Sunday, August 31, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy - superheroes, super fun!

movie review

Guardians of the Galaxy has more wit than wisdom

It’s hard to knock Hollywood for the recent deluge of superhero movies, considering how commercially successful and financially rewarding the genre has been. It’s even harder to criticize the quality of the material generated by this trend, seeing how the output has generally been very entertaining. In light of the positive reception of the genre, it becomes all too obvious why Marvel would be inspired to create yet another superhero franchise, unleashing a team of its lesser known superheroes onto the big screen in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy. The move might make it seem like they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, but the final product easily quashes any doubts that we may have had about the project’s legitimacy.

The movie’s (unlikely) hero is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a human who was abducted from Earth as a child, moments after his mother’s death. Two and a half decades later, Quill has fashioned himself into Star-Lord, an intergalactic rogue who merrily romps through space. But after he swipes a mysterious orb, he finds himself being targeted by the many beings who are desperate to wield its power. While dodging his chasers, Quill ends up forming an uneasy partnership with some of his pursuers. The members of the reluctant alliance include the green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who was initially sent by power-hungry villain Ronan (Lee Pace) to fetch the orb; wisecracking raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and kindly sentient tree Groot (Vin Diesel), the bounty hunters who were seeking a reward for Quill’s capture; and the vengeful Drax (Dave Bautista), whose family was killed by Ronan. Together, this team of extraterrestrial misfits must risk everything to keep the orb from nefarious hands and save the universe from havoc.

A lively adventure powered by terrific special effects (Rocket and Groot have been brought to life with some fantastic CGI), Guardians of the Galaxy is a hearty frolic that aims to entertain its audience from start to finish. Unlike many of the superhero flicks currently on offer, the movie isn’t concerned with being dark and moody; instead it is content with just being thoroughly enjoyable, employing witty banter alongside poignant touches to fuel its two hour journey. Its retro soundtrack (courtesy of an “awesome mix” cassette that Quill holds dear) is programmed to generate nostalgia, and the random pop culture references keep the viewers engaged. Chris Pratt is surprisingly suitable for the lead role; Bradley Cooper voices the smart-mouth raccoon Rocket with verve; and while Groot may only have a three word vocabulary, Vin Diesel makes good use of intonation to help make the talking tree one of the most endearing characters of the movie.

Yes, the villain is stereotypical, the action is predictable, and the customary final battle doesn’t hold much weight (probably because we aren’t as invested in the fate of the galaxy as we should be), but the movie is well aware of its own absurdities, and never fails to have a sense of humour about itself.

Guardians of the Galaxy is an adventure that has heart and that revels in wit; think Star Wars meets Serenity with a dash of Red Dwarf. While the movie might not have been necessary, it has found a very valid reason to exist: entertaining us. Those who want something deep, dark, and profound have many other choices. This one’s for those of us who just want to have some fun.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

- Sameen Amer

Sunday Magazine, The Express Tribune - 31st August, 2014 *

“I will never go solo. Jal is here to stay.” - Goher Mumtaz


Goher Mumtaz talks about Jal’s changing band dynamics and his acting career in an in-depth interview with Instep

The silent force behind ‘Aadat’, that hit number from the early noughties, Goher Mumtaz now takes centre stage as he steps behind the mike to belt out pop rock ditties for Jal. Apart from doing double duty as the band’s vocalist and guitarist, Goher is also occupied with his acting career that helps him build the band’s fan base. In an in-depth interview with Instep, Goher details his experiences as both an actor and singer and tells us why Jal is here to stay.

Marching on with the band

Instep: After the changes that the group has gone through over the last few years, is Jal operating as a solo project now?
People thought the band was over after its ex-members decided to pursue other projects, but Jal is still here. I’m working with top session players for our live acts and TV show appearances. I am on lead vocals and guitars. Joining me are Saad Sultan on lead guitars, former MHB member Amir Azhar on bass, and Ken Zeerick on drums.
We have performed together all around the world, including the UK, Sharjah, Bahrain, Bangladesh, India, and in many cities of Pakistan, since 2011. Last year, we launched our new album Pyaas, consisting of 10 tracks, including the popular ‘Tanhai’ from my debut acting project and ‘Ik Arzu’ of Coke Studio fame. Jal has been nominated in the Best Band category in the Hum Awards and recently performed at the prestigious O2 in London.
I could have easily gone solo with my music and acting career and would have even stopped producing music, but I care for all the Jal fans, whose appreciation makes us tour the world.

Instep: So you plan to continue making music as Jal and won’t drop the moniker and start releasing music under your own name instead?
I will never do that. A band means band members, and we have a new line-up. We’ve been performing as Jal after Farhan left; nobody ever questioned the persistence of the name. If promoters, brands, and colleges want to call us Jal, why should I perform as a solo artist? Plus Jal is a brand in itself and inspired many school and college students to pick up guitars and start singing. We recently had a great time performing at FAST University Peshawar and in New Delhi and are looking forward to hitting Pakistani colleges and schools soon with songs from the new album.

