Rakh Aas - Karavan (1997)

Quite often, debut albums can easily be divided into various categories. There are some which, immediately stand out as being the definitive article of an artist's career. There are others, which show an utter lack of diversity, where the singles are the most mediocre tracks and then there are some, which, blatantly have success written all over them along with a potential and promise for a lot more.

It is into the latter that "Rakh Aas" falls. The album is already being compared to the likes of great debut albums like "Vital Signs 1" and "Awaz Volume 1", even though Assad Ahmed played on the latter. The album carries solid proof of better things yet to come, with numbers such as "Aa Mere Sang Sajni", "Rakh Aas" and "Bewafa", when Najam Sheraz's vocals become stunningly sweet as every chord is timed to perfection.

Having spent a career in the upper slots of the pop scene with the mighty Awaz, Assad Ahmed parted company with the group after their "Shola" album in 1996. Along with Sameer Ahmed and ex-Wet Metal lead vocalist Najam Sheraz, better known for his solo act, he formed Karavan.

After eight months of rehearsing and strenuous work, the result is a fine collection of songs propelled by a variety of rhythmic impulses ranging from the enticing atmospheric sound of "Aurat" to the vibrant drum 'n' bass hustle of "Rakh Aas". At the heart of the matter is a voice which effortlessly conjures a cool combination of pop and funk inflections, in a way that has not been heard in the pop charts for some time.

The album starts, as most good albums do, with a classic. The title track is a piece of heavy rock, the musical arrangements here have been worked hard at, with vocals that can be appreciated as it's real value due to the way they integrate with the enchanting guitar lines. The dynamic guitars and pulsating drum beats are very much there. The number is a show of force to the people who doubted Assad Ahmed could ever go it alone after leaving Awaz. The opening track is such a great song.

By putting such a mesmerising track so early on a album, it would be understandable if the rest of the album slightly whiffed off half-baked with a hotchpotch of everything. Wrong. If you continue to listen to the repertoire then you'll know that from "Rakh Aas" onwards the album goes from strength to strength.

Next in line is the delectable single "Aa Mere Sang Sajni", which has received warm acclaim nationwide with it's infectious hook, driving guitars and seductive vocals.

On "Khushbu", Karavan harness a mellow, meandering and well versed number. The song shows the aria of Najam's voice at it's top.

The soul number "Lamha", stays on the upperslots as a touchy sentimental and sensational track with slow notes, the songs lyrics depict the feelings of struggle that one faces in life.

On the contrastingly upbeat "Bewafa", Karavan apply touches of elegance and beauty, with instruments and harmonies rendered together to enable the listener to grasp the depth of the richness of the fusion between east and west.

The music in "Aurat" is a good piece of work, light rock ballad, acoustic guitar and a gentle voice, which makes this song a piece of poetry. The guitar solos on this number played by Assad Ahmed somehow remind you of his earlier work on the hit song Aitebar (Vital Signs).

"Why Me", an instrumental, has a nice funky start. Simple music which makes you feel very relaxed, definitely a track to put on after a hard days work.

The key to the album's appeal, however, is the outstandingly inventive performances by Assad Ahmed and Sameer Ahmed, who use the inhumanly fast rhythmic contortions of electric 'n' bass as the template of some sensationally dexterous and original passages on "Irada" and "Jhoom Zara Jhoom".

Also there is a lot more maturity, intricacy and a certain delicacy in singer Najam's timbre voice, which is very different and versatile from that of other artistes in the industry. There is a gravity between Najam's mature vocals and Assad's rich guitar and drum backing arrangements that breaks new ground in the rock trait.

Although "Rakh Aas" is a debut album, its relentless stream of instantly catchy songs - the explosive "Aa Mere Sang Sajni", the impossibly subtle "Khushbu" - make it sound almost like a greatest-hits collection.

The album is receiving rave reviews for it's crafted and rich harmonically developed cocktail of neo pop/funk fusion. With repeated orders continuing to pour in for their tapes, so far, things are looking good.

All in all, Karavan have produced a diverse album, which still manages to maintain a number of common threads, namely the patriotic number "Anmole Zameen". "Rakh Aas" is an album which after a few listenings you'll begin to really value for it's great tunes and lovely vibes. The ball, Karavan, is in your court.

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