I admit this wasn’t a concert in its purest form, but the roaring crowd proved that Karachi is hungry for live music
I don’t remember the last time a large-scale concert was held in Karachi.
Instead, we have musical ‘events’. We have qawwali nights, open mic nights, jam sessions and the nearest thing to a concert is usually found at some festival or the other, a complement to food or literature.
Whatever happened to attending a concert purely for the sake of witnessing a band you love perform?
This pet peeve meant that I wasn’t super excited about last weekend’s Sound Clash, a musical event featuring Ali Azmat and Umair Jaswal. When I asked organisers about the event, I was strictly told, “Lookie here young missy, this ain’t no concert, it’s a clash and you best be learnin’ yourself that!” Okay, not in those words but the tone was the same. Needless to say, I was confused about how far people would go to distance themselves from the idea of a ‘concert.’
Sound Clash is the outcome of a staged rivalry between Ali Azmat and Umair Jaswal. Leaked videos leading up to the event saw the two musicians berate each other, which set the stage for a ‘battle of the bands’ kind of show.
As I prepared to attend the concert I wondered: was this event not labelled a concert due to the lack of popularity of concerts in general [in Pakistan, at least]? Did the organisers think this event would be a bigger success if it were labeled a clash rather than a concert? Or was it just because of the manufactured drama on social media that led up to it?
I was already annoyed at that drama. It drove home the point that musicians have to resort to creating a hullabaloo on social media to gain attention because people don’t follow musicians as an entity themselves.
Onwards to Sound Clash
concert clash took place at Expo Center. The ‘red carpet’ was outside the hall and it had me confused. Not because it was outside but because it was there. It reminded me of the LSAs and that was what bothered me. Is there a red carpet for everything now? I mean, should I have a red carpet when I invite my friends over for pizza?
I still got to talking to some of the celebs that were there. What surprised me was that not many stars came, not even musicians. There was no Fuzon, no Noori, no Ali Zafar (this has nothing to do with my goal to get a selfie with him!). However, some of the celebs who came were there to support their friends and I loved that.
Gohar Rasheed came to support Umair.
“I do have a side, Umair. Obviously! He’s my best friend! I personally think that the new generation is more skilled and more aware of the technology and the taste of the music as compared to the old generation and our old generation, no doubt, they have set the stage for us but now I think the new generation are the players. So, I am totally pro Umair Jaswal. I think he’s gonna nail it tonight!”
Neshmia Ahmed came to support Ali Azmat
“Oh, I’m supporting Ali Azmat! He’s a very old friend of mine, we go back like 26-27 years! He sang on my 25th birthday. I think it’s a fun event, we never do this. It’s a new venture and I’m very eagerly waiting for it to start. I know Ali, he’ll be brilliant!”
Humayun Saeed was very diplomatic; he came to support both musicians
“I’m definitely supporting both. I think both are very good and this whole event is very good. This is a major music event in Karachi after a very long time and that’s big news. We can never have good concerts here what with security reasons and what not and to make this happen so well is very big, because it shows the change. We have a living legend Ali who’s our music veteran and then Umair the upcoming star. I love the idea and that’s why I’m here, to support these guys.”
Frieha Altaf came to support the music!
“I do fashion all the time. I don’t even remember the last live music event I went to for the sake of the music . Because they’re mostly in colleges and universities and then you go to these ‘nights’ where there is Rahat Fateh Ali singing… It’s not the same! It’s not the same feel and this is what’s exciting me. Ali, of course, is a friend of mine. I’ve done so much work with him, even in his videos, and I believe the energy of the young people is unbelievable but I’m rooting for the music! Everything should just be in good spirit. May music win!”
When I realised that this wouldn’t be a grand red carpet event, and that my hair was going to turn into steel wool in the heat and humidity, I decided to head on inside. And to an extent I was impressed.
Entering the battle field
The hall was open with no seating. At one end, there was a stage, set up with instruments, lights, the works. But then, on the other end, right across that stage was another stage set up the same way. The lighting was amazing. In the centre hung a mic right above a small stage, which led to a closed off section where DJ Faisal Baig was cranking up the tunes on a laptop. That part bothered me, as I took another Red Bull (I refuse to reveal how many I had). I came here to rock out to live music, not a DJ playing dhujku dhujku tracks on a laptop.
The event starts with a drum off. That definitely had the crowd cheering, that and the fact that Gumby was one of the drummers. It was Gumby vs Aahad Nayani and that alone was enough to hint who was playing for whom. That being said, I was very very impressed by Aahad Nayani; he was definitely putting up a fight against the veteran drummer.