Instep: Is it easier now that you’re the only fulltime member and solely in charge of the music? Or is it more challenging?
It is easier. Even for Boondh and Aadat, I did eighty percent of the work, but used to sing only two to three songs on the album. This time, the challenge was to sing the whole album and all of Jal’s previous songs for live performances. So I took the challenge and did it. During a concert in Bahria Town Islamabad on New Year’s, I remember one fan came up to me and said, “I salute you as I never thought you could sing so well live”. Also, I am not exactly alone in composition. I discuss parts and improvisation with the other members, like Saad and Amir, and try to create a “band” sound. It is a lot more fun this way.

Instep: How was your recent experience of performing on The Floor?
The Floor is a revival of the pop scene in Pakistan. It was great to see mainstream bands performing on a show that’s airing on every music channel. It actually really helped Jal to promote its new album Pyaas by performing it live along with the old hits. It’s a great initiative.

Instep: Tell us about the recently released song ‘Pyar Hai’ from the soundtrack of Uff Yeh Mohabbat.
The song is one of the four tracks from the Uff Yeh Mohabbat’s OST. I sent Hadiqa Kiani the composition with my vocals and she loved it and immediately said yes to the duet. I am humbled and want to thank her for doing this duet as our market also needs new, refreshing songs. We are all set for the new video and it will be out in September.

Instep: How was your experience performing on Pakistan Idol and meeting all the contestants?
It was amazing. I performed a folk song ‘Layian Layian’. It was great to encourage new talent and give them tips through this new platform.

Instep: What’s your primary passion: music or acting?
Music. I am very picky about my acting projects.

From score to screen

Instep: You had been making music for many years before you ventured into acting. Did you always aspire to become an actor? Or did the acting projects just happen by chance?
Goher Mumtaz:
Acting wasn’t planned; opportunities have been coming my way since the beginning of my music career. I’ve had a few offers from Bollywood, like a Tabu film that was offered to me while I was on tour with Jal in Mumbai back in the day. But I wanted to make myself available to Jal full-time; I wanted us to become the best band of the subcontinent.  I was also approached for a role in the Pakistani film Tamanna in 2011 but refused because I didn’t like the script.
Eventually, I thought I should not let every opportunity go by. If people think I should be a part of their movie or drama, then I should consider it as well. I finally signed on to do Hum TV’s Tanhai in 2012. That play did really well, although I personally think I could have done better as an actor. I was totally blown away by the feedback I received as even people who weren’t Jal fans also started recognising me. I think acting makes a great addition to my career. After Tanhai, I acted in Geo’s Uff Yeh Mohabbat, a musical serial in 2013, and now will be seen in Hum TV’s Bhanwar, which begins airing in the first week of September. I work hard on all my projects; since international tours also keep me busy, I only do one play per year instead of signing on to multiple dramas in an effort to be seen on every channel.

Instep:  You just completed the shoot for Bhanwar. What can you tell us about it? 
Goher: Well, Bhanwar is really quite an amazing story. We usually watching TV dramas that revolve around the problems of women, as a mother, wife, daughter, or sister, but this time the story tells us about the sacrifices a man makes when he has to live without his parents, the sacrifices he has to make over love. I am playing the role of a doctor, Umair. Neelam Muneer is the lead actress, and is joined by Firdous Jamal sahib in the cast. That’s all I can share about the play for now.

Instep: What difficulties have you faced as an actor?
Honestly, it was just the first two days that were difficult. After that, you start getting the hang of it. I took acting as a challenge and worked on my skills, memorizing the script, improving my expressions with tips from senior actors, and told myself that it should be done. Then it’s all easy. I feel that everything is achievable if you are determined.

Instep:  What do you think of the Pakistani television industry?
The Pakistani television industry is flourishing, as people don’t find many recreational activities out of the home, so they watch movies and dramas. Our TV industry is meeting their demand for quality TV, and I feel proud that now they can be seen across the border too. I think more educated people must come join this industry as producers, assistant directors, and set designers so that it can flourish even more. We have the best directors in the industry who can easily make a film out of a script and they will.

Instep: So TV is doing well, but what do you think of the Pakistani films coming out these days?
Finally the time has arrived when you genuinely feel like going to watch a Pakistani film! I am so proud of Bilal Lashari, who started his career by directing Jal’s music video for ‘Sajni’. Now alongside him, there are a lot of directors who have started making films. For instance, Main Hoon Shahid Afridi was a great effort; though I wish the Shah Rukh Khan element would have been avoided. I understand we don’t have resources like Bollywood, but then we do have stories like British films, which are made with fewer resources than Hollywood.

Instep: How do you feel about the work Pakistani artistes have done across the border? Are there any Bollywood projects you are currently pursuing or considering?
I am the brand ambassador of my country. I would never ever do something across the border, which could embarrass my fellow Pakistanis. I have been travelling to India for more than 10 years, and have performed in around 30 different cities. I make sure that Jal is introduced as a Pakistani band before we go on stage. We have won the Favourite Artist India award and Best South Asian band from India. If I am to step into Bollywood, I would prefer to work in an A-class movie, a movie that I can come back and watch with my family and a movie that Pakistanis can feel proud of. I am willing to wait for the right opportunity.

