Zaki started playing music at the age of thirteen and has still stuck to his guns. His obsessive nature has ensured a constant flux of music from him, though both hell and high water have come his way. The story began when his grandfather started playing some ethnic string instrument, left home and disappeared for good. Though Zaki is traceable, he tends to meander like some mad man in the music that plays incessantly in his head. It has to be genetic inheritance.
Zaki's travails into cascades and cadences had somewhat of a rocky start. His father initially got him a drum kit that was deemed too loud. A saxophone took its place, but the trumpeting was too much for the family to handle. Finally a compromise was struck on the guitar and that suited everyone just fine, especially Aamir who immediately started working out melodies on one string. Soon he had learnt the ropes by instinct, playing the music others made before him.
Playing alone soon got boring for young Zaki, so he started jammin' with a friend who played the drums. The drummer is now a cab driver in New York; hardly glorious, but he probably earns more than what he would have as a musician in Pakistan. However, the short time that they played together was enough for Zaki to start a band called Drug Enforcement. In 1984, they played their first show at Rangoonwala Hall where they scandalized the audience by doing covers of The Who, Cream and Jimi Hendrix. The line up consisted of Salman Habib on drums, who eventually gave up drumming for Habib Oil Mills, and Abbas Premjee, who went on to the States to study, amongst other things, classical guitar. Apparently, Premjee still plays a mean flamenco, but can he match his counterpart who followed his heart?
The first musician to recognise Zaki as a teenage prodigy was Alamgir, who got in touch with him to tour India, Dubai, England and the U.S.A. It was the first time Zaki got a taste of money. They had a rather bizarre system of payment in those days. When musicians performed out of Karachi (within Pakistan) they were paid double of what they were paid in Karachi; when they performed out of Pakistan, they were paid double of this. After touring Zaki played on two of Alamgir's albums whose names he can't remember, but he does remember playing guitar on the songs "Keh De Na" and "Albela Rahi".
Post-Alamgir, Zaki formed three rock groups in quick succession: The Barbarians, Axe Attack and then Scratch. Axe Attack was the only band that made an album called "The Bomb" whose title track was about the Bohri Bazaar bomb blast. It was the first English album recorded in Pakistan and perhaps for that reason, all music companies refused to release it. However, some years later, the rythm guitarist, Nadeem Ishtiaq took it to Australia where some songs somehow made it to the radio. Back in Pakistan, the album lay forgotten and the frustrated band disbanded and Zaki was once again on his own.
Zaki's advent into his twenties was far from prodigous. His father passed away and he looked after his family business of exporting local handicrafts. Two years later he'd had enough. He got out of the frying pan into the proverbial fire by getting married and got divorced another two years later. He was an emotional wreck; and so took off for the States where he spent all his money in Las Vegas.
A poet said "Our sweetest songs tell of our saddest thoughts", and on his return, Zaki found enough inspiration to start composing his first (and to date, only) solo album - "Signature". It featured one Urdu song, two English songs and the rest were instrumentals. He put his own money into releasing this high-risk venture. He produced the CDs in England and got Sonic to release them locally. This behind him, he got cracking.
The next year Zaki toured extensively with Vital Signs the grand-daddies of Pakistani pop and played on their album "Aitebar" as well as an unplugged album. Then, for a period for two years, he did absolutely nothing. The offers didn't encite him, the talent didn't excite him, he went into a shell till his landlord knocked on his door and asked for the rent. It brought Zaki down from cloud nine. He started playing with Awaz after their guitarist Assad Ahmed left them for hard rock odyssey with Karavan. Ostensibly, Zaki would follow suit after some concerts and no albums. Sure enough once he discovered that there was good money to be made by doing small shows with his kind of music he left the band. He played at the Karajazz Festival and many a time at Cafe Blue, that marvellous haunt for live music lovers, which has now gone to the dogs. It was here that his listeners turned up week afer week to hear him play. His bass playing shone on these occasions. Zaki plays the bass like the guitar and the sounds he elicits from it are unlike anything you've heard before. No wonder a man in the audience shouted "spank the bass" repeatedly.
Sadly enough, despite being the most accomplished guitarist in the country and definitely the best musician in the pop/rock brigade, Zaki has come out with only one solo album. That is because he refuses to compromise on the music he makes. He maintains that there is no bass player or drummer competent enough to play with him, except Gumby, who has chosen to float along the mainstream tide with Junoon. Hear Zaki play and you will agree with him. He has the capacity to make any instrument emote. Zaki's guitar can make it wail or strum a sweet melody with equal ease. Zaki's tragedy is that he is some light years beyond the local music scene.
Come 2001 A.D and Aamir Zaki seems to have found his niche. Last year, he set up a recording company called Manhattan West Productions in Santa Monica, California with a partner. He is back with the intention of getting talented musicians out of here. Zaki has turned producer and has three albums up his sleeve: an Asian Pop Collection featuring the likes of Indian girl band Sansara, a fusion album with Hamid Ali Khan and two American singers and his next solo album that he has composed and played on by himself. He is also doing an English album with Hadiqa Kiyani and is producing two songs for Ali Azmat's upcoming solo album. It is a chance for him to make money. Zaki can be a commercial session player, but his own music has never been commercial. Once his plans are in full swing, he will probably take up Zakir Hussain's offer to play with him in England. Knowing Zaki ideals, he might even drop his production plans to do that.
Now it remains to be seen if Zaki can take the bull by it's horns and come out on top.Muniba Kamal