Friday, August 30, 2013

The Burka Avenger is here

cover story: interview

The Burka Avenger is here “to make people laugh, to entertain, and to send out positive social messages”

It is always refreshing when innovation and quality meet, that too for a good cause. And that is exactly what Unicorn Black has achieved with Burka Avenger. A blend of wit and action, the animated TV show follows the adventures of school teacher Jiya, who dons a burka to conceal her identity as she transforms into the superhero Burka Avenger, in order to confront the evil Baba Bandook and his henchmen, and fight for justice, peace, and education. The brainchild of pop singer Haroon, the show is fresh, innovative, and fun, and hopes to present a positive role model for young viewers. We got a chance to chat to Haroon and ask him about the series and the attention it has garnered internationally. Here’s what he had to say:

The Show

Us: How and when did you come up with the idea for Burka Avenger?
It was in 2010, after many years of experience producing my own music videos, that I decided I wanted to produce and direct a movie in Pakistan. I shortlisted some ideas with local themes and one of them was about a school teacher who protects a girls’ school from being shut down by evil elements. After I created the Burka Avenger character, I realised that a full movie might be too large an undertaking as a first step. I started working on the iPhone game version of Burka Avenger in April 2011 with an artist and game programmers. It was then that we decided we wanted to give an anti-violence and pro-education message where she repels the bad guys attacking the girls’ school using pens, books, and schoolbags. In September/October 2011, we created a three minute 2D animated short showing the back-story to the game. This short animated clip turned out brilliantly and we realised that we had all the resources right in Islamabad to make an amazing animated TV show. Production on the TV show started in March 2012 and the first episode was completed in June 2012.

Us: How many episodes have been made so far? And do you plan to continue the show after the first season?
The Burka Avenger TV series comprises 13 episodes of 22 minutes each. Only four episodes have been aired so far, but we have made waves locally and internationally. We have built up a large fan base for Burka Avenger and I think we want to keep the momentum going. So it looks likely that we will work on season two.

Us: How has the experience of working on the series been so far?
It was an amazing experience.

Us: The word “Avenger” is already popularly associated with Marvel Comics’ team of superheroes, the Avengers. Why did you choose to use that word in your superhero’s name too?
Before the Avenger Marvel Comics, there was a super-hit TV show called The Avengers in the 60s. It was about British spies. This was also turned into a successful movie called The Avengers which was released in 1998. Avenger is a very common word in the English language and has commonly been used in films, TV, radio, comics, and books over the last 100 years. I created the Burka Avenger character in 2010. This was two years before The Avengers movie came out. They absolutely DO NOT have any sole rights over the common English word “avenger”. The only irritation for me is that because of The Avengers movie many people in Pakistan call my series Burka Avengers instead of the Burka Avenger.

Us: Did you feel any added responsibility because the show would be watched by young viewers?
Absolutely. I thought long and hard about each and every detail. I was very careful that there was nothing in the show that could offend anyone. We held focus group screenings for feedback. I have always been conscious of the fact that the media in Pakistan should be used for education and positive messages, whether it be through my music or a show like the Burka Avenger. I am not interested in making entertaining fluff without depth or some sort of positive social message.

Us: Why does the Burka Avenger hurl books and pens as weapons? Shouldn’t the emphasis be on using knowledge to fight evil/oppression?
Most children’s TV shows are pretty violent. They have the main characters punching, kicking, biting, wrestling, and firing guns and canons. We all know that throwing a book at someone in real life as a weapon is ridiculous. Firstly due to the way it is shaped with the loose pages it will probably miss its target, and secondly if it does hit its target it is highly unlikely to do any damage at all. There are no known reports of anybody being hurt, harmed, or killed because they had a fiction paperback or textbook thrown at them. The fact that she is using pens and books highlights the underlying education theme and that the pen is mightier than the sword.


Us: Burka Avenger has been lauded both locally and internationally. Why do you think the show has been received so positively in Pakistan and what impact do you hope it will have on the industry?
Pakistanis are really supporting towards the show because they acknowledge that the Burka Avenger is our own home-grown superhero character. The show is in Urdu and is very Pakistani. 40 talented young Pakistani men and women worked very hard to bring this project together. So Burka Avenger is not just a success for Unicorn Black but also for all of Pakistan.
Usually the stories coming out in international press on Pakistan are negative. This is thankfully a positive story that highlights our culture, music, and the ingenuity of our people. We have some amazing talent in Pakistan. Hopefully we can attract foreign companies to outsource their animation work to Pakistan. We are hoping Burka Avenger will be the start of a renaissance period for animation in Pakistan.

