Fuzon is riding the high wave. They have just bagged the Indus Music ‘Best Composer’ and ‘Best Ballad Song’ awards. The band takes time out to share their views with world Music Chief Editor ARSHAD MAHMUD and his team in this wide-ranging interview.
Arshad Mahmud: One remembers watching each one of your working independently. What brought you together as a band?
Shallum: I and Imran had been working together for about eight years. We live in the same vicinity in PECHS – and we knew each other very well. Immu also used to meet Shafqat off and on. Then Shafqat Bahi’s album was also running in those days. Immu and I had been talking for a long time about doing something different. One day Shafqat met Immu and then they called me over, saying let’s sit together and start working on something as a unit and not as individuals. That was the day when things started moving.
AM: Which was the first song that you recorded as a group?
Dooriyan. We had already done some songs. The first song that Fuzon had done was Ankhon ke Saagar.
AM: Was the band formed first or was it first decided to start composing the songs? What were the mechanics involved in your launch as a band?
Immu: I met Shafqat when he visited my studio for some project. I had heard his songs and I knew him as well. When we started recording, Shafqat immediately said I was the guy he wanted to work with. One day we found time to sit down and discuss how we should go about forming a professional relationship. He even offered to do my solo album but I said no, we should start as a band because Shallum and I were already working on those lines earlier and were looking for a vocalist. That’s how we started. I had a few songs ready but I had not been able to find a good singer. The first Fuzon song was mine. I had gone to play a game of cricket and when I returned, Shafqat and Shallum asked me to listen to a song they had put together. I really liked the number and we were so excited that we completed the track in about two hours. The rest is history.
AM: This is how it happens. You keep trying and nothing happens and then you get it right in one stroke. However hard you try, it is that magic moment that does it. But are you aware that one’s professional life is not a very long one in this part of the world? How will you handle this prospect in the times to come?
Immu: Well, bands usually start at a younger age. In our case, we came on the scene at a pretty mature level. Shafqat is the most senior member. He and I have been in music for the past 14 years. We have seen how bands are formed, how they break and what are the ego problems involved. We have already dealt with that aspect. We look at things quite professionally and then decide how to go about it.
AM: Yes, that is the right attitude.
Immu: We know that we have to work quite seriously. There are differences at times and that is quite natural – people disagree about various things but we are quite professional about our work and we take it quite seriously. We know what we are required to do when we go on stage. When we have to compose songs, we forget about everything else and get on with the job.
AM: One quite understands this because after you have spent 12 to 14 years doing sessions, then you know what is what and your experience guides you in your conduct. As far as Shafqat is concerned, he has the rich experience of his illustrious family to draw upon. He is not talking of 10 or fifteen years but of a hundred years. Since I am also in this field, I know that this is a collaborative art. Every element is equally important and everyone who is involved in the project has to ensure that his level of work is up to the mark. Do you have a decision-maker in the group or does the captainship keep rotating?
Shafqat: There is no question of rotation because there is no captain as such. We sit together and discuss each other’s ideas and we do not impose them on the band. Even it two members like an idea, the third one goes along with it.
Immu: We discuss everything with mutual understanding. For example, if we have to honor a commitment that has been made by one of us, then we make sure that we do it.
AM: What is your formula for a hit song?
Shafqat: There is one formula that you must know about as well – it’s a particular beat in which table, dholak and drums are mixed. Then bhangra is another easy formula these days and it is also quite easy to compost. If you just go into the market, you will have an idea. I can sing at least ten songs for you right away that have been composed on hard work and nothing else. If you want a formula, go for bhangra and people will listen to you today but they will forget you tomorrow. I have no qualms in saying this about all the great bhangra artistes we have today. Daler Mehndi is now hardly visible on the scene but I don’t think there was a greater bhangra artiste than him. What made him great was his riaz of some 10 to fifteen years in bhangra music. He used to sing semi-classical and ghazals before that. You don’t see much of Daler today because this is the length of a bhangra performer’s professional life. In fact, a bhangra singer would be very lucky to stretch his career beyond six or seven years. If you would like to be really remembered for your work, then only formula is hard work.
