Sunday, April 27, 2014

“It felt great to dive back into work, because it helped me escape the negativity.” - Annie

interview: catching up

Pakistan's self-proclaimed pop princess talks about her comeback

Her personal life might have generated more headlines than her career in the past, but Annie Khalid is now trying to make her way back into the spotlight for the right reason: her music. The singer is releasing a new song soon and is also working on a number of collaborations with various Pakistani and international artists. Instep caught up with Annie for a quick chat about what’s keeping her busy these days. Here’s what she revealed about her recent and upcoming releases:

Instep: After a tumultuous period in your personal life, you returned to the studio last year. Was it difficult to start working on music again?
Annie Khalid:
No, it wasn’t difficult. It felt great to dive back into work, because it helped me escape from reality and the negativity surrounding me at the time.

Instep: How was the experience of working with Beenie Man and Rishi Rich on those two singles you released last year?
I had lots of fun, working with those two! Beenie Man is really fun-loving and his exuberance is infectious – it rubs off on everyone around him! He has everybody in fits of laughter in no time. I really connected with Rishi Rish on a mental level. I would love to work with him again.

Instep: Tell us about the new single you planning to release soon.
‘Tharki Saala’ is a very non-serious song. It’s about guys who love to prey on girls. It’s just a fun song, not to be taken seriously.

Instep: This single will be followed by ‘Party Kar Lo’. How would you describe this song?
‘Party Kar Lo’ is a party anthem all the way. It has some crazy beats and it’s the kind of song that keeps playing in your head from the very first listen. I am very excited about sharing the song with my fans.

Instep: ‘Party Kar Lo’ sees you collaborate with Ahsan Parvez Mehdi. What was it like working with him?
I’ve worked with Ahsan many times in the past, most recently in ‘Tharki Saala’. When we were recording this song, we were literally on the floor laughing; that’s how much fun we have when working together. Ahsan is a very cool guy and this is just the beginning with him.

Instep: The video for both song has been directed by Jalal, who also made the video for Nauman Khalid’s ‘Desi Thumka’. What can you tell us about the video and the process of making it?
Yes, Jalal is making the video. He has wanted to achieve a certain look in it, and we planned out the production weeks in advance. I trust his vision; we connect on a mental level, so I know he’ll produce something that I will like. I’ve had a blast, working with Jalal in the past. I love his work.

Instep: You have also recorded a single with singer Junaid Khan and are planning to shoot a video for this song too. What can you tell us about this collaboration?
Junaid and I have worked on a song, ‘Hoga Mujhsa Kahaan’, together. I absolutely love the track. Junaid and my vocals blend together really well. The song has a pop rock feel, which is more of Junaid’s style but I had a blast working on it nevertheless.

Instep: You have recorded songs with Jawad Ahmed and Abrar-ul-Haq. How did the chance to work with them come about?
Jawad Ahmed is a friend of the family’s. He’s been very supportive of me in Pakistan.  We recorded three songs together four years ago. I can’t wait for the day he releases them. Abrar is someone I adore and look up to a lot. People are going to be shocked by the song we have done together. The way we have experimented with Abrar’s sound and mine is absolutely brilliant.

Instep: Why is your focus currently on collaborations?
My focus is just on producing good music. Collaborations just come about and I go with the flow.

Instep: Do you have any live shows planned for Pakistan or abroad this year?
I am currently doing live shows in Pakistan, as we speak. I will also be touring abroad in the summers.

Instep: Are you working on any other projects – music, acting, modeling, or anything else – at the moment?
I am doing some modeling currently. I have just shot for Kuki Concepts’ lawn campaign and there are other projects in the pipeline. You will be seeing me acting soon too, but that is about all that I can say at this point. You will have to wait for more details.

Instep: What can we expect from you in the coming months?
You can expect a lot of new music, new video, and some exciting projects. More than anything, you’ll be seeing what my fans want from me, which is new releases.

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 27th April, 2014 *

Saturday, April 26, 2014

“Artists can’t make music in an environment where there is 100% piracy” - Haroon

interview: music mix

Haroon and friends appeal to the freeloading awaam with their anti-piracy single ‘Maza Muft Ka’

Piracy has long plagued the global entertainment industry, with many claiming that copyright infringement hurts revenues and damages the careers of artists around the world. Now a group of Pakistani musicians have banded together to raise awareness about intellectual property rights through an anti-piracy song, titled ‘Maza Muft Ka (Chikh De Jao)’. The line-up is led by Haroon and includes well-known names like Abbas Ali Khan and Arieb Azhar, as well as Masuma Anwar and Philip Nelson. The music video has been unveiled this week to coincide with World Intellectual Property Day, which is being marked today.

