No Parole from Rock n’ Roll

By Sonya Rehman

Instep takes a close look at the guitar prodigy Faraz Anwar and finds out what he has in store for rock fans in 2007!

Mama, I wanna be a rock star
In grade six when most of us were scraping our knees and elbows in the playground, Faraz Anwar was dreaming of playing the guitar like his pin-up hero, Swedish guitar maestro Yngwie Malmsteen. After repeatedly watching one of Malmsteen’s videos on the tube, Faraz decided it was high time aspirations were put to action. And so he bought his first guitar.

“My mother had gotten me an eastern classical music tutor in my younger days,” Anwar says but Malmsteen had struck a chord (pun intended) deep within and it was only when Faraz was in grade nine that he met Adnan Afaq who helped him with his guitar basics. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, guitar whiz, Faraz, has been at it for almost two decades now. From playing with some of the music industry’s greatest pioneers and big-wigs such as Alamgir, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Vital Signs, Junoon and numerous (fifty) others, Faraz has grown, both as an individual and as an artist, along with the industry’s hiccups and smooth voyages.

To say that Faraz has had a lot on his platter would really be an understatement. After his session playing for various bands and musicians kicked off, he left for his very first international tour with Sajjad Ali back in ’93 and later went on to form the band, Dusk, with musician and video director, Babar Sheikh (quick recall: bassist for Ganda Banda and the 3D Cats) in 1994. But it didn’t stop there.

Magnum opus
Having received Berkeley’s ‘Outstanding Musical Achievement Award’ in 1996 for his instrumental piece ‘Chairzkuro’, the years to follow seemed promising for young Faraz. Every individual (especially an artist) needs that pat on the back – the recognition and validation for one’s work makes you want to go that extra mile, burn the midnight oil and sweat it out a bit more. The encouragement and support (especially if it comes from an outside source) almost seems to guide an individual by the hand one step closer to his apex of self-actualization. And in ’97, the band (drum roll please), Mizraab (a plectrum made by hand from a continuous strand of iron used to strike the strings of the sitar) was formed.

With their debut album Panchi (1999), the feedback that the band received was as mixed as a can of assorted nuts. While some ‘metal-heads’ showed their support by head banging to its tracks, the other, ‘pop-lot’ thought otherwise. Wrinkling their noses in disgust, a majority of them turned away. Panchi’s sales plummeted.

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Fire in the sky
In the same year (1999), Dusk, released their debut record My infinite nature alone in December via a Portugal based company by the name of Hibernia Productions. The album gave the band a foothold in the international musical arena, albeit it was more underground and semi-mainstream, as Babar Sheikh had put it in one of his interviews. Things were looking up as Dusk was the first Pakistani band to have an album released overseas. But the general public still wasn’t all that swayed. They continued ‘pooh-poohing’ whilst bobbing their heads to nonsensical pop-rip-offs.

2001 proved to be a stellar year for Anwar, regardless of Mizraab’s low popularity on the scales. This was because Faraz’s second greatest inspiration, Allan Holdsworth, lauded Faraz as a guitar prodigy in Pakistan. The icing on the cake was when Gnarly Geezer Records (Holdsworth’s very own record label) released Faraz’s first solo album, Abstract point of view.

Following the success of his solo baby, Dusk went on to release Jahilia by a Czech label known as Epidemie Records (that culminated in the band’s first international tour of fifteen performances in two straight weeks in 2005). Continuing his session playing at the same time, Mizraab collaborated once again to try their hand at another daring sequel album Mazi Haal Mustaqbil in 2004. The response this time was relatively better than Panchi. Mizraab even picked up a Lux Style Award nomination for Best Music Album. The reason as to why Panchi wasn’t given a second glance is because the genre of hardcore metal doesn’t go down well with local audiences. “We lack music education and awareness,” Faraz had stated, “Back in the day in the early ’90s when we were growing up, we didn’t have the internet or the option of various channels. Buying a fifty rupees cassette and trying to get our hands on information about music held so much value for us. It’s gotten way too easy now.”

Time will tell
Apart from Faraz’s ‘Eastern neo classical’ project with Yasir (remember the singer from their song ‘Kalawati’ featuring Begum Nawazish Ali?), he’s all set to release both an English metal album and another that follows along the lines of a pop/rock genre – internationally. With regard to Mizraab’s third album, Ujalon Main, Faraz stated, “The album’s genre is pretty much pop/rock…but a matured form of it,” he says and adds, “I really don’t know how to define it but let’s just say it has Eastern melody influences and is more technical.”

What’s interesting to note is the fact that a majority of Mizraab’s avid listeners have been somewhat disappointed by Mizraab’s first single ‘Ujalon Main’ (also the name of the third album) and believe the band to have ‘sold out’ by this thoroughly ‘commercial’ pop-rock-feel-good number. In his defense, Faraz says, “Being a musician for seventeen years now, I’ve experimented with quite a few genres of music. Just because I released a metal album doesn’t mean I’m a metal head. I mean I grew up listening to Richard Marx and Air Supply as well and I’ve composed songs like ‘Ujalon Main’ before. Besides, a musician’s true test comes when he is able to be versatile with various music genres.”
With Mizraab’s third album in the pipeline – to be released any time soon – and Faraz’s international releases, it can only get better.

Standing as one of the country’s more seasoned artistes, here’s hoping local audiences will take to album number three. Hey, as they say…third time’s a charm!

Instep, The News

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