Us: Were you expecting that the series would garner as much international attention as it did?
I did know that the team at Unicorn Black and myself were creating something very special. I felt confident that we would get a positive reception. However, the reception internationally and locally far surpassed our expectations. We got four million hits on our website in the first three days of release, and we are getting over one million Facebook post views a week. That is phenomenal.


Us: Please tell us about the song ‘Lady in Black’ that you worked on with Adil Omar.
I really liked his song ‘Paki Rambo’ and I wanted to use a wide range of artists on the soundtrack. I reached out to him. All I told him was the song should be called ‘Don’t Mess With The Lady in Black’. He went away and came up with a brilliant song with brilliant lyrics. I composed and sang the chorus “don’t mess with the lady in black, when she’s on the attack” and we had a great song and collaboration.

Us: Which other artists can we expect to hear on the series/soundtrack?
Some amazing Pakistani and South Asian stars. Arieb Azhar, Ali Azmat, JoSH, Sheryar and Zoe Viccaji, Assad Ahmed, and many others. Also Ali Zafar makes an appearance as himself in animated version to save the day in episode four.

Other activities

Us: When did you set up your production company/studios Unicorn Black? Why is it called Unicorn Black?
I set up the company in March 2012. I called in Unicorn Black because I am a fan of mythological creatures. Unicorns are always white. But we are a company with a difference, hence Unicorn Black.

Us: Are there any other projects that the company is currently involved with?
Yes! My team at Unicorn Black and myself produced a beautiful short animated series called Quaid Se Baaten. The main character is a young girl who has a poster of Pakistan’s founding father Quaid-e-Azam ian her room. In her dream, he comes to life and imparts knowledge, wisdom, and messages such as unity, anti-discrimination, cleanliness, et cetera. This was created and directed by Daniyal Noorani and co-directed and produced by myself. Our talented Unicorn Black employees did a hundred percent of the work at our Unicorn Black production house.

Us: Your fans have been waiting for a new Haroon album for quite some time now. Can we expect a new release from you anytime soon?
I have three albums waiting for release. One, of course, is the Burka Avenger OST. One is an Urdu Haroon album. And one is an English one. So look out for a lot of songs and music videos coming soon. I have been working hard.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 30th August, 2013

Sunday, August 25, 2013

From anthems to love songs, Soch embrace all


After 'Khabar' for Chambaili's superhit OST, Soch have come up with a song called 'Bandeya', the video for which has been airing in India as well as Pakistan, and are now releasing the video for their song 'Hamesha'

In the last few months, Lahore based band Soch have released the video for their song 'Bandeya', unveiled their new single 'Arz', and also contributed a track to the soundtrack of the film Chambaili. The group is now gearing up to release the clip for their song 'Hamesha'. In an interview with Instep, vocalist Adnan Dhool and guitarist Rabi Ahmed talk about their latest releases, new video, and current activities.

Instep: The video for your song 'Bandeya' was released a few months ago. How has the response been?
Rabi Ahmed:
The response to 'Bandeya' has actually been very good and inciting.
Adnan Dhool: Upbeat! 'Bandeya' was released worldwide in collaboration with Indya Records, and was exclusively aired on 9x Network in India. In Pakistan, the video was aired on all major music channels. 'Bandeya' remained in the charts for over eight weeks with the likes of Sajjad Ali, Farhan Saeed (Jal), Junaid Khan (Call), and many other mainstream artists. 'Bandeya' has been lauded by our fans worldwide, and most importantly by music directors and producers from across the boarders too. We were edgy about 'Bandeya' initially. Having new artists and songs coming in every other day makes the Pakistani music scene very competitive. You have to break into the music scene, making sure you have something worth leaving an impact on your listener. And for artists like us, having limited resources, it was tough. It was 'Bandeya's elevated response that eventually made us realize if one has the potential and the content is mature and worth listening to, you definitely get noticed.

Instep: You are now releasing the video for the song 'Hamesha'. Please tell us about the song. What is the inspiration behind the track?
'Hamesha' is a mellow and softer side of Soch. It's a wonderfully deep, mature love song. 'Hamesha' is all about emotions. There's a power within love songs that people tend to pay attention to.
Adnan: I have always had an impassioned imagination and songwriting has always given me enough rope to run with it. I try to embrace love in bigger ways. It is a gift and I like to share that through my music. When I sing I want to touch people's lives through music. Music as we all know bypasses dialogue and gets right to the emotion. We as a nation are unfortunately bombarded with a lot of negative news every minute of our lives and I just feel that the human spirit has that element of possibilities and hopefulness that revolves around love. Love songs offer you that hope to keep going on.

