake of 1990’s Total Recall comes to cinemas, with Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Jessica Biel taking over the roles previously played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, and Sharon Stone respectively.

Elsewhere, the crew of a spaceship seeks clues to the origins of mankind but instead end up confronting a threat that could destroy the human race in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (June). The second Snow White adaptation of the year, Snow White & the Huntsman (June) puts an action spin on the story and stars Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, and Chris Hemsworth. Premium Rush (August) sees a dirty cop (Michael Shannon) pursue a bike messenger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is in possession of an envelope. And in the neighbouring category of crime thrillers, Oliver Stone brings Don Winslow’s novel to the big screen, as Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch set off on a mission to rescue Blake Lively in Savages (July).


If you are looking for scares then there are a couple of films on offer this summer that might interest you. A group of tourists are hunted by beings affected by radiation in Chernobyl Diaries (May); the adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel brings an alternative version of Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) to cinematic life in the action horror film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (June); a couple (Ashley Greene and Sebastian Stan) is haunted by an apparition that feeds on their fears in the supernatural thriller The Apparition (August); and the parents of a child try to find a way to end the curse upon their kid brought on by a malicious ancient spirit in The Possession (August). But if you want to see something really scary, then you could, of course, just look around you and see the general state of the world...


Fans of animation are in luck this summer as two popular animated series are back, and Pixar is ready to reveal its first princess...

- Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (June): Still trying to return to New York, Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer), and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) make their way to Europe in Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, the third film in DreamWorks Animation’s financially successful Madagascar series.
- Brave (June): We thought Pixar could do no wrong, but they decided to prove us wrong last year with the critical crash that was Cars 2. The animation powerhouse will now try to redeem itself with the release of Brave, the story of a defiant princess (Kelly Macdonald) who tries to make her own path in life, but by defying a custom, she inadvertently brings chaos to her kingdom, which she must now try to fix.
- Ice Age: Continental Drift (July): Manny (Ray Romano), Sid (John Leguizamo), and Diego (Denis Leary) return for another adventure in the fourth film in Blue Sky Studios’ Ice Age series, after the consequences of Scrat’s (Chris Wedge) quest to get that elusive acorn lead them to explore a new world.
- ParaNorman (August): Laika studio’s summer offering sees a young boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who can speak with the dead try to save his town that has been taken over by zombies in the comedy thriller ParaNorman.


It’s a busy summer for the comedy genre, and the comedic onslaught has already started, albeit with varied results. Tim Burton’s gothic Dark Shadows (May) has generated a mixed reception; the Miley Cyrus led remake LOL (May) is receiving terrible reviews; The Dictator (May) is busy offending people; while The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is seeing success by sending an ensemble cast of Britain’s finest actors, including Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, and Tom Wilkinson, to India.

But as far as (attempted) humour goes, a lot more is yet to come. Trying to make something new out of something old, Madea returns yet again for some inexplicable reason in the supposed comedy Madea’s Witness Protection (June) by Tyler Perry (who probably enjoys making his movies more than we enjoy watching them). The third Diary of a Wimpy Kid film Dog Days hits cinemas in August.

Also, Moonrise Kingdom (May) follows a search party that is looking for a young couple (Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman); an ad seeking a time travel companion propels the story in Safety Not Guaranteed (June); Peace, Love and Misunderstanding (June) takes us back to Woodstock; That’s My Boy (June) sees a father (Adam Sandler) and son (Andy Samberg) try to reconnect; an asteroid approaches Earth in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (June) which stars Steve Carell and Keira Knightley; Woody Allen goes to Italy in To Rome with Love (June); Mark Wahlberg’s teddy bear comes to life in Ted (July); The Watch (July) takes a sci-fi route as a neighbourhood watch group uncovers an alien plot that threatens the world; Hope Springs (August) tells the story of a couple (Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones) that gets counselling after three decades of marriage; The Campaign (August) stars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as two politicians vying for a seat in congress; and a couple (Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell) are chased by a gang in Hit and Run (August).


If your life is either devoid of or overburdened with drama, and you feel like escaping into a filmic dramatic landscape for an hour or two, then you have a few options. You could try People Like Us (June), the story of a man (Chris Pine) who must deliver a portion of his late father’s fortune to a sister (Elizabeth Banks) he never knew he had; the fantasy drama The Odd Life of Timothy Green (August), the tale of a childless couple (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) who meet a special young boy (Cameron C.J. Adams); and Lawless (August), the adaptation of the 2008 historical novel The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, which tells the tale of three brothers running a bootlegging business.