- Sameen Amer 

Instep, The News on Sunday - 31st August, 2014 *

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Americana and a foray away from Hollywood

album reviews

Band: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Album: Hypnotic Eye

It has been almost four decades since Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers entered the music scene, and it’s no mean feat that the partnership is still going strong. Now the group has added 11 more songs to their already impressive catalogue with the release of their thirteenth studio album, Hypnotic Eye.

Put together with the intent of creating “a straight hard-rockin’ record”, Hypnotic Eye is consistently solid without being flashy. The album offers snarling sentiments amidst gritty guitars, jangling cymbals, and reliable percussions, creating a concoction of rock that often takes its cues from jazz and blues.

The songs – all of which have been written and composed by Tom Petty (with the exception of ‘Fault Lines’, which includes contributions by guitarist Mike Campbell) – rely on melodies that satisfy but rarely enter the catchy earworm territory. Reflective lyrics power the tracks, touching on topics like chasing dreams (‘American Dream Plan B’), power and politics (‘Power Drunk’, ‘Burnt Out Town’), and aging (‘Full Grown Boy’, ‘Sins Of My Youth’). Sometimes Petty’s vocals seem a tad too weary, but this characteristic also adds edge to the sound while complementing the subject matter.

Hypnotic Eye isn’t propelled by commercial ambition; it is clear that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers made this record because they wanted to. The overall template remains more or less the same, and the result might not be as immediate as some of their best known pop hits, but this slice of Americana is sure to please fans of vintage rock.

Highlights: ‘Fault Lines’, ‘Red River’, ‘Forgotten Man’
Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Artist: Michael Cera
Album: true that

The quiet release of Michael Cera’s debut album might have caught us by surprise, but anyone who has been keeping an eye on the actor’s career won’t be shocked by his foray into music. When he hasn’t been busy being typecast as an awkward wallflower in movies (where he has occasionally found himself in the vicinity of musical instruments), Cera has played bass with indie supergroup Mister Heavenly and even contributed mandolin and backing vocals to a song on Weezer’s Hurley.

The actor has now uploaded true that, his first full-length sonic outing, to Bandcamp, where it can be streamed for free (or purchased for $7). His homespun release (which was brought to the world’s attention after Jonah Hill tweeted about its existence) offers an eclectic collection of folksy lo-fi experimentation. Unassuming and intimate in its delivery, the record features 18 tracks, some of which play like fragments, others take the shape of fully formed instrumentals, while a few feature his wispy vocals. Standouts include the warm cover of singer-songwriter Blaze Foley’s ‘Clay Pigeons’ as well as the vibrant, synth-ridden instrumental ‘2048’ and the buoyant, piano-driven ‘Of A Thursday’.

The musicianship may not be seasoned and he might need to develop a little more confidence in himself as a vocalist, but at its best, the album brings some of indie’s finest staples (like Belle & Sebastian and Modest Mouse) to mind. Unbridled by expectations, Cera has whipped up some raw, interesting sounds that, just like the characters he often plays, are charmingly quirky.

Highlights: ‘Clay Pigeons’, ‘Of A Thursday’, ‘ohNadine (you were in my dream)’
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 28th August, 2014 *

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Anything but mechanical

album review

Singer: Damon Albarn
Album: Everyday Robots

British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Damon Albarn has helped shape alternative rock for nearly two and a half decades, achieving widespread recognition with Britpop outfit Blur, virtual band Gorillaz, and the unnamed super-group generally known as The Good, The Bad, and The Queen, as well as an array of other musical ventures (including, but not limited to, opera and theatre soundtracks). And now he has made his official studio debut as a solo artist with the album Everyday Robots.

For the most part, Everyday Robots is melancholy enveloped in exotic rhythms. Albarn has joined forces with Richard Russell to write and produce this project (with additional production by Brian Eno). The record reflects on our tech-obsessed lives, exploring the contrast of nature versus technology in a gloomy set of twelve tracks.

Save the joyous, upbeat ‘Mr Tembo’ (which he originally sang to a recently orphaned baby elephant in Tanzania, and yes, it is exactly as precious as that sounds!), the album is mostly mellow and reflective, wading through contemplative lyrics and subdued melodies. Guests show up occasionally to offer support. Brian Eno adds vocals to the somewhat Bowie reminiscent ‘You and Me’ in which Albarn references his past drug use, and the piano adorned album closer ‘Heavy Seas of Love’, which additionally employs the talents of The Leytonstone City Mission Choir (who can also be heard on the delightful ‘Mr. Tembo’). And Bat for Lashes singer Natasha Khan provides gentle, back-up vocals on ‘The Selfish Giant’, a beautiful ballad about a stagnant, failing relationship.

