Sunday, August 21, 2011

Meeting Zeb and Haniya, A perfect blissful experience

Ever since I came to know about Zeb and Haniya through an accidental search on the Google, I have come to fall in love with this cousin duo. Actually I was searching for Shafqat Amanat’s album and then came to know about a certain Zeb and Haniya who have made a superb album the same year. A little more YouTube search and I finally came across their Aitebar video and Chal diyay. Slowly, the intoxication grew more and somehow I got links to all their tracks. Then there was a continuous week I was listening to the whole album again and again. After years, I found some music which I can become obsessed with. Then suddenly through more Googling, came to know about Coke Studio. After listening to the CS version of “Paimona”, I officially became a Zeb and Haniya devotee. From that point in the year 2009, I followed them on their Facebook page (then it had some 6-7 thousand members, today it has 1.15 lacs !!)

My comments and words attracted their attention several times and they were nice enough to comment reply back thus establishing a communication between (which many stars and celebrities carefully avoid). From day one, Z&N were always keen on having a direct contact with their fans. I had some memorable commenting and counter-commenting with the duo on FB (but I really don’t know whose there on their FB page ? Was it Zeb or was it Haniya?)

I had always wished Zeb and Haniya to come to India and feel at home, expand their fan base in this country and establish themselves at par with the local talent that we have got here. India is living through a dark age of pop/independent music. Although there is no dearth of bands as such but the monstrous Bollywood has blocked all avenues of communication for them to prosper. Moreover it has successfully alienated the masses from the concept of band-music, something that we had very fresh and live during the 90’s. The situation is just the reverse in Pakistan, bands and fresh acts are flourishing. Indeed unstable political condition has deterred the growth of such bands in Pak but due the rise of internet and media, bands have gained huge visibility. Pakistani youth of today have developed a fine aptitude towards listening and appreciating band-based indie music which is not the case with contemporary Indian youth [on a mass scale] who would not accept any song if it’s not from a film or has stars dancing in it or lacks gimmickry and show off. This is what I think. Hence I always thought, that popularizing Pakistani acts can really improve the musical taste of the Indian youngsters and that’s why bringing acts like Zeb and Haniya, Mekaal Hassan Band, Noori, Areib Azhar is anything but compulsory apart from encouraging the local artists who are struggling to break free from the toxic cyst of Bollywood music.

I had been dying to meet Z&H since two years. They promised a Blue Frog concert during January, 2009. I kept waiting for it and Jan, Feb, March all passed, they didn’t (couldn’t) come. I was saddened . While facebooking continued, I came to know that they would come this year in August. I was determined that I WILL MEET THEM ANYHOW this time. And thank god it did happened. Zeb and Haniya were so kind that they appeared in a fan meetup-tweetup during the last day of their tour(maybe they had my case in mind) which was organized by Only Much Louder under their Dewarists project. (have no idea what Dewarists mean, something to do with wall?)

The meetup was organized at Zenzi,Bandra. For those who regularly travel to Mumbai, they know what hell does break in Mumbai’s streets. I couldn’t afford to bunk my classes so I left at 4:30 and ran for Mumbai. On the way, God presented me with every kind of difficulty and obstacle. I couldn’t find an auto, had to catch a Sumo(Tata) paying double fees because otherwise I was getting late, there was tremendous traffic jam at Pune itself, Mumbai welcomed us with its suffocating traffic jam, I lost my wallet with ATM, driving license and collage id card,………..what worse can one expect. Really I felt, God was taking a test of my desperation.

Photo Credit: Naman Saraiya
Find many more photos of this event on Naman's Flickr stream

Photo Credit: Naman Saraiya
Find many more photos of this event on Naman's Flickr stream

After crossing all the hurdles I could finally reach the Zenzi bar at 10:30. By that time, their performance was over and there was nothing but a whole lotta guys/girls from the celebrity circuit. The faces which I could immediately identify were Cyrus Sahukar (MTV Vj), Neha Dhupia, Konkona Sen Sarma (Actresses), Shantanu Moitra (music director of Parineeta), Dhruv Jagasia (manager of Indian Ocean and Mediaval Punditz).
I quietly went up to the guard and asked if the Z&H thingy was happening or not and the answer was “it’s done”. So was there, poor “I”, after surviving through such a huge ordeal, I could not meet Z&H. I just stepped back into a corner. I was finding myself highly isolated in that environment. There was a crowd of Mumbai’s rich elites from the celebrity circuit, all dressed up and make-uped well , and there was me, a vada-pao guy who whose middle class sensibilities would never even allow him to step into that place. After a full day’s travel I knew I was looking like a “Salam Bombay” star. I had no time to shave and my dress too was very soiled as well. I was being repelled from that environment, I have no entry card. What to do? After a bit of thinking I finally approached Cyrus Sahukar and asked him if Zeb and Haniya have left or not. He said that they might be inside. OK! So I made no delay went into the bar and straight to the washroom. Took out the “Fabindia” long-kurta which I bought the previous day. Long Kurtas are really nice and safe since they cover most of your body leaving no scope for the style polices to detect disgraceful seams in pants, belts and all. But my face was greasy like a frying pan and no shaving. I know you’d say that I am too much self conscious, but then that is how I am.

