The Darker Side of Light: Mauj & Co-VEN [Rolling Stone Article]

July 17, 2009

Co-VEN & MaujThe Darker Side of Light

Two bands. Two sounds. Four musicians. Having organised a few concerts in Pakistan, it seemed sponsors and some event managers would forget to do their math and assume that if one would ask co-VEN to play, that set list would multiply to include Mauj. It took some time for the market to absorb the fact that these two bands come with very different sound concepts, and sharing a lineup is by no means tantamount to sounding the same. Just a look at the names of the bands significantly shifts identity.

Flip. co-VEN. Hamza Jafri on lead vocals and guitar, Sameer Ahmed on bass, Sikandar Mufti on drums and percussion and Omran Shafique on guitar. Flip. Mauj. Omran Shafique on lead vocals and guitar, Hamza Jafri on guitar, Sameer Ahmed on bass and Sikandar Mufti on drums and percussion. Toss it up; shake it around, play word salad.

The front man is where a band gets its soul from. The frontman is not necessarily the lead vocalist (Bela Fleck is a banjo player); he or she could be the bassist, the guitar player. The position they occupy in the band is only as relevant as the influence they extend over the feel of the band. Whether they can colour in the sound, the genre, the concept. What makes these two bands completely separate entities are the frontmen.

co-VEN took off in 1991 initially, with a different set of musicians, including Hamza Jafri. In 2001, co-VEN regrouped sans Omran who was in Houston working on Mauj, and had briefly met Hamza in Pakistan before heading back. Omran used to play with Hamza’s elder brother Mohammad Ali Jafri before Hamza had even started playing the guitar and in 2001 when Hamza asked Omran to work with co-VEN, Omran had heard Hamza’s work and was sufficiently impressed. As Omran puts it, there was mutual respect and admiration between the two, which, eventually led to working together with the two bands.

With socio-political upheaval catching the world off-guard, the music that co-VEN creates is what artists have been doing for centuries: reflecting society and its myriad complexities. In current times, these complexities seem simple enough: political manoeuvring between terrorism, poverty and economic disparity, and co-VEN, with their aggressive sound, is the rock band with “an agenda” to spread the message. This is especially true of their new album waiting to be released. ‘Ready to Die,’ their first single release from the new album, is expressive of co-VEN’s desire to bring these problems to the forefront, in bare naked words, folk guitar and drum parts, and punch driven bass lines. All lyrics, written by Hamza Jafri, mince no words and their sardonic nature is highlighted with beautiful arrangements that slip from tense aggressive rolls, into free-flowing rock licks. “Gonna tell the government/To inform the president/He’s been watching CNN/Send the entire regiment/Get the media to cover them/Down from the mountains on their feet/Sir the militants have multiplied…”

co-VEN’s two-volume first album was more nostalgic and had a mellow feel with clean groovy bass lines and jazz, folk fusion drums. For a chunk of the listeners, Hamza’s vocal style was unusual and with lyrics in English, made the album slightly unpalatable. Though the second album is also in English, the compelling melodies and the powerful globally relevant content ensure that the songs stay in one’s head. The music has progressed as the boys matured in terms of playing styles, influences and a sensitivity to their surroundings.

Mauj is the antithesis of the social sword being brandished; it is music for everyone to sway to. But make no mistake; the music is not to be underestimated. Sitting in Houston, Omran Shafique decided that musicians were taking themselves too seriously. At the other end of the spectrum, the music that was made for mass appeal was underestimating the audience. Mauj actually was one of the first bands after Junoon that spoke a language which the masses could relate to, with melodies that were easy enough to follow despite being a complex amalgam of funk, reggae, and rock played with no excuses. For that is the real challenge for Omran: “I can write a complicated rock song that I can get off playing, but to write a song that everyone can bounce their heads to and sing along with the melody… even the serious musicians.”

When Hamza asked Omran to come down to Pakistan to record a session with co-VEN, Omran decided to record a video for the first Mauj single, ‘Khusfehmi’ in the same trip. The album had been recorded in USA, but was remixed in Pakistan. It is set to launch in February or March, after the second video ‘Mona’ is completed.

For Mauj, Omran is the sole leading force. Mauj is Omran and whomever he is working with and wherever the chemistry is taking them. Mauj has an “irreverence behind it, no posing and doing the rock star thing” and it is this irreverence and a cocktail of funk inspired fun and solid rock that makes the debut album highly awaited.

Two bands, one great bass player, one drummer with jazz hands and two frontmen with no strings attached. Each band has its own time frames and for as long as the two vocalists can accommodate the other project; this great marriage of convenience will produce diverse musical progenies that will scale different heights.

– Article by Halima Mansoor

Source: The Darker Side of Light – Rolling Stone India