Saturday, December 16, 2006

A gig at last....

There’s nothing like a live performance to lift us out of our mire and put us back to doing what we do best which is play together live. Not that it was a big event…but a satisfying one. My good friend Saad Haroon (of comedian fame) was hosting a small musical/comedy evening this past Friday for his sister Sana who’s getting married this month so he asked us and the boys from Kaavish to perform an acoustic set. It was just like the Open-Mic nights we used to do at Caffeine, with a small intimate crowd.

It was great for us to get together and jam again, although my throat still hadn’t recovered and in fact at our last jam, I was sneezing so much I had stuff my nose with tissues just to make it through the song. Since the set was acoustic, OK had originally decided to accompany us on 12-string guitar rather than drums, but unfortunately he couldn’t make it to the show. It was left to Lodhi, Yasir and I to put on a show.

The comic stylings of Danish Ali and Saad started off the show and the corwd was great, really chirpy and enthusiastic. Then Kaavish took the stage and performed 3 songs. Let me just say I was honored to share the stage with Jaffer Zaidi and Maaz because they pulled off an emotional and beautiful performance. With just Jaffer on keys and Maaz on guitar, they sang a cover of "Mad World" by Gary Jones, "Tu Hi Re" from the Bombay soundtrack and ended with their hit "Bachpan". I was mesmerized by Jaffers voice, especially on "Tu Hi Re" (one of my favorite songs). Their performance of "Bachpan" was better than I had ever heard it before. I often feel that the depressing funeral video really took away from a song that is actually quite sweet and nostalgic, and masterfully composed. Hearing it live brought out its true emotion.

Having set the scene with a mellow and emotional performance, we took the stage with explicit instructions to "shake things up a bit". And that we did. Here’s our set list

1. Do you love me? (originally by the Contours)
2. Sultanat (original)
3. Inteha ho gayee, intezar ki (Kishore)
4. Neend Aati Nahin (Junoon)
5. Message in a bottle (The Police)
6. Kiss (Prince)
7. Such (original)
8. 500 Miles (Proclaimers)

I had a blast performing with the guys again…we had the crowd singing along with our harmonies on "Do you love me" and with our blues reworking of an old Kishore song. There was a sublime moment when everybody sang along to "Neend Aati Nahin" and at the end of Kiss, where I decided to put Yasir on the spot and introduced him to the crowd, his cue to pull out a scorching darbuka solo that took Lodhi and me both by surprise. It was also good to see Lodhi back to performing and he was really enjoying himself, even warming up the audience with an impromptu performance of "Jiss kee Biwi Motee"

We missed Omar, but it was such a relief to get back to performing live after a layoff of nearly 2 and a half months. I’m sorry our fans didn’t get to see us but I promise you guys we’ll be back to performing gigs really soon and when we do, we will calmly take over the Pakistan music scene. :-)


Rant of The Week

Ok I tolerated their mind-numbingly stupid ad campaigns for a while but those fools at Mobilink have really lost the plot on their latest Indigo ads featuring Shaan, Vaneeza and ZQ. So let me get this story line straight, please correct me if I’m wrong.

First ad: Shaan is a wealthy dude who is like…all cool and shit and has the Indigo plan.
Message : Indigo will make you cool and shit. Please note indigo color.

Next ad: He has just lost his wife. So his kids get him an Indigo tie and tell him to stop being such a sop.
Message: Replace the dead mother of your children with an Indigo connection

Next ad: And then, the one that really gets my goat, Shaan goes to a swanky party where he meets Vaneeza in an indigo saree and they both admire each others taste. Then ZQ pops in for no apparent reason also wearing a purple dress and then they laugh.

Message: Indigo is the gateway to unholy threesomes.

What the hell were they thinking? The dialogue is supposed to be flirtatious but with the coy looks it looks like a freaking swingers party. Plus hello…the guy just lost his wife! You can’t even blame the actors because of the inherently stupid script. I don’t know what brand of crack those marketing ass-clowns at Mobilink were thinking. And to top it off, they hyped this ad in newspapers telling everyone to watch out for it like it was the next best thing since Dawn Parathas.. Just another case of them putting style over content, and what irks me the most is the insult to the consumers intelligence.
OK I’m done.

Days I lost count...

Sorry loyal blog readers I haven’t been updating regularly, a combination of things set me back, most notably my own health. As Lodhi’s recovery got better and better, I got worse and worse with the flu. Plus the stupid comments section on these blogger thingies is down so If you guys get a chance please leave comments on our orkut community page.

We finally got finished with Lodhi’s guitar bits, although it took us forever to get the tones right, I’m glad we spent time on it. Most guitar players have one tone or one style of playing for every song. For example, you can identify Mekaal Hassan or Salman Ahmed almost instantly by the way their guitar sounds. My approach has always been to have a variety of guitar tones to suit every song. To me it’s like using a palette to create a unique mix for each song. Thankfully Lodhi shares my ethic so on the album, you will find a variety of guitar tones and styles which should keep it pretty interesting. The only trouble is remembering each combo for when we’re playing live…

These early morning sessions had really taken a toll on me. I had no days off because we were recording Friday and Sunday morning and then I had work the rest of the week. Intensely intoxicated with cough syrup and antihistamines, I was lying on the studio couch trying desperately to say awake so I could listen to Lodhi doing his vocal takes. I knew I was hallucinating when the music started appearing to me in psychedelic colors and Yasir started appearing to me in a pink tutu. Although I wonder if that last one really was a hallucination. I didn’t want to let the boys down by appearing indifferent but I reached a point where my ears just couldn’t distinguish between sounds anymore. In the distance I heard Yasir calling out "Whaaaaaaaaat dooooooo youuuuuuuuu thiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnk". It was literally just like the movies…with elongated speech and slurred comprehension….