After a bit searching I could see Haniya having a drink at the corner. I went up to her and introduced myself, the immediate reaction was a buddy hug. Here was me who just said “Hi” to a billboard celebrity in Pakistan and received a hug, what can be more blushing than this. She went in and called me up to meet Zeb. Both of them were really sweet and said that they felt very nice that I had come to meet them. Z&H introduced me to Obeid Bangash, Zeb’s brother and Z&H’s manager. They told that they follow my activity on FB and all. Obeid took one pic of me, Zeb and Haniya. Then I had a talk with both Zeb and Haniya. We had only a few minutes of conversation. I asked them I they would like to come to Pune. Zeb said that she’s is excited to come to Pune since Pune has a good reputation for its underground scene. They will be coming back to India during November-December. I am trying to put my resources so that such a Pune meetup/concert can be organized. How many Puneittes are interested?

The best moment of the meet up was when I gifted Z&H a CD of their own album. What? What’s special in that. Ha ha, I know that’s what you’d think. But this CD is a special one. This CD contained 15 of their greatest hits and the album cover plus the cd sticker had everything written in Hindi. I just collected their pics from the net and created a CD cover/ album artwork with Indian touch. Zeb is trying to learn to read the devanagari script and she looked into each letter of her name, trying hard to read them. You can see the CD in the pics below.

There were a few moments of pure blush. Zeb once told that she’d like to get the CD signed by me. During our conversation I told that how I have clung to Pakistani music and my consistent (over) activity on Facebook in favor of the Pakistani music scene has drawn a good amount of goodwill from Pakistanis, even the Facebook friendship of Jal’s manager. Zeb told me that even Mekaal Hassan knows me (FB-wise) and all. I was on the seventh heaven but at the same time I am completely puzzled too. Haniya asked me to come to Pakistan and they’d introduce me with Noori and MHB and likes. Having gained so many Pakistani friends on facebook, I feel like visiting Pakistan more than ever.

At last they had to leave after posing for the last shot on my camera. The meeting was very pleasant short but pleasant one and I hope this small meet up would cascade into more productive results.
A few people who must be thanked.
Vijay Nayar and the whole OML team for formulating such a nice concept and actually materializing my 2 year old dream to meet the duo.
Arjun S Ravi aka @paperslut (on twitter) for putting me up in guest list.
My co-passenger on the Tata Sumo who lent me some bucks after I lost my wallet. I could reach back home only for you. As we parted, I gave him a Zeb and Haniya CD.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

My experience at Coke Studio @ MTV

What a lucky guy I had been! The last week was full of awesomeness since I got the opportunity to witness a revolution. A revolution that is soon going to change the face of music and the way we listen to it (at least that’s what I hope for). Coke Studio has garnered immense popularity in Pakistan, and despite not being aired in India, its spill over popularity in India has taken a huge shape. So much so, that now some music enthusiasts have teamed up to produce the same show in India. Yes, an Indian Coke Studio featuring Indian Talents and singers from diverse backgrounds. The aim of the show is to delve into the deep ocean of Indian music and dig out the shining pearls of folk, indie and popular music rehashed with modern music production and present it to the much deserving Indian audience, many of whom had been silently praying for the existence of such a show, ever since they had been watching the Pakistani version on the net.

Just remember, how much had we cursed the music industry of our country, how much had we cursed Bollywood and how much have we cursed Munni, Sheila and their masters for not allowing a music scene to develop in this country that would bring a show like Coke Studio to life. But fortunately, the end of all that bashing and trashing has come and Coke Studio in India is a reality. And yes, I myself in flesh and bones had the rare chance to watch that reality unfold in front of my eyes.

In India, Coke Studio will be known as Coke Studio @ MTV. Why not Coke Studio India?-some would argue. I think that the reason behind not keeping it Coke Studio India is that, in none of the countries where it has taken place (Brazil, Pakistan, India and Philippines), it is known by the name of that country, for example Coke Studio in Pakistan is not “Coke Studio Pakistan”. And moreover, CS represents music in its purest form which is free from boundaries. But watchers in India who keep an eye on both the Pakistani show and the soon to happen Indian one, would rather be confused if the name of the Indian version is kept same. More so, because the 4th season of the Pakistani version is supposed to come about the same time as the first season of the Indian one. Hence the Indian version will be known as .Coke Studio @ MTV, simple. Since the MTV people are making a hell lot of efforts in creating this show, their association with the brand name of the show is fairly justified.

