‘Fuzon’ of talent

Fuzon, a band of three multi-talented performers – Shafqat Amanat Ali, Imran (Immu) and Shallum Xavier – all filled with a passion for music, have merged their varying abilities,

creating some of the most promising sounds to come out of the Pakistani music scene. Their music is a reflection of today’s generation, a blend of the East and West. Fuzon has been lucky enough to hit all the right notes with their debut album Saagar.

Although tunes like Ankhon Kay Saagar, Teray Bina and Akhiyan are romantic and hummable, the self-titled songs in raagas like Khamaaj and the torrential Malhaar are definitely the cream of the lot.

Thirty-two year old Immu and 25 year old Shallum (considered the baby of the group), residents of Karachi, and the swarthy Shafqat, the lead vocalist, a resident of Lahore, dressed in casual attire.

and finally at ease in their natural habitat after a hectic day, were asked about their musical influences and how they actually got together. But first we wanted to know why Immu had dyed his hair blonde. The uncomfortable Immu replied that it was the hairdresser’s idea. Fuzon’s keyboardist and one of the band’s central players took the teasing in his stride.

“I grew up listening to the eastern and English classics along with MTV and Quincy Jones. Having worked on various gigs for many years, I wanted to put a band together but somehow couldn’t find the right kind of vocalist,” says Imran about his early moorings.

Shallum, a strummer of some calibre amongst the guitar gurus of Pakistan, grew up music mad. “I was very unsocial and left my studies because I just wanted to be with my music. Immu and I had known each other way before the band was formed.”

What about family influences? Immu responded first.

“My father influenced me a great deal but I was also a pampered child.” Shallum adds, “My father was also my influence.”

No female influences? Laughing, Shallum quips, “My mother really beat me up!”

Kismet led Shafqat to hook up with the duo.

“The meeting with Shafqat took place when he came in to record some songs at my studio,” says Immu. “The minute I heard him, I knew he was the one for the band. I put the idea across to him and he liked it.”

Shafqat, the 36-year old Pisces, explained why he switched to singing the admixture of classical and pop instead of following in the footsteps of his forefathers.

“Music’s been in my home since the last seven generations and there were reasons for me to go for something new.” Shafqat comes from a well-known family of classical singers.

of the Patiala gharana and is one of seven offspring of the late Ustad Amanat Ali Khan. Sadly, Shafqat lost his greatest influence, his father, when he was only four.

“When I was growing up, Asad Bhai was at his peak and although he never imposed himself on me in any way, he influenced me tremendously. Music is my profession and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Music being inherent, he proudly puts his own son’s example forward.

“My son Saadi is only four, but if you ever see him at a show he head bangs when I’m singing. He loves it. It runs in the family. I don’t think I have ever, to my knowledge, seen any child of my family who wanted to take up any other profession.”

Why, then, the change to pop?

“I wanted to be different from the family. There was the tradition of singing in joris (pairs) in our family. There was nobody for me to pair up with. My mind turned towards pop when I was at college.

Later, I began to visit Karachi with the purpose of making a name in the field and financed a cassette of my own, which, by the way, was never released. Looking back, I’m glad it wasn’t. It was too chulbulla.”

Did success come easily for the trio?

“No way,” they all laugh collectively and share a look of mutual understanding.

“Many people told us our ‘experiment’ with this kind of music would not work. ‘It was too classical’ they said. The same people now have a different opinion,” Shallum reveals. This was surprising to hear, especially when the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was one of the most renowned exponents of Immu, a Taurean, recalls how the band got their breakthrough as a band.

“A friend of mine, Ali Fareed of Indus Vision, heard our songs and suggested we make videos for them. Ghazanfar (Ali) had initially also rejected our music. The thing is, we never gave up.

Everyone in the field who’s made it has at some point gone through similar trials. Ankhon Kay Saagar was selected for a Humayun Saeed serial. The money from that gave us the opportunity to re-edit it and that is how our first video was aired.”

But Shafqat retorts that fame is nothing new for him.
“I have always seen fame within my family, so it’s not a new experience as such. I have been around as a singer for a long time, but have just begun to taste the limelight – that shows my patience.”

“We knew we would make a name and place for ourselves. We were pretty sure that Saagar would do well, but I never thought it would become such a major hit amongst the masses. That was unexpected!” Shallum says. “We worked on the album for about a year and a half before its release in September 2002.” Is sharing the limelight a problem, as the lead vocalist is usually the centre of attention? Immu answers.

“No. We started our band at a very mature level in our lives, having been in the field for so long.” Shallum, a Virgo adds, “The technical side of recording is done by Immu and myself. Shafqat comes in when we’re writing songs, making melodies. His knowledge in regards to the classical side is vast, ours is more western. Everything is equally distributed between us.”

What has working with Immu and Shallum been like for Shafqat? With a mischievous twinkle in his eye, Shafqat rumbles out a, “Hate it! No, just kidding! Actually, what’s best about us is that despite the arguments, the three of us have a great camaraderie and love of music, dark colours…and cricket!”

Their recent, much talked about Albert Hall experience has left the band feeling exhilarated. “People actually know and sing the words of our songs. It was like a dream come true! I think we’ve been very lucky that our first show in London was at that venue,” says Immu.

As for the future, Shafqat paints a bright picture.

“Sony wanted to sign us and they have never released anyone from Pakistan, but Virgin gave us a better offer so we went along with them and signed up for three albums. We’ll also be touring soon. We actually prefer to perform live and Insha Allah will continue doing so.” Immu adds, “Because we play live on tour, Sameer (bass player) and Farhad (drummer) accompany us.”

It might be a bit too early in the day but a videography on their lives is also in the pipeline.

A difficult road lies ahead for Fuzon. The first hurdles have just barely been crossed and petty jealousies are bound to follow in a field known. for its competitive, cutthroat atmosphere. Does the band feel the strain of higher expectations? Shafqat answers. “Yes, in some ways. But from the beginning, our aim has been to work on what we loved and thought to be good music.” Their motto is an old one: ‘Jiyo, aur jeenay do.

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