“Piracy is common all over the world,” says Haroon, “but in Pakistan, it prevails across the board.” The song itself can be downloaded legally from the website for free, a decision which, according to the singer, “highlights that if you want something for free, it’s better to get it through the legal channel.”

Talking about the artists in the song, he continues, “All of us are friends here in Islamabad. Contrary to what people believe, we have a vibrant music scene in the capital, so it’s only natural that I would collaborate with the talented musicians here.”

The ‘Maza Muft Ka’ lyrics highlight the effort put into making music, so that listeners think twice before taking a “free ride” and downloading pirated copies of songs and albums. “The issue was that message-based songs tend to be quite dull for the listener. If the song is too serious, listeners wouldn’t play the song in their car or when hanging out with friends, even if they agree with the message. We decided to make a song that could be fun and still get the message out. So we decided to produce a satirical number,” Haroon elaborates.

So how was the song composed and recorded? “We decided to meet up and have a session at producer/recording engineer Taimoor Mirza’s studio. Initially, it was just Abbas Ali Khan, Arieb Azhar, Dr. Masuma, and myself. We threw around a few random ideas for a bit, while Arieb and I fooled around with chords on our guitars. We got the basic chorus finalized – ‘maza muft ka chikh de jao’. We thought that was a lot of fun and the melody quite catchy too. During the next session, I invited lyricist Junaid Azhar to join us. We gave him a rundown of the melody and the basic theme of the song. He wrote some excellent lyrics that hit the message spot on”.

“We sang the main chorus together but came in separately to do our own verses,” he continues. “Jazz singer Philip Nelson, who has appeared on Pakistan Idol, was visiting from Karachi and we invited him to the studio to join us. I sat with him and we came up with a catchy little verse in English that fits very nicely in the song and really suits his voice.”

Talking about the music video, Haroon says that it complements the song’s satirical style. “The video quite cleverly highlights the concept of piracy and its negative effects,” explains the singer, who also directed the video. “We show a character dressed like a robber who represents piracy and the illegal downloader. He has a special gun that sucks the music and life out of the artists and turns them to stone. And then he spews that music back out and parties with his friends. Finally, when he has turned all the artists to stone, his music stops. His friends all leave him because he is music-less. He goes back to the artists to suck out more free music but they’ve turned to stone. This gives across a very important message: the artist cannot create music in an environment where there is 100% piracy”.

With ‘Maza Muft Ka’, these singers hope they can inspire their audience to be more aware of the consequences of copyright infringement. “Save the music and support copyright,” Haroon urges listeners. “You’re supporting Pakistan’s artistic and cultural heritage.”

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 26th April, 2014 *

Friday, April 25, 2014

Beat the clock – achieve more through time management

cover story

Between working, studying, doing homework, preparing for tests, dining, exercising, texting, going through everyone’s Twitter feeds (because you simply can’t risk missing what the 1D guys had for lunch today), browsing the news every 10 minutes to make sure the world hasn’t decided to implode since you last checked, watching the latest episodes of Homeland, Modern Family, Pakistan Idol and a few dozen other series, and even occasionally sleeping, it gets hard to fit everything we want to do into our ever busy lives. It’s like we’re constantly running a race against the clock, and more often than not, time seems to be winning.

With everything that needs to be done, wouldn’t it be awesome if the day were a few hours longer? That sounds amazing, doesn’t it? But unless we want to relocate to Venus (which doesn’t seem like the best strategy as far as our continued existence is concerned), we are stuck with the plain old 24 hour long Earth day. All we can do is make the most of it. And that’s where time management comes in.

Students often find it hard to keep up with the many requirements and pressures of their degrees while also maintaining an often deceptive semblance of sanity. And those who juggle many extracurricular activities with their studies can end up stretching themselves too thin. But figuring out how to make the best use of your time can reduce the level of stress in your life and help you achieve more. And it’s not as hard as it may seem. All it takes is a little planning and organisation!

Create an environment conducive to studying
Finding the right place to work or study can help you concentrate and focus on the task at hand, and hence allow you to finish your work more quickly. The ideal setting would be one where you can minimise distractions and avoid interruptions while you work. If you can’t find a quiet place, then a headset and a record of instrumental or meditation music might be a good option to reduce external disturbances; this will keep the noise out without being too distracting.
Your workspace should be tidy and have access to all the material you will require during your study session; grab everything you will need before you sit down to work instead of getting up every few minutes to find your notes or books. And it’s never a bad idea to stay away from temptations – cell phone, computer and Internet (unless required for studies; ideally, you can download and/or print the files or web pages you’ll need and log off), gaming console, television…staying away from the temptress that is modern technology for the duration of your study period can increase your productivity and in turn help save your time.

