Beyond the long shadow of Fuzon (instep analysis)

The original Fuzon and their debut, Saagar, is considered one of the best albums of the decade. But the band didn’t last. Shafqat Amanat Ali went solo with Tabeer while Fuzon recreated themselves with a new vocalist Rameez Mukhtar and a new album Journey.

By Maheen Sabeeh

pakistani rock pop band Fuzon

Butterfly effect
The original Fuzon has the kind of complicated, tortuous story that would send a less dynamic band into oblivion. However, since this former trio is as compelling as it gets; they have all survived on.
Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan is now a solo trooper in the music scene. Meanwhile former band mates Shallum Xavier and Emu resuscitated their claim to fame act Fuzon with a new singer, Rameez Mukhtar.
And fortunately both acts delivered on their promise of a new album ala Shafqat’s Tabeer and Fuzon’s Journey.

Now though with both records out, the question that one
predicted since the band first broke up has been hanging in the air: which is better? Most importantly, does it surpass the genius of Saagar?

Neither of the two can be answered in a simple yes or no. The only thing more complicated than creating an actual record is deciphering the feeling behind it and its timing. There is a trickle down effect to every piece of music created. What Saagar did for the music industry is very different from what Tabeer and Journey are doing. And that is exactly the case here. But first a look at the two records…

Tabeer vs Journey: the similarities
In some ways, Tabeer and Journey are similar. Both boast of incredibly powerful singers. Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan is of course the bigger draw. The son of Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, the seventh son from the prestigious Patiala gharana has deep, untainted vocals that remain unmatchable. Not enough can be said for the sheer power of Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan. It is the kind of voice that is not only inimitable but one that stands tall in front of both pop superstars and rock chameleons.

Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan (Ex-Band Member of Fuzon Band)

Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan (Ex-Band Member of Fuzon Band)

Rameez Mukhtar, while not exactly another Shafqat in the making, is a decent singer and is capable of hitting just the right notes without being off key, which is just such an underrated feat today in the industry. We often tend to dismiss the ‘baysura’ element in our singers in front of other qualities such as star power, popularity and other factors. And this is where Rameez delivers.

The other similarity is that of ‘fusion’ itself.

Shafqat and Fuzon have stated that their records are a fusion of genres. While the songwriting is driven from Eastern ethos such as raags and kafis from ancient kalaams by Sufi names, the music is made contemporary, making it more relatable for an entire generation unaware of the massive heritage that we call our own.

Fuzon’s (the new one) lead single, ‘Neend Na Aaye’ is driven from Raag Aiman while Shafqat’s Pagalpan off Tabeer is an inspiration from Sindhi folk. Both Shafqat and Fuzon have based their music around basic compositions that have been around for quite some time.

The difference

As always, it isn’t a composition, on its own that makes it a favourite with fans but the treatment that makes the real, long lasting difference. And when it comes to treatment, Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan takes the cake.

From nowhere does Tabeer sound like Saagar. This album swells and expands in directions that Saagar never took.

Unlike Saagar, Tabeer is hardly mournful. Au contraire, it is a concoction of songs that have a kind of universal melancholy that sporadically plays with the sunshine effect.

Fuzon Band (while performing)

Fuzon Band (while performing)

‘Khairheyan De Naal’ based on a composition by Tufail Niazi, with its languid nature, subtle guitars and rolling drums is astonishing.

The Darbari-based ‘Kartar’ is the high point of Shafqat’s vocal virtuosity and with the grandiose orchestration, it is brilliant.

Meanwhile ‘Rohi’ (originally sung by Zahida Parveen) is an intriguing blend of East-West. The sparse and peaceful introduction just gives it a soothing tone and the beautiful flute gives this tune such a solid character.

On ‘Naina’ tinkling piano notes, smooth guitars, subtle percussion and storytelling-like lyrics make it one of the many powerful songs on this record.

‘Rang Le’ and ‘Bulleh Shah’ are the dark, haunting tunes of the record with calming vocals and atmospheric mood.

Manqabat’ and ‘Dum Ali Ali Dum’ despite the many versions around have the kind of magic that is glorious yet restrained, totally gripping and impeccable.

