“I can guarantee that whoever comes to our concerts will leave dancing,” Overload drummer and band leader, Farhad Humayun had said to me once, almost 15 years ago, after a concert the band had performed at in Karachi. Back then, even when the Lahore-based band was performing in a city like Karachi — where audiences in comparison tend to be a tad more inhibited about public displays — one could see people get up and shake their backsides to Overload’s music.
Overload electrified the music scene with their single, Cursed, that came out in 2005, although the band had been formed a year earlier. The song’s semi-animated video — showing a Western drummers vs dhol players (Pappu Saieen and Jhoora Saieen) ‘play off’ — was fresh then and is memorably iconic now.
In an industry where having a band without spoken words, lyrics, or a singer was utterly unthinkable, Farhad Humayun came out with a purely instrumental act. And it worked. The song was loud, it was catchy, it appealed to a modern, western sensibility, yet it also had that purely desi percussive element to it that made it our own.
“The people of this country are more attuned to songs with lyrical content in them,” he had said to me back then. “They need to have the song’s meaning spelled out to them. We’re out to change that notion.” He certainly gave it his all.
Farhad Humayun, who passed away at the age of 42 on June 8, was more than just the very talented drummer and leader of Overload. He was out to change Pakistani music, and in many ways, he did
But after battling a long fight with cancer, Farhad Humayun left this world on June 8, to join ‘the great gig in the sky’ to quote Pink Floyd. He was 42-years-old. Farhad, or Fadi as those familiar with him called him, will forever be remembered as a risk-taking creative force, one to be reckoned with, fearless in his convictions, both very helpful and kind, yet incredibly tempestuous, especially when it came to his relationships with members of the music industry.
His contribution to music extends far beyond Overload, the platform that he’s best known for. Fadi was one of the key musicians in the underground music scene in Lahore way back in the 1990s — the same ‘scene’ that gave birth to bands and artists such as Noori, Co-VEN, Entity Paradigm, the Mekaal Hasan Band and Ali Zafar etc. He created a band back then called Mind Riot.
Fadi performed with pretty much all of the great names in contemporary Pakistani pop-rock today — you’ll spot a very young version of him in the video of Noori’s song Jana Tha Hum Ne from their debut album, Suno Ke Mein Hoon Jawan. He played and toured with Fuzon, among others. Farhad didn’t limit himself to known names alone, he also did percussion for and produced music in his studio for lots of fresh acts, including Haroon Shahid’s band, Symt.
One of his most memorable moves was introducing Meesha Shafi as a singer in Overload. Up until then, Meesha’s profile had consisted of being one of the up-and-coming models to watch out for. When Dhol Bajay Ga, the first single from their second album, Pichal Pairee, came out, it caused quite a stir. Unlike her contemporaries at the time, Meesha’s voice wasn’t soft and ‘pretty’. It came out raw, unfiltered, powerful, straight from the soils of Punjab. And the whole song, with its energy, demanded that you get up and listen.
Their other prominent song together, Mela Kariyay, incorporated another one of their most iconic tracks. In the band’s own words, “the music bed is cheekily used from an earlier track, Cursed.” This is from also from their second album Pichal Pairee, which was released sometime in 2009.
This song is almost too painful to re-watch or re-listen to. It was from a happier time, when the band was at its peak and when all of the members were together. The band parted ways with Meesha Shafi and Mahmood Rehman (who played bass for the band and is also Fadi’s cousin) rather acrimoniously in 2011.
In addition to being the band’s leader, drummer and producer, Fadi decided he was going to be the lead singer as well. “Singing is not my forte but, from this point on, I have become the permanent vocalist for Overload,” he had said back then. “I was never planning on being a singer — I have been drumming for the last 18 years — but now it’s time for Overload to become self-sufficient.”
Up until then, Fadi had sung only sporadically in concerts in Lahore. He had also released a simple, yet moving, rendition of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 online. But we really get a good flavour of his voice when he covered Saira Naseem’s Nerray Aa, from the classic Pakistani film by Syed Noor, Choorriaan.
In their first version, Fadi’s high-pitched voice pierces through the song, which is surprisingly restrained in featuring percussions. Musically, it retains some of the original riff, so you get that hint of old Lollywood, but Fadi turned it into a somewhat twisted, dark, wailing rock ballad of sorts.
In 2012, he performed the same song in Coke Studio as a duet with Rachel Viccaji. This performance is a pleasure to watch as well because you can see how he’s pulling his voice from deep within to give it that high-pitched anguished tone. Instead of the keyboards, this version has a brass section playing the song’s signature riff.
There is a clear contrast between Rachel’s and his version — she ‘lightens’ the song up with her youthful energy, and he darkens the mood with his. Everyone has a favourite performance by him; this will remain mine.
There will never be enough space to cover in entirety Fadi’s contribution to Pakistani music. One thing is for sure — he was always mulling about how to create a musical riot. He’d never stop experimenting, if he could help it.
“Make music and just put it out there,” Fadi had said to me after the release of Pichal Pairee, when I had asked him about the right time for releasing music. “What are you waiting for? We’re already working on new material.”
Fadi always had something up his sleeve.
Published in Dawn, ICON, June 13th, 2021