Think ahead
Try not to let things pile up. Yes, this seems like common sense, but it’s still one of the most obvious things that many of us ignore anyway. Have you ever waited till the eleventh hour to do a project or study for a quiz? Then you know why it’s a bad idea! It will be much better if you study from the start. Don’t wait till the week before the exam to wonder where your books are or the night before the assignment is due to start working on it, because then no amount of time management tips will help you get good results.
If you waste your time early on and save all your work for the last minute, then that will simply create an imbalance and add stress to your life. You don’t just have to manage the minutes and days but also the weeks and months. Keeping an eye on the exam schedule and what is due when during the semester will assist you and make you more productive in less time and with less stress.

Get organised
To best utilise the time you have available, the most basic thing you can do is create a to-do list, jotting down everything that needs to be done; then turn that task list into a schedule. You should ideally end up with i) a daily to-do list (breakdown of the day specifying what needs to be done and when), and ii) a monthly schedule (a broader view based on deadlines, exam dates, and other activities).
Set priorities, based on importance and urgency, and figure out a timetable that will allow you to accomplish all your study obligations, assigning specific dates and times to each task. Break bigger projects into smaller components to make them more manageable, and try your best to stick to what you have planned. That said, also leave room for contingencies; unavoidable, unforeseen events can create a dent in your schedule, so leave some flexibility in your plan to keep such things from derailing your studies and then creating a burden.
But your timetable shouldn’t just cover your studies. While you create your schedule, make sure you…

…balance studies and, well, life!
Overloading yourself with nothing but studies is no good. Allow yourself some down time in your schedule. Plan breaks between study sessions to revitalise your mind, then return to your books refreshed. After you finish a scheduled task, reward yourself by doing something you enjoy. Spend time with your family and friends and make sure you don’t neglect your health. Take care of your body and mind. Eat healthy and don’t skip meals. Assign a few minutes every day to exercise. And if you want to spend your waking hours productively, then you have to get a good night’s sleep; a groggy mind will take longer to process something that an alert mind will grasp more quickly.

Carry your work with you. If you’re commuting to school or work, waiting for someone to arrive, grabbing your lunch, or just killing time between classes, you can be productive during this window by going through your notes or some other quick memory tools, like flashcards. Even if you’re watching TV, make good use of the commercial breaks; heaven knows there are plenty of them! By utilising these spare moments, you can not only save time, but also improve your retention through repetition. And maximising the time you productively use will also maximise your success.

Identify bad habits and rectify them
As you follow your schedule, keep an eye on your progress and also try to identify habits that distract you from your work and make you waste time as you go along. Understand when your pattern of behaviour is sabotaging your plans and chances of success. Have you been getting distracted by text messages? Do you keep logging on to Facebook every time you’re using your computer? Have you been skipping classes for unimportant reasons, and then spending days to catch up on your coursework? Do you jump at every invitation you get to go out? Are you spending hours researching a query because you’re too hesitant to ask questions in class? Or are you answering everyone else’s queries instead of focusing on your own revision?
If you are letting your habits drain your time, then rectify that immediately. Make a note every time you spend your efforts on a non-priority, and then try to eliminate that behaviour. It will probably benefit you if you learn to say no, and know when and how to say no, both to yourself and to others; you can’t accept every invitation or respond to every request for help, and you can’t give in to every temptation. Weed out unnecessary times drains and see the positive impact it has on your achievements.

Figure out what works best for you
Some people work better in the morning; others are more productive at night. Some prefer to study in the library; others prefer the familiarity of their own room. Study groups work for some students, while others find them inefficient. Everyone has their own way of doing things and their own preferences. You have to find your own optimum study method. If you do things a certain way just because you see other people doing it, you will end up frustrated and achieve less in the same duration. So, try different systems and see which one gives you the best results, then tailor it further to your preferences. Don’t get sidetracked by others; it doesn’t matter what system they’re using or how much progress they’ve made – just go with what works for you and stick with your plans.

And, no matter what happens, don’t panic! Just keep calm and carry on. Good luck!

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 25th April, 2014 *

My Teen Years - Komal Rizvi


Star and date of birth
Leo, 3rd August.

The best thing about being a teenager
The innocence, and being carefree.

I was always listening to
The Now Series, that is Now 21, Now 22, Now 23 (English top charts on cassettes).

I was glued to the T.V. for
Thunder Cats and Transformers.

My favourite movie was
Dirty Dancing, Narnia, Clash of the Titans, etcetera.

My favourite actor was
Didn’t have one.

My favourite book was
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews.

My room was full of
Cassette tapes and posters. So cliché, I know!

My room walls carried the posters of
George Michael, Duran Duran, Bon Jovi, LOL!