Fans of music and dance might enjoy the musical drama Step Up Revolution (July), the fourth film in the Step Up series, and they might also want to watch Whitney Houston’s final performance in the remake of Sparkle (August) that follows three sisters who form a singing group and then struggle with the challenges brought on by fame. And if you’ve ever wanted to hear Tom Cruise sing then you’re in luck; coming soon is the much anticipated big screen adaptation of the musical comedy drama Rock of Ages (June), which is powered by an ensemble cast that also includes Russell Brand, Julianne Hough, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

So enjoy the action, share some laughs, and experience some heartfelt moments this summer courtesy of Hollywood’s latest offerings; they may not all be Oscar contenders, but they’ll certainly try their best to entertain you. Have a great summer!

What Hollywood Did Last Summer

Wizards, pirates, and talking animals... Hollywood used its dependable franchises to make some big bucks with its summer releases last year. The five most successful movies from summer 2011 were:

- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 (total worldwide gross $1,328 million): The final instalment of the Harry Potter series was not only the highest grossing film of the summer but the entire year. Deathly Hallows - Part 2 became the first film in the franchise to make more than a billion dollars, as fans flocked to cinemas to bid farewell to their favourite wizard.

- Transformers: Dark of the Moon ($1,123 million): Criticise it all you want, but Dark of the Moon was a box office success. Despite everyone’s quibbles about the acting, plot, and script, the third instalment of the Transformers series made over a billion dollars and incentivised Michael Bay to continue working on the franchise; a fourth film is expected in 2014.

- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides ($1,043 million): Just like Dark of the Moon, On Stranger Tides - Jack Sparrow’s fourth cinematic outing - was a letdown, but that didn’t stop it from raking in some big cash. And yes, there is expected to be a sequel.

- Kung Fu Panda 2 ($665 million): Po’s second venture was both a critical and commercial success, and even earned the film a Best Animated Feature Academy Award nomination.

- The Hangover Part II ($581 million): The sequel to 2009’s The Hangover surpassed its predecessor and became the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time, despite the fact that it was basically the same film all over again.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 25th May, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

“The '80s and '90s were the peak in Pakistan’s pop music history, and we wanted to pay a tribute to that era.” – Faiza Mujahid


Singer Faiza Mujahid and DJ Shahrukh Sheikh talk to Instep Today about their cover of the Vital Signs classic ‘Do Pal’

The last few years have seen many artists in our music industry join forces to create some very interesting songs and projects. Joining that club are singer Faiza Mujahid and DJ Shahrukh Sheikh. The duo have recorded a cover of the song 'Do Pal' together, bringing house music to the fore while paying tribute to one of the biggest pop bands in Pakistani music history, the Vital Signs.

The musicians

Faiza Mujahid first gained prominence for her contribution to the soundtrack of the film Khuda Kay Liye. “I did three songs for that movie - 'Mahi Ve', the title track, 'Khuda Kay Liye' and the famous 'Bundeya Ho',” recalls the singer, but instead of focusing on music following the success of her songs, she instead chose to step away from the limelight. “Music is my passion. After the success of 'Bundeya Ho', I took a back seat as I was very young and didn't know how to handle this profession. But then it felt like something was missing from my life. Then after a long gap, I came back with 'Meri Zindagi'. Now everything seems complete. I think I can't breathe without music in my life!"

Shahrukh Sheikh shares Faiza's passion for music. “(Music is) the only thing I was ever good at,” he says. “I used to play music at house parties and fashion shows when I was in college, and from all the encouragement I got I felt that this is it.” The DJ has performed at various international venues, and has also seen success with his remixes. “I've done remixes of Quaid-e-Azam's speech called 'The Creation', Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's 'Halka Halka Suroor', and Abida Parveen's 'Ghoom Charakhra', which were all part of a live set for a HSY CD. I did a remix of Noor Jehan's 'Munda Shehar Lahore Da' for a TV show back in 2005. I've done a CD for CrossRoads with remixes from the movie Grease. In 2008, I did a song called 'Kalyan Lang Jani' in collaboration with my friend Tehseen on vocals. In 2010, I did the 'Veena Remix' which went wildly viral, with over 150,000 views in the first four days of its release on YouTube.”

