In the Drummer's Den

Drummer Louis John Pinto, aka Gumby, talks exclusively to Images on Sunday about the new studio he set up with Mauj-frontman Omran Shafique and ace-bassist Khalid Khan, record producers, and what's next in store for him.

A cool breeze rushes over the roof of this inconspicuous Zamzama apartment. The night sky is illuminated by the lights of the passing cars because there’s no power at the moment. But the inhabitants of this rooftop do not mind, they are used to it. I’m introduced the moment I arrive. “Have you met my friends?” asks Louis John Pinto, better known to the world as Gumby. Sitting on a water tank are three prominent musicians waiting for the power to return: Omran Shafique, Khalid Khan and John Saville. A few moments of pleasant talk later the power comes back – and for these musicians – so does their purpose. Several minutes later, Gumby enters his den and everybody starts to jam.

The musicians fall into a groove instantly. With Khalid and John, all it takes is a look and a glance, and the two match their notes and chords according to what Gumby has in mind. Just as Omran gets his guitar tuned, he too joins the group. As a live act, these people are truly a treat to experience but this practice jam is something else. It’s a kind of a behind-the-scenes look, a glance into something one hardly gets to see every day. Within the 20 minutes in which these four people play, hardly a word is spoken.

“I’m constantly thinking about what’s next, I don’t dwell in the past at all.” Anyone who knows Gumby knows that that’s very true. Far from someone to retreat and hibernate, Gumby has been a slow and steady part of most of the recent musical achievements by Pakistani musicians. After a tumultuous and a very public break up from Noori, Gumby’s catharsis has resulted in an explosion of work. Maryam Kizilbash, Kaavish, Ali Azmat, Kolachi Quartet, Raeth, Zeb and Haniya, and not to mention the Coke Studio (CS) projects, are just some of the albums or projects that he’s been a part of in recent times. He speaks of these experiences with a tone of respect and excitement; however it was his experience with CS that really outshines the rest of them. “I was blessed to have been a part of that. I mean there are other drummers that they could’ve taken, but they took me and I thought that it was an honor to be a part of such an expansive project and especially to work with Rohail.” Throughout our conversation, Rohail Hyatt’s name would be heard time and again, and each time it would only re-instate Gumby’s admiration and respect for the Vital Signs-member-turned-CS project leader.

“So basically, this was what was next for me: a place of my own,” Gumby said, sitting in a cozy sofa and table arrangement, a unique and quirky arrangement considering this is actually the studio itself. “This place actually belongs to one of our friends,” he said, adding that “he was about to sell it and not wanting to let go of this opportunity, and the place itself, I spoke to Momo (Omran Shafiqe) and Khalid. Together, we saved it for ourselves. We jam here, we play here, we record here – everything related to music.” He went on to say that even though it’s his studio, there will be an arsenal of musicians that will come here, just perhaps to jam even. Besides jamming and recording is his intention to become a producer for musicians? “Yes,” he responded, “that’s my direction.” He added that he wants to take on that role in a gradual process rather than relying on his equipment and gear. As for his own album he has started to work on it, but his vision is to “keep a simple and uncomplicated approach to music.” The only reason why it’s taking so much time is that for him (as a rhythm player) it takes a while to approach compositions.

I ask him about the dogged act of actually putting out an album via a record label. “That depends on what your point is, personally, I don’t give it much thought. All I want is to get my kind of music out there and if the record labels don’t think too much of it, I’ll just put it online.” His words echo the ordeal of bands like Mauj and Kaavish, who were stifled due to their albums being delayed for a long time.

Regarding his new studio, does that mean that now if a musician wants to record with Gumby they would have to come to his studio? “Yes, with the exception of CS, because it requires such a huge set up. I think for my sound, this place is one of the best in the country.” Hearing about CS, I ask him about what’s next in store for him and the project. “There is talk of it,” remaining tight-lipped on the details, “I’m pretty thankful about them having chosen me.” He also attributes his attendance to both CS and Rohail, whom he again showers with praise. Since Rohail is also a producer, albeit a former musician, does that mean Gumby is comfortable working with producers who are musicians? “Yes, that’s true. It’s more of a comfortable spot for me, since we both understand the dynamics. And partly this studio was also inspired by him and the way he works,” he adds that, “there are two kinds of producers; one tells you how your music should fit in with the song and the other tells you how great it sounds. If I’m coming up with all the parts by myself and they’re just saying, ‘yeah that sounds great’, that’s just technical basic stuff, even I can do that.”

