Soulspeakers: Kaavish and their debut album Gunkali...

“I can’t imagine us on billboards holding mobile phones or something,” scoffs singer/pianist Jaffer. Maaz, sitting next to me, shakes his head imagining it, “No way, that’s just not right.” Raheel would also agree with both his band members.

Sitting in Faisal Rafi’s studio, I’m flanked by two members of Kaavish. Drummer Raheel is at work but was kind enough to speak to me afterwards, and he too agreed: As a band, the last thing on their minds right now is fame. They are busy at the studio polishing away track after track of their debut album, Gunkali.

And what a time it has been. After a long and tedious wait the album is now in final stages of production. “Well, we did say that the last time and that was a couple of months ago,” quips Maaz, “but hopefully, we’ll get it out after Ramazan.” And the young guitarist seems confident that it will be so because Kaavish has come a long way from when the band first started to work on this album some six years ago.

Says Jaffer, “It wasn’t until two years ago that we figured out what we wanted to do with the album. Before that we hadn’t even decided that the sound was going to be live.” A fateful intervention by Omar Anwar introduced the band to producer Faisal Rafi, and it was then that the proverbial ball started to roll.

Rafi is responsible for the Indus Music Project. He usually maintains his privacy and shirks from the limelight. Jaffer recollects how they started the collaboration, “Faisal wasn’t doing any commercial projects at the time so we were lucky that he took an interest and helped us out.” With the start of the collaboration the band took a do-or-die attitude towards making the album. “We had no excuses after we had booked a shift with Faisal. We had to show up, play and get things done.” says Jaffer.

But getting things done was a bit tricky for Raheel. “It was my last year studying abroad,” the drummer says, adding, “I could only come back during the summers, which is when I’d lay down the tracks for the drums, do shows or anything else that was required.”

Though Raheel’s involvement was actually limited, it didn’t mean he was cut off from the group in any way. In fact, he was privy to a very interesting point of view, one that his fellow band members didn’t see. “When I came back and I heard the sound again, it was a vast improvement. The sound had progressed thanks to Faisal.”

Listening to the tracks, one can tell that the chemistry between the band and the producer is clearly there. The resulting sound is probably the most organic yet to be heard with every instrument being played live. This real sound reaches out to the listener and evokes a myriad of emotions...but more on the album later.

Faisal Rafi’s involvement changed the entire element of the album for the band. “Before we came here (to Faisal) we would ask friends, musicians to tell us about our music.” Jaffer relates. “Although our friends loved our music, we couldn’t get a critique out of them. That’s where Faisal came in. He critiqued us and we needed that.” Raheel adds, “We got a grander, richer sound as he opened us up as musicians.”

For Kaavish, live sound is important. “If it hasn’t been played by a real person,” Maaz says, “there’s just no feeling in it.” However, the sound isn’t what describes Kaavish’s music. I asked the band what would be that one word that describes it. Initially, all three of them didn’t know what to say as it’s not easy for them to limit themselves to one particular word. Then they went on to say how they’d like their music to ‘speak to the soul’.

The three tracks that have made Kaavish familiar to the masses underwent a re-thinking process. Says Jaffer, “It wasn’t a re-thinking, actually. What happened was that we were now looking at things from a proper recording process. We had access to a live recording studio and with that we just had to arrange the songs in a different manner, particularly towards a live sound.”

“It was just a tweaking of the instrumentations, and bit by bit the sound changed from electronic to live,” adds Raheel.

For Kaavish, live sound is important. “If it hasn’t been played by a real person,” Maaz says, “there’s just no feeling in it.” However, the sound isn’t what describes Kaavish’s music. I asked the band members what would be that one word that describes it. Initially, all three of them didn’t know what to say as it’s not easy for them to limit themselves to one particular word. Then the band members went on to discuss how they’d like their music to ‘speak to the soul’.

“We’re trying to revive tradition, of how they did it in the old days with the melodies and the compositions, and so on and so forth.” Jaffer’s sentiments are understandable, considering the fact that he is the son of Nayyara Noor, the venerable ghazal singer. And Maaz, having being friends with Jaffer for nearly a decade, echoes the singer’s sentiments. The discovery of Raheel — who also agrees to the acoustic sound — is what completes them as a band.

The conception of this album and of each song is a very interesting process. “We didn’t write the lyrics beforehand, all we had were compositions,” says Jaffer. “One of us would play something and we’d like the melody and then work the sound around it.” But Kaavish isn’t alone on this album. “Anwar Maqsood has written two tracks for us, my mother has written two tracks, and so has my father…and Maaz has written a track, too!” While Raheel was away in Canada, he had help back at home. “Gumby was kind enough to fill in the drums while I was away. He’s done a tremendous job.” Besides them, guitarists Shallum Xavier and Aamer Zaki also contributed.

Any musical band’s journey cannot be complete until they’ve recorded an album. After having signed a record deal, were Kaavish under pressure to release the album immediately? “They (the company) knew we’d been working on it for nearly six years now and that they might as well wait out the smaller delays.”

The band members usher me into the studio where we listen to six out of the 10 tracks. Sitting at the helm of the controls, Faisal Rafi doesn’t speak much about the songs but his mannerism shows that he’s quite proud of Kaavish. We hear Dekho first, a quiet, melodic track that not only showcases the talents of the band but also the sound. Listening to it, one can understand how such music would speak to the soul. Dil Mein is where we hear the classical sound, a sound from years past echoing its way towards the present where it meets with the contemporary, and a guitar solo by Aamer Zaki himself. Sun Zara, penned by Anwar Maqsood is the first upbeat song on the album. It is an optimistic track, quite appropriately titled since Kaavish wishes to speak to its listeners.

Speaking of the production, Faisal Rafi finally says, “It should sound like it’s performed live.”

Chand Taare is a song that stands out. “We needed to have a song like this,” Jaffer says about the need for at least one commercial track, “so we’ve put it in as the first track to get it over with as quickly as possible.” Bachpan is a track which was re-processed for the album. Says Raheel, “It was an older sound, we had changed so much with Faisal that we had to re-process it to fit it in this album.” Finally we hear Chaltay Rahe, a poignant track with traces of classical music but a powerful contemporary base.

Kaavish as a band has come far with Gunkali, an album that has been six years in the making. Both have seen tremendous change, along with the surroundings and the music industry, too. Now the only thing left is for audiences to listen to the sound that will, in all possibility, talk to their souls.
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