I know, when it comes to MTV, we are aware that there are so many among us who have hated MTV so far, for dropping music from its airtime, for promoting shows like Roadies and Splitsvilla which have got nothing to do with music apart from being very rude and raw, for reducing itself to a promotional-wing of Bollywood and all. But seldom do we look into the other side which is us, the viewers. The fact of the matter is that it is us, the viewers, who have broken their relation with quality music. Any channel (and for that matter even MTV) needs TRPs to grow and survive, and we the listeners have not been able to provide that oxygen to these music channels for so long. Whom to blame? Bollywood- which has completely corrupted our minds and reduced our taste in music to trash, or is it we the listeners who do not have even a slightest aptitude to explore and look for new music?

Enough said, let me tell you about my Coke Studio @MTV experience. Unlike all the other guys who won the chance to be present at the live recordings, I was perhaps the only one who was not from Mumbai and got the opportunity to be present at, not one but two shows. Many of you who have been longing to be at the shoot, wished to go there so that you can listen to some cool live music. If that was your objective then it’s good that you could not make it since the live recording was not at all a good acoustic or listening experience as such. Please forgive me if you're thinking that I'm being over critical. Coke Studio is supposed to be a “Live Recording” show and not a “Live Show” per se. There's a big difference between the two since most of the sound from the vocals and instruments were being fed into a mixer, and not loud speakers. There was indeed a console kept in front which had head-phone plugs through which you could listen the live recordings but then again, what you hear through the headphones was clashing with the sound outside (especially the drums) and the overall listening experience was not perfect. Coke Studio is meant for TV (and YouTube) and I am sure that it is going to unfold its best sound there itself. I am eagerly waiting for that.

Not having a syrupy listening experience is not at all a waste of purpose of being present there. You’ll get to know about so many things that others would probably never. There is so much more than what we see on TV and you’d be surprised to see the drilling efforts of so many people which is required to produce each episode. The show is shot using eight cameras. The most important being one on the Jib which needs a lot of effort and coordination to operate. There were two other cameras on circular tracks, and the rest being either hand held, on tripods or on wheeled-tripods. We often get carried away by the videography that is done in these shows, but do you know what a mammoth effort does it require to record a live video which is breezy and without any jerk. The video producer has to keep an eye on all the eight cameras, set each of the frames and guide the cameramen’s motion before capturing the visuals. And this needs a lot of voice-breaking commanding which the Hitler-some director was giving to the cameramen. Since I am in FTII and I had the chance to shoot a multicam exercise, I can partly understand what a heck it is to instruct multiple cameras. In my case, I was going nuts with three cameras, and this guy was instructing eight. The use of lensing is so superb, that you will be fooled into believing that the studio setup is very large (especially from the JIB camera). In fact the studio is quite compact and at places, not so spic-n-span. But it is the camera work which brings out the gorgeousness of the studio and lighting. The lighting was sparkling and we all know, nothing uplifts the mood of live music, other than proper lighting. At Coke Studio @ MTV, they have been able to create the same magic through lighting, which is the signature style of Coke Studio (Paksitan). I must applaud the efforts put by the camera and lighting team since in a shoot they are the ones who do the maximum physical work and by wide and far, their efforts are anything but successful. I only had the chance to watch the raw live takes. I am just dying to see the show post production.

The MTV team which received us at the shoot was very humble and cooperative, nothing of the sorts that we see during Roadies audition. Nikhil Taneja (from MTV) made it sure that we the fans, have the experience for which we had gone there. The freedom that we were give to roam around, take autographs and snap shots only tells how much willing they are to share this experience with ourselves (ordinary viewers). I even got my Colonial Cousins CD autographed by Leslie. On the first day, there was a bit of rush for the headphones and many of us had to share the same earplugs. On the second day, people from Coke had come and they willingly gave up the headphones for us, since they cared for what the fans want. What an unearthly humbleness. I am moved.

Having said so much, you might be thinking – what about the music? Well I can say that I was lucky enough to see Colonial Cousins, Kavita Seth, Benny Dayal and Suzane singing together with Praful Dave rendering beautiful folk tunes in between. On the second day, KK and Ramya Iyer Mathangi performed. I am not going to tell which songs did they perform or how did I find the performance. This is because I don’t want to spill any beans and take away the “surprise quotient” of the show, neither do I wish that my liking or disliking create any pre-assumptions about the performance. Coke Studio @MTV is all about exploration. As artists they have done their part by exploring folk, popular and indie music and amalgamating them into beautifully fused live sessions. As viewers, now the onus is on us, to explore the music that Coke Studio @MTV brings to us, with an honest heart and without any speculation or pre-conceived notions (although I have to accept, the success of the Pakistani version has already propelled our expectations to peaks). After all, for whom is this show being organized? It is for US- the music lovers!