By Amira Zaidi

Straight after the release of ‘Ek Chalis Ki Last Local’, the music of which was done by CALL the band in 2007, a friend and I happened to visit the studio of Xulfi, one of the founding members of CALL. My friend was getting questionnaires filled. But Xulfi had no time. In fact I don’t even remember exchanging a word with him, as he sat at his computer with his back towards us. Soon, the violinist Javed sahab arrived and began working on his notes. The sound was blissful. The tiny trapezoid-shaped studio became over-crowded and over-whelmed with a beautiful sound. The space was such that it wouldn’t accommodate a fourth person on any regular day but we loved to stay on and listen for a while. One could sense back then that it was time to move beyond that studio as talent oozed out of it, and so he did, move out of there and much beyond. As today you see a Xulfi, having quit Entity Paradigm and having put the “CALL” on hold, he stands alone, as a mentor to the many aspiring artistes that strive to be him!

Nescafe Basement is the name of this platform. And the timing could not have been better as winters approach and coffee will be the much thrived-upon beverage. So in collaboration with this, Xulfi gathered up 15 young musicians, aging 16-25 years old to produce a season of fresh music. He got to know these musicians as either opening-acts to his concerts or musicians that came in for a recording but weren’t able to take their music to another level, due to no backing or financial support. But their talent was there, jamming away hopelessly, with a quiet listener over the years. Xulfi gathered one by one; Adnan, a vocalist from Khanewal and others from different schools and colleges of Lahore, like LGS, LSE, NCA, PIFD. Mansoor is a brilliant drummer that Xulfi had had in mind since a long time and Jibran, a rare saxophonist, both who funnily thought that this was all a joke and someone pretending to be Xulfi, was making calls and claims of providing this platform. Turaab, an all-rounding musician and Adrian, a solo flute player sat shyly and humbly in the corner of the studio while we watched a few videos of the “basement”, in the basement of Xulfi’s studio. And their heads would dangle and feet tap to the beat as though it was their first time enjoying this video of Sajjad Ali’s “Lari Adda”, which the group sang in a fun, qawali-style. All of us were on-looking the screen with much amazement, engulfed in a surround-sound that felt 3D. There was constant clapping in this, but in the other songs, snapping of fingers, tapping, smiling and giggling throughout the music and this was the kind of rapport that Xulfi had wanted to achieve. There was definitely a communication going on and the music came out strong.

To prepare for all this, a room was rented, not in a basement, but on the 4th floor of a building in DHA, central to everyone. There were jamming sessions taking place but moreover, there were friendships developing. Xulfi believes, “Music is a product of the jam. So I am a jam-person. If I had to actually get these people to play music and create music, I would like them to be friends and produce this out of a jam session, with no constrained environment. No suppressing. I wanted to allow them to musically express themselves. So we practiced and completed 25 songs in one and a half months. And then came the shoot for TV.” Murtaza Niaz, running Pak Media Revolution was the chosen guy to shoot this scenario, since the whole concept revolved around new and fresh people. And he surely did justice to the shoot, as every musician was given due coverage, unlike the vocalists only getting most of the attention.

One of the tracks, “Sarkiye ye pahar” of Strings, was very beautifully sung by Asfar and Adnan, with a lot of variation and a fresh sound. Fresh but at the same time, you could hear CALL at some parts and the familiarity of that was pleasing to the ear. Mujeeb, trained for classical singing, lent out his very own tune in the song “Kabhimein”. Each instrument was heard distinctly and all the musicians seemed to have good coordination. The backing vocalists gave harmonies and the rest were clapping happily. It was a complete team-effort. It was overall a very raw, organic feel from an organic sound. Next, for the EP lovers, there was a very gentle version of “Waqt” sung by Asfar and Alina, who is a student at LGS and a sibling to one of the musicians. The tempo was slower and the violin’s sound, by Hamza as well as that of the Tabla, byFawad with tight curls and a very Zakir-Hussain-style, made it sound very classical. This piece meant a lot for Xulfi, as he wanted the vocalists to feel the reason behind ‘Waqt’ and to be able to feel that rebel inside them that he had felt back in his days. Gladly he says that they exceeded his expectations as they put a lot of expression into this song. He felt it was a huge learning experience for them and that he saw many artistes not just groom through this exposure but also feel their lives changing. Speaking of one of the vocalists here, Asfar, it would be worth mentioning his ability to play the Rubab so beautifully as he had, in one of the adaptations to Sajjad Ali’s “Babiya”. There seemed to be a surprise around every corner, from within every young artiste here.

Overall, the biggest challenge was said to have been the time limitation – one and a half months! But where there’s a will, there’s a way and everyone had become very passionate towards this venture. As of now, the first eight songs were released, with a very pop feel, though Xulfi stresses on the fact that music is not just Bollywood or not just pop. If you enjoy it, it becomes pop for you. However, these first eight songs released on TV are quite to the liking of almost everyone. The next eight to be released this week are heavier with the ‘rock’ element. And the last eight would be more western, playing foreign covers. So grab your cup of coffee and find the listener inside you, to find an artiste inside them.

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