By Sonya Rehman
Qayaas, the progressive-rock band from Islamabad, are bucking the trend for Pakistani rock bands by proving that their music can work in overseas markets. Founded in 2008 by lead guitarist Khurram Waqar, and currently consisting of Waqar, vocalist Umair Jaswal, bassist Shaheryar Ghayas, and drummer Kamran Farooque, Qayaas (which translates as ‘Deliberation’) first came to international attention when they beat off competition from 25 other acts to win the Best Rock Band (From Pakistan) award at the 2010 Jack Daniels Annual Rock Awards in India (held in partnership with Rolling Stone). That same year, they were the only band from Pakistan to be invited to perform at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. Unfortunately, the band didn’t make it over to the U.S., as Pakistan’s Ministry of Culture was unwilling to help out.
“I personally went and sat down with the Secretary of Culture,” says Waqar. “He just turned around and said, ‘Oh, sorry. We don’t have any funds – plus, you never went through us.’
“It’s quite sad, because the American Consulate in Pakistan has started sending local musicians to the U.S. [at the Consulate’s expense] for tours. The artists chosen to be part of this are only touring America thanks to the American government,” he continues. “Our government isn’t doing jack shit for its local musicians. In order to promote peace and harmony in Pakistan, you need to promote your culture.”
This year, the band has won a slew of international awards in Asia, and they’re currently working on their second “dual album” (with songs in English and Urdu), which they hope to release in February. Before that, they’ve lined up tours of Bahrain and India.
Both Waqar and Jaswal say they hope the English tracks will enable the band to extend their international reach still further – something that is even more crucial to the band’s future considering the state of Pakistan’s local music scene. Lack of government support for musicians (and the arts as a whole), coupled with the paucity of concerts and cultural festivals in the country, means most bands are self-financed, only sporadically releasing tracks (usually free online) and the occasional music video. And corporate sponsorship for gigs that aren’t pop or mainstream classical music is rare. The choice for most musicians in Pakistan, then, is to create commercial music, or go bust. Or – as many of them end up doing – head overseas.
Still, Jaswal remains optimistic about the state of rock music in Pakistan. “Backstage at gigs, I have more fans asking me how to scream effectively than asking for my autograph,” he says. “I see more and more upcoming local rock bands who are taking it to the next level – screaming a little, and the guitar solos go really out of the way. They’re not playing it safe.”
Rolling Stone [Middle East] & Rolling Stone [India]