My closet was full of
Stuff my mum put in it.

My friends were
Sick of my bossiness.

My first crush/My first date
Yaaaa riigghhhttt…

What hurt me the most
Lots of silly things.

My dream was to become
A pop star.

I wish I had known then
That not everything in life has to be perfect.

Relations with siblings
Perfectly perfect.

Relations with parents
Mum wished she could kill me quite often. Dad thought I could do no wrong. Still doesn’t!

My school
Lagos American International School

Ragging at college/university
I was the ragger, not the rag-ee.

I couldn’t stand
Delays. Still can’t.

My favourite hangout was
Ikoyi Club in Lagos, my phuppo’s house in Karachi, and Maroush in London.

- S.A

Us Magazine, The News - 25th April, 2014 *

Sunday, April 20, 2014

All Is Lost

movie review

All Is Lost ****

Starring: Robert Redford
Directed by: J. C. Chandor
Tagline: Never give up

“13th of July, 4:50 pm. I’m sorry. I know that means little at this point, but I am. I tried. I think you would all agree that I tried. To be true, to be strong, to be kind, to love, to be right. But I wasn’t. And I know you knew this in each of your ways, and I am sorry. All is lost here, except for soul and body, that is what’s left of them, and a half-day’s ration. It’s inexcusable really, I know that now. How it could have taken this long to admit that, I’m not sure, but it did. I fought till the end. I’m not sure what that is worth, but know that I did. I’ve always hoped for more for you all. I will miss you. I’m sorry.”

And with these words, we are taken eight days earlier to the mighty waters of the Indian Ocean, where a man – Our Man, as the credits identify him – wakes up to find his sailboat flooding with water. A shipping container has rammed into its hull, and water is rushing into the small vessel. As he tries to save his boat, find his way across the ocean through celestial navigation, and engineer a rescue, we quickly figure out that luck isn’t on his side.

But Our Man isn’t willing to give up. Old and weathered but resilient and resourceful, he battles the elements alone as his solo voyage turns into a struggle for survival. His is the only face we get to see, the only voice we get to hear, that is when he speaks, which isn’t often. He doesn’t say much after the initial monologue, uttering only an occasional word here and there during the next one and a half hour.all_is_lost_ver6_xlg

But who is he? Where does he come from? Why is he here? We never find out, but we can surmise … and our guesses probably say more about us than they do about him.

We aren’t fed a back story, continuously bombarded with a vocal explanation of his every action, or offered dazzling visuals as gimmicks (a la Gravity, a film with which All Is Lost inevitably draws comparison). And that is either the film’s biggest strength or its biggest weakness; it just depends on how you, the viewer, look at it.

A very interesting cinematic project, All Is Lost is simply the story of a man lost at sea, and all the allegories that come with it, presented in a more nuanced and sparse manner than most Hollywood features would dare to go for. Robert Redford is remarkable as the protagonist, as he single handedly navigates us through the film’s narrative using just his actions and expressions to give us a sense of what his character is going through. And J. C. Chandor’s remarkable use of sounds combined with the film’s haunting score helps bring its claustrophobic atmosphere to life.

At times it does feel a little sluggish and repetitive, and viewers with sailing experience will probably offer a more scathing take on Our Man’s efforts and how realistically they were depicted. But none of that takes away from the film’s very intriguing execution and structure. All Is Lost is definitely not for everyone, and many viewers will have issues with its pace and style. But whether you find it riveting or dull, the movie will probably leave you with much to think of, not just with respect to the story, but also its filmmaking choices, vaguely defined protagonist, and dialogue-free execution. And for film enthusiasts who enjoy this manner of storytelling or appreciate something that is a bit out of the ordinary, All Is Lost will offer an affecting, rewarding experience.

- Sameen Amer 

Instep, The News on Sunday - April 20, 2014 *

Extremely loud and incredibly close

album review

Following a litany of power pop ditties, Lea Michele's Louder closes with a very personal ode to Cory Monteith

Singer: Lea Michele
Album: Louder

Pretty much as soon as Rachel Berry sang her first note on Glee, it was fairly obvious that Lea Michele was very talented and had a great voice. But by around the second note, it was also painfully evident that the actress came from a theatrical background and had a penchant for overdramatizing her every move and intonation. So after years of success on Glee, when the singer announced that she would be releasing her inevitable debut album, it came as a surprise to absolutely no one that the show’s breakout star would want to capitalize on its popularity and delve into the pop market (like a few of her fellow cast mates had already tried to do before her, albeit with very limited success). What seemed interesting to see, though, was how she – outside of the Glee bubble and as a solo artist – would marry her showtune vocal inclination with mainstream pop music sensibilities, and whether one would overtake the other. Would the album just be a revisit to the stylings of Rachel Berry? Or would the singer have something different to offer?