The collaboration

The two musicians were attracted to the idea of a collaboration as it would give them a chance to unite their talents, merge different sounds and genres, and create something different. “I always wanted to feature a good vocalist on my tracks,” explains Shahrukh, “and when I met Faiza at a friend's place, I instantly thought 'music'. I called a common friend, RJ Sumayrah, to ask Faiza if she would be interested in a collaboration. I'd heard her songs before and I always felt that the timbre of her voice deserves a deep-tech groove.”

“When Shahrukh called me one random morning and talked about the collaboration I was not sure, as it was something very different from what I had been doing,” reveals Faiza. “But the fusion sounded interesting. I'm always open to experiments. And I wanted to try something new to make my entrance back in the music scene. After the song was recorded, I was so happy with the way it turned out. Now we are thinking of doing some more songs together, and mixing it with a feel of rock as that's my true genre.”

The song

The duo chose to record a cover version of a two decade old hit; they did, however, put their own spin on the track. “'Do Pal' by Vital Signs has a very classic rock feel,” explains Faiza. “We thought that it would be interesting to fuse it with house. Plus it is a beautifully written song by Mr. Shoaib Mansoor.” “It's a song originally performed by Vital Signs back in the day when we had only one television channel,” elaborates Shahrukh. “I grew up listening to this song and got motivated by it in sports and especially during exams. The song was recorded at Digital Inn studios by Ali Mustafa, who has done a great job in rearranging the whole track. The sound is contemporary internationally. In Pakistan, it's still something very fresh and new. We have tried to fuse the genre of house music with our own vocals. And it's a combination that is going to set new trends in our local scene.”

Why did they chose this song? In part, as a tribute to a past era. Faiza says, “We are seeing very difficult times in the music industry at the moment. The '80s and '90s were the peak in Pakistan's pop music history, and we wanted to pay a tribute to that era.”

Another factor for the choice of song was that Shahrukh felt the tune was suitable for a house arrangement. “The original arrangement of this song was also very tech and futuristic, and the lyrics were about positivity and progress. It's a unique combination and we felt that this song deserves to be restored.” Shahrukh thinks electronic music is steadily making its way into the Pakistani music scene. “Electronic music has globally taken over and is slowly being introduced in Pakistan. It represents the modern urban lifestyle and it is being fused with all genres of music. Club culture is infusing in our concerts and more and more people want to dance and feel free.”

The musicians are both pleased with their collaboration and say they had a great time working with each other. “We never faced a creative or practical conflict and if we did, it was easily dealt with,” says Shahrukh, who is looking forward to working on “a live act with Faiza”. “It's very important to be on the same wavelength if you are working with someone, and Shahrukh is extremely humble and easy to work with,” reciprocates Faiza, and she promises that the audience will be treated to more “new tracks, performances, and covers” very soon. 

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 22nd May, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Avengers

movie review: in the picture

The Avengers ****

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan SkarsgÄrd, and Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Joss Whedon

Over the last decade, Hollywood has seen massive success bringing comic book heroes to life. The big screen ventures of Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, and The X-Men have not only helped popularize the genre but also transformed it in the process. Marvel Studios' latest project both capitalizes on and expands this trend. The studio has been building up to a convergence over the course of five films, showcasing its cast of superheroes in standalone chapters, while planning to eventually bring them all together. Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, and Captain America have been the stars of their own movies, and now, with their characters defined and back stories detailed, the superhero team finally assembles in the much anticipated, high-budget summer blockbuster, The Avengers.

After Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) adoptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) - who is on a mission to free the world from freedom - enslaves Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and makes off with an enormously powerful energy cube known as the Tesseract, S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) summons our old friends in a bid to retrieve the Tesseract, save the world, and thwart an extra-terrestrial attack. Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) are joined by Thor, and together, they must fight the forces of evil… if they can first manage to stop fighting with each other. Egos collide as the superheroes interact. Can this motley crew of gifted yet troubled people (and beings) get their acts together, work as a team, and save the world?

The Avengers is a film that knows exactly what its audience wants and how to deliver it, and it never forgets to be fun. The action unfolds at a brisk pace with everything leading to the final showdown. But while there may be action throughout the movie, The Avengers isn't simply fixated on the fighting or explosions or special effects, no matter how frequently these elements are employed. The plot might be standard, but the storyline is still smart and everyone gets their due. With each character battling their own issues and conflicts while being thrown into an epic fuss where they reluctantly learn to share space, the crossover provides a chance for everything from witty banter to frequent skirmishes. The main players are first pitted against each other and then against Loki and his cohorts, and are given the opportunity to further develop and grow in the process.

