The jour­ney of Ali Suhail

The Pak­istani mu­si­cian en­twines sub­tle lyri­cism with epic sound­scapes on his new al­bum. Ah­mer Naqvi chats to him about mak­ing mu­sic in a coun­try that of­ten doesn’t take it se­ri­ously

The National - News - The Review - - Music - Ah­mer Naqvi is a writer on cul­ture, mu­sic and sport. He is based in La­hore.

Ire­mem­ber the first time I saw Karachi mu­si­cian Ali Suhail. It was on a Pak­istani TV pro­gramme from 2010 that was meant to un­earth ta­lented mu­si­cians from the un­der­ground scene. Ali’s band, Jumbo Jutt was fea­tured on the first episode. When I heard him speak, I re­mem­ber be­ing struck by the angst and ur­gency he dis­played when talk­ing about his mu­sic. When asked on the show what the band’s song was about, he said “a lot of things... from the top of my head, so­cial norms that we have just ac­cepted with­out thinking about it. Things like iz­zat (hon­our) and tehzeeb (tra­di­tion) and... the whole ‘you can’t do this’ just be­cause you’re from a cer­tain fam­ily.” It was a ram­bling man­i­festo, at once hint­ing at Ali’s in­tel­li­gence as well as his strug­gle to ar­tic­u­late it.

In many ways, I never saw that ver­sion of Suhail again. Our paths started cross­ing reg­u­larly sev­eral years later and I al­ways found him to be very re­laxed and pleas­ant in per­son and car­ry­ing an un­der­stated swag­ger on­stage. He be­came ex­tremely pro­lific and di­verse in his out­put, re­leas­ing solo works, col­lab­o­rat­ing with many artists and be­com­ing a renowned pro­ducer in the indie scene.

In 2013, he re­leased his de­but solo al­bum Words from Boxes, and fol­lowed that with Jour­nal En­tries in 2014, and then two EPs – De­solve and De­frag­ment – in 2015.

I spoke to him about his new al­bum, Pur­suit of Ir­rel­e­vance, after its re­lease last month and which cur­rently can only be streamed on­line at Patari (Full dis­clo­sure, I am chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer for Patari).

One of the things I asked was what would the Ali Suhail of 2010 feel like if he met him­self now? He chuck­led at the premise be­fore say­ing that “the big­gest goal back in 2010 was to get peo­ple to stop telling me that [mak­ing mu­sic is] a bad idea. But [that time was also] im­por­tant be­cause I met a bunch of peo­ple who took mu­sic as a se­ri­ous thing and not as a mat­ing call.

“Since then, I’ve got­ten nom­i­nated for a na­tional award for mak­ing songs on my com­puter to bat­tle my bore­dom; I’ve toured the coun­try with a bunch of peo­ple, in­clud­ing no­table main­stream acts; I’ve head­lined a fes­ti­val; and I’ve helped make a whole bunch of mu­sic. I think 2010 Ali would [be be­side] him­self with joy.”

There is lit­tle doubt that as a mu­si­cian, Ali’s sound has im­proved im­mea­sur­ably since he started. While Jumbo Jutt was heavy-hit­ting and forth­right, his solo work has be­come more sub­tle and com­plex, and re­tains an abil­ity to jump from sparse lyri­cism to gi­ant, crunch­ing gui­tar-led sound­scapes with­out jar­ring. Al­though Words from Boxes was al­most an an­tithe­sis to his Jumbo Jutt sound, the jour­ney since then has felt like a com­ing to­gether of the dis­parate strands he has pur­sued. What per­haps ties them all to­gether is an investigative ap­proach to emo­tions that in­forms his mu­sic.

As Ali puts it, “the gen­eral idea is to find some­thing weird that I’ve felt, that I prob­a­bly wouldn’t be too com­fort­able shar­ing with a group of peo­ple in a room and then shin­ing a big light on it so even­tu­ally oth­ers [who feel sim­i­larly can re­late to it too].”

Pur­suit of Ir­rel­e­vance, though, brings a re­turn to the anx­i­ety and ur­gency of those years ago. The vo­cals are more tex­tured and lay­ered in a way where they seem to ex­press more emo­tions than the lyrics. The com­po­si­tions re­main flex­i­ble and un­wed­ded to any genre, able to flit be­tween dif­fer­ent sounds but re­tain­ing an un­der­cur­rent of rest­less­ness. Ali de­scribes the al­bum’s sound as “main­tain­ing an urge to just mess with who­ever’s lis­ten­ing” but I feel it also ex­presses a de­sire to get the lis­tener to stay with the songs and not ac­cept them at face value. There is a con­stant in­ter­play be­tween want­ing to chal­lenge ver­sus com­fort­ing the lis­tener.

What is most in­ter­est­ing is that on the al­bum, the many lay­ers of his mu­si­cal per­sona seem to col­lapse to­gether. There is a lit­tle bit from each of his pre­vi­ous works in here, and yet the sum is greater than the myr­iad parts.

Per­haps be­ing a mu­si­cian in Pak­istan these days is in­deed ir­rel­e­vant, but that doesn’t mean its pur­suit is fu­tile.

Cour­tesy Ebte­sam Ahmed

Ali Suhail at the #Mpow­erFest 2014 in Karachi, Pak­istan. Suhail first came to promi­nence on a 2010 TV show to find new tal­ent.

Pur­suit of Ir­rel­e­vance Ali Suhail

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.