Now that the album has been released, we finally know which direction she has chosen to go in: it’s generic, tired, and thoroughly underwhelming schmaltz.

Drenched in her typical fervor, Louder is a collection of power pop ditties that are formulaic and familiar, but still showcase a singer who clearly has impressive vocal chops. Lea’s first attempt at original, solo material, the set was shaped by a number of producers and relies heavily on outside songwriters. The singer herself has co-penned only two of the 11 songs on the record, while the rest of the credits read like they were pulled out of a ‘songwriters for hire’ grab bag. From Christina Perri and Chantal Kreviazuk to Anne Preven and Sia Furler (who is fast becoming synonymous with tedious pop mediocrity), well-known names are on hand to dole out standard, hollow sentiments about heartbreak and empowerment that are set to monotonous tunes.

Album opener and first single ‘Cannonball’ is a fair representation of what you can expect from the rest of the record. Built around an analogy that probably wasn’t fully thought through, the mid-tempo track is mildly catchy and also thoroughly inessential. Elsewhere there are power ballads, tinges of dance pop, and occasional R&B influences, although in essence it becomes hard to tell the tracks apart. Songs like the ballad ‘Battlefield’ and the bouncy dance pop of ‘On My Way’ (and just about everything else on the album for that matter), though performed competently, don’t offer anything new or visit a territory into which singers like Leona Lewis, Demi Lovato, and Kelly Clarkson haven’t already tediously ventured numerous times. The few moments that have some significance come in the songs which Lea co-wrote and which offer a glimpse of her actual feelings. Piano ballad ‘If You Say So’, written after the untimely death of Cory Monteith, in particular has the most resonance, primarily because of its touching subject matter and poignant delivery.

On the whole, Louder is just about as generic as mainstream music gets. Tepid pop filtered through Lea Michele’s musical theatre roots, the record fails to define the singer’s own sound and leaves her in a Katy Perry meets Celine Dion limbo that is devoid of personality and personability. And that’s a downright shame, because the singer has the talent to potentially make a much stronger album. Ultimately, Louder might please diehard gleeks and Lea fans but doesn’t offer much to anyone else.

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 20th April, 2014 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

“I wouldn’t be in show business if I cared what people think” – Komal Rizvi

interview: music mix

Since achieving fame in the ‘90s, Komal Rizvi has gained recognition as an actress, singer and host. And even though she has courted controversies along the way, the multihyphenate entertainer has remained undaunted in the face of criticism. She has now unveiled her new single ‘Kalli Kalli’ and is also working on her next studio album. In a chat with Instep, Komal talks about her new song and video, performing on Coke Studio, and hosting a new youth talent show.

Instep: You are releasing your new single ‘Kalli Kalli’. Tell us about the track.
Komal Rizvi: ‘Kalli Kalli’ is inspired by Akhtar Hussain’s soundtrack for the Pakistani movie Patey Khan (1955). It’s a soulful melody fused with a modern musical score. This song represents both east and west, folk and contemporary in its best form.

Instep: You have recorded the song in collaboration with your brother, Hasan Rizvi. How did this collaboration shape up?
Komal: When I was working on the reshaping of this melody to suit my style, I realized that if anyone can choreograph this song it would be my brother Hasan. This collaboration highlights what both of us do best.

Instep: A video for ‘Kalli Kalli’ is also being released this month. Who has directed it and how was the experience of working on the video?
Komal: The video and teaser has been directed by Sohail Javed, who has lent us his creative genius by executing daring shots in a very limited budget. We all decided that if we were to depict this message - “that the ever-progressing humanity should never forget their basic elements and come back to their roots every once in a while” - we would have to shoot the four universal elements in this way only (the way it’s been done in the video).
Fire and Air have been represented by Hasan. Passion, strength, flexibility, compromise, silence and stillness, controlled growth – these are all qualities that we as a race should hold on to dearly, especially with the digitalization and aloofness of the world. Water and Earth have been represented by me. There’s a sense of motion, progress, generosity and productivity represented by Mother Nature.

Instep: You have also recorded a song (a duet with Javed Ali) for the upcoming movie The System? How did this project come about?
Komal: I have sung the title for The System, a European-Pakistani movie. I knew the film’s music director in India and I did it on his request. Javed Ali is a friend and I hope to sing with him on several projects in the future.

Instep: You performed on Coke Studio a few years ago. How was the experience of being part of the show? And how do you feel about Rohail Hyatt’s departure from the program?
Komal: I still salute Rohail Hyatt for being a true pioneer and taking our Pakistani music where no man has ever taken it! He is worth a million accolades. The Coke Studio experience is like none other and I am proud that two songs of mine are in the top ten all time Coke Studio hits. I couldn’t have done it without his support.

