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'One song and you're a hit'

AJAY SHASTRI thinks he is a rockstar, his looks support his thoughts. Ajay has been on the city's rock music scene for around the same time Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia first started off as a college band in Karachi.

Both Bilal and Faisal have predominantly been rockstars too, but it looks like they have graduated from the casualty of post-punk angst to be suave men who have their hair cropped short, and sing of love and all that is nice. The genre is a matter of choice, but what is common to all the three musicians is their undying love for good music, nursery rhymes and Hyderabadi biryani apart from similar musical influences they've shared.

Ajay caught up with Strings at the ITC Kakatiya Sheraton when they were on a whirlwind tour of the city to promote Dhaani, - their new album. Souvik Chowdhury captures excerpts from the conversation

Ajay (introducing himself) - My band is Jekyll and Hyde, and I'm the lead singer. Until recently, I was with Alteregoz - the same band that is doing one number for Nagesh Kukunoor's Hyderabad Blues 2.

Bilal (enquiringly) - Why did you leave them?

Ajay - Kukunoor has been a friend all right, but I couldn't do Hindi and sing Dil pe mat le... and stuff!

Bilal (jokingly) - Was that song on you?

Faisal (assuming seriousness) - No Bilal, at times I wonder if we were to do film music, whether we'll be forced to bow down before director/producers for doing something we don't really believe in?

Bilal - We'd rather not...

Ajay - Yeah, it's a terrible. If you do something the market demands, fans say goodbye.

Faisal - And fan-driven musicians like us cannot afford to lose them, who are the source of all our inspiration and energy.

Bilal (to Ajay) - Is it true that musicians in India have to be engaged in other businesses to sustain themselves. What do you do to earn a living?

Ajay - I used to work for O&M, and then Lintas. Presently, I am directing a short film called 12 that is being produced by Rana Daggubati. And then, I have plans to direct a movie for the international market, Behind Blue Eyes.

Bilal - Behind Blue Eyes, nice title, `The Who'?

Ajay - Ya (smiles)

Bilal - You and I have a similar story. I was also into filmmaking before Duur happened. I was making television commercials.

Ajay - Tell me the story behind Strings...

Faisal - Bilal and myself used to jam together during college fests. We are studying at the Government College of Commerce and Economics, Karachi. Once, it so happened we had to perform at one of the music contests, the participation was restricted only for music bands.

Till the announcer asked for our band's name, we had no clue about anything. Somebody called us Strings, - a name I never even remotely had in my mind. That was in 1989.

Ajay - One has heard that you never did covers?

Bilal - Quite rightly so. Right from the beginning we had been playing our original compositions in Hindi/Urdu. We had about five-six when somebody suggested that we cut an album.

Our first self-titled album had Sar kiye yeh pahar, one huge tune which gave us a mammoth fan following. We were stars overnight, doing interviews, touring, playing on radio, on the TV and open air.

Faisal - It is sad we had to disband in two years time.

Ajay - But anyway, destiny had earmarked you for success; even after ten years of separation and not doing music, your re-entry has been dramatic with Duur. What is the rock scene in Pakistan like?

Faisal - Pakistan has a different music culture, where most bands play Hindi or Urdu numbers. Bands have their original compositions. But this should not be interpreted that Pakistanis are not into English music at all. In fact, one can find a lot of rock and pop influences in our music.

Bilal - We've been hugely influenced by R.D. Burman and Kishore Kumar, and Bollywood film music too.

Ajay - Who has been your influence, Bilal? You have a great style in playing the guitar - you can make the instrument sing?

Bilal - Mostly it has been U2. Glam Rock as a genre has proved inspiring to bring in more power and energy in my music. I grew up listening to a lot of Knopfler and Clapton. Bollywood songs of the Seventies have also influenced me, I consider the period as the most melodic age of Hindi cinema.

Ajay - What about you, Faisal?

Faisal - I listened to everything, from Michael Jackson and Madonna to Nazia and Zoeb Hassan, and R.D. Burman. But classical music was the form I liked the most.

Faisal - How big is the rock circuit in Hyderabad. Do you guys keep busy throughout the year?

Ajay - Not too often, the rock scene is yet to pick up here like Bangalore or Delhi. The new-age metal band play great music but the following is obviously less. When I used to play with Alteregoz, we used to do 50 shows a year. But very few bands are all that popular. Even fewer get a chance to cut an album. As you rightly pointed out, bands cannot depend on music solely in Hyderabad.

Bilal - Why? Back home, bands do only music for a living... They sing only originals, and that, only in Hindi or Urdu.

Ajay - The scene is different here. Bands do 90 per cent cover tracks, only 10 per cent are original numbers. It is not very cool to sing in Hindi here, sometimes you don't have an audience.

Faisal - But why? Singing in Hindi makes more sense, particularly when one is comfortable with the language, at least that is the perception we have in Pakistan.

Ajay - The crowd in India is very clear, they prefer considering Hindi Rock as something like pop. That is the reason why people like Gary Lawyer just refused to sing in Hindi because they know they'll lose their Rock following. The audience is reluctant to accept rock music in Hindi, and pop is something we, as musicians, are not very keen on.

Bilal - It is very strange. It surprises me because we've found Indian audiences very responsive to our music!

Faisal - Young musicians should educate the audience to accept rock music in Hindi. Just one big song is all what is required to change the mindset and get into the market. Like Junoon, who began originally as a pure rock band, but shifted gears by bringing in inflection of Sufi and qawwali-style. It took them five albums to be a hit (Sayonee was from their fifth album) and now, they are a cult.

Ajay - It is easier said than done.

Bilal - I agree, but one has to make an attempt.

Ajay - It is not that we've not attempted. But you see, even big bands like Euphoria have to do English covers when they play live, just to remain popular with their fans.

Bilal (looking concerned) - But I still feel young musicians like you should change the audiences taste, if that be the case. Like we always want to continue surprising the audience, every time we perform.

Ajay - Let's hope so!

(Just then the event manager knocks, and says others are waiting to interview Strings)

Bilal - Thoda time aur, mazaa aa raha hai, yaar (a little more time please, we are enjoying the conversation).

Faisal - I wish we could have continued this conservation. It doesn't end when three musicians meet. We shall be in touch, and let us know if you'd like our music for your movie.

Ajay - Till then, keep the faith.

Remixing right

Bombay Vikings

THINK EASTERN melodies and western rhythm and the name that comes to mind is the ubiquitous Neeraj Sridhar a.k.a Bombay Vikings. From Kya soorat hai to the recent Chod do aanchal, Neeraj has come out successfully with the not-so-jhinchaak mellow and tuneful new age versions of the yesteryear hits when compared to pulsating versions by his contemporaries. Based in Stockholm, he has been at work, on melancholy laden syrupy remakes of songs from his childhood days laced with the sounds that surround him now. So what does it take to make chartbuster remixes?

Bombay Vikings presents six tenets for a successful remix:

--Choose legendary works. They have a rich feel in terms of tunes and lyrics.

--Don't harm the original song. Ensure that you retain its melody and sweetness.

--Don't make video for every song. Some songs go separately to each audience.

--Overexposure on video kills the tune. A good song will make it on its own.

--Technical knowledge is very essential. Today is the era of digital mixers and computers.

--Follow world music. Add a dash of R&B or techno to the original track.

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