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Rambling on: Video rescues the rock star

Thursday, July 01, 2004

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 :)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Deevaan, thanks for the review. the band looks really interesting and I just ordered the cd from their website. I look forward to hearing them.

10:38 PM  
Blogger Chanad said...

Hmmm... they are quite an interesting band, and very talented, but it doesn't seem to go together. I mean it's just the same kaafis sung again with some MH's guitar solos in between each verse. Yes, his solos are amazing, but the entire song is mediocre. I'd rather here the same kaafis performed in the traditional style by Abida Parveen, or Pathanay Khan or someone.

And to be quite honest, I think even Junoon did a better job of rendering Sufi poetry in a modern style. Sure, Ali Azmat is nowhere near as talented as MHB's singer, but the total package of each song better captures the spirit of the Sufi verses being sung, I believe. Salman Ahmed's guitar solos seem to complement the singing,... whereas MH's solos seem to be completely separate from the singing.

That said, I loved the video to "Rabba Meray Haal". The production of the video was not too good, but the central theme was great. It illustrated very well the meaning of the Kaafi.

2:39 AM  
Blogger Deevaan said...

Chan'ad - We are looking at MHB differently as far as stylistic point of view is concerned. I look at MHB from popular Jazz point of view. The audience is a bit different for music where emphasis is on instrumentation. I enjoy the instrumentation between the vocals whereas you are looking at it as vocals that have a bit of instrumentation in between.

I am glad you mentioned Pathanay Khan and I wholeheartedly agree that this is the purest form of kafi. I am sad to see what Abida Parveen has turned it. I have followed her career from the early late 70's when she crooned. Now she just blasts her vocals. Not my type of music because the words "Ali Mola" need to be uttered with devotional softness not the way she bawls these days.

I have not enjoyed Junoon because I have listened to a lot of western classic rock and their guitar riffs seem too familiar to be considered original. Maybe because this band itself may have listened to a lot of classic rock itself. I also think that rock with its signature hard impact is not suited to Sufi message but that is my personal opinion.

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MHB is kinda band i'am looking for.they are simply super.KUDOS to flute guy.i'am from (Hyderabad)INDIA; i'am following this sufi music from maestro Nusrat Fateh ALi Khan which are popular around the world.I just want to know where can i find the Original MHB CD in INDIA.finally Go MHB GO; u guys are here to stay for loooooooong.

7:57 PM  
Blogger Deevaan said...

check my blog later today (sept 10 '04) for details

11:43 AM  

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