KARACHI: If youth itself is a talent, then the Music Art Dance (MAD) Schools dance studio was brimming with both on Friday night. Twenty-year-old musician, Usman Riaz and percussionist Joshua Fernandes, just a year older, put together their expertise that sent the crowded room into raptures.
“I met him [Joshua] at a performance I did at the MAD School,” said Riaz, “he is a year older than me and an amazing percussionist.”
Though both of them have been playing music for many years, Fernandes is the more experienced of the two, having collaborated with many bands, local and international. He teaches percussion at the MAD school and his band Taal Karisma was Pakistan’s first percussive band, created back in 2006. With them, he has worked with artistes like Jal and Zeb and Haniya.
“I started when I was six,” he told The Express Tribune. “Its been a long time. I always try to keep things organised in parts but improvise in the middle. That is when you know how creative you can be.”
The pair performed a version Clouds before the Storm off of Riaz’s recently released album Flashes and Sparks that were distributed complementarily after the show. The performance, a layered composition on the album, was stripped down to just guitar and percussion.
With no loud bangs, pyromaniac stagehands, or even lyrics to sing along to, the crowd was purely there to appreciate the new faces of Karachi’s music scene. It was a gathering of music lovers.
Riaz’s solo performances were The Waves on piano and the favourite, Fire Fly on percussive guitar. The latter was heavily improvised – it melded into Kashmir by Riaz’s favourites, Led Zeppelin.
Fernandes managed to hold his own next to the multi-talented guitarist with his own improvised drum solo. He combined a number of percussive instruments from three different ends of the earth in a wall-shaking display of his talents.
He used a combination of bongos, (Latin drums), darbuka (Turkish drums), the bass drum and the high-hat, to put different sound signatures together. While different parts were pre-composed, Fernandes fell to his old ways, changing up the beats in the middle, moving from a fourth to an eight beat in a split second.
“This is a country where the vocalists are heard more than the instruments,” he explained. “We need music like percussive fusion music.”
Probably the most interesting was Riaz’s composition, Repercussions. Performed as a duet using only their hands and feet, the piece was a combination of claps, snaps, slaps and stomps. It was almost comical, watching the tall, angular Riaz and the rotund Fernandes patting themselves down, perfectly in sync. The crowd giggled as Fernandes slapped his belly, but as the beat quickened, laughter became gasps of intrigue. Unfortunately, the harmonica gave way right before Riaz was about to rip into a solo.
“I haven’t practiced this at all,” said Riaz, edging towards the bass drum and high-hat in the corner. “Its just something I tried out during sound check so bear with me if it sounds horrible.”
He needn’t have worried – the impromptu solo rendition of Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Led Zeppelin, just proved that Riaz’s hat of tricks is bottomless. The crowd clapped along, enthralled as he impersonated Bonham and Page on drums and guitar – at the same time.
The turnout, squatting on footstools and cushions, comprised in parts of Fernandes’ students and Riaz’s friends, family and of course, their rapidly expanding fan base. Whether it was their personal acquaintance between with audience or just the performers’ almost exasperating humility, the general atmosphere was relaxed and cozy, almost like a public jam session. Shouts of “nice one Sir!” directed at Fernandes had him breaking into toothy grins while the hoots and cheers set Riaz blushing.
Riaz’s devotees will be happy to know that he is in the studio working on new material. They can expect “lots of different stuff, piano and more orchestral pieces”. Its meant to head in the same direction as Flashes and Sparks but that’s where the similarity ends. “They will be the follow-up to what Flashes and Sparks was trying to do. Lets see what happens.”
Always a perfectionist, Riaz could be heard muttering apologies about the faulty harmonica to the guests as they milled around him for autographs after the show. Perhaps the only drawbacks were the broken instrument and the fact that the audience was left thirsting for more. But, as Riaz put it, shows are best kept “short and sweet.