AM: You are right because I also believe in what you are saying. However, I also believe that whoever comes on the scene arrives with his own particular rang and it is important that people like that rang. Therefore, as a group with your individual identity, you need to offer something that is really original and for that, working very hard is the first condition.
Shafqat: Well, let me tell you that when we started we never thought we would be liked by the masses so much and that we would be invited to perform in commercial shows. All we wanted was to establish our identity as a band by the name of Fuzon. It did not matter to us at that point whether we would be accepted as a super duper group or no. But we did want to reach the international market somehow. Today, by the grace of God, we are a hit among the masses and we have also in the international market, as Virgin has agreed to release our next album in India, USA, Canada, England and Australia.
Basit Mirza: How do you gauge your popularity? By the number of CDs and cassettes sold, by the number of radio and TV listeners, by the number of people attending your concerts or – by the number of interviews you give and the press conferences you hold?
Shallum: The simple answer is that everything matters. People are listening to our music everywhere in the world. When people listen to our music and appreciate what we are playing, the attendance at our concerts automatically increases. Then the press and the media come in and they want to cash in on our popularity. So, it’s a combination of all these factors.
Shafqat: There is another aspect. Junoon used to have a particular audience. There were people who thought that perhaps they have become a little more rock. We enjoy presenting our music when we find that three generations of the same family are enjoying it at the same time. We meet a young girl and she says she is crazy about our ‘Aankhiyan’, her middle aged parents say they love our ‘Aankhon ke Saagar’ and the dada dadi say they are mad about our khamaj and listen to it for hours on end. That’s what gives us a great felling.
BM: Where do you as a band plan to go from here? Will you continue to produce fusion music or do you plan to break out from this periphery?
Shafqat: We have kept things in the pure form – but there are things like malhar or khamaj that we have fused or madhmanti and aiman. Songs like Ankhiyan are not fusion and you could describe them as pop. So we will continue with our fusion and will also be experimenting.
BM: Who was your inspiration locally or internationally – a band or perhaps a soloist – there must be somebody?
Immu: You can say it is a blend of influences, both of singers and bands. There was one band called Chicago Band that I really liked. Then there were individuals like Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson’s producer and others.
Shallum: My influences were a bit different. I really liked Pink Floyd and U2.
BM: What is more important for a band – lyrics, melody or rhythm?
Immu: All three are equally important because they are so strong. We care about all these aspects and that is my Fuzon is what it is today. Every Fuzon song is different in terms of lyrics, melody and the arrangement is equally tight. Like if we are doing khamaj, then it sounds like khamaj.
BM:At a press conference you talked about a project with A.R. Rehman. When this project takes off, who will be calling the shots? Will you accept everything that Rehman composes or will you assert your own thoughts and ideas as well?
Shallum: Virgin will associate us on this project with A.R. Rehman. They have asked us to do a sound track for a movie as artistes – because they have a lot of confidence in us. This means that we get to compose the music ourselves as Fuzon. We have done so many albums that have been liked around the world.
Shafqat: Obviously Rehman is more well-known than we are because he is such a great artiste and one should admire such great names. We would love to work with him.
BM: Tell us a bit about how you produced Aankhen?
Shafqat: The video shoot was not very glamorous and there was hardly a female in it. We simply went to a beach, shot the frames from different angles, edited the shots and there it was. The video came out really well. There are a lot of people who do not watch IM – the elderly – or people who are fed up with today’s music and that is why a lot of good artistes are not notices. This particular video of ours was quite slow moving but people liked it and that is how the album became so popular.
BM: There is a view that the hand, the head and the heart must work together to produce great art. How does this apply in your case?
