"It was around 2005, after Khamaj, that the issues had started," Emu says, referring to the time that the group started working on their second album. Emu went on to say, "I think it arose from all three of us being insecure. But it quickly became into more of an insecurity between Shafqat and the two of us. And it was beginning to limit us as musicians." So does that mean that they feel liberated now that Shafqat has left? "Its complete freedom," states Emu, "the freedom to try out new sounds and music without being restricted." Shallum adds to the thought, "We've always wanted to experiment, so with that vision in mind and the need to grow musically, him not being in the band has given us a lot of opportunities."
Emu (Imran Momina) and Shallum Xavier are of course very eager to clear up what has been revealed before, albeit from Shafqat Amanat Ali's point of view. And whilst talking, it's apparent in both their tones that there is not one hint of malice towards their former singer, it's more of a disappointment. "I feel so embarrassed talking about it, but I have to," Emu went on to say "it took us just 11 days to get 8 tracks down in 2005 and we waited for Shafqat to come in and sing, but all we would get were excuses and excuses; either in the form of critiquing me or Shallum and our work, or his continuing insistence to record the album in India. I had to take a stand and say that I would not do any shows until and unless this album got recorded. In the end, it took him nine months to sing all of those tracks." During this time of delay and false starts, how did they react to the fact that Shafqat was also working on solo projects and even an album of his own? "The thing is," Emu recalls, "we didn't have any problem with him doing his own album or work but he didn't even tell us he was working on an album, and he got extremely self-defensive about when we confronted him about it. I had even offered him time to complete his own work before he could work on Fuzon, but it seems he wasn't even ready to talk on that issue."
It all came down to their last show together, on December 21st, 2006 where it finally ended. "It was my decision in the first place not to work with him. Then I spoke to Shallum and then we decided that we were just plain tired of it all, so we told him (Shafqat) that, what was the point in doing music in the first place if we're not happy as a band and are being held back?" They are adamant that there was no ill-will between them and their former singer, and that it was a decision reached on the fact that they were simply headed in opposite directions.
So as the new year of 2007 rolled in, Shallum and Emu went back on track, very quickly. They had recorded an album (which remains untitled) but what they needed now was to unwind all of restrictions added within in it and get it jumpstarted after all those false starts. First and foremost they brought in a friend and a relative unknown (at least to Fuzon fans), Rameez Mukhtar, as the new singer for the band.
Was Rameez aware of the troubles of Fuzon? "I was in the loop generally and I had an idea because I was in contact with Emu and Shallum, but I never would have thought that I'd be stepping in," he says. Of course, he steps in to some pretty big shoes, those of a vocalist who had a strong establishment in eastern classical music. So what experience does he bring? "I've trained under Ustaad Nisar Bazmi and I was working with Sohail Rana for a long time," though his tone is slightly tense and anxious, it's pretty clear Rameez would rather have his singing speak for him than him for his singing. He does however speak of the importance of riyaz and how he's been practicing it for the past two years. "Emu and Shallum knew about my range, so they've kind of composed these melodies around it," Rameez says. Did the two musicians have to work hard around the new singer? "Me and Shallum, being producers, we've worked and composed in such a way that it enhances his singing, if anything," Emu states. But if they've done all the hard work, what has Rameez done in terms of contributing to the band and the new album? "Well, I think my singing is a contribution unto itself and the fact that I satisfied Emu and Shallum with it is all that mattered to me."
Having said that, Rameez was always the first person for the job in the eyes (more particularly the ears) of Shallum and Emu, but had they asked anyone else? Both of them say that Rameez was the only person on the list and it seems that it wasn't just because he was a great singer, but also the fact that he was first and foremost a friend. Emu admits however that there were a few local musicians, "big name solo artists, who shall remain nameless," who had approached directly and even indirectly for the job.
Now onto the album, this has been described by all three members of the band, as a fresh start. They're excited because this time around they have a myriad of different tracks to perform for their fans, including two Punjabi tracks and a song that was specifically written for an upcoming Indian movie by Sudhir Mishra called Mumbai Cuttings. The movie boasts many Pakistani artists on its soundtrack, including Ali Azmat and even Shafqat Amanat Ali, and even Indian artists like Sonu Nigam and Shaan. Fuzon have already shot a music video for the track, to be aired in conjunction with the movie's release.