Instep: What can you tell us about the music video?
After 'Bandeya', 'Uth Jawana', and 'Awari', Soch was being stereotyped as a band that would do music and songs highlighting social causes and issues only. Soch does like emphasizing on social issues, but it was unfortunately narrowing down our audience. 'Hamesha's video will definitely put a light on the melodious, romantic side of Soch that our fans are not yet familiar with.
Adnan: 'Hamesha's audio is our first audio production done by ourselves in our own studio, PMR Studio Works. This is our first good budgeted video with the wardrobe being done by Fahad Hussayn, makeup styling by Khawar Riaz, directed by Adnan Qazi and edited by Murtaza Niaz (Murzie). It features Ali Shakeel and Kubra Khanum. Kubra also features in an ad for a renowned telecom company in Pakistan. Both Ali and Kubra have made a mark modelling at the Pakistan Fashion Week London. Kubra is now busy with her projects with some big top notch designers of Pakistan's fashion industry.

Instep: When will the video be released?
The video for 'Hamesha' is all done and we are ready to release it somewhere near 26th of August.

Instep: Why did you choose director Adnan Qazi to helm this project?
We have known Adnan for quite a while now. Upon his return from the New York Film Academy, we discussed 'Hamesha' with him, and Adnan Qazi willingly took 'Hamesha' as his debut as a filmmaker.

Instep: Are you satisfied with how the video turned out?
Yep! Definitely!!
Adnan: Satisfied indeed. We are super excited about 'Hamesha', and are certainly looking forward to its release as well.

Instep: The premiere of the video was held in the UK a few months ago. How did that go?
The screening of 'Hamesha' was held by Raj and Pablo at the BBC Club, and was attended by prominent celebrities and Soch fans. The director and actors of 'Hamesha' graced the red carpet at the club where celebrities like Raj and Pablo, Rocky S, Bally Sagoo, Sadia Siddiqui, and others were present too.

Instep: Have you had any live shows (in Pakistan or abroad) recently? How do you feel about the situation of concerts and gigs in the country?
Yes, but unfortunately the random targeting of civilians with disregard for human life is pushing Pakistan brutally towards collapse and has been an absolute setback for the entire nation. As a result, all the internal chaos is virtually putting a halt to concerts and public performances too.

Instep: Soch also recently released the song 'Khabar' which was on the soundtrack of the film Chambaili. How did the chance to contribute to this soundtrack come about?
Shahzad Nawaz had heard our song 'Uth Jawana' and appreciated our work. While the making of Chambaili was in the pipeline, we met Shahzad Nawaz through a mutual friend; it is then that he discussed Chambaili and asked if we could do a track for him. We had already compiled and recorded 'Khabar' by then.
Adnan: 'Khabar' is based on how every citizen of Pakistan is frustrated because of the happenings of all the tragic series of incidents that take place in Pakistan, like the killing of the brothers in Sialkot, the suicide of a widow during the Raymond Davis case, and not to forget the long hung-up case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui.
Since Shahzad Nawaz had briefed us about Chambaili, we knew that 'Khabar' was just the right track to be used in a movie as inspiring as Chambaili.

Instep: Are there any other projects that you are currently working on?
We are, at the moment, rejoicing the overwhelming response we got from RJs, DJs, and fans across the globe for our Urdu audio web release 'Arz'. Our main focus at the moment is on releasing some back to back videos one of which is for 'Arz'. We are also sorting out work related to our album.

Instep: What's next for Soch? And what can we expect from the group in the coming weeks?
Lots of music and concerts. We want to work as much as we can and share our content with our fans on a regular basis as much as possible.
Rabi: Yes, playing a couple more gigs and then who knows, there might be something really thrilling up our sleeves.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 25th August, 2013

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Another Adele, with an indie twist

album review

Laura Marling brings a touch of folk to the alternative rock loving Britpop scene and it's worth listening to

Artist: Laura Marling
Album: Once I Was An Eagle

Indie folk darling Laura Marling may only be 23 years old, but she has already done much she can be proud of. The British singer-songwriter has previously released three well received albums, impressed critics, and earned two Mercy Music Prize nominations, and now her fourth album is another feather in her already well-decorated cap.

