KARACHI: There is a quintet in Champions, the second track of Adil Omar’s Transcendence that goes like, “This is love; this is hunger; this is candid devotion; poetic rage pouring from a savage emotion; prophetic rage roaring at a canvas of notions; this is it and it’s certain as there’s sand in the oceans.”
This, I feel, is the essence of Omar’s album. It’s a thunderstorm caged in words. It’s years of struggle, personal and professional, contained in musical form. The nearly 50-minute visual album consists of 10 tracks, which encompass the Islamabad-based rapper’s journey; his personal and musical ‘transcendence.’
Speaking with The Express Tribune, the one-half of SNKM shared that he recorded all the tracks in 2017 and the videos were shot over a five-day period. While the songs are written, produced and performed by Omar himself, guest artists include Tim Armstrong (Rancid), Talal Qureshi (the other half of SNKM), Shaman Durek, Ustad Tafu and Elliphant.
Omar said the order of tracks tells a story itself. “Start to finish, it tells the story through words and music more so than the visuals. I’m not one for visual narratives when I direct. That’s why I took to directing my own videos,” he shared. “I’m more about the visual feelings. The story is in the music.” He added that the one long, continuous audiovisual format was important in telling the story the he wanted.
The singer’s approach to writing songs involves a literary technique called ‘stream of consciousness’ which attempts to depict the multitude of thoughts running through the mind. “I froze my stream of consciousness into audio form as I experienced it. That’s the approach I always take with my music,” Omar revealed. “It’s my inner dialogue with myself more than it is me telling my story to others. There are many clues in this album. If you keep my stream of consciousness in mind, codes and clues will be unlocked for you to further understand valuable things about yourself.”
One can find samples of old Lollywood film music in Transcendence as well. The amalgamation of this aggressive rap, psychedelic visual experience and desi sounds make the record a unique experience. “I’ve always worked with Eastern sounds and desi samples. This time I didn’t want to rely on samples. I listened to a lot of Ustad Tafu, M Ashraf, Nahid Akhtar – old Lollywood music,” Omar said, explaining his choice. “I’d wanted to work with it for a while but I didn’t want it to be too sample heavy so I made the beats using samples from vinyl, then got in touch with Ustad Tafu and M Arshad (son of M Ashraf and one of the original musicians who made those songs) to recreate them.”
The rapper said it was important for him to break out of the boxes the world had made for him. “Working with Pakistani music in my ‘transcendence’ as a Pakistani artist felt appropriate. This was an entire re-imagining of the source material.”
The album feels and even sounds like an hour-long hallucination, with trippy visuals and fascinating wordplay. It’s a well-known fact that Omar has sound-colour synesthesia, a condition wherein sounds involuntarily evoke an experience of colour. The singer even talks about it We Need To Talk About Adil – the sixth track. He shares his synesthesia comes into play in everything he does.
“Everything I make and produce is based on how it looks to me. I look at my songs as audio paintings. My production is as visual as it is sonic,” said the Revelations hit maker. “I can’t comprehend sound as a solely auditory experience. It’s an alien concept to me. I guess it’s cool seeing every sound I hear but it makes driving distracting. I know how to drive but I generally don’t drive because of this.”
The concluding track from Transcendence is also the most personal: Searching for Salim Omar pays tribute to the singer’s late father. Omar revealed his father died due to excessive drinking when he was just 10. “Even though he struggled with alcohol addiction, he was never a deadbeat or lazy dad. He was super high-functioning, living an insanely fast-paced life,” he recalled, comparing his father to Tony Soprano and Robin Hood. “He was a proper savage, true maverick. Even in his self-destruction, he was poetic and cinematic. Everything I am, everything I’ve learned and everything I’ve grown into is because of him. He’s my guardian angel and the co-pilot of my existence.”
Omar said Transcendence has garnered interesting reactions so far, with most people being surprised and others finding it healing to their own experiences. Meanwhile, he has started working on his next solo album Mastery, which he intends to release in 2019. “I have my next three solo albums between now and 2025 mapped out. I work 12 hours a day on average and love what I do.”
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