Friday, April 22, 2016

Naqsh’s global identity


In a chat with Instep, vocalist Daksh Kubba talks about the band’s musical journey and their upcoming new video for the song ‘Iltejah’

Cross-border collaborations have given Indian and Pakistani musicians a chance to merge their talents and make interesting music while transcending the barriers of nationality and helping bridge the gap between the two countries. One such Indo-Pak band came together in Canada nearly a decade ago when New Delhi-born singer Daksh Kubba teamed up with Pakistani Canadian musicians Imran Habib and Irfan Lawrence to form Naqsh in 2007. The trio released a couple of singles before unveiling their debut album Saptak in May 2015.

In a chat with Instep, the group’s vocalist talks about the band’s musical journey thus far and tells us about their upcoming new video for the song ‘Iltejah’.

Instep: How has being a “Canadian Indo-Pak” band influenced the sound of Naqsh? What flavours of Canadian, Indian, and Pakistani music have you incorporated into your sound?
Daksh Kubba:
[Each of us brought] our cultural flavours with us. Imran and Irfan brought more rock, and I used to write more romantic style ballad songs. Coming together in Canada and spending time with musicians here influenced our style of playing in subtle ways through the change in rhythm, change in mixing and mastering of the songs, and doing music videos in unique ways.

Instep: Why did you name the band Naqsh?
Imran bhai chose the name. Naqsh means “imprint” and through our music and our compositions we hope to leave a mark; even if it touches a few lives and makes them feel strongly about how we feel, [we hope] what we express connects [listeners] with us.

Instep: What inspired you to become a musician? Are there any artists you particularly look up to?
I used to sing and write before [joining Naqsh]. What got me into instruments and completed me as a musician is my good old friend Taimoor Salahuddin a.k.a. Mooroo. Thanks to him I picked up the guitar, and it got me started on the path of solo performance and joining Naqsh.

Instep: What do you bring to the music industry that sets you apart from other pop rock acts in the region?
I think we are very unique, because we have very different skill sets that we bring to Naqsh.
Irfan Bhai is an all-rounder. He plays bass and drums and instantaneously figures out chords when we’re composing; we just have to tell him what the feeling needs to be – sad, happy, angry, ‘bhayanak!’ – and he’ll play a chord for it. He also has an amazing voice and loves singing ghazals.
Imran Bhai is completely rock. Being the lead guitarist, he thinks, eats, sleeps, and breathes electric guitars. Once he is in his zone, he comes up with crazy leads. Just listen to ‘Iltejah’.
I am more about writing meaningful lyrics and composing, introducing different patterns, playing around with time signatures, and using subtle changes that people will feel when they listen to our music.

Instep: You released your debut album, Saptak, last year. How would you describe the album?
Call me biased but I love the album! The reason for that is because you cannot put a genre on the album. Every song is very different from the other, except the two that purposely were made very similar – ‘Pagli’ and ‘Musu’; yet their videos are very different. These two are “lovey dovey” songs.
‘Pagli’ is my favorite. It’s made to inspire women to pursue whatever they want to do in life. Women have it really hard in our culture and have to struggle much more than men to achieve the smallest of things, so this song is truly for them.

Instep: Why did you title the record ‘Saptak’?
Saptak signifies the seven sur in classical music, with the first and last sur being similar and the rest being different. In the same way, our album has ‘Pagli’ and ‘Musu’, which are very similar, and the rest of the songs are very different: ‘Kaka’ is a funny, jumpy song; ‘Iltejah’ a request for peace in the world; ‘Megha’ a fast monsoon song; ‘Saajna’ a slow progressive rock love song; and ‘Armaan’ a break up song.

Instep: You guys have released a handful of singles/videos. How do you select which song and video to release next? Are there any particular characteristics that make a song a good candidate for a video?
Every song we make, we really take our time with it and feel every aspect of it through the composition process. Whatever we feel the strongest about in the moment, that’s what we choose to do. At the moment our aim is to make music videos for all the songs we produce.

