From fame to oblivion: The music-less story of a Pakistani rock star

Published: March 16, 2015
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If you are a Pakistani living in or visiting Scranton, Pennsylvania, drop-in at the ‘Disco Dollar’ on Green Ridge Avenue, there’s a pleasant surprise awaiting for you there. 

Dwindling music royalties and worsening law and order situation followed by a regime change forced once popular musician Farooq Ahmed to leave his country of birth and abandon his childhood passion for music and relocate to the US in 2010.

Once the nation’s heartthrob and front-man of the popular rock band ‘Aaroh’, Farooq now lives in Scranton with his wife and two daughters, running a dollar store call ‘Disco Dollar‘.

 

PHOTO: COURTESY: THE TIMES TRIBUNE

Talking about his passion for music and his latest venture, Farooq said he used to dream of becoming Pakistan’s version of rock band Guns and Roses. “People used to laugh at me when I was in school…Now when I say I want to have at least 1,000 stores, people still laugh at me.”

Farooq, who had received vocal training in classical music and eventually formed rock band ‘Aaroh’, came close to fulfilling his dream of emulating the likes of Axl Rose when his band won Pepsi Battle of The Bands in 2002. The win opened doors of the Pakistani musical valley for Farooq.

 

PHOTO: COURTESY: THE TIMES TRIBUNE

With hits such as ‘Sawaal’ and ‘Na Kaho’ off their debut album, the group became famous overnight and earned them tours across the length and breadth of the country.

 

 

It was at the height of his musical career when he met the love of his life at a fashion show, Konple.

“It was a lot of partying,” she remembered while tending the register at their store. “It was a lot of fun.”

But it all came crashing down in 2008, as worsening law and order situation coupled with political instability made the music industry much less lucrative than ever before, Farooq said. And when he got his Green Card, Farooq decided to shift his family to Chicago.

 

 

“When I moved to US, I was very open to everything and willing to do anything,” said Farooq. So much so, when he got a job at the Dunkin Donuts downtown, he gleefully accepted it.

For some Pakistani expatriates living in Chicago it was a shock to see Farooq serving coffee at Dunkin Donuts.

“For people, it’s really hard to swallow the fact that a rock star from back home is serving coffee here,” he said adding that, but “you’ve gotta do what you gotta do.”

When his cousin offered him to buy into a dollar store in New Jersey, Farooq jumped at the chance, realising that waiting tables would lead him no where.

But success did not come straight away and he had to learn the business and transfer couple of times before finally settling in to Scranton.

“I got an opportunity here and realise that the way the economy is going, the ‘Dollar Store’ are here to stay.”

 

 PHOTO: COURTESY: THE TIMES TRIBUNE

Talking about why he named his store ‘Dollar Disco’, a marriage of music and retail, Farooq said, “We could not come up with a name and me and my wife were making jokes about different names and suddenly she said how about ‘Disco Dollar’ and started laughing.” But Farooq liked it and decided to go with it.

“Back home I’m still a star,” he continued. “When I go home, people are still taking pics (with me). It’s a totally different story altogether. Over here, it’s like ‘OK ma’am, that’ll be $1.06.’”

While longing for music and singing, Farooq is determined to resume his career, but only when his business is large enough and able to sustain his family. “I still play my guitar, I still sing but I want something for my daughters and leave something behind for them.”

 

 

Although both Farooq and his wife get nostalgic while talking about the good times and rock star life back in Pakistan, Konple says “you have to move on.”

“Now we have kids and life is different here. But we are happy.”

This article originally appeared on The Times-Tribune.com

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Reader Comments (30)

  • Rabia Ali
    Mar 16, 2015 - 11:31PM

    Sad, come back to Pakistan!Recommend

  • Tulsikewl
    Mar 16, 2015 - 11:47PM

    Respect!Recommend

  • ZM
    Mar 17, 2015 - 12:00AM

    His songs were absolutely brilliant and the guy is now running a dollar store. Pretty much sums up where this country is slowly headed.