“To be honest, I set up this place because I was sick of those producers who know nothing about music – who can’t even tell the difference between two chords – and end up being producers.” His statement clearly alludes to a rumoured scuffle between him and a certain producer. My next question to him was – to their credit – don’t these producers work with a lot of musicians who may/may not have a problem working with them? “Well, it’s all about how much of a victim you want to be,” Gumby said. “You’re either a victim of not being able to afford the best musicians and producers with the best knowledge or you’re a victim of not knowing what music is at all.” He further stated that if people can’t afford the best, they obviously go to people who aren’t professionals. “It’s sad that this country has only four producers and five drummers.” Clearly, Gumby is one of those rare individuals who isn’t afraid of speaking their mind. He is quick to add that “everybody has their own perception of their music and they’re pretty defensive about it.”

I can’t help but ask Gumby, given his nature and his past – somewhat rocky – experiences, won’t all of this (the studio) make him seem more arrogant in their eyes? Gumby’s reaction is nonchalant. “If arrogance means that I know what music is, how to make it, and that I have the best-equipped studio, then yes, I’m arrogant.” Clearly he is unmoved by any of the remarks made against him. Instead, he is diving in head first into his studio work.

Currently, he’s working on a project with a guitarist/musician by the name of Taimur. “He’s pretty awesome, Taimur is quite the guitarist and although he doesn’t play around and you may not have heard of him, he has his own songs, in English.” Gumby also said that Taimur’s songs were heavily influenced by 90s rock and Alice in Chains in particular. Apart from that he is also working on a song for another group, whose name he has not yet revealed. “I’m excited about that too, but I can’t tell you just yet.”

There are musicians like Gumby, never far from the heat of controversy, and yet always focused on the music at hand. For musicians like Gumby, music is a way of life as it has been for him since childhood. After all that has happened and has been said, it’s pretty loud and clear, like the sound of a drum: in the den of this drummer, the man who holds the drumsticks is king.

Profile shoot
Designer: Kash Hussain
Photography: FAYYAZ AHMED
Styling: Sajid
Model: Gumby, Khalid & Omran 'Momo' Shafique
Fashion Editor & co-ordination: Madeeha Syed


2010 is already becoming a busy year for Ali Sher

Ali Sher is hard at work with Rafaqat Ali Khan for a series of collaborations; the first being 'Ishq'. The song comes at the heels of his third studio album Beetaye Pal, which enjoyed reasonable success with the masses but not enough to be labelled a massive hit.

But this time, Ali is once again giving Rafaqat's next album (Rafaqat is from the Sham Chaurasia Gharana and contributor to soundtracks of Bollywood hits like Krrish) and the first fruit of this labour is the song 'Ishq'. A song composed entirely by Ali, featuring Rafaqat Ali Khan's traditional kafi style of singing.

The track was originally written by Ghulam Farid Khan and heavily influenced and inspired by the Sindhi Bharwain raag. Ali's composition mixes east and west with traditional percussions and contemporary sound as well. The result is a fusion track intertwined with traditional and contemporary instruments, a groovy yet sombre beat - something Ali describes as "dark" - and the free flowing vocals of Rafaqat Ali Khan. The two had been planning a collaboration for quite some time and only recently did they find the time to work on this single.

"I've known him for a long time now and seen him perform numerous times and his command on the raags is truly amazing. I had spoken to Rafaqat bhai about collaboration a while back, and it was just talk but to work on this, both of us had to take out time to put this track down."

And that's not all. Currently Ali and Rafaqat are working hard towards completing at least two more collaborations. It's clear that they are really getting along.

"Totally, he's a very humble and down to earth person to get along with and it just comes naturally," says Ali about working with Rafaqat Ali Khan.

Though he has worked as a composer before (for the likes of Hadiqa Kiyani and others) when does Ali feel most comfortable? As a singer or a composer?

"I find that I'm more comfortable doing both," he says. "If I do one and not too much of the other, I feel that I'm not doing things right. Especially with my own music, I just don't think about anything else and go in on all fronts trying for the best composition and music for myself."

After having been part of the music industry since 1994, how does Ali Sher react to or treat criticism? Ali's last album-although enjoyed by listeners-wasn't too well received with the critics.

"Criticism itself doesn't bother me at all," he says, adding, "however, if it's baseless criticism, putting someone down just for the heck of it, well I don't agree with that." Ali adds that he enjoys hearing from his fans about what they thought of the music and wholeheartedly welcomes creative suggestions.

