LAHORE: There was a time when musicians used to knock at the doors of producers with their music samples, hoping to land a place in the recording studios. However, evolving times and advancements in technology have given rise to platforms such as YouTube, Patari, SoundCloud where artists can upload their music online and share it with the world.
Although many such artists have been brought into the spotlight through these platforms, the mediums have yet to be tapped to their full potential. In 2010, when one such musician’s career was about to take off, YouTube was banned in the country, halting his dreams and aspirations. A Mass Communication degree holder from NUST, Islamabad, he then opted for a full-time job but knew his future was elsewhere.
Abdullah Qureshi started singing from the adolescent age of three and bought his first guitar at the age of 12. From that point, he knew there was no going back. He started singing song covers and uploaded them on YouTube. Following the ban, he took his videos to other platforms like Facebook, SoundCloud etc and in 2011, started playing professionally.
Pakistan Today chats with the singer himself as he shares his musical journey, inspirations, aspirations and of course ‘Kaali Santro’ (Black Santro).
Tell us about yourself.
I am the first musician in my family and started by sharing covers of popular songs on Youtube.
When I started working in NADRA, I realised that a full-time job is not how I want to spend my life, so I started making music with a lot more effort and passion, rather than just as a hobby.
I started producing covers and uploaded them on social media and music sharing platforms. I did not approach any record labels directly, but eventually, a Lahore based record label discovered me and offered to produce my music covers in a studio along with music videos. From there on, I decided to keep doing what I do best and here I am.
How welcoming do you think the industry is to newcomers from the outside? On what scale do you think nepotism plays a role in all of this?
I won’t deny the presence of nepotism in the industry; it definitely is there. However, I believe that if you have the talent and passion, you can make it on your own in the industry. The journey will be hard, but it will definitely be worth it.
In my case, I wasn’t introduced to anyone who could help me. Even if I was, I wouldn’t want to take that help because I wanted to do things my way. I am confident about my skill set and I will continue striving for more.
What’s your take on the underground music scene and band culture in Pakistan?
The band culture was really good at one point, especially when we had bands like Entity Paradigm, Irtaash and so on. However, with time, it just faded away.
I can’t say why for sure, but possibly because people grew more interested in solo artists and because there just wasn’t good music being produced.
The last of the big bands that made an impact in the Pakistani music industry were those in the 90s like Noori, Call, Roxen, Aaroh, Strings and so on.
However, I think that this band culture is slowly making its way back to the spotlight now, especially with the introduction of platforms like Pepsi Battle of the Bands which is bringing forward the new talent in our country and polishing it as required.
I was initially a part of a band called ‘Aghosh’, with my friends and our first gig was a total disaster. However, soon after my team members suggested changing the name to ‘Abdullah Qureshi’ as I had been making covers previously and this way we could all team up and continue doing the same thing.
It was more like going ‘solo’ without going ‘solo’ because I still had my friends/band members play with me. This eventually led us to where we are today. Moreover, if a person performing on stage has the other band members or the team behind that completes the ‘whole package’, you will definitely kick a** on stage.
Pepsi Battle of the Bands, Levis Live and Nescafe Basement are promoting new talent, how important do you think it is to explore the new talent in the country?
I think there’s a lot of talent in our country. In the age of social media, exploring new talent is fairly easy. However, it can be a good thing and/or a bad thing for actual artists out there.
It is a good thing because it gives people a platform to showcase their talent to the world; however, the downside is that there is no quality control. Everyone is posting everything, good or bad. Back in the days, this was not the case, as what the viewers saw on TV, they knew this was definitely the good stuff.
A bad music video goes ‘viral’ because people think it is funny, what they don’t realise is the fact that they are overlooking/ignoring the good talent that is actually out there and does not get enough exposure.
Therefore, the world we live in today, as a musician who started off on YouTube doing covers, I can say that the career for artists like these depends on the listeners because it is these people who share our content, or not, that has an impact on our careers.
How important is it for musicians to get brands on board? Do you think Nescafe did that for you?
To become a ‘known face’, I think it is important to stick with a brand for a certain period of time. Not for a one-time project, but for a longer period of time – you need to let brand represent you.
Kashmir, for example, has made it big in a very short span of time, because they have become the face of Pepsi following their win in the last season of Battle of the Bands and that is exactly why their audience is increasing.
As for Nescafe Basement, it is a good platform and has its own audience. For me, it was a great experience, I loved working with Xulfi and he let me experiment in my own zone; I screamed myself out and played whatever I could and most importantly, learnt what I hadn’t experienced before.
What inspired you to do ‘Kaali Santro’?
‘Kaali Santro’ inspired me to do ‘Kaali Santro’.
It was my first car, without an AC, without the windows rolling down sometimes. Not only that, there were times I had to enter the car and get to the driving seat through the trunk.
One day, while driving, the car falls from the rear right side, I stop the car, get off only to see the tire rolling ahead of me. Those times weren’t easy but gave me so many memories and experiences.
The car was my inspiration for the song and it all came one day when I was playing the guitar and hummed the line ‘Gaddiyan hogayiyan charsi’ and I immediately linked it to my first and the rest, as they say, is history. It got my rock ‘n’ roll mode on and gave everyone ‘Kaali Santro’, the song.
How do you decide the theme of your music video?
There are two ways to do this.
One, when you are making a song, you a paint a picture in your head and then tell the concept to your director, who improvises around, tells you what works and what doesn’t.
The other way is to leave it up to the director to come up with a story after you give him the song. Following this, you discuss the idea, improvise and then work on the final outcome.
What’s the process of writing a song? How do musicians deal with the ‘creative block’?
Every musician, writer and even instrument players have a different process when it comes to dealing with a ‘creative block’ as well as writing a song.
Some people compose the song first and then write, for others it’s the opposite. In my case, I do both simultaneously. I mumble the words and define the syllables in the process. However, sometimes I compose first and then write. It honestly just depends on my mind at that point.
When I have a ‘composer’s block’, I start listening to a lot of music, because that is where you get inspired from.
Moreover, as I have to write my lyrics in Urdu and I couldn’t think of new words I started reading an Urdu book by Bano Qudsia to get new words from it. For ‘Kaali Santro’ it was different because it was personal, so it all came to me easily.
Do you ever want to pursue acting or any other field?
I just quit a telefilm after shooting 2-3 episodes, because I realised it wasn’t my cup of tea. Moreover, I wasn’t connecting with it like I do with my music.
Moreover, doing something just for the sake of doing it is useless; you should only pursue something if you are good at it, which was not the case here.
I haven’t explored my music completely, so I think I will stick to this for a while. But at the same time, I’m not restricting myself and keeping my options open. Who knows if things change, you might just see me on screen in the future.
What project has been the most challenging and why?
‘Kaali Santro’ has probably been the most challenging. Even though it was very personal, but perfecting the Punjabi accent took me a while. Moreover, I haven’t acted per se and getting that actor out proved to be a bit of a feat. I was also surprised to see the Punjabi man in me come to life; even though I knew I had it in me considering my dad is Punjabi, I didn’t know it was this crazy.
Like I said earlier, I quit the telefilm because I didn’t connect with it, so doing that for the music video was an interesting task.
Having said that, the music video was shot in Ramzan and in the scorching heat, so that was a little challenging too, as we had to respect the month and pushing the car around in this heat was not easy.
Advice for people wanting to venture in the field?
Listen to good music and keep practising. You have social media at your disposal so make use of it, wisely ofcourse. You’ll get there sooner or later if you’re dedicated and passionate about your work.