In conversation with music talent Farhad Humayun of Pakistani band, Overload
The first time I stumbled upon Overload, was at the eclectic celebration of South Asian culture and arts, that is The Alchemy Festival at Southbank, London. I had just watched a harrowing play and as I left the theatre in quite a daze, I got caught up in a heaving crowd, made up of an interesting blend – mostly young professional city types still in their suits, who looked like they had come straight from work, although there were spectators of all colour and creed. Then came the powerful pounding of the drums from the band collective on stage - like a tribal war declaration, only much more rhythmic and mesmerising. Up until this point I was intrigued, but once the gravelly, gritty and rather sensual Punjabi vocals began resounding ‘Jado nimmi nimmi chaldi hawaa, dola mera dil dohl da…’ I was spellbound.
This is the Overload experience and if you don’t know them already, that is, quite frankly, a travesty. At the forefront is the ultra talented musician, singer and producer, Farhad Humayun hailing from Lahore, Pakistan, who has produced tracks for other artists like Atif Aslam, along with his band members, Nasir Sain the dhol player and musician Aziz.
Being a Pakistani myself, who also happens to be Punjabi, I had to find out more about this talented group of artists. Being a die-hard fan of the likes of Pakistani bands such as Junoon, from a time which now seems like a bygone golden era of authentic Pakistani music talent, it was so refreshing to hear such melodies on British turf again – the last time I had witnessed Junoon in concert at Wembley, seems like eons ago.
Considering how ‘loud’ the band is famed to be, Farhad Humayun has a calming and soothing aura about him. His intensity is quite awe-inspiring – they say that the eyes are the windows to your soul, and it appears that there is so much more hidden behind those mysterious eyes. Of the philosophical and artsy ilk, Farhad seemed to read between the lines a lot and has an interesting analytical mind – apparently, even the colour of my lipstick tells a story! After spending an afternoon with Farhad, it is evident he is someone who is positively inspirational and so passionate about his family, country, his people and of course, music – not just as an art, but as a form of powerful expression.
Deemed ‘the loudest band in Asia’ – why was it then, that I hadn’t heard their echoes in this part of the world? We find out, as we talk about the future of Pakistan, politics, philosophy, humanity and so much more. A conversation with this wondrous individual, will leave you pondering about much more than just music…
Overload has been around for 12 years - how did you get together?
We never thought this would be a band. We always wanted this to be organic. In 2003, someone invited us to play for a television station and we blasted a wall of speakers, because we were just so loud - which is why they call us the loudest band in Pakistan. Somebody actually wrote an article naming us the loudest band in Asia! Because I produce other artists as well, we did something with Misha Shafi, which is why she sang our song in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. We decided to stick to a lineup with myself on voice and drums, Aziz has recently joined us who is based in Manchester - when we have the funds to bring him to Pakistan we do, but he is more of an international artist. The dhol player, Nasir Sain has been with us for 12 years. I have been playing the drums for 24 years and only started singing recently – before that, I just sang for myself.
People don’t know about us the way they know the likes of Atif Aslam or Strings because we were never doing music for an audience, so we were never looking to score a hit - even though we did. We used to be an instrumental act for 5 or 6 years. But later, with the process of evolution within the sensibility and philosophy of the band, we started singing as well. It wasn’t a forced attempt. We enjoy that cult status more than being a symbol of success and being on every billboard is not a measure of success for us. If Bollywood can understand the madness of Overload and the rock and roll that we play, we would love to do something.
Did you always want to pursue music and were your family always supportive of your choices?
Deep down inside, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. When you’re growing up, you try a lot of things as well - I wanted to do film, and now I direct my own videos also. My dad was a sports commentator for cricket and was also a businessman. Pakistani men always want their sons to be successful and earn a good living, which is fine. But he had an eye for art and music, he used to sing very well himself, so he exposed me to great music like Ustad Amanat Ali. He wanted me to do something that was more stable.
My mum is an academic, she’s also an actress. She’s the one who has always pushed me into doing things that I’ve always wanted to do, because that’s the meaning of life - you live for yourself. So I had different kinds of support from both parents - my dad bought me my first drum set and I haven’t looked back since. They come to my performances, but it is a little too loud for them now! My mum is about 70 years old and my dad passed away a few years ago, but the last performance that he saw of me, I’m glad he got to see me sing because before that I never sang in public, but he was the one who said - you have to sing. And that’s maybe why I started.
Music is full time for us in some form or another. I also run a recording studio, so I produce other artists as well – I’ve produced Atif Aslam, all of his albums. So if I’m not making my own music, I’m doing it for somebody else. Aziz is a full time musician and Nasir Sain is a different kind of musician - it’s like a battle for him all the time, he’s like a gladiator! It’s like a competition for him to outdo the other person, which is the folk and classical approach. For me, it’s not a competition, it’s a medium and expression.