Her most confident release yet, Once I Was An Eagle sees the singer collaborate once again with producer Ethan Johns, who also helmed her last two records, I Speak Because I Can (2010) and A Creature I Don't Know (2011). The album's 16 tracks that together run for a little over an hour are delivered in two parts that are separated by an interlude: the intense first half that plays with the same tones and paints them slightly differently over the course of a number of tracks, and the more dynamic second half that continues to veer through even more relationship musings, undertaking a journey from fragility to self assurance.

Combining eastern and western influences, and making use of diverse instruments such as the sitar, tabla, cello, organ, and guitar, Marling weaves a poetic tapestry on a canvas that can be sparse or enchanting and sometimes both. The initial songs melt into one another, weaving in and out of the melody that also eventually returns to end the record, while the latter tracks incline more towards her folk roots. The inevitable Joni Mitchell comparisons and hints of Bob Dylan-esque lyricism might signal towards derivativeness but that takes little away from the album's many merits. Its moodiness is affecting, and its charm gives Adele a run for her money.

With a voice as beautiful as hers and a delivery this fluid, it is easy to see why she has been getting so much love from the critics. But those who want instant pop gratification might be better off looking elsewhere. Reflective, pensive, and perhaps even a little self indulgent, Once I Was An Eagle does not feel young and modern, and for some listeners it might lack the playfulness and immediacy that would have made it generate the kind of earworms that generally reside on pop charts. But for those who have a taste for its genre, the set is powerful and memorable, and its take on the feelings and struggles of a difficult relationship might resonate with the audience.

Be it the brooding of 'You Know' or the fieriness of 'Master Hunter', Once I Was An Eagle is a captivating set and the most accomplished record created by a talented young singer-songwriter. Laura Marling has come a long way since her association with Noah and the Whale and Mumford & Sons, and the future promises great things to come for and from this British songstress. It won't be a shock if Eagle's tracks don't become a fixture on the Top 40 charts, but don't be surprised if you see it on a few 'best of the year' lists; it certainly is a worthy candidate.

- By Sameen Amer

 Instep, The News on Sunday - 18th August, 2013

Friday, August 09, 2013

“'Koi Rokey Mujhey' is the roar of an individual who believes he can achieve anything if he wants to.” - Junaid Khan gets back to where he once belonged

interview: one on one

From hard rock to television, the hunky lead singer of Call is all set to release his single right after Eid and the album at the end of 2013

After beginning his solo career with two mellow songs, singer Junaid Khan is back in rock star mode with his new single 'Koi Rokey Mujhey'. A guitar-led rock track that brings to mind some of the early material he released with his former band Call, the song and its accompanying video are set to be released very soon. In a chat with Instep, Junaid discusses the new track and video, and also tells us about his latest acting projects.

Instep: You have finally made a heavier rock song after releasing two mellow tracks in a row. How does it feel to return to the sound/genre you initially gained recognition for?
Junaid Khan:
It feels great to be back to the sound that I always loved and began my musical journey with. Rock is my passion and my drive and always motivates me to be progressive in life, so that is something which was waiting inside me to burst out and I am finally letting it out in the form of 'Koi Rokey Mujhey'.
I believe any message has to be conveyed through its unique sound. What I communicated through 'So Close So Distant' and 'Keh Do', I needed that mellow sound behind it. But in this case, when the message is about aggression and struggle and motivation, it has to be done through a heavy rock sound and 'Koi Rokey Mujhey' is the result of all those emotions.

Instep: Please tell us about 'Koi Rokey Mujhey'.
The title describes the song completely. 'Koi Rokey Mujhey' is the roar of an individual who believes he can achieve anything if he wants to. He challenges the world to come in the way of his struggle and also he challenges himself so that no matter what, no matter how many obstacles make him fall, he rises back strong and fights harder and will keep on doing so till he succeeds. This is the message that I strongly believe in because in today's world, no one is going to make our lives any better; we have to achieve things ourselves, we have to improve ourselves, only then we can stand tall in front of the world. It's time we stop depending on our so-called leaders and make ourselves strong.

Instep: When will it be released?
The song will be released right after Eid.