Even though this is technically his first solo album, we are already very familiar with Damon Albarn’s sound, and what he offers here won’t surprise his audience. It may perhaps be a tad darker and mellower than usual, but its overall vibe and songwriting are in keeping with the style of the renowned musician who created it. The album is well made, and its production nicely complements the material. The sonic embellishments work well to create an almost eerie atmosphere and make it very clear that Everyday Robots wasn’t made for a cursory listen. The record needs multiple spins for listeners to absorb its essence, get acquainted with its complex tapestry, and appreciate its many nuances.

On the whole, Everyday Robots is a solid, personal effort that is moody and atmospheric. It creates a pensive ambience and engulfs you in its downcast feelings. But between contemplating the pitfalls of modern life and sampling Richard Buckley, the album starts to feel a bit self-indulgent. And it could have used some more up-tempo moments to contrast its many lows, not to take away from its sadness but to highlight it. As it stands, Everyday Robots won’t be able to capture the attention or interest of listeners who want something more immediate, but if you want a melancholic record that grows on you as you discover more of its subtle shades with each listen, then this album is well worth a try.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

- Sameen Amer

 Sunday Magazine, The Express Tribune - 24th August, 2014 *

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lights, camera... Faysal!

interview: my teen years 

Faysal Quraishi

Star and date of birth
Scorpio, 26 October.

The best thing about being a teenager
[The ability to] do whatever you want; explore the world and yourself.

I was always listening to
Wham! and Michael Jackson.

I was glued to the TV for
Knight Rider.

My favourite movies were
Blast from the Past and Legends of the Fall.

My favourite actor was
Nadeem sahab from Pakistan and Brad Pitt.

My favourite book was
I didn’t start reading till much later in life.

My room was full of

My room walls carried the posters of
Cars and bikes.

My closet was full of
Black shirts, T-shirts, and blue jeans.

My friends were
Fareed, Faysal, and Haroon. I don’t know where they are now.

My first crush/My first date
Shhhh! :)

What hurt me the most
When a girl didn’t respond to my letters.

My dream was
To become an actor, always.

I wish I had known then
That life is unpredictable and nothing stays the same.

Relations with siblings
I am an only child.

Relations with parents
Great! I was their laadla, being the only son and child.

My school was
Badar Cambridge School.

Ragging at college/university
Never happened.

I couldn’t stand
A few of my seniors.

My favourite hangout was
Mini Golf in Lahore.

My favourite superhero was

My favourite sport was

My favourite pastime was
Listening to music, watching movies, and hanging out with friends.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 22nd August, 2014 *

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

“I feel if music is honest and made with integrity, it has the power to touch and heal hearts” - Sharmistha Chatterjee


The sufi rock band from Lahore becomes a cross-border collaboration as Sharmistha Chatterjee takes a place behind the mike in Mekaal Hasan Band’s line-up. Instep catches up with the band’s new vocalist for a quick Q&A.

Instep: Tell us about yourself. How did your musical journey begin?
Sharmistha Chatterjee:
I was born in Calcutta and shifted base to Mumbai to pursue a musical career around nine years ago. I started training in Indian classical music in my childhood, and I’ve been a B High Grade artist in All India Radio since I was 18. For the last 10 years or so, I have been actively involved in Bollywood and India’s advertising industry as a playback singer and recording artist. I am also the lead vocalist in two bands, Louiz Banks’ Indo-jazz fusion group Ganga Shakti and a world jazz fusion band with Ranjit Barot and the Resistance. I also hold an Honours and Master’s degree in English Literature.

Instep: How did you become a part of the Mekaal Hasan Band?
Gino Banks, the current drummer of Mekaal Hasan Band, referred me to Mekaal when he was looking for a new vocalist. The whole thing just felt right from the start and we immediately went ahead and recorded my vocals for the album.

Instep: How has the experience of working with the MHB guys been so far?
SC: It’s been awesome. I’ve recorded eight songs for the album and was given complete freedom with the compositions and lyrics. It’s been an excellent team effort. All members of the band are exceptionally good in their capacity as musicians and we bond very well as people. The live gigs are like a celebration of music for us. It has also been a great opportunity for me to learn and grow.

Instep: Do you feel this Indo-Pak music collaboration will have a deeper impact? Do you think music has the power to bring these two countries together?
SC: I look at the world with the eyes of a musician and I feel if the music is honest and made with integrity, it has the power to touch and heal hearts. It can transcend barriers of nationality, cast, creed, or religion.

Instep: How would you describe the new album?
SC: The new album is really refreshing in the sense that for the first time you will hear a female singer singing Mekaal Hasan Band’s material. The songs have the same intensity and essence as MHB’s older music, but there is a certain sweetness to the music that adds a completely new dimension. This album is very special to all of us; we poured our hearts out, and that’s something that I feel will resonate with the audience.

Instep: Is there a song on the album that you are particularly proud of? A track that stands out?
SC: All the songs are really close to me and it’s hard to pick a favourite, but I am particularly proud of the album opener, ‘Ghunghat’. It’s a kalaam by Baba Bulleh Shah. This is the first time that I’ve sung the words of Bulleh Shah and it was a particularly challenging song. Also, in terms of the arrangement, writing, and musicianship, everyone in the band has done a brilliant job. There are passages of beautiful solos and instrumental sections that I think the audience will enjoy.

- Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 19th August, 2014 *

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Binding music


After a sabbatical of five years and some inner restructuring, the Mekaal Hasan Band is all set to release its new album with a female lead vocalist
Following a line-up change a few months ago, Mekaal Hasan Band has emerged as a cross border collaboration between gifted musicians from both Pakistan and India.  The group is now preparing to unveil its third album, the long awaited Andholan, which will be MHB’s first release with Indian singer Sharmistha Chatterjee on vocals. In this Instep exclusive, the band talks about the collaboration and allows us a peek at their album cover.

Andholan: the album

Andholan will be Mekaal Hasan Band’s first new album in five years, following 2009′s Saptak. The record will feature eight tracks, including the group’s take on kaafis by Baba Bulleh Shah and Shah Hussain as well as their renditions of traditional classical bandishes from the subcontinent.

“I think it’s the most progressive record of ours to date,” said Mekaal Hasan, the group’s front man. “It’s also musically the most diverse and impactful record that we’ve made yet. The album features a level of song writing and musicianship which marks a huge growth for a band that already likes to set high standards for itself.”

If you want a sense of the attention to detail that the band expends in every aspect of their music, then look no further than the album’s title and the level of thought that has gone into the selection of this name. “This record’s title is Andholan, which has a dual meaning,” Mekaal revealed. “It can mean ‘revolution’ or ‘movement’ and it’s also used to describe expressive slides in classical music. This dual philosophy is also found in the record Sampooran, which means ‘purity’ in Urdu and also refers to the family of any seven note raags which are called Sampoorna,” he described further.

Indo-Pak progression: the band

The reincarnated MHB features Gino Banks and Sheldon D’Silva on drums and bass respectively, while Sharmistha Chatterjee joins them on lead vocals. “I’d heard Gino Banks and Sheldon D’Silva play throughout the years that I have been touring India,” says Mekaal. “In fact, both musicians were at our launch show in 2007 in Mumbai which is also where we first became friends. The idea of playing together really started gelling around 2010. The progressive musicians in India really admire how our band writes its material and produces its records, and I, in turn, from the very first time I heard these musicians play, was eager to have them work with me and to contribute to the ever-evolving sound of MHB.”

Even though the band parted ways with their former vocalist and went through significant restructuring, Mekaal says he was never uncertain about the future of the group. “The nature of the band is such that it will always attract highly-trained musicians and people who enjoy playing in a band format. As such, the band will continue to exist as long as people are willing to listen to the music.”

And what inspired him to recruit musicians from across the border? “It made natural sense to play material that was classical in nature and had progressive elements with the top jazz and classical artists of India. The idea of creating an Indo-Pak band actually goes back to 2010 which is roughly when I started discussing it with Gino. The idea also stemmed from a desire of wanting to play with more musicians who had a different perspective but happened to also share the same cultural heritage that I enjoy.”

“In terms of the quality of musicianship, this line-up is possibly the most versatile and experienced,” he enthuses. “Dynamically the band has a wider range, and in terms of improvisation, there is a lot more contribution from the rhythm section, meaning that there is a lot more playing and soloing, which Gino and Sheldon both bring to the band in our live sets.”

Perhaps the most noticeable change comes in the form of the vocalist, as this will be the first MHB record with a female singer in the lead. “I wanted a different texture and sound and I also wanted to work with another kind of sensibility,” says Mekaal. “With a female voice the lower registers of the music reveal themselves in a manner which a male range might overshadow. I’d also been listening to a lot of bands with female voices and I guess that also influenced my choice of going with a female lead.” But it’s hard to ignore the fact that there aren’t many prominent bands led by female vocalist in the Pakistani music scene. So does gender really make a difference? “With female emancipation, one would’ve hoped to see more female fronted bands and indeed initiatives,” he reflects. “While the situation is improving, the ultimate decision still lies with a market that seems to have more males making decisions as opposed to females.”

Mekaal Hasan Band’s evolution promises to take the group in a refreshing, innovative direction. And their new sound will not only be heard on the upcoming album; fans can also expect a lot more from the band in the coming months. “We’ll be putting out some live concert footage on a DVD soon,” reveals Mekaal, “and we’re also releasing the singles ‘Ghunghat’ and ‘Sayoon’ from the album very soon.”

Artistic expression: the album cover

An important medium for musicians to visually express their artistic aspirations, album covers have given us some of the most iconic images of recent times (See: Abbey Road by The Beatles, The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd). However, covers that accompany most of our local records often seem uninspired and pedestrian. Many bands seem content with just plastering their mug shots on their album sleeves. Luckily, Mekaal Hasan Band is not one of them. The group recruited illustrator and graphic designer Samya Arif to come up with an abstract image that will grace Andholan.

