Profile: Jal

The Pakistani music industry enthusiastically hails the advent of another promising band; resolutely aspiring to leave its mark on the cult of the trendy ripple-creators that have revolutionized the music scene this past year. These underground bands have a heavy dose of talent at their disposal and they are making waves with musically sturdy artistic statements. Insightful lyrics and beautifully composed tunes make it little wonder why people are taking such serious note of these underground yet iconic bands including Jal and Imek. A gorgeous addition to bands that so elegantly pulled their feet off the paddles of the dominating Punjabi bhangra pop genre, Jal is all set to fashion a threat to the painstakingly built musical regimes of pop's predictable giants.

In Urdu jargon, Jal refers to 'water' and "Aadat", the first studio-trip of the band, is nothing short of living up to watering your eyes with its out-of-this-world richness of passions, whirls of emotions and viscosity of sensations. "Aadat" is a journey through a despondent mind and a sad body. It's all about our peripheral self indulgent affinities. It is a dip into the oasis of a bleak wasteland where all hope rests on that fresh drink of water to sustain life. Even with such a theme, the song radiates the resolution to transform melancholy into life's tale and not its tradition; a resolve to surface after drowning; to soar even higher despite the fall; a spirit to go on in the face of whatever is hurled one's way. It carries the message of forgetting one's sorrows and fears, and getting on with life.

The sense of thoughtfulness behind every word articulated by Atif is reflected by the duly measured guitar frets of Goher Mumtaz. Flirting regularly with alaaps and riffs, Jal is the "wonder band" from Lahore. The lyrics and composition for "Aadat" sprung from Goher's musical genius and the studio version of the song was recorded in the studios of Mekaal Hasan.

If Atif's unpretentious voice is touching with a capital T, then Goher's skill on the guitar is undoubtedly an issue of score as well. Goher's expert chords serve as an appropriate backdrop to Atif's singular voice. The way the instrumentation and vocals gel into one another makes the beautiful harmony an extravagant treat for the bitter, wounded hearts. The concoction of energy exuded by the song decidedly carries the aroma of youth. In more ways than one, "Aadat" is the product of the past reflections and ruminations of the band members. The best thing about the song, however, is the amazing way in which every individual, who listens to it, connects with Jal and shares the magic of Goher's creation. Every listener is distinctly able to identify with the lyrics from the song because of the song's ability to whip up a twister of emotions.

Umar Anwar was roped in to direct the video of the song and this was his debut venture. Post-production of the video has been handled by H20. The concept of the video being extremely profound, however, has been criticized and the fans have not received Umar's construal of the song kindly. Despite the raised eyebrows, when reality is unveiled, it delights you with its uncomplicated applicability to life. The state may be described as a post-breakup, heart shake-up thing when you are constantly reminded of the affair and plunge into deep depression. Your conscience/spirit (the little girl who appears in the video) however proves to be the light at the end of the tunnel and takes you on a ride of the better things in life (for instance Jal performing unplugged). In the end, the smile on model Faisal Shah's (the same model who appeared in Fuzon's video: 'Ankhiyaan') face is worth a million bucks any day!

Speaking about the video, Goher Mumtaz explained, "We didn't want a typical female model-male model video. It's more of an art video and should be enjoyed by people once they have understood its concept." So, if you can decipher the visual representation, you will certainly understand the raison d' etre of the song as well. Gaudy colors and sets are indeed not the only things that serve as benchmarks by which a video's worth should be judged. Elaborating on the fact that music is seen rather than listened to these days, Goher says: "It has become really important these days to have a video backing a song in order to achieve greater mass appeal. The video is a way to convince the people of the idea of the song". The video also boasts of some pretty slick editing techniques. The way the frames shift back and forth is instrumental is making the video more communicable rather than confusing.Goher, who picked up guitaring immediately after his college days and had to sell his bicycle for his first guitar, wants Jal to morph into a live quality band, with live guitars and live drums, that targets both kids and adults. Speaking on the subject, he said, "Jal shouldn't appeal to teens alone. We want to diversify our audience but at the same time 'Aadat' has now become our signature."

When asked about his magic on the strings, he replied: "Even if a little note strikes me, I pursue the idea of turning it into a song. 'Aadat', in particular, has been growing inside me for the past two years", Goher jokingly adds, "Imagine! I was stuck with just two lines in the beginning and my friends laughed their heads off at its expense!"

Speaking about any western influences on his guitaring, Goher has an apparent appreciation for Latin music and beats.

When this scribe enquired about the inspiration from which "Aadat" fountained, Goher replied: "'Aadat' came from the heart." And when asked whether there is that someone special who might live in that heart and who might have been the inspiration, the artist gave a reply in affirmation but declined subtly to disclose the identity. Commenting on the commercialism in music today, he replied: "Commercialism has helped the industry to grow. If labels are sponsoring the acts and promoting music sincerely, then there is no harm in it. We are ourselves designing a logo of Jal for the merchandise that is going to be launched soon. But Jal has a policy to concentrate on the music instead of the moneymaking. Making quality music comes first for us!" Goher thinks that it is important for a good singer to be a good lyricist along with being adept at the instrumentation: "If a musician is only a vocalist with absolutely no sense of the instruments, then he is only good at half of his job!"

When asked whether the net has promoted music or destabilized its fundamental appeal, Goher candidly replied: "There are two sides to everything. Even though since everything is available on the Internet, no one needs to go out and buy the CD but the craze for owning one still curiously persists. After listening to samplings from the net, people actually do go out and buy the albums of their favorite artists. The massive popularity that "Aadat" has achieved definitely owes its roots to the Internet. My message reached a wider audience through this medium!"

With its romantic liaisons, "Aadat" is bound to give Jal a heavy duty cult following and there can be no two ways about it. The charismatic vocals, powerful emotional approach and inclusive depth of the song linger in the mind's eye. Aesthetic and artistic in its treatment of human emotions and a note of candid confessions besides, the song's talented execution and subsequent popularity is an acknowledgment of the sheer brilliance and music savoir faire of Goher. A celebrated debut induces one of two kinds of follow-ups: either the band succeeds in living up to the expectations set by fans and critics alike by broadening the canvas with a rainbow of success or everything smoulders into smoke. Is Jal a one-hit wonder band or does it have the consistency to stay afloat in the highly competitive music industry? This is one question which Jal's soon-to-be-released album can answer!

Officially, however, Atif has left the building. Jal now compromises Goher Mumtaz on the guitars and vocals and Farhan Nadeem (who is claimed to be a very analogous replacement to Atif) on the lead vocals. One wishes them the best in whatever they undertake. The second studio venture of Jal; "Dil Haray" is officially available for download. It's a mellifluous number with a light, cheery beat and has Goher surprising everyone with his grasp on the vocals and should expectedly fare well on the music charts. An original Goher composition with Farhad Humayun on the drums, the song has been recorded at Sarmad Studio and mixed, mastered and produced by Xulfi (of EP). In any case, the masterfully composed "Aadat" has passed the rigorous litmus test and is undoubtedly one habit that will die very hard!

March, 2004
The News International, Pakistan