Shallum: I would add the soul to this list as well because your soul – the rooh inside – brings out the genuine person in you. If you are a good individual, if you are satisfied with yourself then you are creative because such a person talks less and thinks more and is always looking for ways and means to express the thoughts inside him. The connection between heard and mind is also very important because it is only then that whatever you produce will sound mature. And I strongly believe that your soul matters a lot. When you are playing a thumri and if you are playing it with your heart in it, then you know it is right and the whole world will say it is right. Everything is interconnected and all human beings are interconnected. That is why people like what we like. We liked Saagar and the people like it too.
Immu: We had so much faith in it that we were sure it would be appreciated.
Shafqat: A lot of people still don’t know what its lyrics are – it is aankhon ke saagar and honton ke saghar.
Immu: We played the song for some fellow artists and they said it was too classical and won’t work. They told us to give it a more commercial touch but we did not pay attention to these suggestions and did what our heart and soul dictated.
Shafqat: Had we paid attention to the head only, then perhaps this would not have happened.
BM: Do you feel things like synthesizers create somewhat of monotony? Isn’t the group effort better?
Shallum: Yes machines do lead to monotony because the human effort is missing. There are five individuals in a band and each is making his own contribution. There are certain beats and certain sound that cannot be created by playing live – there are some modern beats that can only be created with the help of a synthesizer and you have to world accordingly.
Shafqat: Shallum is right – you cannot play certain notes live these days because you don’t find the kind of hardworking musicians you had earlier. There are so few left – you can count them on your finger. There is Allah Rakha sahib in Islamabad and the rest are not with us anymore. There is no sarod player in Pakistan. As for sitar, besides Ashraf Sharif (the son of Sharif Poonchwaley) there is hardly anyone. I don’t see him playing in Pakistan anywhere. There are a lot of commercial tabla players here but among the great players there is Shaukat sahib and his son. So, sometime in the future, the tabla may also disappear from here. You don’t find good piano players in Pakistan either. The late Master Sadiq was such a great pianist. You won’t find anyone of his level anywhere in the subcontinent and he did not possess his own piano. He used to play the piano in the Pearl Continental lobby. In fact, I would say that whatever the beat required, if an artiste is really dedicated and creative, he can produce it. After all, if a note has been programmed into a synthesizer, it must have been done by a human being. You don’t have those kinds of artistes now whose minds work at a rapid speed and who are able to produce those fine notes. We would certainly like to work with live instruments if the proper musicians can be provided to us.
BM: How do you see the future of music in Pakistan?
Shafqat and Shallum:
Well, there are hardly any institutions and then the people who know the art do not coach newcomers – they don’t have the time. As it is, we are always learning but it is our responsibility that whatever we know should be shared with the newcomers, we should give them proper guidance. And then there should be proper institutions where the ustaads should impart their knowledge. There are so many of these learned people who are not doing well and they can make a good living just by teaching music. The government should also support such institutions. It is also important that we accept music culturally and understand that there is nothing bad about music. Now the time has come when people have started appreciation music because it is becoming popular though they still do not accept it as an art form. In Pakistan there is no appreciation for art while in India it is the other way round. There, if you are an artiste they give you immense respect.
BM: At what age should a child be inducted into music?
Shafqat: As far as classical music is concerned, the families who are in the field bring their children into it from a very early age. But in fact there is no specific age at which to start. Like there was this Sardarji in Calcutta who was so inspired with Ustaad Fateh Ali Khan that he would listen so his tapes all the time. Then there came a time when he started singing classical songs himself and became quite good at it. All that you need is dedication and that is the difficult part.
BM: Do you feel you have arrived on the music scene?
BM: What was the turning point for you on the road to success?
Shallum: I think it was the song Aankhon ke Saagar.
BM: Has the fact that Shafqat belong to such a renowned music family contributed to Fuzon’s overnight success?
Shafqat: One wouldn’t say that Fuzon has achieved overnight success. We have really struggled very hard to get where we are. I think the effort that I have put in personality is because I have learnt riyazat as a family tradition.