Instep: You will release the video for ‘Iltejah’ next. Please tell us about the song.
There are a lot of bad things happening in the world, especially in our home countries, which is very saddening. This song is just a plea to humanity to stop that, and at the very least perform an act of kindness towards someone.

Instep: What can you tell us about the ‘Iltejah’ video?
We are in talks with an amazingly talented director, Syed Noor, who also directed ‘Saajna’ for us. He has a concept ready which we can’t wait to disclose when the right time comes. We are blessed to have his artistic brain on our side.

Instep: With your Indian and Pakistani backgrounds, how do you feel about the ties between the two countries? Do you think the entertainment industry can bridge the gap between these neighbouring countries?
This is ‘the’ reason for me to be where I am with Naqsh. I truly believe music can have the influence to bridge the gap, and it already has in small amounts, us being an example. Our song ‘Iltejah’ speaks to that as well. Nothing would satisfy my soul more than bridging the gap between our two homes through our music, and that’s really the Naqsh – imprint – we want to leave.

Instep: Are you working on new music or any other projects at the moment? What can we expect from you in the coming months?
We are working on a couple of cover songs, music video for ‘Iltejah’, and a rock concert in collaboration with Decibel Entertainment which we are very excited about. It’s very similar in theme to our album launch last year. We post updates weekly on Instagram and Facebook letting everyone know what we’re up to. Leave us a note, comment, suggestion, or even any feedback you may have because we love connecting with people and we really keep that at the forefront.

- By Sameen Amer

22nd April, 2016 - Instep Today, The News *

Sunday, April 17, 2016

American Crime Story - legal juggernaut

tv series review

The People v. O. J. Simpson is a triumphant debut for American Crime Story

American Crime Story: The People v. O. J.  Simpson

Starring: Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown, Courtney B. Vance, John Travolta, Kenneth Choi, Christian Clemenson, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Bruce Greenwood, Nathan Lane, and David Schwimmer
Created by: Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski

It was the trial of the century, the legal case that gripped America in the mid ‘90s, ultimately culminating in a controversial verdict that remains contentious to this day. Now, nearly two decades later, the murder trial of Orenthal James Simpson returns to television in the form of the inaugural season of the true-crime anthology series American Crime Story.

Titled The People v. O. J. Simpson (presumably because How to Get Away with Murder was already taken), the 10-episode project chronicles the football superstar’s 1995 trial for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman, for which he was found not guilty by the jury.

The drama – which is based on legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin’s 1996 book The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson – meticulously depicts the 20-year-old events in considerable detail. After the victims’ bodies are discovered, cops – including detective Mark Fuhrman (Steven Pasquale) – descend on the scene of the gruesome crime. O. J. (Cuba Gooding Jr.) soon emerges as the prime suspect, and subsequently hires the so-called “Dream Team” of lawyers – which includes Robert Shapiro (John Travolta) and Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) as well as his friend Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) – to defend his case.

District attorney Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson), who assumes charge of the prosecution, is confident she has built a solid case against the defendant, but then watches it all unravel in court, as the defence casts doubt on the state’s evidence and discredits their witnesses. O. J.’s lawyers shrewdly play the race card, crusading against – even capitalizing on – the law enforcement and justice system’s bias against minorities.

A bizarre media circus devolves, and in the end no one comes out looking good, except maybe Robert Kardashian, who is painted here as a noble voice of reason, torn between his allegiance to his long-time friend and his grief over the mounting evidence that proves O. J.’s guilt.

With some terrific performances from an immensely talented cast – especially Paulson as the resolute but ineffective prosecutor and the outstanding Vance as the defender and civil rights activist who orchestrates O. J.’s victory – the series explores the power of prejudices and agendas while contextualizing the events in light of the country’s racial divide. The writers effectively explore the characters, digging into their circumstances and motives to create complex portraits that make the narrative all the more compelling.

