Monday, May 21, 2007

Latest Interview: Strings on Akhari Alvida and upcoming album

The superpower of live

By Faras Ghani

The invite-for-two called for an amiable dosage of Strings offerings at a Karachi venue. Being a golden virgin when it came to Strings’ gigs, a lackadaisical affair, with an ample side-serving of haath ooper at best, was anticipated.

There were entities toiling zealously for the evening to stick to the afore-mentioned menu; there was the warmth and dryness in the air; a hugely talent, yet unappreciated, female performer who sang away harmoniously to the delight of the older lot but was still booed off stage; and Ayaz Khan’s lugubrious attempts at dissing the various masses as well film stars the band performed final rituals back-stage.

In the battle of live performers, Strings is no Aaroh or Ali Azmat or can even be thought of being compared to a few sound underground bands in the country. On the other side, a Strings act can’t be as lousy as an Annie performance. Strings, as impressive as they are on TV, just can’t be looked upon as that live, hair-raising rock phenomenon. All myths. There have been gradual changes and improvements along the way, as well as the remarkable rise to international stardom of late, but it was hard to imagine 200-odd fervent cronies head-banging the expertly-developed, probably reserved for live performances, rock version of Zinda! All this while the older generation appreciated meekly as they clapped away glued to the seats from a safe distance, a glowing confirmation to Faisal Kapadia’s proclamation that “Strings has evolved as a band.”

True that. And from the nadir passage of the evening amid ardent booing and expectant thumb-twiddling to the zenith of Qaiser’s drum-bludgeoning and Faisal’s finely-tuned vocals. The culpable crowd arrangements did threaten to restrict the event to a mild shade of mediocrity but for Faisal’s invite for everyone to step forward, closer to the poorly set up stage, much to the grievance of the security and administration personnel.

“This is a poor crowd, they have no energy, there is no enthusiasm, let’s see how it goes,” he made clear prior to their stint on-stage. And he could not be more wrong, as he agreed that even though it was not the liveliest of affairs, it rocked.

Playing commercially in Karachi after a break of two months spent working on their albums amid international tours, Strings received a rousing welcome as they galloped on-stage. Complaining of the spotlight being in his face, while not being able to conceal a wide grin that depicted his delight at the appreciation, Faisal delved into the act straightaway.

The crowd woke up immediately. In the last hour, they had ghazals and qawwalis, including a remake of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Halka Suroor, being streamed at them by Rabia Seher, the solo act that preceded Strings, and Ayaz Khan’s atrocious on-stage antics. This bettered anything they had seen or heard till then. By miles.

Kicking off with Na Jane Kyun, from the soundtrack of Spider-Man 2, the tone was already set; wailing residents at the expense of savouring crowd. And while the crowd restricted itself to the seating area and its whereabouts, I drooled at the prospects of quality photographs due to acres of space in front of the stage. That drool, however, was wiped off immediately as Faisal, realising crowd input was minimum at that point, requested that vacant area to be filled immediately. That request not only sent screaming fans to their feet, but also the thus-far perched security staff.

'This is a poor crowd, they have no energy, there is no enthusiasm, let's see how it goes,' Faisal made clear prior to Strings' stint on-stage. And he could not be more wrong, as he agreed that even though it was not the liveliest of affairs, it rocked

And as the crowd went mad, so did the band. And that was when Strings the pop band truly converted to Strings the live sensation. The tempo was lifted, the squalling crowd on their feet (only when they landed after continuous jumping), cameras clicking away and although much was left to be desired when it came to the lighting, the sound quality and the following atmosphere made up for it all.

While Bilal Maqsood, who remained pretty much anonymous during the early moments apart from backing vocals, let his guitar do the talking, Faisal was springy at worst. And then there was Sar Kiye Yeh Pahar. Ample time for Faisal to rest his limbs after the frightening load they were put under while Bilal reminded one and all of days of the curly locks and lighter bodies. Always a favourite for sing-alongs, Bilal made it sound different. Uniquely different. While there was a slight hint of nasal input, the impeccable delivery brought discernment and memories hand-in-hand.

“The band has changed slightly from 2003 when we released Dhaani. We have matured, progressed and evolved further. There is a burst of inexhaustible energy and we believe getting the crowd involved is imperative in order for a concert to be successful,” Faisal put it simply.

Strings are currently working on their latest album, the launch of which is expected in three to four months’ time, and it promises to be different.

“We have spent the last three or four months working seriously towards the new album. We have identified spots where we had to make improvements and I believe our latest offering will be different from the previous albums,” said Faisal, citing the example of Akhari Alvida from the film Shootout at Lokhandwala, the second time their song has hit the Bollywood screens.

Speaking of Bollywood, Zinda, their debut in the Indian film industry, sent chills down a few spines. While the film version portrayed distress with Sanjay Dutt wandering about the streets of Bangkok, this reborn version was all fathoms of energy and permeating vim. So much was the intensity, that it gave the rock-fanatics an excuse for prolonged head-banging, apt considering the chromatic display of fervour.

And while Sohniye and Hai Koi Hum Jaisa got the crowd more addicted, there came a tribute to Nazia Hasan. Starting with the male version of Disco Deewane, Faisal asked female volunteers for brief duets and while a few jumped on for temporary fame, there was one with an eerie resemblance (in voice) to the late singer that brought back memories.

And as the end of the 90 minutes neared, the band jumped around on stage amidst the scintillating use of light switches, the crowd went in frenzy. And as Faisal’s top dripped of hard-earned sweat, they bid the crowd adieu after an unforgettable live performance. As the followers headed for the exits in the wee hours of the night, they were reminded that when it came to a live performance, Strings was not at par with Aaroh or Ali Azmat. It was better.

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