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Soundcheck: Gunkali: food for the soul

January 31, 2010

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This is a well-deserved, happy time for Kaavish. Just several weeks into its much-anticipated release, the band's debut album, Gunkali, is slated to be the first hit album of the year - and not without reason. The band perhaps spent as much time working on their album, recording (and re-recording) it in the studio as their record label took to release it. Gunkali - which is defined as a morning raag - is a labour of love that began its journey towards its audience when Kaavish released their first ever music video, the Umar Anwar-directed Bachpan, and in turn giving a small flavour of the kind of music the was working on.

The video, despite its somewhat in-your-face and depressing subject (death and the rituals and the grief surrounding it) managed to make its mark on local audiences and not just for the shock value of the video. The sound was Pakistani pop alright, but carried a well-thought, constructed maturity with it that prevented their music from sounding incomplete or shallow. The band, it seemed, knew exactly what they were doing and what their music was all about.

The video of Choti Khushiyaan (directed by Umar Amanullah) followed the release of Bachpan and attempted to show a lighter side to the band - it showed a bunch of friends enjoying a random day at the beach. Their third video was the beautifully-shot Teray Pyaar Mein (also directed by Umar Anwar) which had cameo appearances by Arshad Mahmud and Javed Iqbal. In between, they even won a The Musik Award (TMA) as the Best Newcomer Act in the first TMAs that were held. Then there was nothing - only mounting expectations and unconfirmed dates regarding release of their debut album.

Their album was expected to find a release in 2008. It didn't. The drummer from the band, Raheel Manzar Paul, parted ways in November 2008, days before Kaavish was to go in for the recording of their album-launch video, Moray Sayyaan (directed by Sohail Javed), causing only a minor controversy. Fingers were kept crossed that their album would find a release in 2009. It didn't. At this point, a valid concern was that the delay might cause the album to sound old, dated. With the album now released in early 2010, and after listening to the final material, one can safely say it doesn't (sound dated). In fact, Gunkali is one of the strongest albums to come out from the Pakistani pop music industry.

The band spent many, many hours at Faisal Rafi's Silent Music Studios working on the album. This period also saw Maaz Maudood from the band, pick up the guitar and hone his skills on playing rhythm. It saw a collaboration of an impressive ensemble of musicians in the album. These include the likes of Omran Shafique (lead guitar), Khalid Khan (bass), Gumby (drums), Javed Iqbal (violins), Abbas Premjee (lead nylon-string guitar), Aamir Zaki (lead guitar), Rahat Ali (flute), Shallum Xavier (lead guitar), Nafees Ahmed (sitar), Jaffer Zaidi himself (on paino and vocals) and Islaamuddin sahib and crew for the string section, among others. The songs have predominantly been written by Jaffer Zaidi, Maaz Maudood, Nayyara Noor and Arshad Mahmud. Perhaps it is the inclusion of the latter two which lends a mature, old-school tone to Kaavish's music. Or it could simply be because Jaffer - who's composed most of the songs - actually has a really old soul!

You wouldn't know it if you didn't listen to the lyrics closely enough, because the music cleverly belie their actual gravity. Lyrically, the album is heavy on nostalgia. Almost most of the songs -from Bachpan, Sun Zara, Teray Pyaar Mein, Moray Sayyan etc - speak off, or are appealing to a person, an identity or an impression left in the past. The album overall is heavily-laden with emotion and the orchestral music reflects it. The band has ambitions of bringing that orchestral music in their live performance some day. One can only hope that that they will succeed in doing so.

Piano heavy, this album is a display of Jaffer's soulful playing skills. Not to take away from the ensemble of musicians who have contributed to the album, but it is perhaps this element that adds that extra dimension to the album and which sets it apart from the other rock/pop bodies of work currently being released by the bands' contemporaries. Maaz lends his vocals in Koi Hai Toh Sahee in a duet of sorts of Jaffer. The song is quite a delight to listen to and lyrically, it speaks in tones of confident optimism.

Credit needs to be given to the band's producer, Faisal Rafi, who painstakingly nurtured the album, helping it grow into the musical masterpiece it is now. Gunkali is the kind of work that stays with you - the melody resonates within - long after you have stopped listening to it. The album is sonically rich in not only lyrics, but most importantly, in the music that it contains. Each instrument is distinct, every note is clear and it all comes together in an experience that taps into that part of us that makes us human our emotions. And it does so ever so subtly and always leaves the listener a feeling of being enriched. It is an album reaches out for your soul... and it was well worth the wait!