“The album cover has, for more than 50 years, been a canvas for some of the greatest and most imaginative artists in the world, including Storm Thorgerson and Mati Klarwein,” said Samya, who graduated with a degree in Communication Design and Photography from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, where she is now an assistant professor for Graphic Design and Typography. “Album art has become a means of showcasing the themes, renditions, and ideas behind an album’s music and the musician making it. It adds a visual context to the music you’re listening to, not only creating a bookmark in your mind but also invigorating the entire process further by employing more than one sense.”

Samya sought to capture Mekaal Hasan Band’s progression in the art for Andholan. “To create the theme of Mekaal Hasan Band’s evolution and musical movement, I used abstract elements to signify nature’s bounties, from water to mountains and skies, a shared geography of the entire subcontinent, therefore subtly reciprocating the bind of Eastern nations through sounds,” she explained. “The idea was to convey the evolution of the band itself and their music, as well as the fusion of eclectic Western and Eastern sounds native to the subcontinent in particular. The detail and colours employed echo the nuances within the music.”

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 17th August, 2014 *

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

“Nowadays record labels in Pakistan are just a name” - Inteha


Inteha talks about its second album Inteha-e-Rock and the decision to release it in India first

Lahore-based pop rock duo Inteha released its sophomore album Inteha-e-Rock in India a few months ago, and is now prepping to unveil the record in Pakistan. In a chat with Instep, the group – which comprises of brothers Naukhez Javed on vocals and Nausher Javed on guitars – discuss their new record, their solo efforts, and their plans for the coming months.

Instep: Your debut album Kehna Chahta Hoon was released in 2009. Why did you wait so long to come up with your second record? Don’t long delays have an adverse impact on a band’s career?
Naukhez Javed: We received many awards for Kehna Chahta Hoon, and then went on a tour to India, Thailand, Turkey, the US and UK. So we weren’t able to start the production of the second album till 2011. In the meantime, we built our own music production house, Chordiology Studio, in Lahore, and then recorded our album there. It took us a year and a half to finish the album.
Delays can have an adverse impact on a band’s career, but I believe we stayed in the limelight by doing different projects in the intervening time.

Instep: The record was, however, released in India a few months ago. Why did you choose to launch it internationally before releasing it in Pakistan?
Nausher Javed: In Pakistan, channels have been shut down. Radio stations mostly play Indian music. Concerts aren’t happening. Nowadays, record labels are just a name. We’ve been approached by various labels, but their work is always held up by political instabilities, or so they say.  So we decided to release our album in India and worldwide first. Last month, we were approached by a Pakistani label with an attractive package, so let’s see how that pans out.

Instep: The album was supposed to be released in Pakistan this summer, but now it has been postponed till the fall. Why?
Naukhez: Instability in the country, instabilities in media. There is no proper label that can make international standard packages. Name any label that is stable right now. Our band is not making stuff for Internet release; it should have the tag of a label – that’s the hallmark of a mature band.

Instep: How different has your experience been of working with Pakistani and Indian record labels?
Naukhez: Times Music showed interest in releasing our album in India and worldwide. Since it’s one of the big labels in India, we decided to join hands with them. The main positive aspect of working with an Indian label is that they are very professional. They are very aggressive in marketing and make sure that the artiste’s work reaches every nook and corner of India.
Nausher: The second best thing about this label is that they don’t interfere in production. Mostly bands have to change their music to get cheap success in films and ruin the “band” definition; a band should feel proud of their own sound, no matter what. We are a band, not solo artistes, and we are happy that our label in India loves our music.

Instep: Why have you included songs from Kehna Chahta Hoon on the Indian version of the new album?
Naukhez: Times Music India made that decision since they loved ‘Anjaana’ and some other old songs. They think that these are the pre-boosters for the album launch. But in Pakistan, we assure you that it is purely a brand new album with three additional new tracks – ‘Mahiwal’, ‘Rahoun Main’, and ‘Don’ – which are not on the Indian album. We know Pakistanis need more rock and we have to justify our album’s title: Inteha-e-Rock.

Instep: You are working on the video for ‘Ranjhna’ at the moment. Please tell us about it.
Naukhez: Yes, the video has been shot in Dubai and has been directed by Nausher himself. It’s currently in post-production and will air on all channels by mid-September. The theme of the video is drug addiction, which is a serious cause for concern among the youth these days.

Instep: Are you already working on the third Inteha album?
Nausher: Yes, we hope to finish it by the summer of 2015.

Instep: You guys are also pursuing solo projects. How are you balancing the band and your solo work?
Naukhez: My music sense is way different from Nausher’s, but when it merges, its makes  a third sound which is the sound of Inteha and we love that. We respect each other’s musical tastes, so the space is always there.
Nausher: And I am the producer of his solo stuff, so bhaag kar kahan jaey ga.

Instep: Many artistes strive to make it big across the border. What impact is this having on the material that is being produced by our musicians?
Naukhez: A musician’s bread and butter is their work, their music. So of course they will go across the border where they feel there is encouragement. Penetrating a market of over a billion people and being recognized is a huge sigh of relief for our artistes. But on a negative note, we are making music that is suitable for their market, so our originality is being replaced by their filmi style.

