Step up musicians

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One of the newest rage on TV, Usman Riaz strumming and slapping his guitar in a brilliant solo performance, Ramlal and their eccentric lyrics supported by a uniquely-selected instrument – the trumpet and Yasir, Jawad and Ali with their melodic Pashto song, grooving gently to the Rubab. This is Uth Studio showing off its stock of undiscovered talent all over the country. Even with the lack of resources to discover them with, Gumby, Omran Shafique and others on the team, have out done themselves for this project, selecting unknown singers and players, some with such outstanding potential it is unbelievable that they have not yet made it anywhere on TV or radio.
But all of them have original ideas and original songs. The rest, the Uth Studio does. The idea was a brainchild of Gumby (Louis John Pinto), a Karachi-based drummer, well known for his jazz based, accented beats. The idea had come into his mind some years ago and he was determined to work on it. “I always felt that this was the only way the future of our music industry could be known,” says Gumby. “If we want to uncover new talent, this had to be done. I tried to pitch this idea to a bunch of people but not everyone seemed interested in it,” he says.
It is clear in any case that Uth Studio is an important project, not just for Gumby unlike other programmes that reveal new talent, Uth has a different approach in introducing people to music and definitely a different procedure in doing so. “We had Sangeet Icon, which had a kind of battle-of-the-bands approach, but there was so much rat race involved that it somehow got dirty,” he says. “We have music videos for established artists so they can reach the audience, but what avenues have we got for talented people who aren’t established? A battle of the bands?” Gumby says.
Half of them feel ashamed in getting involved with something like that because it is like a cattle show, he says, explaining that more than often, studios, record labels and TV channels do not treat upcoming talented artistes with the respect they deserve. “We don’t have a hard definition of who to choose except that they send in their demos of something original that they have done,” he says. “Unfortunately this is the only way.
There is no club culture in Pakistan, except for a few cafes in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, where record labels and others can go and see who’s playing so that they can be promoted…here a man who hasn’t made it big is mistreated and not respected, and the moment he gets a chance and gets big, they are fawning all over him…this is the sorry state of the Pakistani music industry,” he says. Today there is a market for all types of music.
People’s exposure to music within Pakistan has grown and even to that outside of Pakistan, although Western music sensibilities need to be worked on by local musicians. But as Gumby explains, ‘20 kms from his house’ (in Karachi), accents, dialects, languages and cultures all change, so it cannot be ignored that there is a diversity of people all over the country and everyone wants to hear something new.
“I don’t blame young people for a limited exposure to music,” says Gumby.
“I was a 80s child and things were always so expensive here – cassettes, musical and recording equipment – so how can you learn about things?” he says. But even those who had the resources to buy, have not really built up on their music knowledge. There may be a lot of talent in the country, but even today as the Internet is offering free download of music and information, not many people have explored music. A singer who is ‘good’ will never improve if he or she dos not learn and take inspiration from other singers. But this not a culture here it seems.
“I agree to this to a certain extent,” says Gumby. “After a certain time, this relies on the artistes own passion, you see. If they don’t take an interest they will remain stagnant, but we also must realize that there is talent in this country which is never given the kind of exposure and support that for instance is done in India. We should also support and back our talent like them for it to prosper,” he says.
Several people have begun to compare Coke Studio with Uth Records, but this may not be the correct approach.
The reason is that Coke Studio is a set, where established artists come and collaborate with others. Coke Studio is about the song, but Uth Records is about the artist. The videos, as Gumby points out, are about the construction of the song and the musical arrangement, with a bit of humour injected into the camera work. It works as a kind of a documentary style. “There is a significant difference between the two shows,” says Gumby. “We’ve got music with fusion elements in both shows, perhaps a bit more in CS because that’s about enhancing a particular song. But music is without boundaries, and we cannot constrict it or limit it in any way. So are musicians – they need to be noticed,” he says.
Gumby mentions the 60 year-old-man who is playing the trumpet in Ramlal’s song. “He used to charge about Rs 500 to 1,000 for playing in weddings,” he says. “Today if people like him are discovered and are paid for their work, and are getting better employment chances through their music, then we should be proud of that. People have called up asking about where I found him. And it’s surprising because these are musicians that aren’t inaccessible unless we don’t notice them,” he says.
And while Coke Studio attempts to fuse elements of Eastern and Western music together, to produce a different kind of ambience altogether, Uth Records does nothing like that. This project is not about fusion, and fusion needs to be very well arranged in order to sound tight. “Fusion isn’t about doing classical vocals mixed with guitar as many of our bands seem to think,” says Gumby. “That has become cliché,” he says. In other words, Uth Records attempts to just enhance the song, by arrangement of instruments. Then it produces the artiste’s song and releases it, so that more talent in the country can come forward.
“I always thought this would be the only way to encourage music among the people,” says Gumby. “But public response and appreciation has overwhelmed me. This idea, which is o out of the box, is being appreciated and that is the first step towards changing. Though our first season is over and the next one wont start till the few months more, I am still getting demos being sent to me. I can only make a change through me being a musician,” he continues. “This is the way that I can help end this discrimination and favour by TV channels and help the regular man on the street in whom is hidden an excellent musician, to be noticed and heard. But one the thing they must always remember – they must always believe in themselves,” he says.