The only flaw on the record comes in the form of ‘Pagalpan’. Driven from Sindhi folk, it is just chaotic due to its electronica-like treatment that just makes the tune more Bollywood-esque than anything else. The music just doesn’t work on this.

Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (bollywood movie)

Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (bollywood movie)

Journey began where Saagar left off. The main distinction came in two forms: the singer that was replaced and the music that is a lot more crunchier. On its own, Journey is a decent debut record. I say debut because it is the first time Shallum, Emu and Rameez have worked together on a full-fledged album and the equation between them has just begun.

Songs like ‘Ab Hum Kahan Hain’, ‘Choo Le’ and ‘Pari’ are made for concert tunes. Shallum’s tryst with guitars is never too outlandish. He pulls everything between a Salman Ahmed to The Edge (U2) and makes it work while Emu proves his prowess as a keyboardist who can play magically and yet restrain himself.

There are gems of ballads that are equally entertaining as they are beautiful. ‘Suna Suna’ and ‘Neend Na Aaye’ are the two examples and it isn’t just the somber music that does the trick. Rameez Mukhtar emotes as a singer and stretches the songs in the right directions, hitting all the right notes along the way.

‘Joo Dil Ne Kaha’ which is perhaps the moodiest tune on the record with its sharp instrumentation, crisp sound and haunting vocals is beautiful.

But like most albums, the flaws here are glaring. ‘Atish O Aab’ is an extremely weak melody that is downright forgettable while ‘Teri Yaadan’ and ‘Dholna’ are plagued with weak vocals.

The verdict
Comparisons are inevitable. Tabeer and Journey have once again called for them. Between the two albums, it is Tabeer that holds more power, not just because of Shafqat’s vocals but the music that is daring, different and experimental.

Tabeer uses verses from Tufail Niazi, late Zahida Parveen, Amir Khusro, and qawwalis like ‘Dum Ali Ali Dum’ but it keeps the traditional rustic feel alive while creating a juggernaut of sound that not only distances itself from a mighty album like Saagar but takes a step forward.

Tabeer is soulful, yet musically it is challenging. On the first hear, one might inadvertently mistake it as a Bollywood like album. But listen closely. The majestic orchestration is neither as chaotic nor is it too convoluted like most Bollywood music.

In comparison to Saagar, many have said it pales. But that is hardly true. The real truth is that Saagar was a phenomenal debut that made for easy listening with its simple yet beautiful sound. Tabeer dares to experiment. It is more complex and intricate.

Chen One image

Chen One image

It was one of the few records that managed to make every song stand out. Be it the beautiful ‘Khamaj’, the playful ‘Deewanay’ or the subtle ‘Tera Bina’.

‘Ankhon Kay Saagar’, Fuzon’s first video wasn’t exactly one of their finest. It was just a platform for the men to perform and they did just that. And it worked like a charm.

Fuzon became so popular that they managed to make videos with coveted music video directors like Saqib Malik (‘Khamaj’, ‘Deewanay’) and Jami (‘Ankhian’).

Saagar wasn’t just another album. It was a record that created three stars. Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan became one of the most talked about singers. Meanwhile veterans like Shallum Xavier and Emu, who had been around in the music industry for a decade, finally tasted commercial success. For the first time, the spotlight was on all three men and they became a part of the pop juggernaut.

But after just one record, Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan, Shallum Xavier and Emu separated. And that not only sent shockwaves throughout the industry but it changed the stakes for all three men.

A rewind…
With Saagar’s release in India, Shafqat’s vocals became famous. So much so that Shankar Mahadevan (of Shankar-Ehsan-Loy fame) tracked Shafqat down and offered him a playback singing number which turned out to be Karan Johar’s magnum opus, star-studded Kabhie Alvida Naa Kehna that featured among others Shah Rukh Khan. This was in 2006. Soon after, things started taking a sour turn for the band.

A rift of sorts began within the band. When three men start thinking differently, a clash becomes inevitable. And that is what had happened.

