Sunday, October 25, 2015

In conversation with Farhad Humayun


Between touring with his band Overload, recording new music, endorsing brands and working on a web music platform, Farhad Humayun certainly appears to be having a busy year. Instep talks to the drummer-turned-singer to find out what he’s been up to and what we can expect from him in the coming months.

Instep: Tell us about Overload’s recent trip to the UK.
Farhad Humayun:
It was a fantastic little tour. The crowd was such an eclectic mix of people from all over the world. They didn’t care about the language we sang in. They just picked up the good vibes from the music. We sang at BBC Lancashire on live radio and when we began, the entire six storey office came down to the studio to see what this crazy band from Lahore was doing. It was great fun.

Instep: You also have another UK tour coming up. What makes the United Kingdom such an attractive tour spot for artists?
We played our first UK gig as Overload only this year. I guess there’s a time for everything and it’s all coming together for us. We have three winter gigs lined up in London, Manchester, and Glasgow.

Instep: Any shows planned for Pakistan?
Not too many honestly. It seems music, at best, makes for television or internet programming. If the government can’t ensure that people will be safe in public places, then families or individuals won’t risk coming out, and consequently sponsors aren’t interested in paying for something so risky.
We end up playing corporate gigs or conducting team building workshops for corporations through drumming, but that hardly gives us an audience to which we can give an audio visual experience, which is what a band is supposed to do. Even institutions aren’t hosting many shows since the Peshawar attack last year.

Instep: Overload is also planning to release a new song/video soon. What can you tell us about it?
It’ll come out after Muharram and it’s going to be a rhythmic and up tempo Urdu song.

Instep: You are also planning to release ‘Give In’ – Overload’s first English release. What can you tell us about it?
I wrote an autobiographical song in English, which talks about the last five years of my life. It’s about losing hope, losing worldly things and relationships, and gaining it all back by continuing to aspire and be inspired by the good energy in the world. It’s about surrendering and giving in to the cycle of life. I was planning to release a video, which we’ve already shot, but I’m waiting to release it with a collection of songs I’m writing. We played the song in the UK and people loved it.

Instep: Why have you not released any English songs before?  Where do you feel English songs by Pakistani artists stand, both locally and internationally?
I’ve done many covers by some of my favourite bands, like Whitesnake and Aerosmith, in the past. Even though I believe the public shouldn’t dictate your creativity, I think I might waste an English song by releasing it just yet. Since it’s going to be an internet release, it’ll be available to the whole world, so I think it should be in a collection of songs that go together so the world has a variety to get a real taste of the English songs a Pakistani artist writes.
I think usually when Pakistani artists write and record English songs, they’re amateurish. The best you can say is “nice try”, but music in the West is governed by a different set of aesthetics. So you have to have grown up with music from the West and also read and think in English. However, Sajid and Zeeshan had some great songs, and Poor Rich Boy write some odd and interesting things. If done and released right, it could all have a great impression in Europe and the U.S.

Instep: What do you make of the current state of the music scene in and across Pakistan?
I don’t think it’s improving at all. In fact it’s growing worse. There’s no financial, legal, or managerial support for young artists. I think the major fault is of the musicians themselves. They don’t produce or release music frequently. Every artist wants someone to do their work for them. They can’t get organized or wake up early in the day and treat their band like a company.
Corporate shows try to convince you that the scene is improving, but such shows are made to sell their own brand more and further their interest. And don’t get me wrong – it’s fine. They do great publicity for artists who appear on their shows, but after the season of those shows has ended, there isn’t much that an artist can do. So they either end up becoming TV or film actors or start producing jingles or get into production, and if that makes them money or gets them fame, that’s their choice. It’s not wrong and I’m nobody to comment on their preferences, but that’s the state of music in Pakistan at the moment.

Instep: Are you working on any film-related projects?
No, none at the moment. I’m only writing and recording my personal music, but it’s great to see that film is on the rise. It’s on the rise because cinemas are being made all over the country after a long ban in Zia’s time. Also, the fact that the cinema business is tax free helps.

Instep: How do you feel about the issues surrounding the airing and ban of Indian movies – like Phantom – in Pakistan? Where do you stand on the Shaan-Mawra episode?
I don’t care about Phantom or the Indian cinema and I have no opinion on any arguments between actors. I wish them all the best!
All I have to say is that people in Pakistan need to look within themselves and spend more time in producing world class material that stands apart from all the other content out there in the world. I think social media as well as TV are being used more as a tool for nuisance than to actually serve as means for connecting people. We all need to act responsibly and let our work speak for itself.

Instep: You recently signed a three year endorsement deal with the British company Liberty Drums. You also endorse Samsung. How important are such endorsements for artists and what, in your opinion, is their impact on the music industry?
I played eight concerts with Overload in the UK in May, the biggest one being at the Alchemy Festival Southbank London, and some representatives of Liberty Drums were there to watch the show. Three songs into the show, they contacted my PR, saying they wanted to offer an endorsement deal. Such deals are based on the crowd turnout and its response to an artist and of course the quality of music he plays. I guess I fit the bill well. It goes to show that musicians from Pakistan stand up to any of the big artists out in the West or the East. We have our own unique style and it really clicks.
I do have an association with Samsung since January 2015. I did two television commercials and audio campaigns for them. I owe a lot of it to the success of my song ‘Nimmi Nimmi’ and the long standing cult following of Overload because there’s no band in the world playing our style of music.
I usually don’t do endorsements or ads because usually when a brand pays you to do a job it tends to interfere with your creativity and image. But with Samsung I have all the freedom and liberty to do what I want and do it my way. They chose me as an ambassador for who I am and for being a musician, music producer, and video artist. If a brand gives you that liberty and pays you enough so that you can invest that money to further your music, then it’s a win-win situation.
Endorsements like these actually push musicians to work harder and maintain their mettle.

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 25th October, 2015 *

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