Instep: Do you guys have any other projects in the pipeline? What can your fans expect from you in the coming months?
Naukhez: Nausher is about to release his rendition of Reshma jee’s ‘Goriye’ soon as part of his Tribute to the Legends project. We’ll be on our album launch tour in India in August, and are also scheduled for a series of concerts in UK and US in October.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 13th August, 2014 *

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - man and primate

movie review

Tensions soar as the two species come face-to-face

The Planet of the Apes franchise has reached a profound turning point since its reboot in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Its latest installment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the second release in the current series, offers a thoughtful, compelling drama that stands out in an otherwise middling summer movie season.

It’s been a decade since the simian virus decimated the human population, and the collapse of civilisation left the scattered survivors in disarray. The genetically evolved apes, meanwhile, have formed a community under Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) command, shaping a society with their own set of rules and morals. But when a band of humans — who are on a mission to fix a nearby dam and restore electricity to the area — stumble upon the apes’ settlement, tensions soar after a trigger-happy man wounds one of the apes. The peace of the region is disturbed, with both sides wary of each other and preparing for battle, but opinions divide within the camps sparking the debate as to whether they should go to war or not.

Caesar and his troops confront the human colony that is led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), and warn them not to return to the land of the apes. “Apes do not want war, but will fight if we must,” Caesar warns. And it is fairly obvious which one of those alternatives will eventually come into play.

On the surface, the premise isn’t exceptional. The post-apocalyptic setup is far from novel, and the dystopian science fiction elements (as well as devices like the opening news montage) seem all too familiar. Luckily though, the plot has been employed to compelling effect, creating a tacit portrait of the human race and offering a glimpse of conflicts, both internal and external, that dictate actions and choices.

The film combines great visual effects with the acting talent of the dependably brilliant Andy Serkis, who brings Caesar gloriously to life on screen and creates an intriguing, memorable character whose development the viewers are emotionally invested in. Meanwhile, Toby Kebbell is also impressive as Koba, Caesar’s second in command.

The human characters, on the other hand, don’t get an equal chance to make an impact. Viewers don’t get to know or empathise with them as much as they could have. Jason Clarke has the most prominent role as Malcolm, the leader of the expedition into ape territory, who forms a bond with Caesar, and plays his role quite well. Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee, who portray Malcolm’s wife and son respectively, and even the generally terrific Gary Oldman, play parts that are somewhat clichéd and underwritten, and are consequently outshined by the apes.

Nevertheless, the project has, on the whole, been put together with intelligence, which is why the movie doesn’t fail to be riveting for its entire two-hour running time. Caesar’s inner conflict is emotionally resonant, and the tug of war between the feelings of trust and distrust makes for fascinating viewing. And while the ending is more of a nudge to the next installment than a proper conclusion, the journey that takes us there is still interesting.

Rating:  3.5/5

- By Sameen Amer

Sunday Magazine, The Express Tribune - 10th August, 2014 *

Friday, August 08, 2014

Beyond music

book review

Author: Nick Carter
Book: Facing the Music and Living to Talk About It

If you want to seek advice for your physical, emotional, and/or spiritual health and are inclined to do so by reading a book, then you can choose tomes that come from a variety of sources, including books written by renowned psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists. But would you consider taking guidance from a Backstreet Boy?

If you want to, then now you actually can, and Nick Carter certainly seems to think you should, seeing how he has written a book for this very purpose.

A memoir and self-help hybrid, Facing the Music and Living to Talk About It aims to dispense advice while weaving accounts of the singer’s own struggles into the narrative. Written in the memory of his sister Leslie, whose death from an overdose in 2012 acted as the catalyst for this project, the book offers the basic concepts, tips, and observations that have helped the singer overcome his problems and change his life for the better. The result is a hodgepodge of information that seems well intentioned but is not nearly as well structured and impactful as it could and should have been.

Facing the Music sees Nick talk openly about his mistakes, failures, and setbacks – including “the tabloid reports of my arrest for DUI, the crash and burn interviews I’ve given about my “night of the zombies,” my family’s disastrous reality show House of Carters, and the life-threatening heart problems I’ve developed due to my hard-partying lifestyle” – in the hopes that his readers can avoid the same pitfalls that he plunged into. The turmoil and drama that has surrounded his family comes up multiple times in the book. The singer talks about his relationship with Leslie, Aaron, and his other siblings; the downside of acting as the “fixer and financier for [his] family”; and his feelings towards his parents and their “drinking and fighting and lack of nurturing”, which is a topic that is repeatedly discussed throughout the text. Family isn’t the only subject of his problems though – he also mentions his dealings and disappointments with former Backstreet Boys impresario Lou Pearlman “who’d been taking a double helping of our earnings”, and his brief relationship with Paris Hilton and how she was “probably the worst person in the world for me to hook up with at the time.” And he also opens up about his battle with addiction (and has a particularly severe warning about Ecstasy, a drug that, he says, can “destroy your brain and ruin your life”).

