Shallum is part of Fuzon, one of the biggest bands in Pakistan and has made his mark in the industry with his signature guitar work. The man had a quite a lot to say...
How did you start off?
I started playing when I was eight. I had a small keyboard which my father would play sometimes when he came home from work. He wasnít a professional musician. So I just picked it up from him and started playing.
But at the age of 12, I heard this album by Ozzy Osbourne called No More Tears. There was this guitarist in it called Zakk Wylde, after that I said ke keyboard ko phainko, guitar is the instrument to play.
So you basically started off with the keyboards.
Yeah, keyboards are fun. I respect every instrument; every instrument has to be there to create a sound. I still play the keyboards. I had an upright piano at home which I used to play when I was playing the guitar.
How did all of you (n Fuzon) meet? How did it all get started?
Imran-Immu and I have been together for the past ten years. We used to live in PECHS, he still lives there and we were the only two good musicians in that area. At that time Immu was really in the commercial scene, he was already playing for other people and I was just practicing at home. So Immu called me up asking me to do a project with him and we were recording in the studios as session musicians. Since then, Immu and I have been working together. Weíve played for everybody, you name it and weíve played for them.
Shafqat used to come to Karachi to record his solo album which he was doing three years back which couldnít happen for some reason. He came to Immuís studio, we heard him and it started off.
So how does it feel to be a member of one of the most successful new bands in all of sub-continent?
It feels great.
Has fame had any effect on you?
Not at all. Itís made me a better person altogether. Iím a very aggressive person. When we started playing music, there was no Indus Music etc. at that time, thinking that one day its going to happen, without even knowing whether music would be done in Pakistan in the future, which was a really hard thing to do. The love of music drove us all the way.
What have you been up to lately apart from Fuzon?
Apart from music Iím working on my solo album. Iíve just recorded an instrumental; Iím going to make a video for that. Iíve wanted to do this for a very long time. My solo album will definitely be coming out by the end of this year. Iíve just started working on it. As there are Fuzon tours coming up and the new Fuzon album is going to come out in September, my solo album will definitely take some time.
Will there be only instrumentals in the album?
No, Iím working on a few songs as well. Iím going to hire people to sing them, Iím going to get Shafqat to sing on a few of my songs, and get Najam or Hadiqa or whoever.
Session player era
Youíve worked with Najam on his album. What was the experience like?
It was great. I rate him as one of the best vocalists on Pakistan, no matter whatever heís doing right now. Survival ke liye sab ko commercialism karna parta hai warna paise nahi milte. And thatís very important.
Our youngsters, they appreciate a band but the moment they start to get a bit commercial, they start writing about them that Ďwe liked this band, look at what theyíve doneí. But they donít realize that to drive a car, you need to fill it with petrol, to maintain the car you need money, you need to pay the house rent and pay for food. Iím not a multimillionaire, Iím supporting myself.
You need to have that financial edge, you need to earn money and until and unless you donít go commercial...thereís a big drawback here that if a band abroad does a commercial, they become big and people say ĎYaar, I want to buy that shirt because Michael Jackson was wearing one like ití and they wonít criticize them. If a Pakistani band does it, theyíll say, Ďoh look at them, shame on themí.
And youíve played on both Duur and Dhaani (by Strings) as well. What was that experience like?
Really good, I think they have some really good songs and I had fun recording on their albums. Iíve played live with them as well. But the most enjoyable experience of playing live was with Najam Shiraz. Heís a very good live performer, entertainer and he has really powerful vocals.
When you see Bilal playing the guitar in Stringsí videos, do you go "Hey? I played that! Put me in the video!!!"?
Yeah I tell them that [laughs], but no I wouldnít want to be in the video. What do I say to them? When I didnít even start playing the guitar, heís been playing since then. But till now, thereís been no improvement in his playing. Thatís wrong.
True. Not everyone reads the credits to see whoís played on the album.
The sorriest part is that I was online, and I was talking to this girl who said that I really like Strings and I think Bilal is a great guitar player. I said haan yaar, kiya bajata hai. Bilal himself should at least get some classes, make an effort and practice. Even if I donít play on their next album, theyíre going to get someone else to play on it. Youíre part of one of the oldest bands in Pakistan. I havenít played something really hard on the Strings album, they are the worldís easiest solos and if they practice, they can play it really well.
