Presenting The Chand Taara Orchestra

We’re sitting in an open-air restaurant, located in a secluded area of defence. Babar Shaikh, Glen John and Rizwan are positively brimming with excitement. They’ve just had their first show as the Chand Taara Orchestra at the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture’s (IVSAA) Alumni Show, and they’re looking forward to doing more. For each them, this journey into experimental music has been long in the making.

About a year ago, director musician Babar Shaikh was invited to play at a Spanish Film Festival. There he joined other world musicians as they played live improvisational music to silent animation movies being played on the screen. It would prove to be an experience that he wouldn’t forget anytime soon. His recent musical ventures include his own band Dusk, which continues to evolve to this day.

As he returned back to Pakistan from Spain, the first person Babar contacted was Rizwan. “Musically, whatever I’ve done, I’ve always involved Rizwan.” Their initial foray into music began with 1996’s Ganda Banda and the 3d Cats, along with Ahmad Chagla and Ali Alam (now associated with The Aunty Disco Project). Ganda Banda was perhaps a phenomenon of its time, achieving cult status to this day. “Post-GandaBanda, Rizwan and I were getting into a lot of world music,” recalls Babar. “It was also very simple, just complete raag-based songs,” adds Rizwan. But both agree it was the diversity of Ganda Banda that made it the success that it was.

Rizwan’s journey has been long and winded in music, “I’ve played different instruments and I started playing in a band in 1988. It was a rock ‘n’roll band, but at the same time, I was really interested in classical music. From rock, I progressed to psychedelic, then blues and reggae and ultimately, world music.” Regarding his input in the band, he said, “I don’t have a particular style in mind when I play, perhaps I mimic a style, but for me it’s just about playing diverse music.”

The commonality between Babar and Rizwan was not just diversity, but the diversity of world music. In 2002, the two musicians teamed up with Areeb Azhar and performed a few gigs. It would be Areeb’s diverse sound that would further solidify Babar’s and Rizwan’s journey towards where they are today. Then, upon Babar’s return from his experience with the Trans Orient Express, Glen John came into the picture. John, the son of revered musician S B John, has his own band Gurus Trilogy, met up with Babar and the two discussed possibilities of perhaps forming a band together. “This is something that I always wanted to do, something experimental, something that made me feel good inside, the kind of music that would appeal to me,” Glen said. “My own band – Gurus – does appeal to me, but it has a very commercial aspect to it and one needs to earn their bread and butter, but one also needs to satisfy their creative self.”

Both Babar and Glen agreed that whereas commercial music serves its purposes, it doesn’t satisfy them as musicians. Glen was immediately taken by the idea and possibilities from that meeting, but it wouldn’t be until the IVSAA invited Babar to perform at their first Alumni Show that the hard work would come to fruit. The three of them rehearsed together to establish the base of the Chand Taara Orchestra. “Initially, it was just Babar and me rehearsing,” remembers Glen, “I was so excited that I had worked on a few things even before Babar showed up for the rehearsal.”

“The thing that makes this work is the synergy,” Babar states, “It’s the fact that Glen had already worked out something before I joined him, and the fact that when Rizwan joined us afterwards, he brought in something new that added to the whole ambience of the band.” The purpose of the band wasn’t just to play guitar with a raag, a practice common amongst fusion bands, but to achieve a totally different kind of sound with the addition of other instruments, (particularly world instruments) such as a harmonica, electric tanpura, and an Arabic duff, to name a few. “It’s not your typical fusion,” adds Rizwan. And indeed it isn’t. The band’s strength is its diversity, whether it is Babar’s rock influences, Glen’s experience of classical music and Rizwan’s world music.

The result is a fresh sound of experimental fusion music, made in the spirit of making music with a purpose of more than just earning money. The band currently has one track, and at almost 25 minutes, it is a sheer display of love for music, if anything else. Again, for one to comprehend on such a track length, one has to understand the band’s motives and the fact that this isn’t a commercial venture. The track sways in with the electric tanpura and carries the listener along with it. One doesn’t even catch each of the instruments coming in, such is the subtly of the music. The guitar and bass blend in with the aura of the sound and the harmonica and duff – instead of sounding off beat or out of tune – create that perfect harmony to take the track onwards.

Already there is praise for them after their first show. They have been approached by fellow musicians to be a part of the proverbial orchestra. “That’s the general idea,” says Babar – and both Glen and Rizwan agree with him, “the three of us are the nucleus of the band but other musicians will come and add on their inputs according to our sound.”

At the end of it all, Babar sums up his own vision. “I read someplace that if a music listener goes back home from a concert and thinks, ‘wow that was a good gig, the guitar player was amazing, the drummer was amazing, etc’ – you really haven’t fulfilled your purpose as a band. But if that same listener says, ‘wow what a band’ then you’ve hit the mark.” The three of them agree in unison that whatever music they play, it should impart itself upon the listeners, touching their lives in some sort of way.

Surely then we can expect to hear more from this unique group as they continue their journey as the Chand Taara Orchestra.

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