Going Kostal: Omran Shafique

A member of Co-Ven, frontman for the band Mauj, a guitarist for Ali Azmat, guest musician on Coke Studio (and part of the house band, a year later as well), and member of a musical collaboration known as Kostal. No, these aren’t a group of people, in fact, all of these musicians are actually one and the same; Omran Shafique.

When not playing music, Omran is laid-back and the epitome of comfort. Playing on stage, he is a beacon of raw musical energy, channeling it through his guitar. There’s absolutely no denying his musical talent, some of his fans have gone on to say he is the next Salman Ahmad, though musically they are worlds apart.

Omran, or Momo as he is called, started off with Mauj sometime in 2000 in Houston, Texas. In 2004, they released their first music video with Khushfehmi and soon after recorded an album which seems to be stuck in limbo. It’s a stigma that has attached itself with Omran, whose hard work is now buried somewhere in the annals of a record label company. “The point is that the label isn’t even telling me what the release status is, whether they will release it or not,” says Omran, “and that is incredibly frustrating.”

He refers to Mauj’s first album, Mauj in Technicolor, which so far has only seen the light of day on the internet through Amazon and iTunes, but has yet to see any form of release in Pakistan. “That’s the way it’ll be in the future,” says Omran, “more and more musicians will end up going through Amazon and iTunes, simply because it gives the control and the profit to musicians rather than record labels.” He quickly adds, “Being a musician in Pakistan is not about making money, you do it to make music and that’s about it.”

And that’s been the aim with Co-Ven, a true underground band that makes music for the sake of making music, and is in no way limited to Pakistan. But how does Omran balance his music between Mauj and Co-Ven? “I’m sort of an honorary member of the band, I don’t have to be there all the time, but when I do get the time, I’m always there.” Talking about Co-Ven’s new direction he said, “I’m loving the sound of the new songs they’ve been doing, and I hope to perform with them sometime soon.”

As if Co-Ven wasn’t enough, and the fact to deal and coordinate with a band in another city, Omran is now working hard on bringing Kostal, a band on another continent altogether, to our coast. Kostal began when Omran received an email from a producer/DJ in Texas who wanted to work with him. Omran replied and the two of them met up.

What followed was a small meeting where they decided that they should work together, but for Omran, Mauj was a priority. “I remember I was moving to Pakistan to try and get Mauj off of the ground,” he said.

Taha Malik (the producer/DJ) added, “And I was just about to get my set up off the ground, making my own personal studio. But once that was done, I started to work with other musicians to get Kostal off the ground.” These other musicians included the likes of Labh Janjua (Mundian Tuh Bachke-Punjabi MC feat Jay-Z), RDB, Punjabi Outlawz, Tehseen Javed, Sukhbir and others.

In 2005, they finally met up and recorded their first track together as Kostal. Jaan Jaye, which has also been made into a video recently (directed by Uns Mufti), was the result of that first recording. So what makes Kostal different from Mauj or even Co-Ven? “It’s more hip-hop based stuff, it has a very electronic sound,” says Taha. “I’d ask Omran to play a chord or he’d play me this progression and then I’d just mix it up.”

The experience for Omran was also surprising, “Normally, while recording music, I would play stuff and jam, but this was different. Whatever I played with Taha he’d just twist it around and place it in a different sequence entirely.” The resulting music is an elaborate mix of rock and hip hop, a genre of music unheard of locally thereby making it a breath of fresh air.

Once the song was recorded, Kostal finally took a form of its own. “We want to collaborate with everybody from around the world,” says Taha, and once they start listing down their recent collaborations one might think they already have done so. With collaborations with such diverse artistes such as Samy Elmousif, a French Morrocan rapper based in Canada; Shab Malih a Ra musician (a form of folk music mixed with Spanish, French, African-American and Arabic) and even the likes of Stereo Nation, whom they have recently worked with. “It was an exciting experience,” says Taha, “I mean, I was dancing to their music at weddings and now I’m working with him.” The track which will appear in a Gurinder Chadha film will bring Kostal to the global playground of musicians, one which has always been the goal of the band. “We want to work with as many different local and international musicians,” says Omran, “and that’s what Kostal is all about.”

The band is finishing up on their debut album and will most likely be released electronically, worldwide, through Amazon and iTunes later this year. Jaan Jaye’s music video has already been shot, and according to Omran and Taha it’s a video that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. “It was Uns’ concept and it’s just me and Taha acting like a bunch of rappers,” Omran said about the video.

Although now that even Kostal is seeing some sort of finality, what about Omran himself? According to the musician, he is on the fence as to whether he stays in Pakistan or relocates back to Houston. It all depends on the fact whether or not he still enjoys being a musician. “It’s just so different now. I’m finding myself picking up the guitar for reasons other than just playing music and having fun.” Granted, extra frustration must come from an album which he worked on so hard to release, and is now stuck nowhere. “I’m actually sick of the album, I’ve heard it so many times,” he says, which is naturally true. Omran isn’t the kind of musician that sticks around with one kind of sound for long. It would seem that the status of the album is no deterrent for Omran who already has started to work on another Mauj album. “I have about five demos ready and waiting,” he said. “I just need to take some time out for this and start work on it. And naturally, we want to be doing more shows.”

More seems to be a key word with Omran. Whatever the format, whatever the band, he is continuously looking forward to making more music. And although an unreleased album might be an anchor of frustration for him, Omran’s not the kind of musician that is deterred by such an anchor. In fact, more than anything, it’s given him more and more opportunities as a musician. Let’s just hope he sticks around in Pakistan and continues to explore more music opportunities, so that his audience has a chance to see and hear him.

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