Will you continue doing sessions with other bands?
That depends, if I get a good project I would definitely do it, but not as a professional session player.
Youíve been giving guitar lessons as well, how is that going?
I have a couple of students, I donít give them classes regularly, whenever I have time I call them up and ask them to come over. But in another couple of months, Iím going to set up a place where Iím only going to give guitar lessons.
What is the Fuzon song writing process?
It depends. If weíre together in the studio, we compose together. But if itís the preconceived idea of anybody, like if I come up with an idea and go to Immu that I thought of this last night, we call up Shafqat or if heís in town we sit together and throw the idea around and take opinions. If everyone agrees on it, then we work on it. Some songs we just sit together and compose and some each of us do individually.
Fuzon's name gives it all away - fusion music. Guitars, keyboard, drums with eastern melodies. But doesnít that limit the band? Does it mean you will never make a song that doesnít necessarily fit in that category?
The name does not mean that weíre not open to experimentation. Fuzon is about experimentation, we can do an Arabic song because weíre Fuzon, and weíre not Arabs. Itís about experimentation, if we get an opportunity to experiment, weíll definitely do it. It wonít restrict us; we wonít say that Fuzon will only do eastern classical, or pop or pop rock. We donít define our music; we donít tell people that our music lies in a specific category. Its fusion, itís a new category altogether.
We might do a Chinese song, not in the Chinese language but use the beats or something. We might do a very heavy song; in fact in the second album weíre doing a hard song, just for the fun of it.
Has work on the next album begun?
Weíve written about eight songs, we have to compose 3-4 more. Weíve laid out the structure of eight songs; we just need to record it. The melodies and the production are almost done.
When will it be releasing?
Most probably August.
Why does Fuzon not have a full time bass player? Will you be adding a permanent bass player in the future?
For the time being itís just the three of us, we always keep changing our bass players. I personally believe that with the addition of a new member, it has some good points, but it could be negative as well, like maybe it doesnít work out. I think Immu is really talented; he plays some great bass lines on the keyboard. In the next album weíll be using live drums as well.
Fahad Khan will be playing the drums and heís our session drummer as well. Weíll use Khalid Khan, Aarohís bass player; heís our session bass player. But the band will always be the three of us.
What has the response to Fuzon been in India and internationally?
Itís been the best in England. Weíve toured there and we know the reaction. We havenít been to India so we donít know. MTV India made us the Artist of the Month, which was really good and exciting. We were recording it in Karachi and it was really exciting watching ourselves on MTV.
Initially the record label was very slow in promoting the album. But yesterday I saw Ankhian on CMM, MTV and B4U. So right now, the process has been speeded up. To check the Indian response, we have to land in India and play. You have to tour a bit to check the response. Weíve toured Dubai and it was amazing.
Weíve toured UK twice; we played at Wembley Arena for 10,000 people. We played at Royal Albert before that and thatís something to remember for a very long time, it was amazing, the place itself as well. That was our first international tour.
Do you feel any limitations in your playing/music as part of Fuzon?
No, not at all. Its about maturity, musicians have to be talented, but have a mature head as well. Weíre creating a very different form of music altogether in this part of the world. Experiments were done, but not as a band. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was not a band. The main thing he did was the vocals. Our main thing is the vocals, but we balance it out with the kind of music and the guitars and the keyboards. That was never done before.
Kisi eastern classical melody ko utha ke commercialize karna bahut mushkil hota hai. Like Khamaj, if I made you hear Khamaj without the music, you would say, yeh kya hai? To add riffs in that, you have to be very innovative and you have to hold that experience. No other guitar player whoís just played for four years can do that. You need to know that much about music that you can play that kind of music in western scales, you need to have that information. By the grace of God, playing session music and all served a purpose when we made a band. I feel very creative.
How was the Deewane video experience like?
It was a lot of fun, considering the fact that it was a three day shoot and very hectic. We started shooting the day Urmila came from Wagah. We shot at a dhaba near Wagah border, it was very tiring but very exciting because Urmila, Resham and Shamyl were there and we were working with Saquib Malik again whoís a very very talented director. The whole team was very fun to work with it - Serendip Productions, who did the whole documentary, a lot of fun.
