Sunday, October 07, 2012

What's brewing in the basement?


The brainchild of Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan, better known as Xulfi (of EP and Call fame), the project, Nescafé Basement, aims to bring together young musicians, and give them a platform to exhibit their talents

What do you get if you gather together a group of undiscovered musicians, groom them under an experienced mentor, and set them to work in a recording studio? The new music show Nescafé Basement is an exploration of that very idea.

The brainchild of Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan, better known as Xulfi (of EP and Call fame), the project aims to bring together young musicians, and give them a platform to exhibit their talents. “The single most important aim [of Nescafé Basement] is to work towards a better future of Pakistani music, and I started this off for that very reason,” says the initiator of the project.

The Basement sees 15 aspiring musicians hone their talents, write new compositions, and revisit popular pop, rock, and foreign tracks. “The music that we have worked on in the Basement is a mix of originals and some very good local and foreign tunes. But every tune that we have worked on, we have given a fresh new perspective. I guess explaining it in words will not do justice to the real thing, hence I will leave it to the audience to watch and hopefully love it!”

The program's name references “the basement in the house which is usually the place where aspiring musicians jam”, and also alludes to “all the underground artists, their talent hidden from the world while they strive hard for that elusive break.”

“I believe the best music is created only out of a jam where different musicians are connecting on a level beyond language,” Xulfi explains, “that makes the musical bond all the more special. So The Basement here represents that ideology, that jam and that creation process in which music is not manufactured, it is evolved. And I, along with the Basement artists, have ensured that our music sounds energetic and eventful, where all musicians can jam their hearts out and express what they truly stand for.”

The new musicians showcased in the project come from different parts of the country - from Lahore and Karachi to Khanewal and Chitral - and the process of finding and bringing them together actually spanned Xulfi's own decade-long career. “During my 11-year-long career in the mainstream music industry, I have produced music for a lot of bands and artists, and most of them are musicians trying to break through,” he says. “Every now and then, I have encountered some amazing musical talent that is either unaware of how to go about expressing their art or is financially constrained. Both ways, their talent remains unrecognized and hidden. Moreover, there is talent that I have seen while judging various music competitions, especially in schools. And then at concerts, I have seen quite impressive opening acts. So Nescafé Basement isn't a product of a month or two of recruitment of youth for this musical journey. In fact, it is the culmination of my own musical journey where I have realized I need to give something back to the industry that has given me the recognition, the respect, and most importantly the responsibility to make the best effort for discovering the raw but immensely talented musicians our country possesses.”

Xulfi shortlisted a few young musicians that he had met over the years and also auditioned musicians in some colleges and universities to be a part of the Basement. The selection criteria? Pure, unadulterated talent. “I was surprised to see the versatility these guys had in their musical expertise,” he says. The youngsters brought with them a diverse range of abilities; between them, the group can tackle instruments including the tabla, saxophone, flute, mouth organ, harmonium, violin, djembe, and rubab. “What I was looking for in the musicians apart from the music skill and the guts to own the stage was how these people think about music in general,” explains Xulfi. “Their philosophy about creating their own music and their thought process were very important, as people from different musical backgrounds sometimes take a lot of time to gel with each other, but when they do, they have the capability to create magic. That's why my aim wasn't to create a band where a singer is in the front singing, but create a team where every musician is equally important, just like it is in a jam. And that's why you are going to see long instrumental and musical passages in the Nescafé Basement songs.”

The program presents a great opportunity for the newcomers, and Xulfi confesses it has also been a great experience for him as well. “As far as the musical journey goes, this eclipses every musical experience I have ever had,” he enthuses. “Never have I had this much fun creating, composing, and arranging music. Everyone put in their best and honest efforts to make the Basement experience the most memorable one for all of us. The thought that through this, so many musicians, who otherwise would have never come to the surface, will finally be able to get the opportunity and acclaim they deserve is a thoroughly satisfying one. This motive made this experience even more special. And at the end of it all, all of us were like a family; new friendships were formed, musical ideas were exchanged. The true 'irtiqa' happened right in front of me, and I was again a part of it. Plus the fact that Nescafé understood the motive and supported this initiative ensured that the Basement becomes a reality.”

