I once was a journalist. Studying in Delhi (1994-99), it was one of the earliest potshots at a career. Writing in college for a newspaper also meant having arrived in one’s meager opinion. So, I wrote a couple of articles for The Statesman for their college beat; one on the relevance of Gandhi and 2nd and final one on the ‘never-changing’ English Literature syllabus of Delhi University. The syllabus was eventually corrected, reflecting 20th and 21st century literary trends and developments, after some 35 odd years!
After that I landed in Mumbai. Tried to make a short film, failed and then the imperatives of survival seduced me once again…to journalism. Dotcom was the buzzword in 1999-2000 and a million start-ups took birth. I joined Dhadkan.com.
It was a place of 4 people. Sidharth (Taparia) owned it. There was Sarika who wrote on Indian classical music and Ghazals. I covered Hindi films and Indi Pop, Purshottam was the techie and Santosh was the peon. Sarika left to be replaced by someone whose name I forget. Later on we had Koshy and Prashant as the graphics guys and a couple of data entry operators. I was a part of Dhadkan from Jan 2000 to March 2001.
In it’s early days we used to have a small office at Fort; it was behind the Handloom House/Bori Masjid. I used to travel from Versova village in Andheri (w) to the station and then catch the local train to Churchgate. Get off and then walk to the office buying a vada pav along the way.
My job was to review new and old Hindi film music and the recent upstart - Indi Pop. During this time I also met or spoke to a number of the old timers, for interviews. Some of them were memorable.
I quit Dhadkan and it too shut down after another year or so. Its search doesn’t yield any results. All my work, I thought, had disappeared. Recently, I discovered to great happiness, some features, interviews and reviews that I had done for Dhadkan.
I have decided to upload some of the interviews so that everybody can read them, again and I don’t lose them. Hope nobody has a problem.
Strings still reverberate in the ears of the early 90’s generation. The Pakistani band made a remarkable entry in the still nascent Pop scenario with the help of a single song ‘Sar Kiye Ye Pahar’. Inexplicably they took an eight-year break before the studios beckoned them once more.
With the release of Duur (Distant), their Indian debut, the duo of Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia has arrived. At the right place at the right time. With the slow decline of Bhangra and an ambiguous genre called ‘Hindi Rock’ trying to survive, Duur is the proverbial ‘knight in shining armour’. Seamlessly assimilating the western structure with sub-continental lyrics it stands sure, independent and most importantly - INDIVIDUAL.
The answers are given both by Bilal and Faisal, mostly Faisal.
Q. I liked your video. What’s the format?
A. Thanks. It was shot in DG – beta.
Q. And who is the director?
A. It’s our friend Jami. We shot the video in the deserts of Baluchistan. The place is called Gwadar. Close to the Iran border and the cleanest seas that one would ever see.
Q. Where was the album recorded? Excellent recording.
A. Entirely in Pakistan. Most of the people who worked were our friends. Jami is a student of film and mass media. We also knew the others.
Q. What is the pop scene in Pakistan?
A. Very good. The college circuit is brimming with bands. Unlike India where films exert so much influence, Pakistan doesn’t have much of a film industry. Indi – Pop is the only big entertainment market there. It has a huge following and there are some very good bands there.
Q. What have been your musical influences?
A. So many. Both of us (previously we were four in number) have a varied background. Indian Classical has played an important part in our upbringing. Ustad Amir Khan is my favourite. Then the Hindi film songs have had such an important influence on everybody in Pakistan. We were brought up on them. Plus western music with their styles and attitude, so it’s been a very collective influence.
Q. Why did you take so long to release this album? ‘Sar Kiye’ was a famous song when I was in the 11th or 12th?
A. That was in 1992. It gave us a huge fan – following, success and fame. We were big then all across south – east Asia. Then we had to settle down personally and gradually everyone got busy during this period. We however were doing music, but not commercially or to release an album.