Instep: How do you feel about the Pakistani entertainment industry at the moment? What are your thoughts on the film, television, and music scene in Pakistan?
Komal: Everything is becoming bigger and better! I pray with all my heart that it continues to thrive! Yes there are people out there doing all kinds of mediocre or even dare I say, nasty work. But those kinds of people are present in every industry on every level! I’m just very happy to see that overall we are growing in the industry and there are many people doing some truly commendable work!

Instep: Do you have any live performances lined up for the coming months?
Komal: This past year has been crazy for me. I have performed in places like Singapore, Bali, Thailand, Dubai, London, all the way to places like Sibbi, Quetta, Faisalabad and Sargodha!! Hence I simply didn’t have time to work on new music!
I am trying to rectify that now by releasing some good pieces despite still having many tours and shows coming ahead!

Instep: What about acting or hosting? What are your current projects?
Komal: I am judging a youth talent show these days. There is nothing more rewarding and satisfying than to encourage and advise young kids who are immensely talented and from very humble backgrounds. I sincerely hope I have changed their view on singing and dancing positively in some small way!

Instep: You have generated some controversy during your career, but seem resilient in the face of criticism. How do you cope with negative feedback?
Komal: To be honest, if I cared what people think, I wouldn’t be in show business in the first place. I love music. I’m doing what I love. It’s just that simple. I ignore haters and jealous people. They will always have something to say. I don’t need anyone to tell me how good a vocalist I am. I know exactly where I stand and luckily my family has raised me to be a very secure person. Alhamdulillah.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 17th April, 2014 *

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pharrell gets lucky with G I R L

album review

A few well-loved hits make the otherwise lacklustre album worth having

Artist: Pharrell Williams
Album: G I R L

There’s a reason why Pharrell Williams was the big winner at this year’s Grammy Awards and it’s a pretty simple one: 2013 was very emphatically his year. Between his mega-hit collaborations with Daft Punk and Robin Thicke and his infectious contribution to the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack, Pharrell and his hat took over the world of music, achieving the kind of commercial success that most artists can only dream of.

However, not all attention he generated was positive. Other than becoming the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit for its similarity to Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give It Up’, the questionable lyrics and racy music video of ‘Blurred Lines’, his song with Thicke and T.I. which he co-wrote and produced, drew massive ire for being misogynistic and demeaning. It is the latter’s infamy that Pharrell tries to dissuade with his new album, G I R L.

His second studio effort, G I R L comes eight years after his debut solo disc, the tepid In My Mind. Designed to capitalize on his recent successes, the record offers more funky hip hop beats dressed up in rehashed retro sounds, which won’t come as a surprise to anyone after the success of ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Blurred Lines’.

Pharrell himself doesn’t have the strongest vocals, which is why a host of guest singers are on hand to help shape the set’s ten tracks. But this selection of pop stars could have been more interesting and varied; all of these big names seem like safe choices and don’t exactly signal an attempt at creating exciting, innovative collaborative projects. The most prominent appearances come from Justin Timberlake on the joyous ‘Brand New’, Miley Cyrus on the repetitive ‘Come Get It Bea’, and Alicia Keys on the reggae-tinged ‘Know Who You Are’. And Pharrell once again teams up with Daft Punk, this time on the standout ‘Gust of Wind’. Also included on the album is the annoyingly contagious Oscar nominated earworm ‘Happy’, which has already conquered the airwaves with its jaunty vibe and cameo-filled viral video.

G I R L is mostly fun and playful, and Pharrell succeeds in concocting some enjoyable pop, but there isn’t anything remarkably special about it. The first word you hear as the album begins (amidst lush strings courtesy of Hans Zimmer) is “different”, and that’s exactly what the record fails to be. G I R L simply tries to appeal to the same audience that was impressed by the music he produced last year, and this might be why some of the material seems overly familiar and repetitive. Also, while its attempt to be a celebration of women (to counter the denigration of ‘Blurred Lines’) is probably sincere, but that sentiment is sometimes undercut by the lyrics of songs like ‘Hunter’ and ‘Come Get It Bae’.

‘Happy’ is by far the sunniest moment on G I R L, and even though album opener ‘Marilyn Monroe’, the Daft Punk-aided ‘Gust of Wind’, and a handful of other tracks are catchy, nothing comes close to matching the exuberance of ‘Get Lucky’ or even the catchiness of the much maligned ‘Blurred Lines’. Ultimately, while a handful of the songs that make up G I R L may be instantly infectious, most of them are just as casually disposable.