Describe the essence of Overload
The philosophy of Overload is being brutally honest. It’s like flowing through your life. It’s like swimming, it’s like flying. It’s got tense moments and it’s got it’s release as well. That’s the organic approach of playing music – it’s about being improvisational, impulsive and honest. Theres the blend of folk and contemporary, but it’s not forced.
How do you come up with your lyrics? What inspires you?
I guess most lyrics are autobiographical. And you have to be an observer. I went to art school, so I was taught to observe in detail. We musicians have an eye for detail. A bit like actors, they like to have experienced some level of pain, because at some point later maybe for a film, they will go back to a toolbox in their heart and they access that particular emotion that they felt. Musicians do the same. Which is why, when you hear an effective piece of music, it takes you back to 1984 when you felt that feeling for the first time. We try to retain that and use it in words as well as music.
Why does India keep stealing all of Pakistan’s homegrown talent?
I have a multilayered opinion and I could write a book about this. First reason is that Pakistan itself, the education system, the politicians who represent us, and most people in Pakistan are confused about their identity. By what their culture is, where they come from. 68 years ago we were a part of India, we had the same language, we share many of the same traditions, but religion has divided us. I am a supporter of the partition, Pakistan is a great country - I was born in England but I have lived all my life in Pakistan, by choice. There are so many things that we borrow from our history, and if you keep destroying and renaming the Indian sounding names, then it’s an identity crisis. We need to start instilling this idea of national pride and identity.
We did Coke Studio, it’s now one of the biggest campaigns in the world, and it’s a Pakistani campaign. I think its remarkable and a matter of national pride for us. We were not known as a band worldwide, before we did Coke Studio, so we need to pick up on these little packages of happiness and celebration and throw those out in the world. Goodness begets goodness.
India is not blatantly stealing our talent. The reason why Fawad Khan is so big in that part of the world, is because the guy is good, he can act, he can talk, he looks great – he’s a great persona. Ali Zafar, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Shafqat Amanat Ali – they’re all great talents. And some women are following in their footsteps now too.
What can be done to hold onto Pakistani talent?
There is an infrastructure in India. People in Pakistan know there is always an easy way out. If you know someone, you can get away with murder. The educated classes in India are trying to get rid of that old world culture and make things more fair. In Pakistan, if they don’t stop piracy, artists are not going to earn any royalties. If you don’t give people an incentive to stay, they will leave. It can all happen in a decade, but that is not the direction we are going in.
What happened to classic bands like Junoon and Vital Signs?
You’re looking at things from a very Western and exposed perspective -for people in Pakistan, most of life is about survival and sustaining what you’ve built. With any form of work or business, you have to realize that there will be people younger and better than you, who will resonate more with a younger audience. It’s about making that graceful exit.
What does Pakistan need to progress?
Education, giving people the opportunity to be themselves, giving them the freedom to think beyond these boundaries that have been created that don’t allow people to progress. Fairness needs to be instilled, you need to start respecting people. If you’re standing in a queue and someone cuts in because he’s some politician’s son – it’s not cool. If you meet a villager or an ordinary Pakistan, they are such nice people and so hospitable. But right now, it’s only a matter of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
Do you feel that your vibe and music reflects Lahore? Tell us more about your latest track, Lahore.
If I were doing a solo career, it would be different to what Overload is about - Overload brings in the Punjabi element with the dhol. I lived in Southampton for a couple of years, where I worked for a theatre company. But at the time, 9/11 happened and it was a bad time for Pakistanis to be out of Pakistan. That was a time when it made me decide that this is who I am and this is who I want to be. That’s when I went back to Lahore. The food, the vibrancy, the people - all of that is reflected in my music. If you start pretending you’re someone else and that pretence translates into your music, it’s not going to resonate with people. Only the truth resonates with people. Individuality is what sets you apart from the next guy.
Lahore is a city of character and heritage, yet precious monuments have come under threat due to recent needless construction and developments. Our recently released track Lahore is all about defying these unnecessary government plans and not conforming. It is a song that celebrates the city’s history, art, culture and architecture, which forms our age-old identity.
What is the future of Overload?
There’s no set plan, we’ll find out tomorrow! We know that we want to play music - we’ve started working on a few English songs and there’s a new video coming out in English, so we’re going to try and cross over. We never chalk out projections and plan in a business way - we do get a little tired of that ourselves, but it’s the only way we know.
Interview By Fariha Sabir
Watch Overload's latest track Lahore and others here
Overload tracks will soon be available to download on iTunes.
Find out more about Overload here
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