Mayfair Fusion Candy
Do you even like Fusion candy?
I love Fusion candy. I like candies. I like Candy from Milestones. As a kid; whenever I used to see her on TV I would want to make a song on her. So we got an opportunity when the Fusion candy song was made. I told Immu, donít let go of this, it has a link to Candy! I love Fusion candy.
Fuzon has been criticized in the press about their Fusion Candy song. How do you feel about that?
I feel good! Kuch to criticize hua. No one had criticized Fuzon. We did it for the fun of it. We do music, and any opportunity that we get, just to have fun. When we heard that there were 100 kids in the shoot, we thought it would be great. And they were so energetic. Weíd been shooting all day, and at 2 am they were still shooting. We didnít even think what other people would think about it. The kids love it; we thought we should do something for the kids. I really like doing these kinds of things.
Iíll tell you an incident, after we did the song, we performed at Okara, itís an army base, there was a Fuzon solo concert there and there were 2000 kids there. For the kids, we played the song four times, over and over. Theyíd even memorized the exact dance steps the kids had done in the video. We had so much fun [smiles].
Do you think endorsing the candy had a negative impact on your popularity?
I donít think so. I think the people of Pakistan should be mature enough to understand that weíre doing a very serious form of music. If you pick up our album and an album by any other band in Pakistan, youíll find a vast difference. Firstly, our album sounds very original. Most Pakistani bands, Iím sorry to say, they sound like British or American bands, they sound like rip offs. Our songs are original.
When we tour abroad, we can hold the flag of Pakistan as a Pakistani band, that this is our music. Tell me of some other band that can strongly say that this is our music. Junoon yes, they did their own music; they were the flag holders of Pakistani music.
Out of the new generation, there are some amazing bands, but theyíre only limited to Karachi or to Pakistan or are popular amongst a particular crowd. You need a lot of experience to do a kind of music; you just canít go and say [in a fake voice]: ĎDaddy! Today I want to buy a guitar and make a bandí. Chaar larkey jama kiye, baal lambay karliye, aik acha sa drummer rakh liya aur bajaane lag gaye. And claim that we are a punk rock band.
What are you doing for Pakistan? Youíre doing nothing. You get a cult following among youngsters which is very good, but even they say that this is just a fad.
No band wants to promote our music or our culture. Music has so much value. If Iím a guitarist, and I go to USA and start playing the blues, the guy who plays in a bar there would be able to play better than me because its in his roots. Iíve learnt the western way of guitar playing but right now, Iím trying to be innovative. To be creative you have to evolve. What Iím doing is that Iíve learnt the classical scales, and when I play it that way, it sounds really different.
Thereís a song in our album called Malhaar which is a really difficult raag. It sounds simple the way Iíve played it in the album. But if you try to take out that part, itíll take you three years to figure it out. It took me some time to record it. We strongly believe that Aankhon Ke Saagar brought about a change. After that, a lot of bands, I wonít take any names; they tried to add a classical touch too.
People have even tried to make videos like the Aankhon Ke Saagar video.
Yeah, even though at that time we didnít have money and it was a simple video. We made it because it was free. Even though it was a simple video, it changed everything for us as a band; it changed everything for the people doing music. It was a serious song which became a commercial song just because of the melody. People forget melody here.
Rock music bajane se, baal lambay karne se, chaar jumpein maar lene se aur yeh kehne se ke hum dunya badlein ge, kuch nahi badal sakte aap. You have to be very simple about life, very simple about what youíre doing. Whatever you do, take it seriously, otherwise you wonít stand out.
Was the video for Fusion candy really directed by Jami? If so, why did he not put his name on there?
Yeah Jami directed it. He didnít put his name on the video because he was ashamed. The video was shot really well, the lighting and the angles. Jami was so busy, he was in Singapore and the people who were assisting him edited the video. He was giving instructions to his assistants from Singapore. Thatís not professional.
When youíre doing a Strings video, youíre in the studio for twelve hours, but when youíre doing a commercial video, its your name, everyone will know that its done by Jami. He never even wanted to do it. But if youíre doing it and charging them, you need to give your 100%. We also believe he didnít do something very right. It couldíve been a very good video, itís not a bad video, but itís not the way we had thought it would be.
Will Fuzon be endorsing more products in the future?
