Pakistan is full of immense musical talent and luckily we have had quite a good number of talented guitarists in the country. In an industry, where Aamir Zaki, Asad Ahmed, Mekaal Hasan, Shallum, Salman Ahmed and Faraz Anwar is known for their remarkable work, it is a bit difficult (competitive) to get recognized as an ace guitarist.
Today, the artist we have caught up with is one such talented and diverse guitarist who has contributed a lot to Pakistani Music in past couple of years. Omran Shafique (popular as Momo in the music circles) is the front man of Pakistani Band Mauj and more importantly has been the consistent house band member of critically acclaimed music show, Coke Studio.
Recently, we approached Omran and he was kind enough to spare some time to answer our questions in details. So without further ado, Read Omran Shafique’s Exclusive Interview with Pakium.com
Have you always wanted to be a musician? What age did you realize that this was your calling?
Not always. First I wanted to be a professional skateboarder, then a professional ninja, and then, finally, a professional musician. All three were total pipe dreams. I didn’t take them as viable career choices growing up obviously. But unlike all my other childhood obsessions, I never really grew out of playing music, and kept playing. Still wasn’t interested in being a ‘professional’ musician, it was just something I loved to do. I’m still not sure if this is my ‘calling’, there are many other things that interest me..but I have worked at this craft for a while and experience is something I can rely on now, so I stick with it. One day, I may look around, realize this just isn’t my thing anymore and…just like that…on to something else!
When did you first start playing Guitars? Who were your early influences as a guitarist?
I was around 15 or 16..I don’t know, it was so long ago that it’s depressing. Earliest influences would have to be Slash (GNR) and Kirk Hammett (Metallica). In the early days, my goal was to play the songs ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ and “One’ all the way through….took me about a year and a half.
Is the guitar always your first choice or did you try another instrument before switching to the guitar?
No, I used to play around on the drums when I was 10…I used to watch my brothers rehearse with their band…and sneak into the room when it was empty and play on the drums. But drums were unwieldy…guitar was a better fit for me. But to this day, I’m a closet drummer, it’s the best way to get your frustrations out. It is important to understand how all the instruments fit together, I think my understanding of basic beats helped me figure out rhythmic things on the guitar, all of which I still incorporate into my playing today.
Would you say that this music is a challenge to play?
It can be a challenge, but in a good way. Sometimes the simplest things can trip you up. In fact, I find in-your-face complex parts usually easier to play than subtle, simple parts that have to feel a certain way. I’m very interested in taking the simplest parts and adding layers of complexity on top…see how much emotion can be put behind just a few notes. Usually, you can say a lot more by playing less.
I wanted to ask you about your approach to Coke Studio. You have this amazing ability to play so many different genres and styles. How do you get so good at each one?
I have been fortunate enough to have been exposed to all kinds of music. I don’t mean that I’ve heard lots of different kinds of music, but that I enjoy and appreciate lots of different kinds of music. There are certain styles that I’m much better at than others, because I have studied and enjoyed them for longer. Most other times I have maybe enough of a cursory knowledge about the genre to get by.
Can you recall any best memory from the rehearsals of Coke Studio ?
Honestly, I’m most comfortable when I’m playing music, so take any instance of a CS song and what you hear/see is my best memory. This would apply to any other music I’ve been fortunate enough to take part in. It’s the best kind of memories, the ones that result in tangible creation!
In Coke Studio, which track you loved to play the most ?
There are many and all for many different reasons. If I had to pick one, I suppose, Tina Sani’s ‘Mori Araj Suno’ from Season 3. It certainly wasn’t my favorite when we first started working on it, but it grew on me, and the poetry resonates very strongly with me…so by the time we were recording it..I was hooked.
Coke Studio is considered a benchmark in Pakistani Music industry. What do you think if it wasn’t started here in Pakistan, what would have been the state of music in Pakistan ?
It’s an honor to be a part of something like Coke Studio, but, honestly, if it wasn’t around some other form of creative force would have taken the nation by storm. There are so many talented people in Pakistan, it’s inevitable, that, given a chance, something amazing will be created. Pakistani music, like many other things in Pakistan, has always been rough, a little inconsistent maybe, but, at the same time, unstoppable.
Who do you think will stand out in this new season of Coke Studio ?
Everyone really brought their ‘A’ game this season so it’s hard to say, but Bohemia’s inclusion really stands out for me, just because no one like that has been on the show before. Plus, he had a great, positive vibe that was just infectious!
How do you see the inclusion of Farhad Humayun and Mubashir Admani in Coke Studio House Band ?
Obviously we missed Gumby and Jaffer, it was very comfortable with those guys around…everyone knew their role and what was expected. With Farhad and Mubashir we kind of re-learned the whole process of working on the show, which was refreshing in a way. Both are amazing musicians so, by the end of our sessions, it all came together beautifully.
You were the face of another musical talent show called Uth Records ? Why didn’t you appear in its most recent season ?
Various reasons. Timing and scheduling was a problem, plus there were some budgetary constraints, all of which led to me making the hard decision to back out of it. It was fun while it lasted, and I enjoyed watching the second season as well…I think it can move in many great directions now, so I wish the Uth team all the best!
You have been playing for many years. What would you say is the most memorable show that you’ve ever done?
These days it’s all a blur, but my first experience getting on stage stands out. It was with my high school band ‘The Hemlock Society’, at a place called ‘The Underground’ in Bahrain, and we were horrible. I remember getting off stage and thinking ‘Next time, I’m going to play better.” Ironically, I still think that when I get off stage now…
What are the best and worst experiences of your career so far?
Both the best and worst experiences stem from the same aspects of my career. The fact that I eat,drink,breathe music is a blessing and, at times, a curse.Working and creating music with some of my hero’s from childhood is wonderful. Ali Azmat, Rohail Hyatt, Shahi Hasan these guys are the reason I wanted to make Pakistani music. I’ve had incredible support and encouragement from amazing musicians like Mekaal Hasan, Hamza Jafri, Sameer Ahmed, Sikandar Mufti, Gumby. But, by the nature of business, it also means a lot of instability and it can get scary without the added security of a 9 to 5 job.
Are there any new album on the way — either new material or unreleased tracks, the makings of an archival project or box set, perhaps?
We are working on a new Mauj album, hope to get it out by the end of the year. Getting a small studio setup as well, so I can get my own projects recorded and maybe record a few pet projects. Also, working on a few projects which shall be revealed when the time is right!
Is there anyone who you are still hoping to work with, in the future?
Not one person in particular, I’ve been fortunate enough to play with some amazing artists already. But I can’t wait to get my studio set up so I can get some interesting acts in there. There is an infinite number of talented acts in Pakistan that still need to get their music produced. I hope to be able to help them out in any way I can!
Do you have any practical tips for guitarists wanting to improve their sound on the instrument?
It depends on the level of their playing really. In the beginning, it’s important to get the fundamentals right. Understand how the fretboard is linked up together, ear training, what makes a chord, and how to keep time. Once they get past that, it’s important to forget the rules and just play from the heart. Once they know how to play it’s vital that they work on injecting feel and emotion into their playing. Sounds easy, very difficult in practice.
Last Message for PakiUM.com Readers
Hope you’ve enjoyed what has come so far, and be prepared for what is to come!
Images courtesy: Coke Studio/File Photo