By Sonya Rehman
Shahzad Hameed may not have hit the big time, but his music has an integrity that is missing from mainstream number one hits.
It is quarter to four on a sweltering Saturday afternoon, and I am early. And so is Shahzad Hameed, I realize as I step into the cool, hip ambience of Lahore’s Coffee, Tea & Company. Amid the prattle and the consumption of the café’s ‘fresh baked goodness’, I wave out to Shahzad and grin.
Cordial greetings and casual introductions later I begin the interview. “My album Songs from the Nowhere Land was ready for release on the 8th of December 2005 after which my friends passed it on to their friends and thereon to their contacts”, he says adding, “not to mention the local channels’ support as well.” Was this album a big drain on his financial resources, I question Shahzad with trepidation…knowing exactly well what his response may be. “Oh it was totally self-financed,” he affirms, “You know, it really hurts to pay so much…the thriving piracy coupled with hardly any concept of paid royalties is sad.” I nod understanding perfectly well his anguish. However, for me, hearing this was nothing new. Over the past few months I’d heard the same words of distress from a majority of musicians – some old, some new, some established, some struggling desperately to ‘stay in the game’. A few had to give up entirely resorting to 9 to 5 jobs after their bills began sky-rocketing and consequently their dreams suffering an uncomfortable crash landing.
“Back in the days I played bass for five solid years. Many of us were self-taught musicians at the time and some of my friends who played brilliantly…I learnt from them and subsequently we kept teaching each other,” says Shahzad as he struggles with the straw of his chocolate milkshake, “I used to spend all my allowance on magazines and books about music,” he recalls fondly (still struggling with his straw). So how would he define his music? Was it influenced by any band(s) in particular? “I’d rather refrain from labeling my work, or anyone else’s for that matter – it dilutes the essence of the music. But yes my album has some certain classic rock elements to it. I’m a big classic rock, blues rock and Pakistani folk music fan,” he states as I look up from my notepad obviously a little surprised (in a good way) at his latter favourite. He notices and before I am able to ask him to elaborate, takes the lead and goes on to say, “I respect and love the work of Reshma, Mehdi and Pathanay Khan…now that’s music in its true form.” So would he consider introducing eastern touches to his future projects? “Definitely,” he says enthusiastically, “I’m certainly going to add eastern percussion to my upcoming songs.”
Shahzad’s music is like a socialist spray paint message sprawled across the walls of capitalism – defiant and powerful laced with the spirit rebellion. “The biggest issue for me is the disparity within the country…’the divide’. It makes me feel lost, therefore there is a lot of regression and angst in my album”, Shahzad says taking a sip from his milkshake. “Do you hear that?!” he says suddenly, motioning to one of the speaker’s in the corner of the café. I lean forward quizzically, straining my ears…the words sounded familiar but the beat didn’t quite ring a bell. “That’s a remix version of Jim Morrison’s ‘Riders on the storm'” he says laughing in bewilderment. A tacky club version of Riders on the storm! Poor old Jimmy boy must be turning in his grave right now, I think to myself, as I imagine plenty of romps shaking to the song at clubs and parties.
“Music is a mediator for change – it should make people think, question things, the system and their surroundings”, Shahzad states seriously as I continue grinning inwardly at the pop rendition of The Doors’ song. Biting my lip (to refrain from laughing again at the utter absurdity of it all) I quickly take a swig from my own milkshake and go on to ask him if his album reflects social comments and observations. “Yes,” he agrees and adds, “All my songs have a certain ‘socialist angle’ to them. I’m primarily writing protest music here and my first single ‘Fish out of Water’ is all about alienation and identity crisis.”
The response to Shahzad’s single ‘Fish out of water’ was extremely well-received. Sharp, and rhythmic, it is new age classic rock…but with a non-conformist twist. Even the video for the song (directed by Shahzad’s brother) was brilliantly executed as it captured the very essence and ‘feel’ of Shahzad’s work. And if I could adapt his album to colour, it would be wild hues of psychedelic purples, angry reds, poignant oranges and grunge greens.
‘Journey’ the seventh song featured on Shahzad’s album is hip and sounds like something from the Woodstock era – it’s subtle and continuously dips in and out of great instrumental deliverance at the same time. He sings: “At the crossroads standing/Time’s demanding/Dirty dusty trails – poke the soul like rusty nails.” And towards the end, “Now the mind can see/Manipulating destiny/Sun’s starting to set /Might even rain /Get your feet wet.” However, my favourite track on the album is ‘Vicious Circle’, a toe-tapping number that takes a jab at consumerism and the ‘plastic life’.
“A very Jimi Hendrix-ish feel,” I say out loud whilst I simultaneously jot it down onto my notepad. “Please don’t write that,” he says, “I appreciate Hendrix’s work but I don’t want to be labeled.” Five minutes later Creedence Clearwater Revival starts playing on the stereo and with a big grin he looks at me, motions to my notepad and says, “There you can put that in! Wow I love this band!” I chuckle, cut out Jimi Hendrix from my sentence (sorry Jim!) and replace it with a ‘CCR’.
Songs from the Nowhere Land boasts of great session players such as – Salman Albert, Fahd Khan, Shazi, Hassan Mir, Raheel and Shahzad Hameed himself on guitars, vocals, the harmonica and the tambourine.
“Bringing about a revolution through music at this point seems far fetched, but an ‘evolution’ is definitely more plausible,” he says. I couldn’t have agreed more.
Instep, The News