By Sonya Rehman
The early 90s marked the beginning of a very close-knit, underground music scene in Lahore. And back then, things were far simpler – Lahore was less populated, cleaner, greener, and definitely had fewer billboards, compared to the mammoth-sized eyesores that dot the canvas of the city today.
But it was only when I turned thirteen that I happened to witness good old, underground music (primarily live covers of bands of the 70s, 80s and some original numbers) up close and personal at a cozy gig on St. Anthony High School’s rooftop.
And for a gawky teen, I assure you, it was quite a thrill.
Babar Khan and Waqas Khan – two friends who were part of a well-known underground act called ‘The Trip’ (along with Cecil Chaudry, Yousaf Para – and later, Omer Yousaf) – happened to work in the same advertising agency as my mother did.
And meeting both of them on sporadic visits to my mother’s office and/or the Art Department (where I once drew Babar a turquoise, cut-out parrot), somehow shaped the way I listened to, and understood music.
Both were awfully good-humoured, handsome and down to earth – their closeness as friends apparent.
Waqas was the shorter, slightly stockier one with his shaggy mushroom haircut; while Babar was the tall, lean fellow in Bermuda shorts, chappals, curly dark hair and the spontaneous smile.
Carving out a niche listenership by way of their EP titled; ‘Middle of Nowhere’, and their live, Floyd covers at the few gigs and concerts that were put up, The Trip had a definite cult following in Lahore.
Infact, the ‘Peace Festival’ concert (primarily Babar’s initiative) held in one of the city’s oldest, and prettiest parks (Bagh-e-Jinnah) was a collaboration between Lahore’s underground acts (‘Mindriot’, ‘Midnight Madness’, ‘Coven’ and others) in mid-April, 1995, which marked the beginning of a united, albeit short-lived, underground music scene in the city.
Short-lived because Babar died suddenly in the summer of ’97, and as painful as his demise was – live and true, underground music in Lahore slowly yet surely, dissipated.
But in his commemoration, Cecil Chaudry, along with Babar’s family, friends and peers – honoured him with a self-financed tribute concert (held on St Anthony’s rooftop), on exactly the same day that the ‘Peace Festival’ was held – twelve years ago – in April 2007.
It had been a special night, as almost every musician – young and old – had been present to honour Babar. And the best part is, each performed free of cost.
Recently, I met with Cecil Chaudry, Omer Yousaf and Tauseef Dar at Cecil’s office in Gulberg, which functions as an event management company called ‘Tamasha’.
Grabbing mugs of coffee and lighting cigarettes, a bespectacled Cecil began talking – tracing the history of a band that once was: “The Trip was originally formed in ’94, with its original line-up that comprised of Babar, myself on guitar, Waqas Khan on bass (who also wrote the lyrics) and Yousaf Para on drums. And then after six to eight months – Waqas left the band for various reasons and in February (of ’95) Omer joined us as a bassist. So that’s really the start of it – it was just the four of us. Actually Waqas and I have been childhood buddies, and it was through him that I met Babar.”
Speaking about their six-track album, did they ever consider having it released through a record label? Dressed in a white button down, black trousers, and having just arrived at Cecil’s pad from work (Pepsi), Omer replies: “There were no record labels at that time. There was EMI at that time I think,” “No there was VCI – ‘Visible Changes’”, Cecil interjects, “but there were very few local labels. I remember there was one label, which approached us while we were recording in the studio, and they wanted us to convert one of our song’s (‘Buried In The Sand’) into an Urdu number”, Cecil states smiling at this point before proceeding, “And Babar wasn’t the type to sing a song in Urdu! So we didn’t pay much heed to it, since hum apnay shauk mein music bana rehay thay.”
“Yeah it was all for fun really”, Omer says, “plus we also knew that there wasn’t a market for English music at that time – I mean literally there wasn’t in ‘95”.
“At that time we were also struggling on a different front, we were trying to get the masses aware that there’s a difference between playing live, and DAT playing.”
But DAT playing in Pakistan hasn’t really changed has it? “It has”, Cecil states thoughtfully, “To an extent, the awareness is there, but do people care…” Omer replies questioningly.
