The Season of Munchkins!

There are two yearly events that literally bring life in Karachi to a halt. First is the monsoon that comes once a year and floods it to a standstill. The other annual event is not nature-related but is a musical force to reckon with: The Munchkins.

Performing for almost 10 years now, The Munchkins gig is something that you really don’t want to miss if you like live music. Aamir Alavi, Louis John Pinto (Gumby), Ali Jafri and Murtaza Jafar (KV) need no introduction as they’ve been doing gigs for a while now, and the crowd just keeps getting bigger each time. Even with their infamous ‘last gigs’ every now and then, they keep coming back for more.

During these sessions, Arkam Butt (keyboardist) and Khalid Khan (bassist) would also join the band as guest musicians.

Audioslave’s Cochise started off last week’s performance with a triumphant bang. It sort of said (read: hollered) that The Munchkins are back in town. And it was impossible to miss.

Sting and The Police were covered twice with Message in a Bottle and King of Pain, both enjoyable and electric in feel.

Rage Against the Machine has always been a regular for the band to cover, and this time around their cover of Bulls on Parade was much better.

Also a good cover that got the crowd singing along was Michael Jackson’s Beat It — a special highlight of the song was KV’s solo which took the newcomers by surprise. Another Jacko hit that was covered was Dirty Diana, which went on to show that you can’t go wrong covering MJ.

Duran Duran’s Come Undone could have been played better — another Munchkins’ staple track that they almost regularly play at gigs. This time, I think, they could’ve passed on.

Taking things slow, Aamir and Jaffar performed an acoustic version of Stay by U2 with a little help from the crowd. If there’s any band that The Munchkins are known to cover good, it’s U2. This time, besides Stay, they also covered Put on Your Boots and Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me. Both good covers but we’ve seen better from the band as far as U2 is concerned.

The band also covered Jimi Hendrix’s Fire, another highlight of the evening, thanks to some amazing guitar skills by KV and drums by Gumby.

Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight was interesting. But one felt that the band could’ve chosen a different Collins’ track rather than this one — the band’s energy just didn’t suit the song.

The best song of that night, however, was Sex Machine simply because of the way Aamir Alavi channeled James Brown — not only in his singing but also in his stage presence. Humorously, no matter how many times Aamir would sing, “Get up, get on up” the crowd didn’t take the hint.

The PACC auditorium in Karachi is probably the perfect place to hold a concert. The Munchkins’ gigs, after all, are intimate affairs where the crowd really likes to get in with the music. However, the concert organisers/sponsors oversold the venue. According to the band, ticket sales were supposed to be limited to 200 only, but instead nearly 350 tickets were sold which lead to the venue being overcrowded — to add to the mix the air-conditioning was faulty.

A lot of first-timers got to see their first ever Munchkins’ performance. The problem with that is it brought in way too many yuppies and people who wanted to go to a Munchkins’ concert just so that they could say that they’ve been to one, rather than actually enjoy the music.

They seemed more concerned about what they were wearing and checking their BlackBerrys and iPhones rather than take in the amazing music — terribly insulting to a band such as this one. A lot of true Munchkins fans arrived late — some left because it was too crowded, others just stood where they were and watched their favourite band perform.

And if over crowdedness and faulty air conditioning weren’t enough, the band’s gear — which had been meticulously put together just before the concert — was unplugged so that the sponsors could run their own videos.

Why they did this boggles the mind, considering there was reasonably enough marketing done before the gig. Almost everybody had two to three goody bags with them —bags that would be strewn across the floor after it all ended. The only thing it achieved was that the much-awaited performance started late.

The Munchkins are the cornerstone of underground music in Karachi. Even this gig, with all of its faults, was a musical tour de force. The band played their hearts out with each song and thrilled the crowd with every number. But it’s a shame to see the Munchkins — of all bands — get stuck with a concert like this. Unfortunately, the maxim these days is: “In the era of music industry recession, the sponsor is king.”


Showcase Young World

A mass coronal ejection from the Sun is heading towards the Earth. But there's no reason to panic, as the Sun regularly shoots tons of plasma (ionized atoms) into space and sometimes it heads for Earth. However, as scientists have noticed, this is the largest ejection yet. These are called a mass coronal ejection and the most recent one was caught by the NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a spacecraft which is dedicated to observing the Sun on different wavelengths. When the plasma comes into contact with Earth's magnetic field it will create a geomagnetic storm — the ionised atoms from the Sun will then collide with the nitrogen and oxygen in our atmosphere to create a spectacular light show, commonly known as the Aurora Borealis. The Sun regularly goes through an 11-year cycle with its last peak in 2001, it is now approaching another peak of solar activity.

