Published in Slogan (August 2010)
In a lively discussion with Ayesha Hoda, lead vocalist of Strings, Faisal Kapadia comments on his band’s popularity, on endorsing brands and on the factors threatening the survival of music artists.
How did your music career begin?
The same way as that of other bands usually begins. Bilal and I were in Government Commerce College, Karachi and of course we both were inclined towards music. Bilal had a background because of his father, Anwar Maqsood, one of the most popular names in Pakistan’s entertainment industry. So he was raised in an environment that encouraged him to get into music. I became inclined towards music as I was part of Sohail Rana’s programme ‘Sarey Dost Hamarey.’
In college of course we just wanted to have a good time so we used to play music together. But rather than wasting time here and there, we decided it was good to make our own songs and do some concerts and shows. Of course we never thought we would make it our profession but yes today it is our full time profession.
Which national and international awards has Strings won so far?
God has been really kind and we have worked really hard. The band was formed in late 1980’s and we won our first ever award around 1991 or 1992. At that time there weren’t many awards. I remember there was one ceremony – Wahid Murad Awards – held every year and we received the best musician award.
One of the most prestigious awards we have received was at MTV Asia Awards in Bangkok. We were nominated from India as the best band. And of course we have been honoured at the Lux Style Awards, by MTV Pakistan etc. We have received numerous other awards, which is really good because they motivate us to work harder.
What factors have made Strings popular not only in Pakistan but across the world?
Number one is hard work. Luck is number 2. Then, of course, since we sing in Urdu our main base/ territory is always Pakistan but releasing an album from India takes you to other countries like Bangladesh, Nepal; places where Indian / Pakistani music is loved. The Indian industry is huge and its reach is much wider.
Then, when you go international, you go towards different projects. For instance, we were approached by Columbia TriStar Films to do a song for Spiderman 2. And then we also became brand ambassadors for UNICEF, for HIV Aids.
I personally believe that if you focus on something – when you are not trying to actually become someone great – and just working hard, you are eventually recognised because of your work.
What are your views on Coke Studio and what it means for music enthusiasts plus musicians/singers in Pakistan?
Coke Studio is a brilliant concept. I still remember when Rohail Hyatt was starting this project: we met him and he shared the whole idea with us. He launched Coke Studio with Strings, Ali Azmat, Rahat Fateh Ali, Ali Zafar etc. and we all did not know what exactly was going to happen as it was a brand new concept. Audiences were not sure either. But when we actually recorded, it was a totally new and wonderful experience. We started off by collaborating with Ustad Hussain Bakhsh and it was fabulous working with him.
When the second season came, people had an idea of what exactly it is. Even performers had an idea of what could be done there. A whole new line of singers was included, such as Atif Aslam, Zeb and Haniya etc. and people really, really liked it. I think the best part of the show is live music with perfect sound matched with perfect conditions and musicians. Generally, whenever you see performers on TV, it is a recorded programme and people don’t want to spend money on production quality. Coke Studio is different and Rohail has done a great job. Now the third season is being aired and I think the show will go on for a long time.
Etihad Airways recently signed Strings as its brand ambassador. In what ways do the two connect or complement one another?
Actually, it’s been a long journey. Strings has been the brand ambassador for brands like Pepsi, Warid, Mobilink and Motorola. These brands and their approach focused on Pakistan’s market, even if they were international brands.
With Etihad, it’s slightly different. It is of course an international brand but they do not work internally in Pakistan, meaning that they do not fly domestically, from Islamabad to Karachi, etc. They fly from Pakistan to other countries. So their approach is different. They want to use Strings and their own brand name to promote Pakistani music and culture outside the country, particularly amongst Pakistani communities living abroad. So this time we have to play a very different role than the one we had earlier. We had more work to do in Pakistan. This time we have to do more work outside Pakistan.
What kind of initiatives are being planned to promote music and culture?
We are planning a series of concerts in different countries, mainly in Europe and America. We should be starting from March and before that, we are planning to do some activities after Ramadan also. But it’s still in the planning process because this is the first time we do not have an example – of an airline signing up a music band – which can guide us and tell us exactly what we are supposed to. So we have to brainstorm and come up with new and innovative ideas.
Are there any other exciting projects or albums in the pipeline?
We just did a concert in Houston one in Chicago. Other than that an industry project which has come up is the latest single that we did ‘Khudi kuch karma padey ga’ with Atif Aslam. The video has been directed by Jami and we are excited about this. Of course we have done a lot of collaborations earlier but this is the first time Strings and Atif are working together.
How do you see the music industry in Pakistan shaping up? What challenges is it facing?
Unfortunately, right now, the music industry is going through a very bad phase. Reasons can be many. First of all, the current conditions of our country are such that people are really going through a very hard time. And, at this point, nobody’s bothered about entertainment or music, to be very honest. The layman is bothered about stuff like electricity, gas and petrol prices etc.
Another killing factor is that our media outlets are completely focused on foreign music, that is, Indian and English music. So they are no more trying to promote Pakistani music and they are not even giving much space to Pakistani music, which is really sad because at the end of the day, it’s all about working for Pakistan, in Pakistan. Nowadays if you listen to radio, until and unless it is a paid spot, a paid song or a company like Coke is involved, you don’t listen to any Pakistanis songs which are independent. That is one thing which is rapidly killing the industry.
Have you used your music to forward any cause?
The song I just mentioned, ‘Khudi kuch karma padey ga’, with Atif this is basically about today’s situation and conditions in Pakistan. Apart from that, we are working for UNICEF for a cause so we do a lot of other stuff besides singing. For instance, we go to schools and sing with kids over there. We also dedicated a song and paid tribute to all Pakistani legends called ‘Titliyan.’