That depends. It depends on the kind of music, if a product suits our music and if it pays us well, then definitely.
What about Coca Cola and Pepsi?
If they pay us well. Theyíve approached us a hundred times, but the money isnít right. Iíll tell you something, itís not bad to be endorsed and itís not good to be endorsed, but itís the way of the world. Michael Jackson has done it too, Pepsi sponsored him. But abroad they operate differently.
When heís performing, Pepsiís logo wonít be on the backdrop, itíll be at the end. Over here if an artist is being sponsored, the logo will be on the centre of the backdrop. If they offer us a good deal and donít interfere in the music that weíre doingÖ theyíve offered us a couple of projects but they interfere in the music part and weíve told them that weíll do it the way we do it.
If the sponsor is sponsoring you and letting you do anything with your music, then we or anyone would be stupid to refuse it.
Are videos important for Fuzon?
Videos are important for everybody.
For example, Ali Noor once said that videos werenít important.
Dekh lo, sab se zyaada ussi ne banaye hain, and theyíre coming up with a new video. Yeh bilkul bakwaas baat hai. Itís a medium for you to get in the market, to get in the public eye.
If I take out a new album, you may find out because youíre associated with all this, but my fans who are sitting in North Nazimabad, Gulshan, Bahawalpur, England, Canada, how will they know? When they find out, theyíll ask why we didnít make a video. Itís the way to promote whatever youíre doing, itís a part of the whole deal and itís not something bad. If you donít have the money, do a low budget video but just do it. Itís good for the image of the band.
Whenever U2 releases a new album, they make four videos out of it; no one says to them that you guys are so good, why are you making videos? Why donít people say anything to them? Because itís in the deal.
Naye naye bachey aate hain, they say falan falan, first learn the whole deal. Learn what marketing is, what music marketing is, what real music is, what real musicians are and how they go about this profession. What happens here is that anyone who wants to criticize will continue to do so. Abroad, the critics push the band; the critics will criticize them to push them ahead. Here critics say that Ďyaar I wrote this about Ali Noorí and they feel good. You should be positive, spread good in the world.
Do you think having web presence is important for a band considering that Fuzon did not have a site for a long time?
Itís important to interact, but most people depend on it. Itís important to get and give information, but itís not something that you should depend on. We donít do it, because neither of us is a web person, thatís why our website loads the slowest, but yes itís important.
Your favourite video directors?
Saquib Malik and Jami. I think Jami did an amazing job with Ankhian, for a band, any band, itís the best video. It gives a very larger than life picture of the band and itís a great video. Hats off to Jami. Heís done so much work, but to show a band in such a great wayÖjoh band milta hai woh yeh kehta hai ke aisa video hona chahye. I think Saquib is really creative. He doesnít do a lot of music videos, but whenever he makes a video, itís a landmark.
Behtinaar, which got banned, was a great video. I think he did a good job with Deewane, he had limited things to edit and there was no storyboard, but it was something new for him and for us and itís an amazing video.
I must not leave out Sohail Javed. Iím not saying that because he did our video, people may not like Sohail Javed, but the good thing about him is that he makes something decent in a small budget as well. Sometimes he comes up with some really really good work, like Pappu Yaar. Like Ankhian with the larger than life image, itís the same with Pappu Yaar, the band version without the storyboard. I would love to be in that video. Thatís an amazing video. Sohail Javed should be given credit for that; heís done a great job. I really liked the Tara Jala video as well, people didnít like it, but I loved it.
What do you feel about the current videos being made here?
One thing Iíd like to say to our channels is that bakwaas music na chalaein aur bakwaas videos band kardein. Because of that, people who donít listen to music, even if you make them listen to good music, they wonít like it.
Channels should stop airing stupid videos; they should have a person, who knows about music, who says that this guy is out of tune, cut him out. There should be a standard now, only the good people should be promoted. Not the people who have just come up with a video who say, Ď Oh man, last night I was watching Pearl Jamís video, lets make a song. Okay daddy I need a guitarí, his daddy gets it for him. ĎOkay do you know how to play bass?í his friend says no and he says, Ďokay okay Iíll teach youí and they make a song.