'Ishq' will be enjoyed by listeners here and abroad. It will enjoy radio airplay in Houston, London and other major cities around the world. Not a bad first step for Ali Sher in 2010 but can we expect giant leaps? Only time will tell.

Shallum's Solo Sojurn

“The first thing people ask me is whether I’m still with Fuzon.Yes, I am. This is just a solo project.”
– Shallum Xavier

Shallum Xavier has been a staple musician for nearly a decade. It was his guitars and tunes that brought about Fuzon, combined with the singing prowess of Shafqat Amanat Ali and maestro composer Immu. The three of them took the music scene by storm and even though Shafqat might have left, they now have Rameez and are stronger than ever. But where does that leave Shallum’s solo project? A project comprised of a collection of songs composed, co-written, and performed by Shallum along with other local–and even international–musicians. Have Immu and Rameez heard the album? “Yes, they have, ” said Shallum. “And they’re very supportive.”

Shallum takes a moment to reflect on people’s immediate reaction when he mentions he has a solo project. “People fail to realise that musicians don’t limit themselves to one group or one project,” he said. Commenting on the current atmosphere for musicians in Pakistan, Shallum said that it was very suffocating if they don’t get to perform regularly. However, no matter how far he tries to go away from Fuzon, he might not be able to escape the band’s shadow.

“There will be comparisons, of course, I am the same musician that performs with Fuzon and this is my solo effort; yes of course there will be comparisons and I’m okay with that.” There’s also the suggestion that the songs featured in his album are the ones that didn’t make the cut into a Fuzon album. “That’s absolutely not the case,” he said. “When Fuzon starts off to make a record, we start off with, suppose, 12 songs and we record 12 songs, no leftovers.”

The song, called ‘Payam’, features vocals by Zara Madani, the singer featured in Shoab Mansoor’s Khuda Kay Liye. She is also occasionally seen and heard with the Kolachi Quartet, a jazz supergroup which features Gumby, Immu, Khalid and Abbas Premjee. I immediately asked Shallum if there was a big idea behind the song.

“In 2007, I submitted this song to a competition held in Norway, they had asked Pakistani musicians,” he recalled when he first came up with the idea or rough composition of the song. “It was during the shoot of ‘Dewaane’, that I came up with the idea for this. I quickly sorted out the lyrics with songwriter, Jaffer Sadiq Anthony, and although it may sound like a love song, it really isn’t. It’s about hope and how many different meanings it has for many people.”

The video features Zara intertwined with shots of Shallum, performing amidst the backdrop of an elaborate farmhouse. The video is simple, to the point and doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. “This was pretty much Nasir’s idea,” Shallum said, about the concept.

“He had heard the song and knew right away what he wanted to do with it.”

Shallum says of the video’s director, Nasir Tehrany. The video also features model Nausheen Shah, lost in thought in the farmhouse. She seems to be seeking hope, in whatever form it may be; a manifestation of the song’s theme, suggested by Shallum.

So now that the video’s been shot, what’s the status of the album? “Well, I’m about to go to Oslo in a couple of weeks. There, I’ll get the album mixed and have a few more unique instruments placed into the songs.”

The instruments Shallum plans on using, he says, haven’t been heard of before in this region. The sound will be familiar but multilayered. He also plans on collaborating with musicians from around the world. But that’s for something else entirely. “I wanted to release ‘Payam’ as more than just an Urdu track,” Shallum said. “I’m also working on a Spanish and an English version of this song.”

But what about the album in question, his first album itself–which will probably be called Payam–when should we expect to hear it? “Soon.” Has he decided on which record label he will go with? “I was approached by Universal in India and I’m in talks with them, let’s see how that turns out.” And what about local record companies? “I haven’t decided anything, just that I’ll go with whichever company will give me the best comprehensive plan and coverage.” He also stated, push comes to shove, he might even release the album through Amazon or iTunes.

Finally, what about Fuzon? What’s in store for the band that brought us Shallum Xavier in the first place?

“We’re back in the studio, we’ve put down a few songs already.” And what’s it like recording an album with Rameez? “It’s terrific, it’s amazing actually,” Shallum speaks only highly of the new Fuzon singer. “I think this recent tour in Bangladesh we did, the two back to back concerts, really stemmed Rameez into the group.” He recalls how the singer wooed the Bangladeshi audience with his performance of a Bengali song sung by Kishore Kumar.

Shallum plans on going to Oslo for his own album, before touring with Fuzon around the U.S. Till then his fans will have to do with ‘Payam’, from his upcoming solo album of the same name.