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The not-so-little drummer boy

Updated April 06, 2014

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Aahad Nayani is the guy to have on the drums when it comes to international gigs ... just ask Strings!

It was late evening in Delhi and the crowd was cheering at full pitch — just after a grand performance by Strings concluded. It was now Aahad Nayani’s turn with a solo on drums. He started doing what he does best. Zoned into the beat, he decided to take his exhilaration up a notch and just when he hit the cymbal, the stick went flying into the air. “After a second’s pause, I threw the other stick and started playing with my hands. The cheers became louder and at that moment I told myself, ‘Aahad, you’re a rockstar’!”

At 26, Aahad Nayani, a Karachi-based drummer, is one of the few drummers to have been blessed with the luxury of touring around the globe for concerts as well as have endorsements by leading music gear brands such as Mapex and Vater. His musical journey took an early start due to his father’s keen interest in drumming — though Wahid Ali Nayani himself was a hobbyist, he taught his son all he needed to know to get a good head start.

Aahad got his first drum kit at age 15. “It was a second-hand kit, a Yamaha 1974 series, and I was ecstatic. I wanted to study music but I couldn’t because no such diplomas exist in Pakistan and though studying music abroad was a dream, I was unable to pursue it due to financial issues.”

He started performing at underground gigs and just when he thought the scene was picking up, there came a decline in events because of the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the country. Upset and full of self-doubt, Aahad signed up for the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). Soon after, opportunity came a knocking when he was introduced to Adnan Hirani who worked with music producer Faisal Rafi. Following their first meeting, Aahad received a call from Hirani, inviting him to the studio.

Here onwards, life changed for Nayani. He was asked to record drums for Ayesha Omar on one of her songs. “They liked it and asked me to play another, I played that and they liked it as well and then I bagged the entire album!

“Later, I heard about the TV show called Azm-i- Alishan where Strings were the judges. I never knew I could reach this point — it was the fifth day and Bilal Maqsood called me and asked if I wanted to play with them as a session drummer, and without a seconds hesitation I said ‘Yes. It would be an honour’!” This was in 2010.

Since then, Aahad’s been performing for Strings at international music festivals. “In a year we have at least 50 gigs. I have performed in San Francisco, Boston, Berkeley School of Music, Columbia University, New York, Houston, Dallas, Canada and several places in India,” he enthuses.

Aahad concurred that he would often dream of attending the Berkeley School of Music as a student, but he never imagined that he would get a chance to perform there. “Before my first gig at Berkeley, I was trembling. I was thinking all my life’s inspirations have graduated from this university. I was so nervous. Being on that stage, the response I received was great and I was humbled.”

On endorsements, Aahad says, “I met Ashish Modasia in India and he told me that I am an A-grader.” There are three grades: first is free sticks for a whole year, second is 50 per cent off on sticks and the third is 25 per cent off. This may not seem like a big deal, but drummers apparently go through a whole lot of sticks.

The Mapex endorsement for him came about a week after the performance in India. “I was in Mumbai, after a gig we were just hanging around with some friends and I met the manager of Mapex India. I told him I don’t have any endorsements and he said he would talk to Mapex since they are now distributing in Pakistan.

A few days later when I was in Karachi, I got a call asking me to come on board. I ordered my customised kit and now I am the first Pakistani drummer to have this endorsement!”

Despite immense talent across Pakistan, aspiring musicians are struggling with very few platforms to establish their careers. Only a few musicians have made it big, but even those who have are getting more gigs outside Pakistan in comparison to within the country. Mainly these gigs and concerts are hosted in India. Even in Aahad’s case, the guidance for the endorsements came from India, and the number of Strings performances each year in India exceeds those in Pakistan.

With emerging platforms like Nescafe Basement, people are recognising and appreciating the new talent that is rising within the country. Schools too are encouraging musical training in all instruments along with other performing arts. But only time will tell whether the upcoming generation will be able to increase the number of gigs hosted within the country or not. One can only hope their fate is not restricted to private gigs and underground events.

Coke Studio initially founded by Rohail Hyatt seemed to have lost its vision of promoting local talent, but now that Strings have taken it upon themselves to move forward as Coke Studio producers, let’s hope this calls for a change in the trend of music in Pakistan.