After that Ahmed Ali Butt took the stage… the middle one. He introduces the concept of the clash and how they’ve divvied up the battle and that made me feel much much better… until he pulled an ‘Ahmed Ali Butt’ and irked me. Apparently it was thelarki waley vs thelarkey waley. Okay, cute, I would’ve been fine with that until he said, “Let’s see who will be the larki waley in the end.” Is there a stereotype that I don’t know about? Why, Ahmed Ali Butt, why? From the LSA stunt to this, there just has to be some unnecessary humor that irks people. But oh well, it’s not about him.
To my left, Ali Azmat would be performing with his team of veteran musicians and to my right, Umair Jaswal with his team of the new generations.
The battle begins
Each artist came and introduced themselves with three songs. First up was Ali, who hit the right notes of nostalgia and gave an incredible performance that left the crowd chanting his name. Then Umair came to his stage and performed his hits from his band Qayaas and Coke Studio. And the crowd was chanting… Ali’s name… Oops.
That happened for good reason, though. Ali’s intro was loaded with energy and he gave an amazing performance. Umair was good, but if he wanted to compete with Ali, he needed to match that energy and Coke Studio covers is not the way to go. Heck, when he started singing ‘Sammi Meri Waar’ I realized how important Qurat Ul Ain Balouch was to the original track.
There were four rounds to the clash. The cover, the takeover, the clash and the wildcard. The mic hung in the middle was for the scream meter that would determine which song the audience loved more by their cheers. So basically, a clash is a concert-like game show. I am fine with that.
Round one had the DJ play a random track for each contender, which they’d have to cover.
Ali Azmat got ‘Raag Neela’ by Aaroh and it was done well. I went a little skeptical but was headbanging to his croons, and it was not the Red Bull talking.
Umair Jaswal got ‘Babiya’ by Sajjad Ali and I was nervous because of his slow start. That song is also a favorite so could he pull it off? Well, when the song started, the audience was genuinely quiet. The start of the song was a little rocky and I do want to hold the sound responsible for that, the acoustics of the hall needed some work. But still, round one went to Ali Azmat. I hope he makes a proper recording of his cover!
Each singer was to do one of their own songs, stop midway and the opponent was to take over the song and perform it.
Ali Azmat did ‘Mera Mahi Agaya,’ a classic by Junoon which had us all roaring as if we were the Mahi. When they stopped midway and Umair took over I heard a bunch of people yell “Oh no! What! Why? No!” and to hear them over the sound meant they were angry.
Umair Jaswal did his song from his Qayaas days, ‘Uss Paar’ and Ali Azmat took over that song in every sense of the word! ‘Uss Paar’ is now an Ali Azmat track! Even Umair Jaswal looked impressed. I think that made me enjoy the day, the fact that Umair Jaswal was genuinely admiring Ali Azmat.
Each singer had to do three songs, according to the genre given by the DJ.
By this time, Ali Azmat had gotten cocky. He knew he had the audience all over him and was goofing around. But while he had won the hearts, he didn’t exactly win this round.
Ali Azmat got disco. And he performed great songs, but none of them were disco. Well, all his instruments were the rock type, but I don’t think I can give him leverage.
Umair Jaswal got romance and he knew how to make it right up his alley. He had ‘slow songs’ in his list which he adapted to the genre and was able to handle it well.
For sticking to the genre, I give the round to Umair, even though the crowd disagreed with me.
The wild card
Each team got a guest performer to join them for this round.
Ali Azmat got Meekal Hassan and we were in awe. But team Umair Jaswal was not concerned. They got Faraz Anwer on board and after a long time, the audience was cheering on his performance. This was definitely a tie.
Wait, what? Who ordered a happy ending?!
So who won? Well, this drama needed a happy ending, so what could be better than both the artists hugging it out and performing together? A lot. a lot could be better.
I am all for sportsmanship but ever noticed how in any sports match there is a winner before that? Sure, kiss and make up, but did we really want a Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham oh-everything-is-peachy-keen vibe going on? As if it wasn’t obvious enough how ‘stunt-like’ it all was, is that what we really need to get a musician going?
By the time it ended, I realized I’d been standing for more than six hours straight and that is a feat I can guarantee my mother will never believe. When I left my ears were ringing and I was finally feeling the crash after the Red Bull high. I had a lot of Red Bull.
But I had a good time. It got me thinking about concerts in general and how we have icons in our music industry but barely anything happens. When was the last time Ali Azmat or Umair Jaswal had a proper concert of their own? When was the last time anyone did? I remember Atif Aslam having a gig or two, and Abida Parveen having shows but is that it? Why are most gigs marketed as part of some festival or the other? Is that why people were so insistent about calling this a clash and not a concert?
I admit, this wasn’t a concert in its purest form; there was a pre-conceived structure imposed on what should be a spontaneous, organic performance. But it was good enough. I want more. And considering the response the crowd had to this event, I know I’m not the only one.
As I crashed in bed and felt the exhaustion take over the way Azmat took over ‘Uss Paar’, I was wishing there would be more music events where no one would have to pull crazy stunts and diss anyone in order to put on a good show.