Before the band officially called it off, the long delayed second album was in shambles. Each had his reason.

Shallum Xavier attributed the delayed sophomore album to sour record label deals. Without a solid record deal, Fuzon wasn’t going to release its record.

Emu blamed it on bad record label deal and Shafqat. He claimed that Fuzon’s manager Sen Management (Erum, Nazia and Sania Saeed) caused the rift. Sen Management, in Emu’s words, was managing Shafqat more.

Back then, Shafqat didn’t bring up breaking up or any problems within the band. His take was that an album deal was in the pipeline. But with three different opinions, the break up was inevitable.

And when the band broke up, Instep (along with the entire media brigade) received a press release that introduced Rameez Mukhtar as the new vocalist. The press release didn’t even mention Shafqat or his reason for a departure.

It was a bitter break up of an incredible band that together made an album that remains one of the finest ever done in this country.

The new game
After going solo, Shafqat’s career picked up even more. After making it big with ‘Mitwa’ off Kabhie Alvida Naa Kehna (2006), Shafqat’s worth within Pakistan and abroad only increased. After all, the song was featured on Shah Rukh Khan. While working on Tabeer, Shafqat also struck gold in Bollywood. He sang on KANK, then Dor and recently on the Salman Khan starrer Hello. Among other projects is Nagesh Kukunoor’s John Abraham starrer Aashaeyin. He is also in talks with AR Rahman. Shafqat is also planning another album, after the promotion of Tabeer is over, with Rohail Hyatt and that album, he says, will feature songs that he wrote for Fuzon back when he was in the band.

Recently Shafqat also sang on the soundtrack of the Pakistani film Ramchand Pakistani.

Debajyoti Mishra (Raincoat fame), the music director of the film, specially asked for Shafqat for this project to director Mehreen Jabbar. And not surprisingly, the film’s music has won rave reviews universally.

Tabeer has just released but the response has been solid, according to Shafqat. When this article goes in print, Shafqat will be off to India for a series of concerts.

In comparison, the new Fuzon’s career graph is not looking so bright. The band made the blunder of making ‘Neend Na Aaye’ their first lead single off Journey. ‘Neend Na Aaye’ had already been heard as the old Fuzon’s tune and had leaked over the Internet in Shafqat’s voice. As opposed to releasing a brand new tune, the band released ‘Neend Na Aaye’ as their own tune, with Rameez replacing Shafqat. And while it may be their best single, it always reminds one of Shafqat.

The new Fuzon released videos and even toured India. But with other acts like Ali Azmat, Zeb and Haniya, Azal, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Strings – all out with fantastic new albums, Fuzon’s worth in the market has diminished. The new Fuzon just hasn’t been able to make a big splash, the kind one first witnessed when Saagar had happened.

In the end
Tabeer may not become the next Saagar but then again, how could it possibly be? Fuzon was three men, with hugely diverse music influences coming together. And Tabeer is just Shafqat. But for Shafqat, it is still a pretty effective record. The sales are up and Shafqat is making all the right moves. He has struck a fabulous deal in India where Tabeer is being promoted all over the place. And for him, it is just the beginning.

On the other hand, Journey hasn’t created the same effect for Fuzon. Rameez Mukhtar has just entered the spotlight and he is trying to fill in the shoes of Shafqat, which is certainly not easy.
This round has been won by Shafqat. It remains to be seen where Fuzon go from here but for them to last, the shadow of old Fuzon has to be replaced. Unfortunately Journey hasn’t done that.

What if?
One can’t help but ask what if original Fuzon hadn’t separated?

Shafqat’s popularity rose while he was with Fuzon. He had solo offers that he pursued and that created resentment within the band. There were obvious problems of miscommunication and misunderstanding between Shallum, Emu and Shafqat.

But what if… they had worked through those differences?

Between the three of them was Saagar and with three schools of music coming together, it was one hell of an album. It was magic just like Talaash and Azadi were for Junoon and Hum Tum was for the Vital Signs. Our bet is that had the original line-up survived together, they could’ve created a melting pot of Tabeer and Journey. Just imagine that! And now we’ll never know…


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