Which such anticipation that gets associated with a band; fans eagerly await any sign or speck of new material. And if you're a fan who wants to get his hands on a new Fuzon track or a track that is unreleased, you'll find a way. Hence, a lot of unreleased tracks found their way online and were quickly distributed amongst message boards and websites. The band has mixed feelings about fans getting to hear these unreleased tracks – which were in some cases very early stages or in the case of one particular track, was when Shafqat was still in the band. "We did a lot of TV shows before Shafqat left, and somehow or the other, they found their way online," Shallum states. But the band has essentially reached a stage of catharsis with these particular tracks. "They're not part of us, the new album is a part of us now," Emu proclaims. Shallum quickly adds, "We'd prefer if our fans and critics look at the new album and listen to it very carefully."
But with the album being as late as it is, would they prefer releasing it aboard before they release it in Pakistan? The band remains indifferent, stating that it would have to depend on the political climate of the country at that point in time to make such a decision. The release date for the album, however, remains sometime after the elections at this point in time.
It would seem that it was only band issues and falling out with their singer that was the main hindrance of late to Fuzon, but that is not the case. Having earlier worked on an animated video (Suno, Suno) with Sohail Javed, the band were looking forward to getting up to speed earlier on with their fans, but due to some problems on the production end of the video shoot, that too was side lined. But the band was resilient even in this instant (not to mention that they had re-recorded an entire album with a new singer) they still found time to record another video (Neend Na Aye) just to get it on the air as soon as possible, but due to situations that are totally out of the band's control (i.e., the current political climate) they were forced them to even wait on this one.
But all of that will change, come late February when the band expects to launch their new album, some seven years after their first. It would be an awe-inspiring achievement for a band, even for Fuzon's caliber, so are they ready to do it? For one, they are armed with three music videos now (they will be re-shooting with Sohail Javed), they have a new singer, they have a new sound. Secondly, their new album is an unexpected departure from their last. Musically, both Shallum and Emu have now come miles from where they were. That is saying a lot since they both were extremely talented to begin with, but what they had insisted on earlier – their want for a freedom to try out new music – definitely comes out in this album. So instead of answering my question, they decided to give a little preview. The first track, Suno, Suno, was supposed to be the first single from the album, almost immediately one can understand why. The song starts off with a chorus of Rameez's vocals that almost build up throughout the song and carry it through. It's clear why this was probably chosen for the first single, because it addresses the issue of Rameez's capabilities as a singer straight out. Granted, you have Shallum's and Emu's melodies and compositions, but essentially this song sets out not to disprove their previous singer, but a showcase of Rameez's own talent on the band.
Next, Neend Na Aye, this track is perhaps an example of what has made Fuzon popular so far. It can be best described as a powerful ballad, which enraptures the listener from the very first chords of the guitar and the notes of the piano. This is the one song that will probably be most compared to all of Fuzon's previous tracks, perhaps because this sounds like the old Fuzon the most. But this is the new Fuzon, and the next track proves that fact straight out. Tere Naal is a Punjabi track with a catchy groove that is sure to get your foot tapping, if anything else. Another highlight from the album is the Mumbai Cuttings track, La Gay Na Gee Yeah, "We originally was doing this just for the movie, but it kind of grew on us as well, so we're putting it on the album," says Shallum. The track itself is a deluge of raga and choruses of Rameez's voice and has already garnered praise from the movie's director to the record label's head.
Overall, the album indeed sounds fresh, but it cannot be compared to Sagar, simply because they're from two different time periods of the same band. Whereas the former album was an experiment into starting a trend within Pakistani music, the latter can be described as bold fray into music; both for them as a band and as musicians.
So as the timer, once again, starts to countdown towards the album and video release, the band are all set to set ablaze the music scene. It is perhaps Emu's statement that encapsulates of what the fans could expect, "We are and have been the trendsetters." And this album is sure to start some trends.
Photography: Fayyaz Ahmed
(Originally published in the January 22nd, 2008, DAWN, Images.)