Counterpoising the negative associations and experiences in his life is his bond with the other members of the Backstreet Boys, who have provided the positive influence that he has often needed, and his fiancée (now wife) Lauren Kitt, with whom he says he shares a healthy, loving relationship.

All these biographical accounts and details are interspersed with advice on how to improve your life while the writer explains how these tips helped him overcome his troubles. Nick mentions the importance of self awareness, changing your filter, seeking professional help instead of self-medicating, generating happiness from the inside out, building a life around your talents, choosing what sort of people you want to attract in your life, the importance of setting goals, the power of forgiveness and gratitude, and various other titbits based on the “sound advice and guidance I’ve picked up from professionals who really know how to help people like me overcome our toughest challenges”.

Facing the Music is not intended as a proper autobiography, and if you pick it up hoping to read Nick Carter’s life story, then you are bound to be disappointed. But by being partly autobiographical and partly motivational, the book ends up reading like a jumble of personal details and helpful suggestions with no proper structure. The content isn’t presented as clearly as it should have been, which makes it hard to absorb the information. And there is often too much repetition; his feelings towards his dysfunctional family in particular come up multiple times. The thoughts presented here are in desperate need of some organisation and arrangement, and the book could have definitely benefited from a more thorough edit.

Still, it is good to see that the singer has turned his life around, and you can’t really knock him for wanting to help people who want to improve their lives and for hoping that readers “can find some inspiration and motivation from [his] story”. The problem with Facing the Music is that it suffers because of its execution. Its semi-autobiographical, semi-self-help approach leaves much to be desired on both accounts. Ultimately it just comes off as a collection of scattered thoughts that, with a little more effort, could have been shaped into something more interesting and useful.

- Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 8th August, 2014 *

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Of love and parody

album reviews

Band: 5 Seconds of Summer
Album: 5 Seconds of Summer

After the massive success of pop group One Direction, it is hardly surprising that a steady influx of boy bands is now littering the teen pop scene, as they vie to follow in The X Factor stars’ footsteps. The most recent success story has come in the form of 5 Seconds of Summer, the Australian pop rock group that has just charted at number one in several countries with their self-titled debut album.

The Sydney quartet has gone from performing covers on YouTube to opening for One Direction and finally establishing themselves as a chart-topping act with a fanatical fan following in the span of less than three years. Weary of being called a boy band, despite the fact that they essentially seem to be one anyway, 5 Seconds of Summer emphasize that they write their own songs and play their own instruments. Their output unabashedly targets the tween and teen audience (despite sometimes being a little too suggestive for very young listeners), and sounds like a cross between Busted and McFly. Good Charlotte also seem to be an influence, and it’s obviously no coincidence that Benji and Joel Madden have made an appearance in the credits among the co-writers of album closer ‘Amnesia’.

The boys sing about love and teenage desires on this set of 12 songs that are sufficiently catchy, as evident by the singles ‘She Looks So Perfect’ and especially ‘Don’t Stop’, but their songs mostly seem derivative and unexceptional. No originality has been expended in the making of this record. 5 Seconds of Summer is polished pop rock with the edges smoothed off, and even if it fails to interest anyone outside their target audience, the album is sure to please their young fans who like their punk pop sans the punk.

Highlights: ‘Don’t Stop’, ‘She Looks So Perfect’, ‘Long Way Home’
Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Artist: “Weird Al” Yankovic
Album: Mandatory Fun

The world of pop music would be a lot less fun without the comedic genius of “Weird Al” Yankovic, the parodist whose humorous take on chart-topping tunes and pastiches of famous acts have been amusing us for decades. His chameleon-esque ability to imitate styles and comically interweave popular culture references into his songs is second to none, and his talent is on stunning display on his new album, Mandatory Fun.

The 12 songs on the album are divided into five parodies, five stylistic spoofs of popular acts, a parody of college football fight songs, and a delightful polka medley of recent pop hits titled ‘Now That’s What I Call Polka!’. Album opener ‘Handy’ sees Weird Al sing about his handyman skills to the tune of Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’; ‘Foil’ discusses the many uses of aluminum foil, cutting through the pretense of Lorde’s tired ‘Royals’; Imagine Dragon’s ‘Radioactive’ and Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ become ‘Inactive’ and ‘Tacky’ respectively; and while it may not be easy to pick the highlight of the album, it’s also hard to deny that ‘Word Crimes’ – which offers English grammar lessons set to the tune of Robin Thicke’s much maligned ‘Blurred Lines’ – is probably the most immediately satisfying track from the set. The album also houses pastiches of Foo Fighters, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Pixies, and Cat Stevens, each of which pays homage to the respective performers, all with an absurdist spin.

Yes, some songs are more amusing than others, and yes, some listeners are likely to find the content too silly, but overall Weird Al is in fine form throughout Mandatory Fun. It is a pleasant, enjoyable record that puts his creative energies to good use, and even gives you a chance to learn some grammar in the process!

Highlights: ‘Word Crimes’, ‘First World Problems’, ‘Sports Song’
Rating: 4 out of 5

- Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 5th August, 2014 *