"I was a musician in Zia's era. A concert used to be a nightmare. There were no sponsors. We used to climb electricity poles ourselves to put banners." – Nusrat Hussain remembers Martial Law, Vital Signs and explains where his 'Shor' comes from Before Salman Ahmed came on as guitarist for the first VS line up, there was Nusrat Hussain who was there from the very beginning... he flew up in an airplane and Vital Signs took off into the stratosphere. This is history; his story and theirs...
Nusrat Hussain was instrumental in the forming of Vital Signs and Junoon. Yet, right after the single 'Dil Dil Pakistan' came out in 1987, he pulled a disappearing act. Later, he helped form Junoon in the opening years of the 90s but quit that too. He released his own album in 1993 right after which he took off again and has been nowhere in the music scene for the past 14 years.
The man who had a significant role to play when the biggest names of Pakistan's pop industry were being borne tells TelePK.Com his reasons for never sticking around long enough to enjoy the fruits. He also reminisces about 'Dil Dil Pakistan' and talks of today's artist whose life is still not any easier despite the multitude of choices that he never had in his day.
His new album Kaho, set to release this year, will raise the curtain on his day in the limelight. A blunt and disheartened single titled Manzil is targeted to be released this August — exactly 20 years after the exalting 'Dil Dil Pakistan' was aired featuring a bunch of idealistic, strapping young lads.
TelePK.Com: You released your first album in 1993 and are now releasing your second one after more than a decade. Where have you been all this time and why such a long delay?
Nusrat Hussain: I believe destiny plays a major part. I couldn't commit to music for a long time because I'm a full time airline pilot. I left Vital Signs right after Dil Dil Pakistan came out in 1987 because I got a job in an airline in 1988. Later, I had to quit Junoon too because they were doing a lot of shows and I couldn't give the band that kind of time. Right after I released my album in 1993, I started flying all over the world. In 1994-95-96, I was hardly in the country. Then when I got back, I was busy moving towns from Rawalpindi to Karachi to Islamabad…I've changed residences 4 times. When I moved back to Rawalpindi and finally set up a studio here, a flood in 1997 destroyed all of my equipment…
TelePK.Com: Quite some reasons explaining the delay?
Nusrat Hussain: (laughs) Well I'm an Aquarian and water has always been after me. Either it's been too much or too little. There's never been a middle road…
TelePK.Com: Was the response to your first album a disappointment?
Nusrat Hussain: Actually, no. I have a cult following for that album! But back then, I didn't have any money so couldn't pursue the promotion very vigorously. Plus Islamabad didn't have any video directors so didn't make any videos. EMI packed up too (without paying me)…there wasn't a proper infrastructure here.
TelePK.Com: So after that, were you totally out of touch with making music?
Nusrat Hussain: Now when I look back it seems as if I have just gotten off a decade long roller coaster ride. But even in those loops and rolls I never let go of my guitar. I was also making some jingles. Around four years ago I made a jingle for a reputed cellular connection company, which is a long story in itself... (sigh)
TelePK.Com: What happened?
Nusrat Hussain: I made a jingle for the company, and I was told that they won't be using it. I was like, alright, fine. But later my wife called me up saying that my jingle was actually playing on air. I did go up to the concerned person and took my right but the episode highlighted that we aren't really fair people from the inside. We don't have any work ethics. Every artist is crying, people who make jingles are crying. Paying someone for his hard work is so difficult for people… and in the end they just give peanuts.
TelePK.Com: What made you get back to making your own album?
Nusrat Hussain: I always wanted to get back to making an album but wasn't finding the right chemistry with anyone…until I met Sarmad Ghafoor. He's producing my album. A good producer can make a helluva difference. Michael Jackson, Rolling stones etc had great producers. Shoaib Mansoor producing for Vital Signs had a huge bearing for the band.
Sarmad would advice me about making a certain change with a song, and we would try it out, and I'd notice the song suddenly sounding much better. What people lack these days is a mature producer.
TelePK.Com: Tell us something about the style and content of your new album?
Nusrat Hussain: My album Kaho is predominantly rock with an eastern feel. 'Tum Bin' is my flagship romantic number. There are some songs I feel very strongly about songs like 'Manzil' and 'Shor'. There's a groovy dance number too.
TelePK.Com: What inspires you to write romantic songs, considering?
Nusrat Hussain: My age? You're as old as you think you are. Anything can inspire me… I see a beautiful girl on the subway and I'll go back to my room and write a song. That James Blunt song, 'You're Beautiful'… I should've written that (chuckles). Also, an aspect of longing for someone and missing someone plays a part in my music too.
TelePK.Com: No songs for your wife so far?
Nusrat Hussain: Uhh… for that I have to observe her behaviour towards me first! Imagine, I write a lovely song for her and she starts getting an attitude about something (laughs). I haven't written a song for her so far and I should. I wouldn't have been able to pursue music without her support.
TelePK.Com: And what motivated you to write songs like 'Manzil' and 'Shor'?