Writer and director Joss Whedon, hitherto (but probably not henceforth) best known for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has managed to construct a well thought out project that is worthy of its current box office bonanza. He effectively puts together the many pieces that are handed to him, and injects emotions and wit into the proceedings. The film's very impressive cast also puts in some great acting performances. Robert Downey Jr. continues to be awesome as the snarky Tony Stark, Mark Ruffalo impresses in his subdued portrayal of Bruce Banner, while Tom Hiddleston's Loki is intense and fittingly despicable.

Overall, The Avengers is both a culmination of the cinematic action we have witnessed in the last few years from the Marvel universe, and a precursor for all that's yet to come. The movies that preceded it established the tone of the characters, and The Avengers builds on this while giving the franchise a chance to further expand. Joss Whedon proves to be a competent director, and the film's ensemble cast delivers solid acting performances. And while it may not be groundbreaking, the movie delivers exactly what it promised, and offers an entertaining start to what could potentially be a very exciting summer.

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 20th May, 2012

The second coming of Jack White

album review

The man behind bands such as The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, Jack White is back with his first full-fledged solo album. Instep lends an ear

He has helmed three commercially successful and critically acclaimed bands, contributed songs to films including Cold Mountain (in which he also displayed his acting skills) and Quantum of Solace, collaborated with a slew of artists, and even produced music for the likes of Loretta Lynn. Be it rock, country, or the blues, Jack White has left a very distinct imprint on every project he has touched. His sound is distinctly his own, so the fact that Blunderbuss is his debut solo album doesn't mean he has yet to establish his identity; this might be the first time he's venturing solo, but we already know exactly who he is musically and what to expect from him.

Comprised of 13 tracks, Blunderbuss sees the artist take full creative control of the project. The set was produced by Jack White and recorded at his own Third Man Studio, and the material was largely written and composed by the musician himself. There are shades of his past work throughout the album, but this isn't The White Stripes or The Raconteurs or The Dead Weather. It is, however, unmistakably Jack White, and based on his track record, that can't really be a bad thing.

The album's sound is rooted in blues rock, and it effortlessly takes detours through the various territories he has already covered with his many ventures. Second single 'Sixteen Saltines' brings The Stripes' 'Blue Orchid' to mind, and would have easily been at home on a White Stripes album. The title track, 'Blunderbuss', emanates a country vibe, while shades of hip-hop surface on 'Freedom At 21'. The playful tune of 'Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy' is simply too charming to resist; a cover of Little Willie John's 'I'm Shakin'’ brings the 1960 hit to a new audience; and 'Weep Themselves to Sleep' effectively couples its piano-driven assault with White's characteristic drum and guitar strokes.

Lyrically, Blunderbuss often delivers a punch; the songs are pensive, brooding, and at times turbulent, but you can hardly blame Jack White's words for being vehement after the kind of year he's just had. 2011 saw him parting ways with Meg White marking the end of The White Stripes, and also saw the end of his marriage to model Karen Elson (who does, however, provide backing vocals to three tracks on Blunderbuss; in fact, female backing vocals are present on a number of songs, including lead single 'Love Interruption' to which Ruby Amanfu lends her smoky voice). So the album's dark take on love and relationships is only too understandable.

Jack White's work has always been quirky and interesting, and Blunderbuss is no exception. The musician has undeniably made an impact on the world of music over the last 15 years, and Blunderbuss is an extension to everything he's done before. At first listen it might seem a little scattered, but as you become better acquainted with the material the songs start to feel more intimate and compelling. The record revels in its familiarity instead of being burdened by it, and gives White the chance to explore the dynamics of his music and do so on his own terms. In short, Blunderbuss is a solid record that is both fascinating and eccentric, just like the musician who created it.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 20th May, 2012

Friday, May 18, 2012

Nice and naughty - Natasha Saleem

interview: my teen years

Star and date of birth
23rd October makes me a cusp - Libra and Scorpio.

The best thing about being a teenager was
Not having to pay bills.

I was always listening to
Linkin Park.

I was glued to the T.V. for
I wasn’t!

My favourite movie was
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

My favourite actor was
Edward Furlong.

My favourite superhero was
I don’t think I ever had one.

My favourite book was
Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree. I was pretty obsessed with the Sweet Valley High books too.