- Sameen Amer 

Instep, The News on Sunday - 13th April, 2014 *

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

About a boy: Kurt Cobain remembered

in memoriam

On the 8th of April 1994, exactly 20 years ago to the day, news broke that a body had been found at 171 Lake Washington Blvd East Seattle, discovered by an electrician who had stopped by to install parts of a new security system. The house, it turned out, belonged to Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, and the body, as fate would have it, was his.

Pronounced dead on the scene, Kurt had seemingly taken his own life by pumping himself full of heroin and then shooting himself in the head. In the pre-Internet era where the by-the-minute actions of celebrities weren’t broadcast to the universe in real time, it took a while for the world to get a clearer picture of what had gone down, and even then the strange circumstances and unanswerable questions left much room for conjecture and rumours, which in turn fuelled the many conspiracy theories that have since been doing the rounds and sometimes even end up becoming the focal point of Kurt-related discussions.

The last chapter of his life dangers clouding and overshadowing his contributions to and influence on music, but his final act is a horrific full stop that shouldn’t be anything more than a footnote in Kurt’s legacy. Sure it’s a glaring, abrupt ending that colours our perception of the tortured artist and everything he produced, but it was Kurt Cobain’s ability to touch lives, popularize a genre, influence an entire generation of musicians, and just make brilliant music that should be what he’s remembered for.

Drawn towards music as a child and also blessed with a natural talent for both visual arts and writing, Kurt developed an anti-authoritarian mindset early on. The product of a broken family and scarred by his parents’ divorce, Kurt’s feelings of abandonment and not fitting in would end up fuelling his music and making him a lyricist whose (often ambiguous) words would resonate with similarly disaffected youths. The fact that he wasn’t the most technically perfect guitarist or a note-perfect singer never came in the way of his ability to exude raw emotions. His singing and playing were a reflection of his pain and anger, which is what drew (and continues to draw) millions of adolescents around the globe to Nirvana’s music.

Even those who weren’t fans of his music respected him for the fact that he didn’t bow to the mainstream but inspired the mainstream to morph and make room for him. He may have been uneasy with his own fame after the more polished grunge of Nevermind (1991) took over the world, but his popularity served as a catalyst to bring the Seattle music scene to the forefront.

Music meant a lot to him, and his passion showed in the work he produced. Perhaps what made Kurt such a passionate musician was the fact that he was also a passionate music fan. From Lead Belly and The Pixies to Gang of Four, Mudhoney, The Raincoats, the Meat Puppets and, of course, The Vaselines, the bands and musicians that he loved (and that he meticulously listed as his favourites in his diaries, some of which were later made public after his death) were an important element in his life. And his diverse range of influences not only came together to shape Nirvana’s sound but also introduced many of us to an eclectic group of musicians that might have otherwise been overlooked.

One of the most famous members of the 27 Club, Kurt Cobain would have turned 47 this February if he were still alive. But even though he’s been gone for two decades, both the man and his music still remain relevant. His artistry, creativity, energy, dichotomy, deadpan wit, sincerity, and emotional resonance is what makes him one of the most interesting and influential musician of recent times, and why, 20 years later, he continues to connect with and inspire listeners around the world.


Kurt Cobain’s global resonance

Nirvana’s appeal was global and their music made an impact not just in the country they hailed from but all over the world. So we asked some of our own musicians about what made Kurt Cobain special and their recollections of Nirvana’s heyday. Here are their responses:

Junaid Khan: Nirvana’s music had that raw energy and those punching melodies which the youth needed at that time. I remember ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was an anthem and was played on every rock festival here in Pakistan even. Though most of the artists in the West these days are fabricated and created and given an image, Cobain was real. The music wasn’t created in big studios; it was created and recorded in a simple garage. But unfortunately the masses realized Nirvana’s true potential after Cobain’s death.

Haroon Rashid: Kurt Cobain was a rebel. He was anti-establishment. He actually single-handedly introduced a whole new genre to the world. Songs like ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ were filled with energy and the guitar riff in the song is magical. At 27, he died young, forever becoming etched in time as an icon among the great American stars who died young like Elvis Presley, James Dean, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, etcetera.
Although I always appreciated Nirvana’s work but personally I was never a big fan. I didn't like that whole grunge movement at all. I did like his song ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’; it had a great guitar riff. He was a heroin user. I believe the drug sapped him of his talent. His follow up album was not well received by critics. I believe personal problems and dealing with his addiction played a role in his suicide. That should be an example to the young to stay away from drugs. I was sad to see him die so young because he obviously was incredibly talented.

