Sunday, April 07, 2013

“Our youth is entertainment starved!”

interview: sound waves

Musician Xulfi Khan speaks to Instep on Sunday about the lack of good music and the YouTube ban as the Basement series goes on tour

After displaying their talents on television, the participants of Nescafé Basement are now going on tour. The fifteen aspiring musicians who came together for the program last year are currently performing at various educational institutes, bringing the tunes they sang on the show to a live audience.

“It's quite an experience,” says the group's mentor Xulfi Jabbar Khan, the guitarist of Call who initiated the project, “not just for us as a huge band, but for the audience as well.” The Basement participants include a diverse group of mostly undiscovered musicians from different parts of the country, and largely performed covers of pop, rock, and foreign tracks, as well as a few original compositions as part of the television show. “I believe this is the most diverse live lineup our country has ever seen,” Xulfi enthuses, “and considering these are not the established names of the Pakistani music scene that the band is comprised of, it becomes all the more special and unique.”

So far, the team has performed at FAST-NU, LUMS, and PIFD in Lahore, and are now in the process of expanding the tour and visiting more venues. “We will be performing at quite a few top universities of Lahore and Islamabad, as now other institutes have approached us after getting to know of our tour.” The tour, however, will remain exclusively for educational institutions for the foreseeable future in order to focus on the youth. “I believe that our youth is entertainment starved,” explains the guitarist. “Television shows us dramas, and then more dramas in the form of politics. That is all the entertainment most women and men need for the day. As for the youth, they are still, thankfully, music listeners and that's where they look for entertainment. Universities and colleges are your best bet for reaching out to this youth.

“[We have received] an overwhelming and extremely energetic reaction from the crowd everywhere,” he continues. “It has put my faith back in the Pakistani music fans. I now believe, more than ever, that our country appreciates great live music wherever it comes from. It is good news for all the aspiring artists of Pakistan.” The material they are performing may be the same as what they did for the TV show, but the project leader assures us that the impact is even more powerful. “Yes, the songs [are the same], but trust me, when you hear it live with such an amazing array of instruments, it is a completely different experience and a more memorable one. As I said before, this is the most diverse live lineup Pakistan has ever seen. This is the future of Pakistani music. I want to personally invite you to one of these shows to lend an ear to the Nescafé Basement's music live. Trust me, your faith in Pakistan's music's future will only be strengthened.

“This is the time to support our talent, our music, our people, our everything,” he adds, “if we want to at least lay a foundation for a music industry that can thrive tremendously in the presence of a peaceful, encouraging, and positive atmosphere. The talent is there. The system isn't. The motive isn't.”

Xulfi also bemoans the current state of affairs of Pakistani television channels and the ban on YouTube. “Usually, Pakistani music does not get a lot of airtime on our channels for obvious reasons,” he reflects. “The music from across the border, mostly brainless, laced with obscene visuals, is what most of the audiences of our country prefers listening to. And to think this is the country that banned YouTube because some people used it to disrespected our religion through a story and visuals that were downright and shamefully obscene. True, that was a completely wrong act on the part of that individual, but if we keep banning entire networks for one person's actions, then I guess we should also ban our entries into all countries where even one person disrespected our religion. That should be the next logical step, I guess. Who knows, it might happen too as insanity prevails, thrives, and most sadly, evolves. On a lighter note though, I request the government to unban YouTube and ban Vimeo and Dailymotion instead. We are giving them two for one. They might think it's a good deal to make.”

As for Nescafé Basement itself, the show is set to return later this year for its second season, and the search is currently underway for new musicians for the next cycle. “We are looking at a more solid, yet a more interesting format for this year,” Xulfi reveals, “but the aim will remain to create music that is raw, energetic, and instrumental. Trust me, it will be bigger and better and it's going to blow you away.”

Xulfi says that hundreds of new musicians have contacted him since the first season of the Basement and expressed an interest in being a part of the project, and he is now in the process of recruiting the cast for season two. “Rare instrument players who are young, that I thought will be very difficult to find and discover, have gotten through to me one way or the other because they are intensely passionate about their music and have true faith in their skills and talents. The number of budding musicians that have come forth for the next season eclipses last year's.”

Additionally, students have been encouraged to audition by visiting booths that have been placed at their institutes. “Nescafé Basement Booths have been placed in most universities and colleges of Pakistan where the musicians and singers have the chance to express their skill and their voices,” he explains. “I am in the process of watching all these auditions as well nowadays. Trust me, our country is full of raw talent that is waiting to be unearthed. I just wish all other systems of our country could make way for a peaceful nation. And then, a musician might just not think twice when choosing a music career.”

Xulfi is not willing to reveal whether any of the artists from the first season will return for the second season, and he is also cryptic about his plans with Call. “Call is performing live with Mustafa Zahid (Roxen) at the moment, but there is something new cooking in the wings, and that shall remain a surprise too, a great one for all the fans! A new video is definitely coming. But I want to keep the song and the lineup a secret at the moment. But trust me, it is neither going to be a circus, nor a four minute soap opera. It is going to be what Call is known to do best: rock.”

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 7th April, 2013

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