My room was full of
Posters and drawings on the walls made by my friends and myself.

My room walls carried the posters of
Popular actors and boy bands.

My closet was full of

My friends were
My whole world.

My first crush
My first crush was the captain of my school. He was in the 11th grade and I was just in 5th grade.

What hurt me the most
Everything and nothing; it’s how the teenage years go!

My dream was to become
An air hostess, I think.

I wish I had known then
How quickly the carefree life leaves you.

Relations with siblings
Loved my brother to pieces; still do.

Relations with parents
Fought about everything, haha! Was quite the rebellious one!

My school was
Where I found my best friends.

Ragging at college/university
I studied abroad so that didn’t happen at all.

My favourite pastime was
Reading books, and waddya know, it still is!

My favourite sport was
I was athletically challenged.

I couldn’t stand

My favourite hangout was
Pizza Hut or KFC, every Friday.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 18th May, 2012

Thursday, May 10, 2012

“I felt so much love from the crowd in Quetta!”

interview: sound bytes

Singer Annie Khalid tells Instep Today about performing in Quetta collaborating with A1 and deciding not to be a part of Sur Kshetra

“I never wanted the night to end! It was magical! I am taking back beautiful memories of you guys to Lahore and hope you will call me again soon. Quetta rocks,” Annie Khalid wrote on her Facebook page after performing in the city last month. In an interview with Instep Today, Annie talks about performing in Quetta for the very first time and a lot more…

Instep Today: You performed in Quetta recently. How did the performance go?
Annie Khalid:
The performance was amazing. We had a really good turnout despite the city being on red alert the whole time. It was quite daunting in the beginning and kind of scary, but the overall performance was great and the feeling that I had when I left was just overwhelming. I felt so much love from the crowd in Quetta.

Instep Today: How many people were in attendance? And how was their response?
It was about 2000 people total, because it was a very small intimate crowd and the venue (the Taj Mahal Hall) was very small too. But according to the venue it was quite full, like jam-packed. Because of that reason I was also able to have a very intimate one on one concert with the fans. I was able to talk to them, listen to them and get to know them. And every single song that I would sing, they would sing back to me and that was the best feeling in the world.

Instep Today: Have you ever performed in Quetta before?
No, this was the first time and it was a very good experience.

Instep Today: Were you concerned about the political condition in Quetta while planning the concert?
When I was told about the concert I was a bit concerned and I discussed my concerns with my manager and parents obviously because it's not one of the safest places to be in right now. But you know, my dad said that if we don't muster up the courage and go to places like Quetta where people claim it's not safe, then what about the residents and their entertainment? They also want to have some fun and enjoy themselves. God forbid if anything has to happen it will happen and I just believe in that. We were very optimistic about it and we knew that Insha'Allah nothing will happen. We are going to go have a good time and make it a night to remember. And it sure was memorable!

Instep Today: Can you share any memorable incident from that day with us?
Everything about that day was memorable. The moment we landed and stepped into the bullet proof cars, being surrounded by so much security obviously is very overwhelming - kind of scary. But you know what, it was just memorable from the get go straight down to the evening. Before the concert, meeting up with all the fans, taking pictures and having a one on one meet and greet session was so much fun. You also get to hear their stories of life in Quetta. So many people have been living there and it's their home. They all are waiting for a change and their optimism is so gratifying.

Instep Today: How much has the country's security situation affected artists?
It has affected the artists a lot because getting NOCs to perform and not being able to reach out to your fans is very sad. As an artist, it's very important to perform and sing your songs in front of your fans and you don't get to do that which is quite upsetting.

Instep Today: Is there any location in Pakistan where you would particularly like to perform?
I have been to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. I have been to Baluchistan. I have performed in Punjab. I have performed in Sindh. MashaAllah I have seen almost all of Pakistan but there is one place I haven't been to and that is Swat. We have performed as far as Peshawar but never been up North to Swat and I know I have so many fans there so I would love to perform for them. I have also heard that it's like heaven on earth, so I would love to go there.

Instep Today: You collaborated with pop band A1 last year and also performed with them at the O2 Academy. How was the experience?
The entire experience of the collaboration was amazing. It hasn't been released yet. We recorded the song together and then performed it at the O2 Academy where I performed with them as a special guest. That was a really amazing experience.