BM: Then wouldn’t you agree that these factors have made a contribution – the fact that Shafqat is Fuzon’s lead singer or that he belongs to this famous music family of the Patiala gharana?
Immu: One thing is for sure – that shafqat has derived the rich singing of the famous Patiala gharana because he is a part of it. Had he been from another gharana, says Sham Charasi – he would have acquired the style of the gharana. I think that has added great richness to the kind of music we are offering.
Shallum: Until we arrived, there was no band in Pakistan that could be described as surila – melodious – and no band ever had a vocalist like shafqat – all this rich history, range and power. Our advantage is that we can create our music in any scale because we can fall back on a very rich musical heritage.
BM: Shafqat, why did you prefer to come into popular music rather than classical music?
Shafqat: It was not a matter of preference. Aankhon ka saagar, for example, has been composed on classical lines. The improvisation in it is also classical. There is a lot of emphasis on classical raags like Madhmanti, Malhar, Khamaj, Aliman, Bhimplasi. We haven’t moved away from classical music at any stage. We have only sugar-coated it a little. Many young people these days ask us to sing khamaj. It doesn’t matter whether they understand khamaj. May be there are some who try to find out what khamaj really is.
BM: What do you see as your biggest challenge in something on this?
Shallum: the greatest challenge is that we should be able to maintain the respect and recognition we have received. This would be the hardest thing to do. Otherwise, we have no challenge except to play good music and maintain our style.
Immu: People are following us – we are the trend-setters.
Shallum: A lot of new bands are coming up. The essence of their music is the same that we started – they begin with pop rock and try to blend in the eastern element. Some of them are big bands and I wouldn’t name them. A lot of solo artistes are also following in our tracks.
BM: When you are performing live, how much of it is actually live and how much pre-recorded?
Shallum: It’s totally live except when we are doing TV recording. The problem with TV is that you cannot get good sound when you are doing a live show in a TV studio. When there are a number of bands and a number of artistes in such shows, it becomes quite a hassle to move equipment or to change musicians according to the needs of every individual band or artiste.
BM: But a lot of other groups use CDs…
Shallum: Yes a lot of them do but the trend of live music is coming back and there are a number of bands now who are into playing live music
BM: With Shafqat as the vocalist, Shallum on keyboard and Immu as the lead guitarist, do you have other people in the band as well, such as a drummer, etc?
Immu: Yes, we have a drummer and a bass player – the complete five-piece band. Hopefully, it may even expand. We are already experimenting.
BM: Does it happen sometimes in a live concert that while your track is playing on the CD, Shafqat adds his live vocals?
Shafqat: We play CDs in TV recordings only and to be honest with you, we find TV shows to be quite boring in that respect because we are actually not playing and are only faking the whole thing.
Shallum: Yes, but when live concerts are recorded and run on TV, that is different because there we have played live and you can notice the energy in our performance. We enjoy doing that.
Immu: Even Michael Jackson, Backstreet Boys, M-Sync, etc., use that half of the time when they are performing live. Can you imagine Michael Jackson singing live for four hours at a stretch? He has a troupe of 13 or fifteen players with him at concerts but he still depends a lot on DAT.
Shallum: We are lucky to have very seasoned musicians, like Samir who plays bass or Allen Smith on drums – his is a major contribution. Farhad – Naeed Shahzad’s son – is a very good drummer. He plays sessions for us and would be touring with us in England.
Hassan Mahmud: What is the role of electronics in your music? Is the sequencing done through a computer and, if so, what then is Fuzon’s own sound?
Immu: I use Tricon for sequencing and the rest is PC-based and I don’t use any recorded stuff.
HM: How many guitars do you have?
Shallum: I have an acoustic guitar – it’s a replica but it sounds better than the original thing. It is important that when you hold a guitar you should fall in love with it and forget what brand it is. My Yamaha is the cheapest of guitars but I have upgraded it. I just fell in love with it and am playing it for the last six years. There was one guitar that Amir Zaki made for me. I added my own pick-ups to it and recorded a whole album with it.