So how does Nescafé Basement compare to other sponsored shows, like Ufone Uth Records and Coke Studio? “All these shows have one aim, to contribute effectively to the Pakistan music industry,” reflects Xulfi, “and Nescafé Basement is no different as far as this big picture is concerned. But once you will hear the songs, the difference will be quite obvious. When the music comes out of a jam, it comes out different naturally and that's how we have created music at the Basement. Plus, the Basement stands for youth; it is a platform where they can express their musical talent wholeheartedly. The show is not showcasing the past or the present of our music scene. In fact, it is the future it is presenting; it is the future it is creating. I, as a composer and arranger, believe that music is not a very complicated art form, and its beauty lies in how simply it has been expressed. So the Basement, in essence, is the return of that simplicity that I feel hasn't really been in the forefront during the last few years.”
And he hopes the project will not only introduce new talent and help develop the future breed of musicians, but also offer something new and different to the audience. “If I had to define the music that the Basement stands for, then the word that comes to my mind is 'fresh'. And trust me, you are going to feel the same.”

Meet the artists

Nescafé Basement has brought together 15 aspiring musicians and given them an opportunity to enhance their skills, think outside their own musical boundaries, learn how to treat material that is different from their expertise, and create interesting music. Their mentor Xulfi introduces us to these talented young individuals...

A saxophone player. Saw him performing at a concert three years back and I was instantly surprised and impressed with his skills. He is the only young saxophone player I know of in this country at the moment. I hope more people pick this instrument up after watching him play! He is fond of playing blues and jazz.

He is a student at LUMS and has been regularly performing at his university. His expertise is English vocals. This guy has a vocal range that the classic rock vocalists of the '80s will be proud of!

A young guitar player and composer. Recently graduated from NCBA. He is one of the few guitarists in Pakistan who is trying to build an expertise specifically in acoustic guitar. He is also the Basement's official whistle guy!

He is studying at UCP. Plays the mouth organ, flute, harmonium, and guitar. He became a part of the team at a later stage when I had actually given up any hope of finding a young flute player. But once he entered the equation, it added a new dimension to the Basement's music.

Studying for A Levels at LGS. He is a music producer at the age of 16. Records, writes, plays, composes, and arranges his own music. He is a multitalented guy and has contributed to the Basement as a keyboardist, a vocalist, and sometimes  guitarist too.

A singer and rubab player. He is studying musicology at NCA. This guy has a great voice, something that everyone will easily like, plus his control over his voice is the most remarkable I've seen in my career.

Keyboardist, studying at FC College. I have always had difficulty in finding keyboardists who play unconventionally and can adapt to various genres. I was lucky to find Hamza through Alina, his sister, who is another one of the Basement artists.

A guitarist. Studying at LUMS. He is a progressive rock follower as far as his listening is concerned, but he can mould his playing to any genre of music and that's the special thing about him.

Studying at Pakistan Institute of Fashion Design, Abeir is a female percussion player, and trust me, she is a rare commodity! The best thing about her is that she understands her instrument, the djembe, pretty well and is always willing to learn.

He is a young songwriter and singer who has come from Khanewal to Lahore in order to pursue a career in music. He is one of the most daring songwriters our country has at the moment, and has the God gifted talent of expressing any moment in words.

He is the bass guitarist at Nescafé Basement and is a student at LUMS. He is a passionate musician who understands the instrument that the bass guitar is, and actually shows a maturity far beyond his age in the way he creates the basslines and plays the bass.

The guy plays the tabla, rubab, guitar, and darbuka, and is excellent at each of them! Currently studying at UCP, Fawad adds a versatile flavour to the Basement. His musical influences range from pure eastern classical to hard and blues rock.

Alina, 16, studies at LGS. I went to a music competition at LGS as a judge. After hearing her sing, it was evident she was the winner of the event, but I personally went up to her to tell her that I am a fan. It's difficult to find a good female vocalist in our country nowadays, someone who can really sing, but Alina surely can, and you guys will be able to see that.

A graduate from LSE, Mujeeb is a versatile musician and songwriter. A classically trained vocalist, the guy knows exactly how to balance skill with simplicity. He is quite intelligent in that regard and that's why he never shows off his classical singing skill just for the sake of it.

Drummer. Studying at LSE. I saw the guy playing in a competition that I was judging. The very first look at him reminded me of Waqar, my ex-band mate in EP and Call. The thing I liked about Waqar was he was flamboyant and was not afraid to experiment, and this guy, Mansoor, actually is all that, and more.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 7th October, 2012

No comments: