Overload – Working the System [Rolling Stone Article]

July 19, 2009

1238393267_overloadDrummer Farhad Humayun leads the line for Overload, one of the major bands on Pakistan’s rock scene. The band releases its second album, Pichal Paree, next month through Universal Music, and fans are eager to see how Overload has evolved from earlier incarnations: new members include Meesha, a vocalist. This is a departure from Overload’s first album, released in 2006, which was called just that – Overload – and that album had only one track with vocals: with the famous Ustaad Shafqat Ali. The band had made its mark for its pure instrumentalism.

“Music is always about change, and we were looking to take our music in a different direction,” says Humayun, emphasising that the decision to branch into vocals, and to try new melodies, was musical. “I think our music is a little less intense now,” says Meesha, playing on that she is the new woman in an all-male club. “We are more playful.”

Pichal Paree, (the name in Punjabi means “a witch with inverted feet”) is a ten-track album that takes its name from a song that comes to the band via a collaborator, who left them a track that the band grew affectionate of, and then reinterpreted.

The album also plays tribute to Amjad Khan, the Eighties Bollywood actor who played the drums in the video of the famous RD Burman song ‘Laila O Laila.’ One track in the album, called ‘Amjad Khan,’ is built on the groove of that song.

The other two members of Overload are guitarist Mahmood Rahman and keyboardist Sheraz Siddique. And the band collaborates with other singers, particularly dhol players who play at any of the numerous sufi shrines that dot Lahore. Currently, they play with Nasir Sain, and an Overload performance is often a riotous act, with Nasir Sain spinning in the middle of the stage as the other band members make way for him. It is a vortex of energy that can even overwhelm Western drums. The almost unpredictable nature of the spinning dhol player is exhilarating. “It is a different experience every time,” says Humayun, of each performance. “And of course, we depend on the crowd; if it is not pumped up enough, we don’t respond well.”

For Humayun, though, a deflated crowd is not an issue. The situation in the country is so bad that concert venues have almost disappeared and musician are starving for work. Consequently, the few concerts that happen draw hungry crowds. Politics affect the band in other ways; it is also facing delays in launching its music video because of the Mumbai attacks.

Humayun, as one of the original members of Pakistan’s underground Nineties rock scene – he started his music as a member of co-VEN – decided to take the initiative. In December last year he launched The System, a planned fortnightly concert for musicians, which shall draw a discerning audience. This sort of concert schedule will complement musicians, who these days usually make substantial sums through touring with expatriate communities abroad – Overload toured Sharjah in 2007 for example. “Instead of organising five concerts of a total 40,000 people, musicians can play 30 concerts with a smaller number of people at each concert,” says Humayun.

Smaller audiences will naturally mean less energy than a larger crowd can provide, but art often has to adjust to the real world. And the songs of Overload also adjust to reality. “Other things started to change automatically with a vocalist,” says Meesha. “They change the way instruments play off each other.”

But there is a deeper undercurrent. “Many of the songs are me talking to a significant other,” Meesha adds. That should not be surprising; reality intrudes. In this case the significant other is guitarist Mahmood; the couple announced their engagement at December’s System concert. Music, as they say, is the universal language.

– Article by Abid Shah

Source: Rolling Stone India