Instep Today: Will 'Just Three Words', your song with A1, be released as a single?
Annie: The song is going to be released in May. The song premiere is going to be at the Norwegian Emmys where we will be performing it. That's a huge thing for me, to be able to stand there and represent my county Pakistan. After that, somewhere around mid-May, the song will be released. We are hoping for a really good response. Just can't wait for that.

Instep Today: Do you have any other collaborations lined up for the future?
There are a lot of collaborations. I have just done a couple of songs with some different artists which I can't disclose right now. But yeah, there is a lot of really good stuff coming up and collaborations are definitely the way forward.

Instep Today: In what capacity were you going to participate in Sur Kshetra? And why did you decide not to be a part of that project?
I was supposed to be a part of Sur Kshetra as a host from the Pakistan side, but then things didn't work out right till the end even after signing the contract. So it's ok. Some things are just not meant to be. It happens. But there are some more Indian projects coming up and these are going to be more about the music.

Instep Today: What can we expect from you in the coming months?
There is so much happening with a few Bollywood projects in the coming months. Some more music videos, some more music, and that's it.

- Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 10th May, 2012

Friday, May 04, 2012

"I definitely respect Pakistan as a country, as well as the culture it represents" - a chat with singer Jennifer Jandris

cover story

American singer Jennifer Jandris has come to prominence in Pakistan after recording a duet with Junaid Khan. We got a chance to talk to the rising star about her love for music, the success of So Close So Distant, and what she has planned for the future. Here’s what she had to say:

Us: Please tell Us a bit about yourself.
Jennifer Jandris:
I’m 23 years old and I’m currently a fulltime student and working individual. I am studying Environmental Science and Biology, while pursuing music apart from school. I work for a federal agency doing management and policy work for the time being. My family is from Austria; I was actually the first in my family to be born in the United States. My hobbies, other than music, include travelling, dancing, horseback riding, swimming, and spending time with friends, family, and my two beloved cats!

Us: How and when did you discover your musical talents?
I first discovered my love for music when I was seven years old, and had started taking piano lessons. I’ve been playing my whole life; however, I didn’t discover my talent for singing until I was 14. I remember a teacher telling me that she could hear my voice standout from the other students in a spring school concert. I was completely surprised and from then on I haven’t stopped singing.

Us: How many albums have you released so far?
So far, I have released two cover albums: Holiday Dreams, a Christmas/Holiday album, released in 2008, and Crossroads in August 2011, which was a mix of some of my favourite songs.

Us: You have focused on recording covers so far. Why so?
Although I’ve always loved to write music, I never focused on it exclusively until more recently. I think I spent a lot of time focusing on what genres of music I prefer to focus on and now that I’m more familiar with what I want to do, I can start releasing my own compositions.

Us: Please tell Us about the song So Close So Distant.
So Close So Distant is a song about two people in a distant relationship who long to be together; however, they have such a connection that they feel close despite the distance. Eventually, they find their way to one another and sing together to express their feelings.

Us: How did the collaboration with Junaid Khan come about? How do you know Junaid? And how did the idea of collaboration come up?
Junaid and I met a few years back through a mutual friend in the United States and once we discovered we were both musicians, we knew it would lead to a great friendship and hopeful collaborations in the future. When Junaid returned to the U.S. this past October to work on a television episode in New York City, he spent a few days in Washington D.C., working with photographer Girard Peter and me on So Close So Distant. Our ideas for the song sparked a few months earlier when we spoke about how we should write a song related to distant love and thought it would make sense considering, as artists, we are from two different parts of the world.

Us: How was the experience of working with Junaid?
Working with Junaid was overall fun and exciting. We had a great opportunity to express our musical abilities and ideas with one another, so it was also a terrific learning experience. Junaid is a very down to earth and kind individual, so it was a pleasure to work with him.

Us: How was the experience of shooting the video?
The video shooting was a three to four day process and was another terrific experience. We were aware that this wasn’t a large gap of time for filming, but we did as much as possible in that amount of time and I think it really worked out well. My friend and talented photographer, Girard Peter, was responsible for the fantastic footage. Until this video, he focused solely on photography; however, this was a unique and enlightening experience for him as well, so he hopes to continue working on video.

Us: Was this your first video? How did it feel to see the final result?
Yes, this was my first official music video. I anticipated doing something like this for a very long time. I have to admit, I was extremely excited to see the final product; I didn’t expect it to become such a success and I’m so grateful for the new fans and followers.