Lodhi was having trouble with his takes. Its tricky recording vocalists because most of them have a peak period where they start to do solid takes. Most vocalist warm up for the first 2-3 takes and peak around the 7-8 take. Anything more than 15 takes and they start to deteriorate. So there is a very small window to get it right. Plus one had to be really careful with criticism, because singing is all about confidence, and the slightest remark, even a joke or an innocuous suggestion can completely throw off a vulnerable songbird.

It’s hard not to get frustrated when we are so close to finishing our recording process. I know the mixing and mastering is the major part of it, but I really wanted to get past this milestone. It just wasn’t happening. Generally our morale was down. I was sick, Lodhi wasn’t performing at his best, Omar wasn’t around and Yasir was doing his best to pull us through with his cheery enthusiasm. This was a welcome change. Most times Yasirs’ cheery enthusiasm has inspired my cheery enthusiasm to call him names such as "ass-queen". But this time it helped to get us through.
To make matters worse, Raza fell sick too and was also reassigned to work with another party. Which left us to work with Ashfaq bhai himself. This slowed us down immensely because we had a really good understanding with Raza by now and he instinctively knew what we wanted when recording. (Plus we suspect Ashfaq bhai of using time-wasting tactics so that we have to book more shifts….bastards)

For icing on the bastard cake, after dragging myself out of bed and fighting through my morning sneezes, we found the studio locked and abandoned this Friday with Ashfaq bhai nowhere to be found. Apparently the strike froze everyone’s activity. But given that the man has his own care and lives pretty nearby, this was just too much to handle. I often try hard not to show frustration or depression in front of the other guys because then it just gets everyone down. But this was the last straw. I still haven’t been able to get to Ashfaq but when I do, I will call him an ass queen…at least.


Monday, December 04, 2006

10 Things You Might Hate About Me

Things you may not know about Omar Bilal Akhtar.

1) I have a day job as general manager of a garment factory that exports outerwear. This is commonly referred to by my friends as “smuggler saala”.

2) I am an RJ on City FM89 and I host the shows Manic Monday (Monday 7-9pm) and Musicology (Fridays 3-5p.m.). This is commonly referred to by my friends as “self-promotion saala”

3) I write music reviews and post them on the City FM89 website under The 89th sense and the pseudonym “ZOSO”. These reviews also get published in Mr. Magazine, Pink Magazine and World Music Magazine.

4) Every time someone mentions “The Lion King”, I always refer to it as “The Loin King” and laugh uproariously.

5) I love singing parodies of my bandmates’ and my songs. E.g. “Gaata Mein Chaloon” became “Khaata Mein Chaloon” and “Sheher Key Aansoo” became “Sheher key G**ndoo”

6) I once wrote a song called “Yasir! Why Don’t You Suck my B***s”. Despite its catchy chorus, Yasir was not amused.

7) I once played at a concert that no one attended.

8) I hope one day to record a bhangra album.

9) My first band was called “Caesars Dog”.

10) Caesar’s Dog consisted of Omar Haq, Bilal Habib and Omar Bilal Akhtar. That’s right, the band was Omar, Bilal and Omar Bilal.


Days 13 and 14: Noori beats us to a song title.

The weekend was a killer. To make up for last weeks no-show we scheduled morning shifts for Friday and Sunday. I have a half-day at work on Fridays so I was able to make it in the morning.

But it turned out to be an insane day. Lodhi’s approach to playing guitar is very different from mine. When I did my guitar parts, I played basic rhythm guitar first, then added a distorted guitar track if needed and then would play the solo last. I tend to work in layers where Lodhi tends to go at it in parts.

For the songs, “Dhoop” and “Ho Bhi Jahaan”, the first things he did were the little riffs and licks and solos and then he put on the clean rhythm guitar which was sparse.
On “Gaata Mein Chaloon” I was strongly pushing for him to use an acoustic to do the basic rhythm of the song but he wasn’t comfortable on it. The acoustic guitar is difficult to record because it has a highly dynamic sound that you cant control through an amp. But I personally feel that it sounds so much sweeter than the electric, it just has so much more, heart.

Eventually we used it to do the opening of “Merey Dost” (A working title for the song which we’ll now have to change because of damn Noori!) The aforementioned “Merey Dost” is turning out to be a complete monster to record. Lodhi wrote it as a fairly simple tune with a catchy and powerful melody. OK did some highly imaginative drumming on it that changed the direction of the song completely. I personally feel its his best drumming on the album. But keeping up with him on bass was maddeningly difficult, and the end result is a song longer and more complicated than the rest. The tempos keep shifting without warning making it extremely hard to dub anything over the bits that aren’t structured. Personally I feel that when people will hear this song, they will either drag us through the mud completely or they will praise us for giving something like this a shot. I just hope there isn’t indifference.

Anyway, to spice it up, we even brought a keyboard into the mix, which Yasir and I tried in vain to use properly. But our lack of preparation showed and we couldn’t use the keys to their full potential, we’ll definitely have to do our homework there. We ended up mucking around with the video game sound effects, including sirens, whistle and monkey hoots.

Yasir and me were discussing album covers. No doubt inspired my attire of a wadera style white kurta, Yasir said we should all pose in similar kurtas on the cover. He apologized as I choked him.

We also discussed how to sell out like Ali Zafar and endorse mobile phones. Here we are pretending to endorse guitar string cleaner. Advertising people please take notice. All that’s left are Lodhis vocals and some more backing vocals. We should start mixing our first couple of single pretty soon, which will be the hardest bit I anticipate. We’ll be working Friday and Sunday mornings for the next two weeks. Aaargh….sleep, sleeep, I miss sleep.

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