Instep: What was the inspiration behind 'Koi Rokey Mujhey'? Did you write the song yourself?
For a musician, the world is an inspiration. The happenings around are the inspiration. I seriously believed at this point in time we all need to stand up for ourselves and our rights. What happened post elections when people stood up together for their rights is a clear example that people are believing in themselves and the power of one. But this journey shouldn't end there. It's not just politics, it's way beyond that. We as individuals should have the courage to make the impossible possible. Whether it's for ourselves, or for the country or for our family or friends, we should know that we can do what's right; we can fight for the right. Gone should be the days when we complain and play the blame game. It's time we admit our shortcomings and improve them and work hard to get over them. And yes, I wrote and composed the song myself.

Instep: Please tell us about the video.
While writing the song, I was thinking about the ideal character which should be the center of the song. Keeping the current situation in my mind, I think Pakistan Police is that department of the country which is struggling at the moment. The department has always been blamed for its shortcomings or its lack of sincerity. But I believe the whole bunch shouldn't be blamed because of a few bad fish. We should acknowledge the sacrifice they make for our security. They have families like us, friends like us, but still they give their lives for duty. This is to the bravery, the strength, and the patience of just not police but all those individuals who struggle in daily life and fight for their cause, and fight for what's right. Though the bad fish might be a lot in number, I would still like to believe that they should also come under that framework that we should follow as ideals for law and order. The video will have me playing that character on duty.

Instep: Who came up with the idea for the video?
I was discussing the idea behind the song with my two dear friends, Waqas Qureshi and director/producer Jawad Bashir after I recorded this song. Waqas devised the character details and Jawad executed the whole story board.

Instep: How was the experience of working with director Jawad Bashir on the video?
It is always fun working with Jawad. As he is my friend, I can easily exchange ideas with him, and also as he is a musician, our communication becomes quite comfortable. I have already done two TV serials with him a few years ago so already have that working chemistry, but this is our first video together and looking at the shots and the ideas, I am really hopeful and Insha'Allah the end result would be great. We had to shoot this video under a strong and harsh sun, but still we managed to survive and finally were able to complete the shoot in three days. Trust me, shooting under the sun made us realize how difficult it is for the security department individuals to stand all day under the sun and make efforts to enforce the law. It's not easy and we should acknowledge that.

Instep: How is work on the album coming along? Any chance it will be released this year?
The album is almost near completion and it will probably be released this year. The album is a journey and I am compiling it as I go along expressing myself and I already have enough tracks for the compilation, so the album is near release.

Instep: Working as a solo artist versus being in a band - how different is it?
A band is a relationship which has its ups and downs. Sometimes people compromise, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they help you succeed, sometimes they pull your leg and pull you down. I have had my share of a relationship that went through for a decade, and I am glad that happened to me as they were the best days of my life and I learned a lot from it. But now it's time to take those experiences and explore more of me as an individual and I am loving it too so far.

Instep: Which musicians have you been working with to record your new songs? Are there musicians you regularly work with?
I am working with a lot of musicians as I want to explore new sounds as I go along in my musical journey. In 'Koi Rokey Mujhey' I worked with guitarist Umair Nadeem. The boy is just 18 years of age but has those raw skills, which can take him a long way. Plus he has also played with bands like Overload. He did the whole guitars for this and I must say he did a fabulous job. The sound that I needed for this particular track, he translated it on the record perfectly. I needed loud crisp guitars for this track and he did the job well. Alongside him, the track has been produced by Sami Khan at Black Mug Productions and mixed and mastered by Afzal Hussain at Stylus Studios, both stationed in Lahore. Plus I am working with another fabulous guitarist Mahmood Rehman (Meesha Shafi's band) for my next track, which is also near completion.

Instep: Are you planning any live performances soon?
Yes, alongside local performances in Pakistan, I will also be doing an international tour later this year.

Instep: You've also been acting in various television dramas. Could you please tell us about your current acting projects?
Yes, television has been keeping me quite busy lately. My latest TV release is Ranj-e-Aashnai that comes on air every Saturday on A-Plus network. Other than that my next project for Hum TV Qadoorat was released on the 17th of last month. Un Suni has also been shot but the network hasn't been announced yet. Plus my new serial Kabhi Gumaan Kabhi Yaqeen starring me, Arij Fatyma, and Neelam Muneer, is being shot and will be release on Geo network in the coming few months.

Instep: What can we expect from you in the coming months?
A few more scripts that I am going through for the upcoming projects, plus my next track that I am looking forward to complete and release in October this year. You can get all the updates regarding them from my Facebook page ( junaidkhanofficial) from time to time.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 11th August, 2013 (printed on 9th August, 2013)