Farhad Humayun (Overload): Nirvana came at a time when digital technology was taking over and music was becoming too perfect and mechanical. The band let out their raw and unapologetic energy. Lyrics were ambiguous but honest. I think Kurt Cobain is to alternative music what Andy Warhol is to pop art. They both redefined boundaries by showcasing no boundaries. Technical skill in playing was not the point being reinforced by Nirvana or Kurt Cobain. It was his brutal honesty that audiences picked up on. I played many Nirvana songs while growing up when I used to play in the underground scene. They weren’t my favorite band but I remember it being fun to play.

Moby Noor (former Corduroy frontman): Kurt Cobain wrote painfully honest songs, dissonance dressed up pretty. Every teenager can relate to that. You get drawn in to the anger, you stick around for the tunes. Few people wrote better tunes than Kurt Cobain, fewer still sang them with his conviction. That puts him in the pantheon of songwriting greatness. People don't soon forget greatness, and that's why he lives on 20 years later in the hearts and iPods of disenfranchised youth everywhere.

- Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 8th April, 2014 * *

Monday, April 07, 2014

Swoosh! Burka Avenger picks up a Peabody!

interview: tview

Burka Avenger, the animated television series about a female superhero fighting for “justice, peace, and education”, caught the attention of the world when it started airing on Geo Tez in July last year and has since received numerous accolades. And now the show has given its production team yet another reason to celebrate: the series has just been named as one of the recipients of this year’s Peabody Awards, one of the most prestigious honours in broadcasting.

The brainchild of singer Haroon Rashid, Burka Avenger is described on the Peabodys’ website ( as “smart, colorful and provocative”, which goes on to say that “this Pakistani-produced television program about a super-heroine sends a clear message about female empowerment that has the potential to affect an entire generation.” Instep had the chance to talk to Haroon about the latest honour that his show has received. Here’s what he had to say:

Instep: Burka Avenger just won a Peabody Award. Congratulations! How does it feel?
Haroon Rashid: It is an amazing feeling. Burka Avenger is a 100% Pakistani production, from conception, scriptwriting, voiceovers, music, art, animation, etcetera. I produced it with my team at Unicorn Black in Islamabad. We are a small animation studio but we won the award right next to multimillion dollar productions like Breaking Bad and others. That is quite an achievement for Pakistan and a true testament to Pakistani talent.

Instep: This is the first time a Pakistani production has won this prestigious award. What does this win mean for the Pakistani entertainment industry?
Haroon: I think more and more Pakistani productions will achieve recognition on an international level in the near future. We are a country with a rich heritage, culture, music, and arts. We have the talent and ambition to create world class productions. I think when Pakistan wins awards like this it helps other producers and young talent to dream big.

Instep: Why do you think this story of a female, burka clad superhero rallying for education and female empowerment has generated so much international interest?
Haroon: I think the media worldwide objectifies women. Most women roles in TV and film are no more than side roles or romantic interests to the male hero. It is a very male dominated industry with male dominated stories, not just in Pakistan but everywhere. With our female super-heroine, Burka Avenger, we received praise and accolades from all over the world for our strong women empowerment messages. Some reviews went so far as to say Disney and Hollywood could learn a thing or two from the fearless Burka Avenger and her women empowerment themes. As far as any criticism regarding her using the Burka as a disguise, that is unfounded. I say please first watch an episode before making judgments. We were very careful when putting the show together.

Instep: The Peabody Award is such a coveted honour. Did you have any idea while making Burka Avenger that it would get such recognition?
Haroon: I had a feeling it would be successful because it was such a great concept and secondly the level of production was beyond anything seen for a Pakistani animation. But I had no idea that we would receive this level of acclaim or awards.

Instep: Which members of the Burka Avenger team will accept the award when it’s presented in New York in May?
Haroon: Well, they are only giving us one ticket, and as creator, producer, and director of the series my team at Unicorn Black has urged me to go and accept the award.

Instep: Burka Avenger is now in the same company as some of the world’s biggest and most acclaimed shows, like Breaking Bad. Speaking of which … do you promise me that you will tell Vince Gilligan (or whoever is at the Peabodys from Breaking Bad) that I love them?
Haroon: Hahahahaha, ok. Yes.

Instep: Thanks! Finally, what does this win mean for Unicorn Black?
Haroon: Unicorn Black is made up of a team of about 50 young talented and driven Pakistani men and women. We have artists, animators, writers, musicians, graphic designers, recording engineers, voiceover artists, production managers, directors, programmers, etcetera.
I think this will definitely give the team a great boost. They worked very hard, made many sacrifices, working late and often on weekends to get this show ready. We learned so much and grew together. We are like a family now. I feel honoured to be able to work with such a talented team. We have many other exciting projects in the pipeline, so stay tuned.

The Peabody Awards will be formally presented on the 19th of May at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 7th April, 2014 *