By Sonya Rehman
Meeting Shahzad Hameed recently (precisely two days ago), after over a year, I noticed that he seemed slightly different.
For one, he was happier and not as bitter about local record companies and their piddling ‘deals’ – and secondly, because of this, he appeared far more self-assured.
Recently after a long, four-year hiatus of making and mastering his album, Shahzad went ahead and self-released ‘Songs from the Nowhere Land’, this year, barely a week ago, along with his latest music video, ‘Fear’ (from the album), released on whatever’s left of local television (!)
“There have been a lot of delays and limitations – most of all the financial limitations which have been really taxing”, Shahzad says, speaking about the repeated holdups that hindered his album from being ready sooner.
But what was the deal with the local record companies after the album was ready for release? “Last year I was visited Karachi, for this award show – because my song, ‘Fish out of water’ had been nominated – I met with one of the main people behind EMI in Pakistan and he was kind enough to hear my album and have a meeting with me. But business-wise he’d said it wasn’t a good idea for EMI to release an album such as mine.”
But why? “Because he said that it wasn’t really viable to take me on as a signed artist, since there had to be a higher chance of having greater sales – or a profit situation. But he supported me nonetheless.”
Ripe with social commentary, ‘Songs from the Nowehere Land’ is an honest take on the system. Edged with angst, Shahzad’s album is classic 70s rock – a genre almost alien to the local music scene.
No wonder then, the musician’s struggle to strike a lucrative record deal at home.
“Another record company really liked the album”, Shahzad states, “but when I received the contract, it really wasn’t what I was expecting – I mean I didn’t have high expectations that I’d be paid in lakhs or anything, but I only expected funding for a video, the buzz to be created by the label (the promotional activities) as well as concert deals – which are a lifeline for musicians. But in that contract I wasn’t getting any money, only distribution of my album within Pakistan. And the other thing which struck me was; they’d have the ownership of my music locally. So I declined the contract because I didn’t think it was in any way supportive enough of me, I could’ve easily done the distribution on my own. And besides I’ve seen many of my friends suffer through these deals when their CD’s haven’t been distributed properly”.
Flipping open one of his CD’s (which he’s brought along), he says: “Self-releasing your own album is really easy”, and as he flips it open, he continues: “this album is a complete DIY effort. I got the printing for my CD’s booklet from this place in Lahore called Nisbat Road, and each CD cost me a mere seven rupees, and the cases (from Hall Road) were just eight bucks a piece. So anyone can do it from home. My total cost per CD was twenty-eight rupees. That’s my message for any new bands out there who are hoping to get their stuff out solely on their own, if no record company is willing to sign them on”.
Throughout the interview, Shahzad remains adamant on one fact, that his album’s self-release was a “reaction” to the local industry.
“I had no other choice,” he says, “I had to make my statement”.
Since his act was a sign of defiance and now that he’s finally done it on his own – what are his sentiments? Shahzad smiles and says; “It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders”.
But is he worried about the next step now, about sustaining as a musician? “I’ve thought about it, it’s not over now. The next step is probably outside Pakistan. I’ll be mailing my album to record houses abroad.”
And his current music video for ‘Fear’, what’s the theme like? “The song and video for ‘Fear’ is about whatever the listener/watcher perceives it to be – but the way I see it – it’s about fear being the tool to abuse an individual’s rights and oppression. It’s not a new concept as it’s been done before, but it’s a song about fear affecting the human mind on many different levels.”
In addition to Shahzad’s album being available in various music stores (in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad), ‘Songs from the Nowhere Land’ is also due to be uploaded on his website soon.
It’s unfortunate that local record houses have managed to rub a majority of musicians the wrong way by not providing their clients better deals, and more lucrative, sustaining offers.
Is manufactured, pop music really where the money is? Who knows – but when brilliant artists such as Shahzad Hameed, decide to jump the DIY bandwagon, that’s something to be scared about. Why? Because when other genres – such as grunge and good old classic rock aren’t given room to breathe locally, what happens?
It results in a preponderance of pop yahoo acts, a lack of genres, mediocrity and sadder still, a gulf of diversity within the local, Pakistani music scene. And that simply isn’t kosher for growth.
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