Sawaal - Aaroh (2003)

Aaroh have had it easy ever since they became winners of BOB (Battle Of The Bands, for the uninitiated) sponsored by a global Cola brand. They have not only had a walk in the park in terms of getting media visibility and name recognition but also in getting the all important contract to record their debut album. Now that the much-awaited album is out, it is pretty much a mixed bag.

"Sawaal," (question) as it is called is exactly what it may very well be. Beginning with the title song it gives you a fairly decent idea of what is to follow. As apparent from the very onset the band's favourite style of music is pop rock, which basically means the songs are catchy with strong lead guitar riffs to enhance the hard-hitting impact. The well composed title track itself is the song that clinched them the BOB and has had a fair bit of airplay on all private TV channels. Farooq, the vocalist shines brightly through the entire song with eastern classical raga influenced vocals.

"Aik Din" is up next and is reminiscent of its counterpart pop-rock songs of the last decade heard by all on MTV. Evidently the music speaks only of boy-meets-girl, falls in love - loses her and vents his strong frustration and deep anger. "Dunya," the third number, is known only to Aaroh concertgoers, as it is not accompanied by a video. This is again very well put together and the fact that the band has not indulged in much of an experimentation here makes it a refreshing change from the rest of the album. This song falls into the 'happy' category, as the depicted lover is no longer bothered about anything else but his dil ki dunya.

"Jalan" is the band's breakthrough video, which turned Aaroh into overnight celebrities. Both the song and the accompanying video are probably the best the band has ever achieved. The now classic riff in mid-song is the best demonstration of lead guitar playing ever heard from a (sic) mainstream band. And this is one you can perhaps even head-bang to. "Aankhein" is a techno-rock ballad with lots of synthesized effects. Even vocals and guitars appear to be synthesizer enhanced. Some people might find it too techno-pop or trance based for their taste.

The middle order opens with "Hoor," the first of the two 'instrumentals' on the album and despite interesting guitars and strong piano rhythm you feel something is missing - which is the vocals! Maybe the 'song' would be incomplete by local standards and, if you ask me, the sequenced drums also are a bit too much since the effect that comes through in live music is different from the one in recorded one. Next is "Dil Kee Baaton Ko," which starts as a simple 60's pop number but ends up doing going a bit overboard in this regard. I am at a loss as to why any singer with such powerful vocals would not sing 'straight' and try to follow the music instead of leading it.

"Aag Ki Tarha" is the other song with a video added, maybe as an afterthought. As you can tell we are definitely moving towards the latter half and what would be B-side of an album. This is another slow number done mostly in the pop style we have come to be very well acquainted with since it is common in Pakistan. After tuning to this song, one feels that the band should stick to its fast-paced, melody-filled, ripping guitar sound numbers as they can do much better with those. The riff here bears strong semblance to "November Rain" by Guns N' Roses.

The final quartet is the real tricky part that shall either backfire or carry the dand to the star status they obviously crave. "Jeeyay" is the patriotic song as there is a clause in the Cola contract for making one in every album with their logo on. It may become the next anthem of the youth and then again may not, (if you get my drift). "Na Kaho" is again a slow-paced affair, which would be more appealing to those who have a penchant for such songs. The penultimate number is "Ajnabi" - yes, the Vital Signs cover. But this is more than just a cover, it is an Aaroh-style interpretation complete with elaborate guitar riffs and maybe the only surviving piece of the band's raw creativity. Despite the sequenced drums, its slow pace and the fact that it is a cover song, one wishes there were more such numbers. The album comes to an end with "Zarb," the other 'song' which is an instrumental piece but has an elaborate alaap.

As a parting comment I would like to add that the mere fact that almost all new bands are into fusion of rock with raag and with indispensable guitarists, is a sign of the sweeping changes the local scene is ready to embrace. The production quality of these 'middle-music' albums is as good, if not better, than their more popular cousins. With advances in modern computer technology the WTO of music world may come into effect much sooner than in the economic world with bands producing studio quality demos in the comfort of their own homes. This is the dawn of the new age and as homage, let's listen to what its pioneers are all about.

Savaiz Bokhari
The News International, Pakistan