Us: Have you ever been to Pakistan and do you plan to visit the country any time soon?
I have not been to Pakistan thus far, so I think it’s quite interesting that this video has become so popular without me even being there, but as I said, I’m very thankful for this! As of now, I don’t have any plans to visit in the near future, as I’m focusing on working on a lot of new projects!

Us: What is your perception of Pakistan?
I definitely respect Pakistan as a country, as well as the culture it represents. I love to experience various cultures and learn as much as I can about them. I think working with Junaid was also wonderful because it shows a type of unity between the two cultures.

Us: What kind of music do you usually listen to? Who are your favourite artists?
: When it comes to music, I think I listen to a little of everything! I think it’s important as an artist to get a grasp of many varieties; it gives a broader sense of diversity. A few artists that really inspire me are Sarah Brightman, Hayley Westenra, Adele, Josh Groban, Eva Cassidy, and Lady Antebellum.

Us: Are there any artists you would like to work/collaborate with?
There are far too many artists out there I’d jump at the chance to collaborate with, haha! If I stuck to a classical genre, I would most certainly love to duet with Josh Groban or work on a song with Celtic Women. I think there is a wide variety here; I can’t even name them all!

Us: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline? What can we expect from you in the coming months?
Definitely! I recently went to Nashville, Tennessee, to work on new songwriting/composition projects with some very talented writers and artists who have been inspiring me in this journey. I currently have five songs that I’ll be working on releasing in the coming months. They’re a mix of blues, pop, country, classical, and trance. I’m also going to be working on an entire trance/house/dance album as well, since that has been one of my goals. I’m really looking forward to all the opportunities to come, so be on the look out!

Us: Any message for the readers?
For any aspiring singers/musicians, I would say always, always keep reaching for your goals and dreams. The sky is the limit and you really can accomplish anything with the right attitude. Thank you for your continuous support!


In brief


Junaid Khan comments on...

~ Meeting Jennifer: I met Jennifer through a common friend, Raakin Iqbal, in Washington DC a couple of years back. The three of us went out for dinner and exchanged our thoughts about music. That is when I found out that Jennifer was quite passionate about music and was looking to start off in this field.

~ Deciding to do the duet: Even if you check out Call’s history, I have always been singing English covers since the start, even before I composed Nishaan and Pukaar. So, the thing for singing in English has always been there, just like many rock underground artists that grow up singing rock tunes of their era; therefore, I always wanted to write something in English. Luckily, I was offered a serial for which I had to be in NYC. As I was planning to leave for NY for the shoot of my upcoming play Mata-e-Jaan around October last year, the idea of doing a duet clicked in my mind. And the first person that came in my mind for it was Jennifer. Why? Because she absolutely suited the song that I was planning to write. I wanted to do a romantic duet and Jennifer had the perfect mellow tone for it. Other than the tone, her personality and her sweet looks perfectly matched the concept. Good thing for me when I asked her, she loved it and we decided to materialise it. :)

~ Recording So Close So Distant: I composed the basic guitar progression and wrote a rough vocal melody around it. Then I wrote the basic lyrics and Jennifer made valuable additions to them, hence we finalised the lyrics together, giving us a rough sketch that I could take for audio production. The song was then produced by Sami Khan at Black Mug Productions here in Lahore and he absolutely did a great job arranging the whole song. Then I sent the song to Jennifer online and she recorded her bit there in the US, sent back the track and I finally got it mixed and mastered here at Afzal’s Stylus Studios.

~ Making the video: Well, Jennifer knew a photographer by the name of Girard Peter with whom she previously did a photo shoot as well. When I saw his work, I straight away decided that I would use him as the director of photography because his work was simply amazing. The video was then shot in Old Town Alexandria near Washington DC.

~ Working with Jennifer: Working with her was very convenient and hassle-free. She is quite comfortable to talk to. Also, during our initial conversations about this project, I felt that she has the same drive and passion towards music that I have. Plus, I got to learn a lot from her as an artist, too.

~ Jennifer as a person: Well, Jennifer is a sweetheart. She always has a smile on her face and exudes positive energy all the time. She is a gem of a person to have around.

~ Jennifer as a musician: She is a very talented. It was a great choice working with her on this project. She has a soulful voice and a great sense of melody.

~ Something interesting about Jennifer: People around her tell her that she resembles Miley Cyrus. But I disagree. I believe Jennifer is gorgeous and way more feminine, LOL.

- Sameen Amer

 Us Magazine, The News - 4th May, 2012