In a remarkably honest and intimate interview, Omran Shafique, or “Momo” as he is known fondly within and outside music circles, discusses his new music studio, fatherhood and why he isn’t looking to break into Bollywood

Omran Shafique is strumming his black acoustic guitar. It comes naturally to him. He strums it time and again during this interview, almost unconsciously albeit beautifully.

We’re sitting inside his new music studio where Omran is, these days, working with Rushk (featuring Uns Mufti, Ziyyad Gulzar and new entrants Tara Mahmood, Sikandar Mufti and Ali Jafri). But that’s not the only thing Omran’s doing …

As the first half of the year closes and we enter the month of Ramazan, Omran has plenty to share.

With his long, curly hair and slight stubble, spectacles and a moustache, Omran, 39, still looks very much like a ‘rockstar’. His attitude, though, says otherwise.

There is humility and intelligence, a brilliant sense of humour and the ability to separate the noise and the nonsense. And that’s what makes Omran Shafique such a rare breed of musician.

He is articulate, charismatic yet unaware, and engaging at the same time. Omran may be one of Pakistan’s most influential musicians, touring the country regularly with the original rock‘fella’ Ali Azmat, and an icon to the aspiring youth, but Omran is also one of the most decent guys in the music business, always pleasant, always interesting.

The new studio, inevitably, brings up the topic of LJP Studios. It’s no secret that for a little while Pakistan’s iconic drummer, Louis John Pinto aka Gumby, and Omran were working together at LJP Studios. No more?

“I helped him (Gumby) out and we were working together but it was his investment,” says Omran and continues, “I always wanted to have my own place to use as I see fit. This studio is for my own selfish reasons: to work on my own creative, musical ideas. It gives me a chance to work on small projects and it’s available for bigger projects as well,” observes Omran.

This brings us to Uth Records, a show which featured Omran as co-producer when it began in 2011, but returned without him earlier last year. Going by media reports, one would think the show is finished after a ‘weak’ Season 2. One reason the media has run with is that its Omran’s lack of presence that has made the future of the show uncertain even though producer Gumby says the show will return, probably.

“I don’t think one person’s coming and going can be the cause of such things. I am not minimising my role but it’s a team of 15-20 people who work together. The show always had a niche following. Perhaps it could’ve moved into a different direction conceptually,” reflects Omran and adds, “A show like this, there are demands from the brand as well. I thought the acts were fine. Maybe they were not as varied as the first season, but overall it achieved its purpose.”

Omran isn’t holding onto a grudge, though. He’s not bitter and there is no salacious gossip. He says he’s simply moved on to other things.

For one thing, Omran was a part of the recently concluded new music show, Cornetto Music Icons. With Vital Signs man/music producer Shahi Hasan at the helm of the show and a playing bill that included Ali Azmat, Strings, Meesha Shafi, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Salman Ahmed, Omran had a good time.

“I wasn’t working on it daily but I put in two weeks. It was great fun. I got to learn how Shahi works as well as interacted with new kids.”

Well aware of the criticism that’s been meted out to the show, Omran adds, “The primary criticism was on lip-syncing … I can say this, next season will be better.”

As we delve deeper into the subject of music, Omran’s wife Eva Shafique walks in. As we chat politely, Omran and Eva reveal that they’re expecting another daughter after two-year-old Sophia.

As Eva bids goodbye, Omran grins. He’s overjoyed and “ecstatic”. Fatherhood, admits Omran, has changed his worldview in all sorts of ways.

I ask him if he thinks about moving back to the United States, especially now that he’s a father.

“Every month,” says Omran eluding to the daily problems that Pakistanis face: energy crisis/load shedding, security situation, political unrest, and strike/shutdown of cities.

However, Omran is not one to simply give up on Pakistan or its people. He explains, “I’m a child of a third culture. I’ve lived in Bahrain, the US and Pakistan. I can see the positive and the negative of all cultures.”

Having been married for 12 years to Eva, and being a holder of the ‘coveted’ American passport, Omran admits that he does look at it as an exit strategy but one that he isn’t looking to avail just yet.

“My wife is Mexican. Mexican culture is similar to ours in the sense that it’s family-oriented. I am a liberal-leaning person, but I want to be a parent to my children and a guiding force for morality without being a hypocrite,” he says.

For Omran, the idea of “blindly aping Western culture” is just not appealing. And his exposure to Pakistan is not restricted to the major cities, thanks to years of live shows with Ali Azmat within Pakistan. “I’ve toured extensively and I’ve never met a fundamentalist or an extremist. There are people like that but the masses are not like that. Lack of proper governance has left us vulnerable,” reflects Omran.

Looking back at his own background, Omran admits that he comes from a relatively conservative family but he hopes to strike a balance with his children.

Having moved here in 2005-06, Omran admits that the decision to start a family was a conscious one. As we move from fatherhood to music, it’s clear that Omran is holding out hope for Pakistan.

I ask him if he is looking to break into Bollywood. But Omran shrugs it off. “If they really want me, I’m open to it. But I won’t go begging someone to take me in a certain film, etc.”

Its not that Omran doesn’t understand the market share of Bollywood in Indian music or the festival circuit in India, but he confesses that he is catering to Pakistanis first.

“The underground/alternative scene in India is interesting and they are not confused about music. They embrace it unlike Pakistan, where there is a serious confusion about music being haram or halal. India might be coming around with songs like D.K. Bose happening,” says Omran. The song, despite its rock ‘n’ roll grunge feel was featured on the offbeat Delhi Belly (2011) and became a raging hit across India.

As we head near the end, Omran says, “I have to respect everyone who is a musician and is attempting to be a musician in Pakistan. You can’t be too cynical about musicians in Pakistan.”

And what about the future?

“The next few years will be good for music in Pakistan. Folk, rock, all of it,” smiles Omran. With resident musicians like Omran Shafique around the corner, the future of music is safe and full of exciting possibilities.

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