People who have worked hard, and there are good musicians out there, they get hurt and donít make an effort. People who have the authority of rejecting a bad song should go and just reject the bad songs and push the talented young people. They should have a team that promotes talent. Bad songs should not be aired; bad videos are still bearable because if a song is good, its video will air. But it should be made a sin to air bad songs; they should be sued and penalized.
Do you feel our music production is up to international standards?
I think its improving. I personally can say that the production being done in Pakistan can be compared anywhere, not only India, but in England, in America, there are great musicians in Pakistan, good facilities and we have people who have the sense to record.
And some of the people in the industry have been here for ages, you just found out about them because of Indus Music. See IM has brought about a huge change, I can give you so many examples: Fuzon, Noori, EP, Aaroh and Ali Zafar - Ghazanfar Ali holds a very strong place in the whole deal because if he hadnít thought up the idea then who wouldíve? No matter what kind of a person he is, but heís made everybody.
Who are your favourite local and international bands?
I personally think that it was such a good album; they didnít even promote the album properly and started fighting. Professionalism bhi aik cheez hoti hai. Even if you donít get along together, stay together just for the sake of the band, like it happens in the whole world. Stingís drummer used to hate Sting, there used to be ďF*** you StingĒ written across his drum set. They released ten albums together, because Police was so big.
Over here, they make it an ego issue ke yaar woh to video mein zyaada aaya tha, so I'll make my own band. These are petty issues. Whoever likes you, or whoever likes my guitars, theyíll listen to me. You have to end these petty issues. What would be wrong is that you put a shot of the singer on the guitaristís shot and present it as a solo effort, thatís wrong. This is how bands break, ke yaar uss larki ne uss se zyaada baat karli. Khush raho, music bajao.
Aaroh is talented, Nabeel is very talented. Farooq and Khalid are amazing. Iíve worked with Khalid because Khalid was with Najam. Heís a gem of a person. In the music industry, Khalidís the most decent guy Iíve known. Farooq is a very old friend and heís a good vocalist and heís a good guitar player as well.
I like EP, jaisa bhi kar rahe hain mehnat kar rahe hain. I like Noori as well, considering the fact that Gumbyís playing with them; Iíve never seen a drummer play so well in my life. I think Gumby should have better musicians around him.
Iím not saying that they are bad musicians, but Gumby is like way up there in Noori as far as playing is concerned. I really like Noorís song writing in some of his songs. I like Jalís song Aadat too. I like Mizraabís new song Kitni Sadiyan, itís different.
I really like that song by Shuja Haider, Tera Woh Pyaar. I just love that song. Heís a very good guitar player; heís a music producer as well. He produced Ahmed Jahanzebís, Ali Zafarís and Hadiqaís album, heís a session player. I like the local scene, good music is happening.
I love Junoon, when they were on stage I used to be roaming about in my shorts. I love the first album; I was so inspired by it. Neend Aati Nahi, Chori Chori Aja, which was a change. After that they kept on changing their style. I like Junoon; theyíre genuine in what theyíre doing. To stay together for 12 years, for that they should be given an award, itís really hard. I think Salman is a very good song writer, he writes really good songs and Ali is very good at what he does.
Internationally, I love U2, I idolize Pink Floyd. Thereís a band called Marrillion, not a lot of people have heard about it, they sound like U2. Out of the new lot I love Coldplay. But Iím a 80s person, I grew up listening to a lot of heavy metal stuff. I like Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Steve Vai, White Snake; I like a lot of people. But the few bands that I still listen to are U2, Pink Floyd and Marrillion.
There are two-three guitar players abroad who have inspired me. Steve Vai, really innovative. Joe Satriani, Zakk Wylde I really like. Allan Holdsworth is a person who a lot of people donít even know about. He repairs cycles for a living. Itís so not commercial, heís a jazz player. He doesnít do concerts or anything.
What are you listening to these days?
I have a tape of Coldplay in my car, Parachutes. Iím listening to a lot of Arabic music these days, I have this cassette in my car that I donít know the name of. Iím listening to a lot of blue grass, R n B and a lot of Michael Jackson; heís one of my favorites.
What do you predict for the music industry?
Itís going to get better. The industry is going to become the strongest entertainment industry in Pakistan. There is no comparison because we have the talent. There should be band counseling, how to go about your career. It doesnít happen in Pakistan, they just follow their intuition.
Thank you Shallum, it was a pleasure