Shahbaz Zaidi: Orbiting around Saturn

Published: July 21, 2011
Saturn aims to produce songs which are relevant and emotionally charged. PHOTO: ZEESHAN JAMAL

Saturn aims to produce songs which are relevant and emotionally charged. PHOTO: ZEESHAN JAMAL


Saturn, the band, has recently made a comeback. They announced their revival at Kuch Khaas, a cultural and arts centre, on July 7 with the launch of their latest video, “Kuch Nahin.”

Shahbaz Zaidi (lead vocals), accompanied by Aashir Rayan Khan (bass), Salman Zaidi (lead guitarist/vocals), Shahbaz Asad (drums) and Rawal Shadab (keyboard) released the video after a production hiatus of nearly five years — the single was originally released in 2005, the music video a long time coming.

“We’re not just progressive rock,” he adds emphatically. Saturn moves in its own musical orbit and is vacuuming up a lot of fans along the way. “We don’t really like sticking to one genre. We call it Saturn music. We’ve got rock, love songs and ballads.”

The ever-busy Shahbaz Zaidi had to pry himself away from meetings to meet with The Express Tribune at Kuch Khaas, where he works as an assistant Program Manager. Zaidi, 25, lights a cigarette and apologises for the rest of the band’s absence. “They are all busy with work and meetings,” he said. “It’s ok, I’ll speak for the band; we’re all friends.”

The band formed in 2001 and released their first track, “Raakh” (ashes), in 2003. Although it got over 150,000 downloads, Zaidi laments that the video wasn’t received well. “Back then lots of Pakistani music videos and record labels were transitioning into better quality. Although the media liked our video, the low quality put people off,” he said. “We were really frustrated about this; and the same frustration carried over to “Kuch Nahin”. By the time we got to production we had our ups and downs because this time around we were all a little frustrated because we’d been waiting for a video for ages.” The not-so-small matter of finances was also adding to injury but the band managed to pull it together; their long wait and efforts paid off.

Finally, and under the auspices of Director Usman Mukhtar and Producer Sarmad Ghafoor, Saturn got its much-needed golden ticket. The turnout for the video launch at Kuch Khaas was more than Saturn could’ve hoped for — over a 100 heads showed their support at the event. The video, like so much of the band’s work, boasts a strong political bent: “We mainly deal with issues of self-identity, nationalism and the problems of our society like the ever deteriorating situation of the poor, flood victims, racial conflicts and terrorism.”

In the “Kuch Nahin” video, a man with a paper bag covering his head navigates through wild, jungle terrain. The concept here is that Ibrahim is a depiction of Pakistan — blind, defaced, and negotiating through troubled terrain. “The mask represents the suppression of self-identity,” elaborated Zaidi, “and as long as you’re behind a mask, you don’t know you’re a victim until you take it off.”

Salman Zaidi came up with the video’s concept and cinematography in collaboration with Muneeza, a friend from Karachi. Usman Mukhtar made the concept his own, punctuating it with his experience and eye for raw, gritty imagery. “We all worked together really well.” Also it helps when you’re close to all your band members. Although they’re all employed, the band regularly meets for jam sessions on Sundays — it’s pretty much all work and no play, “we’re very focused but will goof up sometimes,” says Zaidi.

Still, for all their hard work, the band finds it difficult to deal with financial demands and the state of Islamabad’s music industry, “We’ve got some great music here but it’s hardly being promoted in comparison to Lahore or Karachi. Also, record labels take away artist rights and don’t pay much,” adds Zaidi.

Yet, and admirably so, the band has been able to scrape up enough to almost pay back what was owed to their producer. Their recent stint at the Naran Festival in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa raked in enough moolah to let them continue working on future projects without being too strapped for cash. Now it’s all about releasing the album — later in the year — and brainstorming for their next video “Khamoshi” (silence), which is one of the three slow tunes on the album.

Zaidi hopes Saturn will continue churning out tracks that are relatable and emotionally charged. “Our personal lives are important to the album; it’s all about our emotions and reactions to everything that’s going on around us, which is why we think it [the album] is going to be something that’s accessible.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2011.

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