Video rescues the rock star
Video may have killed the radio star in the US but it is redefining the music scene in Pakistan eversince the cable operators were restricted to carry indian channels. Thanks to the private channels, there has been a resurgence of local music scene. Now that the ban on indian channels is lifted, the Pakistani pop scene continues to thrive.
I am sick of bands with their obligatory national song on every CD, one track sponsored by Shahi Supari and other track by Coke. This sell-out is sickening but the greater economic opportunity is fueling a much larger pool of talent to come to the front. There is also now an alternate music scene.
And the best band to emerge on the scene is the Meekal Hasan Band (MHB). The first video was also a bit 'hat kay' to use the word of the industry (different from the norm), the most captivating aspect about MHB is the instrumentation.
The first few guitar chords and the signature flute immediately tells you that a lot of effort has gone into studio work which is so solid that the sounds resonates right through you. We get a live stage feel to the whole album. And apart from Bhangra singers, no mai-ka-lal has balls to take the risk of giving Punjabi poetry the sound of modern instrumentation. After Nusrat Fateh Ali, no one has attempted to lend music to Sufi poetry to this effect.
So to think of Meekal Hasan graduating with a music degree from Boston and paying homage to his culture with this scintillating first album on his return is something that people like I can relate to, for taking a similar plunge and trying to make it in this madness.
MHB has been to Karachi but I have missed them every time as the concerts have been low key. They also do not have these airs about them of being rock stars. There is no hype hence one does not get to hear about their concerts like mega events. They only play to audiences that pack smaller venues.
Coming back to the quality of their music, something that works in every track are the powerful vocals. So there are themes of love (1st track), prayer of mercy (to the creater) and the cost of human lives at the time of partition. Say what? Partition, hardly a theme that could be covered musically. But Amrita Preetam's 'aj aakhan waris shah noon' (let me say this to Waris Shah today) which in my opinion is the best track of the album.
I would love to see this track played on TV as a symbol of hope as India and Pakistan come closer to each other. Manmohan Singh was born in a small hamlet what is now in Pakistan. He must have witnessed first hand the chenab river becoming watery grave for thousands that were murdered in 1947, a line that evokes this imagery in the track.
So the first 4 tracks are simply magnificent back to back sufi and human themes. Two of these have got significant coverage on the music channels. (Sajan and Raba)
The 5th track seemed to be most disappointing at first. Surprising that the beautiful flute intro of the title track, Sampooran, was followed by synthesizer the sounded a bit odd. Coming after 4 tracks that were heavy on the flute, the electric sound was disappointing. The CD material was also bad. I had been unable to listen to the CD beyond the 4th track so my assessment of the 5th track was initially based on only the intro.
I was so mesmerised by the first 4 tracks that I purchased the CD a second time and made sure that all the tracks were playing. The 5th track blew me away when I gave it a listen in one-go because after the intro, the drums and guitar work (that I previously could not listen to) was amazing.
Then the haunting vocals take you to a new level. (Teray bin mohay naheen chayn)
Anyone who likes semi classical, just give this line a good listen. Especially the 'chayn' part. I feel a strong sense of elation when people can sing so well the sur is taken from arsh to farsh, what range and breadth of vocals. Truly amazing.
The last few tracks of the CD are mostly instrumental and devotional. "Ya Ali, mushkil kuhsa, mushkil kusha keejeeyay". I would hardly think that I would have the privilege of listening to someone singing and pleading as beautifully "Gar Tum Na Karo Gay To Karam Kon Karey Ga, GarTum Na Sunno Gay To Meri Kon Sunay Ga".
Local music reviewers notice bands that have slightest hint of lilting sound to their acoustic guitar and drums to be branded as Pakistani Pink Floyd. This label does great injustice to both MHB and PF. MHB has a process of its own and Pink Floyd is a concept-band. MHB has comeout with only 1 album and the Pink Floyd has a body of work that most Pakistani listeners are unaware of. To them Pink Floyd is a cliche, not a composite of their entire body of work.
So MHB needs to be appreciated for the quality of the music that they have created. Any reference to a western band when we speak of MHB would be unfair. Their debut album has now been in playing in my car for the last 1 year, no other album has achieved this milestone and after writing this much, I am sure to hit the 6th track of this album after I turn on the ignition and take the long way home :)