By Sonya Rehman
I meet him at Masoom’s – the café/bakery in Gulberg, in Lahore. It’s vacant, save for a few students engaged in light banter. He’s dressed in a black t-shirt and jeans, and has a blue-black keffiyeh wrapped around his neck. The weather’s warm, but his keffiyeh looks nice.
Sameer Rashid Shami, with his goatee, and easy smile, has been playing bass for Atif Aslam since December 2003.
It all happened by fluke really, Shami wasn’t planning on becoming a full-fledged musician – he was engaged in other things.
For instance, getting through his undergrad program at the National College of Arts (NCA) where he was studying printmaking.
Playing his first guitar, ‘Michelle’ (named after the Beatle’s number), who he’d bought off his English teacher in school, Shami jammed with his classmates for a band called ‘Seeen’ during his A’Levels, and then, with ‘Black Eye’ at NCA.
But by then, Shami had dumped his second-hand, acoustic ‘Michelle’ and graduated onto a sleeker, newer guitar.
Shami’s introduction to Atif Aslam happened one day when drummer, Farhad Humayun, rang Shami and asked him if he’d be interested in earning some quick cash by playing for “this new boy called Atif Aslam.”
It was around that time that Gohar Mumtaz had bid farewell to Aslam and their band, ‘Jal’, just a few days after Shami’s arrival onto the scene.
Fast forward six months into Shami’s joining forces with Aslam, and he’d performed at twenty shows with the singer. For Shami, a career in music was beginning to look lucrative.
From touring on a national and international level with Aslam and the other band members, Shami has been extremely consistent by sticking it out with one band rather than hopping from group to group. And it’s a good thing, because this year, Atif Aslam, Sarmad Ghafoor and Shami had the opportunity to collaborate with a few ex-Guns N’ Roses musicians; Lanny Cordolla, Gilby Clarke and Matt Sorum.
The collaboration came as a result of Todd Shea, an American aid worker who’d come to Pakistan in 2005 after the earthquake. A musician himself, Shea, under his ‘Sonic Peacemakers’ project, is hoping to put American and Pakistani musicians together, in a “non-government and non-political way,” as Shami tells me.
The collaboration came about rather unexpectedly this year in July, when Aslam and his band members were on tour in the US.
“There was a lot of buzz between Sarmad and Atif,” Shami says with a smile on his face, “They weren’t telling me and I was getting really annoyed! These guys were constantly getting phone calls and I was like, what’s going on?”
Then one day Shami saw Aslam on the phone. The singer was excited and really worked up. “I asked Atif what happened and to calm down. Atif then looks at me and says; ‘You’re telling me to calm down? That was Lanny Cordolla on the phone – we’ve been trying to put together a recording and a jam with Guns N’ Roses!’” Shami chuckles.
Soon after, Cordolla drove down to LA (where the boys were performing), jammed with them at their concert and then took them to the studio, which is apparently Snoop Dogg’s favourite recording studio.
Jamming a couple of songs with Cordolla, Clarke and Gilby, of which one of them is a song in English that features Aslam’s vocals, called ‘Hand in hand’ and another, called ‘The dreamer awakes’, Shami says that the experience of jamming with the guys was unbelievable.
Comically narrated by Shami during the interview, he tells me how Cordolla asked Shami to play Sorum’s acoustic guitar during the jam session. Shami had been psyched.
While Shami sips his mango juice and while I get dripped on by the leaky air-conditioner on the wall above us, Shami explains to me how exhausting and non-glamorous touring can be.
“For example,” he says, “We’d be in New York on Friday, in Dallas on Saturday and in Toronto on Sunday. Our luggage goes straight to the hotel while we go to the venue.”
He takes another sip and says half-jokingly; “But my luggage has stayed in some really nice hotels.”