Finally we got together again one and a half years or two years back and started working together. Now we were just two. It was never our intention of making it a eight year break, but that’s how it happened.
Q. Would you compose for Hindi films given an opportunity?
A. Oh yes! We are big fans of Hindi film music and have grown up on a staple diet of it, so it would be exciting to compose for any Hindi film.
Q. How would you define the music of Strings? What is its USP?
A. We can’t say much about our music, it’s difficult to be objective. But we have a distinct style that doesn’t sound imitative. Its touches you, at least us, because it is straight from the heart. The melody, instrumentation, and lyrics they are all of a certain kind, mood that appeals to everybody across genres. Not just the romantic sort, boy – meets - girl type of crowd.
Q. What are your views on remixes. Do you want to do them?
A. Personally we don’t favour remixes. Most of the attempts are to just cash in on the existing popularity of the song. Over a period of time, a beautiful song might get completely corrupted and the original will be forgotten. We stay away from it.
Q. O.K. then given a chance what would be the one song that you would like to remix?
A. Faisal: Very difficult to say. (Thinks for a long time, confabulate amongst ourselves) The song from Guide, S. D. Burman’s ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ by Mohd. Rafi. That would be the one song I would like to remix.
Bilal: (Again a lot of talk amongst ourselves to find the name of the song) Another S. D. Burman song. The last song from Abhimaan ‘Tere Mere Milan Ki Yeh Raina’ is my choice.
Q. How did you get the Magnasound deal?
A. We recorded the album and the music video was made we approached the music companies with the album.
Q. And you were accepted without any censorship in the form of creative inputs from the audio companies?
A. That’s the reason we don’t sign contracts and then work under its binding. From the very beginning we have recorded the album first and then approached the record companies. The reaction of our college audiences and fans to songs makes them aware of what is good and is being appreciated, so we know where we are going.
Q. Do you think the otherwise you would have had to face some bother?
A. Of course, that’s inevitable. Everybody has his or her own idea of what will work and what will not. This is the only way we can work and it’s working.
Q. How did you hone on Magnasound?
A. They had the reputation of bringing new artistes and some of the most successful Indi – Pop artistes have come from their rooster, so they were the natural option for us.
Q. What was the reaction in Pakistan when Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan collaborated so extensively with western music, the remixes with Michael Brook, Pearl Jam and other such artsites?
A. There was not a hue and cry about it. People appreciated his hand in popularizing the Qawwal in the western world. Sufism became popular and a whole new audience grew accustomed to the wonderful music he produced. Even his serious Qawwalis grew in audience across the world.
Q. Who among the Pakistani bands do you consider closest to the roots of Pakistani music?
A. Junoon according to us is the closest in that aspect. They use lyrics that are more of Pakistan, like that of Bulle Shah and other Sufi saints. They incorporate more such elements local to Pakistan than most other bands.
Q. How have you grown in these many years?
A. First and foremost and which I think is the most important is song – writing. When we were young we used to write almost anything as long as that sounded good to us. As we grew we became more cautious of it. Then my father, Anwar Maqsood was given the responsibility of writing the songs as we thought we would not be able to do justice to it.
Q. He writes just for you?
A. He is an acclaimed playwright in Pakistan and has been writing for a long time. He has penned all but one song in the album so he plays an immense role in our music.
Q. Do you think that as the aesthetic of music has changed, now we see music instead of listening to it, the music video has damaged the song in itself?
A. Frankly I don’t like the music videos that are being made in India. Jami’s video for ‘Duur’ doesn’t have a story line. The music videos have their own story, and most of the time they are tangential to the song. They have no link with each other and that in my view makes you lose concentration. ‘Duur’ has a mood that is typical of the song and the video too is like that without a narrative or plot.
Q. Are you working on your next album?
A. Yes, we are.
Q. Not eight years this time?
A. No, not this time.
Interviewed at the Magnasound offices by Srikant Malladi circa 2000-01