The world's sixth-largest river has been found — under the ocean. Researchers working along the Black Sea have discovered currents of water more than 350 times greater than the River Thames flowing along the ocean floor much like a river on the surface would. The underwater river is said to have all the characteristics of a land based river, complete with rapids and waterfalls. The channels of the river are said to be up to 115 feet deep in some areas. Researchers have found the content of the river to be rich with salts and nutrients — which explains how life manages to survive deep in the ocean far away from the essentials to support life. It is theorised that a network of such rivers carry the much needed nutrients to the deep ocean life.

London's Trafalgar Square, a historic landmark and a favourite amongst tourists, has a new fixture. The nearly eight feet tall maze measures almost a 100 feet by 66 feet and has portions of it named after the West End of London. Visitors are encouraged to roam the maze which has information about the area of the West End located within different parts of it. The West End Partnership responsible for the maze said: "By creating the maze and filling it with some of the best examples of what the West End has to offer, we're hoping to encourage visitors to go beyond their usual path and enjoy getting a little lost."

There's a new Sherlock Holmes. The famed detective from 221B Baker Street and his esteemed colleague Dr John Watson have been given a makeover. The BBC has recently commissioned a three-part mini-series about the master detective re-imagined in current times. The show stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson. Una Stubbs appears as their landlady Mrs Hudson, and Rupert Graves as DI Lestrade. The project was developed by writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, both of whom were writers for the current run of the British Science Fiction TV show Dr Who. The two writers are also fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his work, and are utilising the writings to the extreme.

This one's for the kids.

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The time is now

Only a few existing bands can boast of a career spanning two decades in the Pakistan music industry. Though thick and thin, and lifetimes of many rock bands, Strings have been a venerable force at the heart of our modern music industry.
 Similarly, Atif Aslam has set himself apart from the rest of the pack. After a tumultuous breakup with Jal the band, he has gone on to make his own mark in the music world — in Pakistan and beyond. Now the two powerful entities join forces to release Ab Khud Kuch Karna Paray Ga, a music video (or anthem) describing the current situation and state-of-affairs of our country.

The band wrote the song keeping in mind that it would be a collaboration, and the only person that they had in mind was Atif Aslam. It was his broad appeal as a musician which created the interest — and working with the young musician proved to be worthy experience. Speaking of collaboration, there was one more person Strings was very eager to work with: director Jami.

Both Bilal and Faisal praise Jami’s understanding of the vision of Strings, “Jami is a part of Strings. He understands our ideas and tastes; and most of the time our concepts are very similar,” said Bilal.

Jami reciprocates by saying, “Strings are family, I just can’t say no to them.” He added that they approached him with an idea about doing something for Pakistan in terms of an anthem or a message. “We decided to go completely basic with this video because that’s the only way the concept could have come across. The video features powerful imagery that we haven’t re-created — and instead got from news channels.”

The video of Ab Khud Kuch Karna Paray Ga is very simple but hard-hitting in terms of content. The band and Atif are shot in and around Karachi buildings. It’s kinda old-school like that which is pretty reminiscent of the times when music videos were just that — shot around Karachi with just the band singing along.

The truly stirring stuff is when we see the news footage: suicide blasts, violence, corruption, etc. Granted it may be clich├ęd but that is exactly what the band wanted. “We always show the pretty side of Pakistan in most of our music videos and never the real stuff,” said Faisal. “I think we need to face reality and face our problems,” Bilal added. “Strings have always been a very romanticist band, we’ve never been politically charged — until now.”

“Currently we have quite a few problems which led to the decision of what to show and what not to show. We didn’t want it to be overtly graphic that people would just be turned off by it,” said Jami. “So we selected a couple of shots just to get the message across.”

And what about the message? “The video itself doesn’t have a concept — it’s a neeyat for all of us. The band had this idea of what it was going to be and it was pretty clear to them; we need to do something for Pakistan and we need to do it now,” said the director.

“The easy way out right now,” Bilal added, “would be to go abroad and make music. We’ve done that. But now because of what’s happening here, we’re staying right here.”

However the band admits that because of the current conditions of the music industry, it is now relying on the most powerful medium of them all: the music video (and in part television) to spread their music. “Our focus is music videos now. Simply because it is more effective than churning out a 10-song album. With albums you tend to spread yourself too thin, so we’ve decided to focus on releasing singles — and it is better to have your attention on one project or song at one time so that you get a better results.”

Faisal Kapadia added, “Also the current situation is very bleak. On all levels, whether it’s the music industry or the political landscape. All we hear is people talking about change and not actually taking that first step to change. Music videos like these can inspire a first step in people. And it doesn’t have to be a violent first step.”

In Ab Khud Kuch Karna Paray Ga the content featured is from actual footage which might give it an extra edge in terms of credibility — but will it do good with the masses? The initial response to it is mixed; some love it outright whereas others call its rawness as mediocre.

However, Strings, Atif and Jami are very serious about this music video and its message. Are we seeing a music revolution in the making? Only time will tell. “We’re working on another single at the moment,” said Bilal. “It’s going to be even bolder in terms of concept.”