Nusrat Hussain: It comes from my disillusionment with where our country is heading. I have such strong words that if I come on TV, they would have to shut the program. I'm not being negative or anti-establishment, just pointing at reality. I'm not in that age category where I want to become a pop star. I just want to make a statement.
TelePK.Com: How do you see today's musicians as compared to the ones from your era?
Nusrat Hussain: Today's musicians are lucky enough to have their own music studios with unlimited tracks and music shops where they can buy the latest equipment. Getting good music is very easy. Download it from the net, listen to it on your cell phone. In our days, a walkman used to be a huge thing. We used to listen to BBC Top 20 on the radio. There was only one recording studio… a 16 track recording studio in our city used to be a dream!
I was a musician in Zia's era. A concert used to be a nightmare here. They'd ask, "Ganay ka show karna hay?" (You want to do a MUSIC show?), and the request would immediately be turned down. There were no sponsors. We used to climb electricity poles ourselves to put banners. It was so hard to get permission to do a show in Nafdec unless you tagged the name of a charitable organization with the show.
Today's musicians have shops in F/10, F/11, F/8 where they're getting everything from amplifiers to drums, while we used to roam around pondering about replacing a broken guitar string. But what is surprising is that despite the choices these days, an artist's life hasn't become any easier. There is no company that can actually take care of an artist. Bands like N' Sync and Backstreet Boys never worried about record labels and promotion etc. They only concentrated on their music. Here, I'm worried about labels, websites, looking for a guy to design my CD cover. What we still lack is the accessibility of all these resources under ONE roof. It's still a milestone for an artist to release an album.
TelePK.Com: What does a city like Islamabad do to your career as a musician?
Nusrat Hussain: Islamabad is quite far behind other cities since it's not a financial hub. Nevertheless, this may sound like a pretentious boast, but yahan ki fazaoin may kuch hai (there is something about the environment here).
A lot of good music comes out from here. Artists from Islamabad are sensitive. The environment does play a role on a person's mind. You just have to pick up your guitar and go to the Margallah Hills and see for yourself. In other big cities, you have a lot of motorbikes, rickshaws, noise. Out here the environment is serene-apart from the fact that they've literally dug out the entire city these days.
TelePK.Com: What was your role in the forming of Vital Signs?
Nusrat Hussain: Initially, I was in a band that had Naveed Siddiqui on drums, Ajay Rao on rhythm guitar and vocals, Clyde Francis on bass, with me on keyboard. I knew Rohail Hyatt because we used to hang out at concerts. He came to my place one day, picked up the guitar and we started jamming, singing 'Down Under' by the Australian band Men at Work. We approved him and he joined our band. Later, Shehzad joined us too. But we had to disband after a while because Naveed left the country. He's a doctor now. Ajay also got busy with his job. He was teaching in Rawalpindi and still is.
Those were the oppressive days of the mid 80s. Me, Rohail and Shehzad still kept in touch and continued to jam. But we got tired of playing covers, so Rohail and I came up with the melody of the song 'Chehra Mera Tha', a Parveen Shakir poem. We later met Junaid Jamshaid who contributed to the melody too. Then we went to PTV to record it. That was the only studio in town back then where you had to record a song in real time.
Junaid came up with a name for our band - 'Goin' Stray'. After that, we went to do a show in Lahore and two other guys joined us, making us a 6 member band. We got back to Islamabad and decided to make a video for 'Chehra Mera Tha', which was shot next to Lotus Lake and Rawal Lake. We thought it would be unethical to ditch the Lahore guys, so all members were called for the video, which looked a bit funny when the video aired featuring 6 people!
That song was instrumental in making 'Dil Dil Pakistan'. When Shoaib Mansoor saw that video, he contacted Rohail's elder brother and asked him for the name of the brain behind the band. He was informed about me and Rohail. So he called me up and asked me to make a melody for a music competition, and he would put words into it. We sat at Rohail's house in Harley Street with Shoaib Mansoor for hours trying to come up with a melody. Our original one was rejected… After hours of playing my guitar, I came up with an intro and Shoaib said "I like that… let's keep it". Junaid came up with the melody of the next verse and that's how 'Dil Dil Pakistan' came into being.
When the video of the song was about to be aired, Shoaib asked us to quickly come up with a suitable name for the band. We had a long list and couldn't really decide on any. The situation was like "Jaldi batao bhai abhi clips may dalna hai" (hurry and come up with a name, we have to add it in the clips right now). We looked through our long list and said, "Alright, fine, how about Vital Signs?" The rest is history.
TelePK.Com: Do you and the Vital Signs boys ever get together?
Nusrat Hussain: Not as much as I would want to. But we do meet. As a four we haven't met in a long time. This August it will be 20 years since the band formed. That will be a good time to sit down and chill out.
TelePK.Com: Flying made you quit music twice. Should we expect that again in the future?
Nusrat Hussain: For me, it's very difficult to choose between music and flying. I usually sing and fly together (laughs). For now, I'm putting flying on hold to release this album. But I will keep doing both.