With regard to their music, did The Trip at that time have any plan (even hazy) about their future as a band, as musicians? Cecil answers: “We obviously wanted what we were doing to be recognized. But at that time jo halaat thay, they were hardly any music channels to promote musicians. And those that were, came with their own agendas of promoting the video and not the audio. Even to date I think it’s the video which is promoted more so than the song itself.”
Speaking with Omer about the ‘feel’ of the underground scene in the 90s, he says: “I think it was very true. Whatever we were doing was from the heart. We used to jam for a good four to five hours a day, and we loved doing it. I think from a motivation point of view Babar and Para played a very important role. Para had a different way of doing things – he was very direct, would practice for long hours and would push everyone as well. Babar had a different way of working; he was laid-back…he’d have a lot of ideas and would take the initiative on a lot of things. So later in the years there was never any pressure or stress, just good fun. The Peace Festival, which was Babar’s initiative, really kicked things off for us, in terms of recognition”.
And speaking of recognition, after the Peace Festival, Cecil informed me that Junaid Jamshed had written a caustic article (in these very pages) about the connotations behind Lahore’s underground band names, the scene, and how it was misleading the youth. But surprisingly, the next article (under Junaid’s, on the same page), was an interview of band-mate Rohail Hayat, who stated that his inspiration was Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin – the very same bands which fueled the inspiration of Lahore’s underground acts…that Junaid was bashing! “So they were both contradicting each other on the same page”, Cecil chuckles and says, “and the very next week – I recall four writers had written in to Instep defending us”.
And then, turning my attention towards Tauseef, and asking him what his involvement in The Trip was, he stated: “Basically I’m a playback singer and the Lollywood film, ‘Mujhey Chand Chaiaye’, was my break into the industry. Actually I didn’t join The Trip; I had joined Cecil’s event management company (Tamasha). But in 2001 there was a show, and Cecil asked me to sing. So for that concert I prepared some Pink Floyd numbers, and that was my break into The Trip.”
From playback singing to belting out Floyd numbers – how different was it for Dar? “It was a huge difference”, he says, “but the thing is, being a singer – I want to sing – in Urdu for the masses, or in English. So my passion for Urdu music was being fulfilled from the film industry, and then my passion to sing Zeppelin and Pink Floyd covers was being fulfilled with these guys. Currently, my solo album (‘Sun zara’) is ready, waiting to be released and I’m doing playback singing for a few movies.”
But coming back to the music scene in Pakistan – especially the current one – what did they make of it? Has the underground culture of the 90s totally vanished?
“It’s become very commercial”, Tauseef says, “the problem is, bands these days go straight to the studio and record music – they don’t jam together”.
“You see the whole procedure has changed now”, Cecil says, “now if you want to get your song out, you can even record it in your own house, put it out on Youtube and the net and release a small video. Personally, since now you can do everything on your own, quality gets affected. I mean in our time we didn’t even have the internet.”
“Back then if you wanted to play a certain song – you’d have to take days to figure out the chords etc, but now all you have to do is go onto the internet and you’ll find everything”, Omer says, “but in my view, there are two sides to it: one is that this is how an industry evolves over time. It’s good that now the industry’s attracting a lot of people, so probably out of those fifty bands, five would gradually move on to an international level. But the second side is that people aren’t putting as much effort in music. When you talk about a ‘band’ – that means every member sitting together and figuring out how to make a particular song. The band concept – of improving and exploring capabilities together doesn’t happen anymore.”
Omer was right – Pakistani music now in the 2000s, save a handful of promising acts, lacks that particular rawness and originality…teetering more so over the edge into monotonous plasticity.
With the changing of times – of things being so much more ‘accessible’ and faster, quality in music, no doubt is comprised upon.
To get one’s album or video out – things are far too painless, with dreams of ‘making it big’ far outweighing the dreams of producing good quality music.
And for this reason, and this reason alone, Lahore’s underground acts (such as The Trip) of the early/mid 90s are hailed – as the best period of non-conformist bands and music that was ever churned out in the life of the local, Pakistani music scene.
Instep, The News