The show brilliantly captures the insanity of the proceedings and will often leave you asking, “did that really happen?!” It’s shocking how often the answer to that question is “yes, it really did!” But there are a few times when the series can’t resist employing its artistic license for dramatic purposes, which leads to my only quibble (other than Travolta’s awkward, campy performance) with the otherwise impressive series. The O. J. trial is one of those cases where truth is very emphatically stranger than fiction; tinkering with reality here is completely unnecessary. The moments in which the series chooses to veer from the facts or throw nuance out the window in order to indulge its pop culture fancies (like its multiple nods to the Kardashian’s subsequent reality TV-fuelled fame) leave you constantly assessing its accuracy and unable to tell apart the fabrication from the recreation.

Still, The People v. O. J. Simpson is a triumphant debut for American Crime Story. Powered by strong acting performances, the show offers a fascinating, riveting look at the complex cloud that engulfed a murder trial and possibly derailed justice. Even though it captures events that happened nearly twenty years ago, the series feels very timely, and will resonate with viewers because the issues at its heart, such as racial inequality and police brutality, sadly still remain relevant.

-  Sameen Amer 

Instep, The News on Sunday - 17th April, 2016 *

Friday, April 01, 2016

Deadpool - great power, great irresponsibility

movie review


Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T. J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, and Stefan Kapičić
Directed by: Tim Miller
Tagline: With great power comes great irresponsibility.

The success of most films can primarily be attributed to the work of their directors, writers, cast and crew. A huge chunk of the credit for the success of Deadpool, however, goes to its marketing team. Thanks to an unrelenting, ubiquitous and usually quite amusing promotional campaign, Deadpool went from a lesser-known superhero that many of us were unfamiliar with to the protagonist of a project all of us were at least curious - if not downright excited - about.

The advertising blitz sure paid off. Within days of its release, Marvel’s latest outing - their first R-rated superhero flick (parents and younger viewers be warned) - was busy breaking box-office records, quickly turning into the year’s most profitable film (so far). With both the strength of its publicity and the enthusiastic reception by fans on its side, Deadpool is currently the must-watch movie of the moment. But is it really as good as the hype is making it seem?

The mock opening credits sure suggest so. It is charmingly, disarmingly refreshing when a movie starts by telling us that it stars “God’s Perfect Idiot” and “A Hot Chick”, features “A Gratuitous Cameo”, and has been directed by “An Overpaid Tool”. Then the loquacious protagonist comes on screen and quickly wins you over with his Smart Alec-y ways. But after that we get to the actual plot, and that’s where things start to fizzle.

Set in the X-Men universe, the film tells the story of Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), a mercenary who has already adopted the impish Deadpool alter ego when the movie begins. In flashbacks, we find out how the former special forces operative met and fell for escort Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), but their chance for a happily ever after is cut short when he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Wilson reluctantly decides to participate in a secret experimental programme - led by antagonist Ajax (Ed Skrein) - to cure the disease, only to find himself being tortured for days to awaken his latent mutant genes. The gruelling procedure helps him develop super healing powers, but also leaves him severely disfigured and unable to return to his lady love, thereby sending him on a quest to find the man responsible for his predicament so that he can reverse the damage to his appearance.

It suits the character’s sensibilities that Deadpool isn’t on a superhero quest to save the world but on a mission to gain what he lost and exact some revenge. The plot line, however, reveals a fairly conventional origin story, and there isn’t anything particularly remarkable about it. It isn’t a very elaborate or even a particularly interesting mission.

With a relentless stream of quips and barbs, Deadpool’s wise guy routine, too, starts to get a little tiring after a while, and the film’s overly violent incline is definitely not for the squeamish. While Deadpool is distinctive enough to stand out in the current sea of PG-13 superhero flicks, its non-stop juvenile humour ends up feeling a bit forced. The constant raunchy, foul-mouthed wisecracking makes it seem like the film is trying too hard to be funny and please its audience. The jokes work best when the movie uses meta humour; the self-referencing, fourth wall breaking antics are perhaps the most amusing moments that the script has to offer.

On the whole, Deadpool is a fun outing that targets viewers who enjoy in-jokes and irreverent humour, but because of a formulaic, predictable storyline the project is ultimately not quite as remarkable as its success suggests.

- Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 1st April, 2016 *