    I honestly wish these religious zealots will leave us alone some how. Sigh. Seems like Chicago it is for me also then..Recommend

  • Dilip
    Mar 17, 2015 - 12:02AM

    Wow! The only reason you loose such musicians is that Pakistan creates excellent rock bands and musicians but the public do not appreciate them enough for them to earn a living from their profession. On the other hand if they produce their albums in India they are appreciated and will make tons of money. Note that it not only about money, it is also about appreciation of such beautiful talent as well. Hope at some stage in his life, Farooq will take up music as well. Recommend

  • baber
    Mar 17, 2015 - 12:17AM

    I still listen his Yaraa song dailyRecommend

  • shah
    Mar 17, 2015 - 12:38AM

    Left as soon as he got a green card. Same will hapen with 99.9% of Pakistanis.Recommend

  • sara
    Mar 17, 2015 - 12:45AM

    na kaho was my favvvvv! sad farooq has left music…Recommend

  • umair
    Mar 17, 2015 - 1:12AM

    Ohhh Very glad and sad to see him,
    May Allah help you…Recommend

  • SyedPk
    Mar 17, 2015 - 1:42AM

    Its a sorry state of affairs of Pakistan , 90% of the previous generation stars from pop and drama industries have migrated, they didnt pass the torch, which might be justified keeping in view those who stayed are in sorry state.. no wonder our media entertainment industry practically died …. and is now starting to thrive from scratch. :( Recommend

  • harry
    Mar 17, 2015 - 1:47AM

    Gives me food for thought whenever I think about why I moved to the US around half a year back. Get over it people; there are no opportunities for educated middle class people in Pakistan. At least in the US your efforts get recognized and you don’t need political connections to advance your career. Recommend

  • Karachiwala
    Mar 17, 2015 - 2:16AM

    I am sure you will be back doing hits again… and i am sure you will not end up like others.
    keep fighting. god bless.Recommend

  • Mar 17, 2015 - 2:19AM

    Best of luck to him, but I don’t think it’s a story of how a famous musician was hounded out of Pakistan by “instability and regime change.” His music career wasn’t doing too well and he got his Green card, so therefore he made the choice to instead move to the US and open a Disco Dollar. Ultimately an anticlimactic end to a career in a generally glamorous profession. Recommend

  • chicafromchicago
    Mar 17, 2015 - 2:44AM

    @rabia Ali

    why its sad?? and why should he come back to Pak? Do you have a job waiting for him? Is the pop/rock music career is booming in pak?? please answerRecommend

  • Aaishah Akram
    Mar 17, 2015 - 3:44AM

    Much Respect ! Best of luck to Farooq & his family ! Recommend

  • ModiFied
    Mar 17, 2015 - 4:01AM

    “Na Kaho” is a great piece of music and spiritually fulfilling. Sad that such great artists have to leave their country and get engaged in not so creative stuff. Wish he reinvents himself as a singer again and leave disco dollar to others in family. Recommend

  • thankyou
    Mar 17, 2015 - 4:29AM

    Thanks for posting about him. I used to wonder where he went?
    Music scene needs himRecommend

  • Agha
    Mar 17, 2015 - 6:10AM

    Such an arrogant guy! Recommend

  • Saad
    Mar 17, 2015 - 8:29AM

    @shah:
    Can you blame him?Recommend

  • sohail abbasi
    Mar 17, 2015 - 10:39AM

    Please come back to pakistan i really love your songs i always wonder where he went suddenly? Recommend

  • zeeshan
    Mar 17, 2015 - 11:50AM

    Remember meeting him back in 2003 after one of his concerts in Karachi. He seemed really disappointed sitting in the hotel lobby after the concert. Upon asking he told me the organizers refused to pay the due amount. Goes out to show the state of musicians in this country.He came across as a really humble fellow. Good thing he’s no longer a musician in this country. Recommend

  • Owais Atta
    Mar 17, 2015 - 12:23PM

    Thank you Tribune for letting me know Farooq’s whereabouts. I always wondered about Aaroh and Farooq. Aaroh’s Sawaal (Full Album) is still in my playlist and I do listen Na kaho, Sawaal and Jalan almost everytime when I plug in the earphones. Aaroh’s Jiye is one of the best patriotic song ever. Good luck for your Store Farooq. I really wish to hear your songs again. You look so different with the short hair but its really good to see you after a long time. Good luck from a Fan in Karachi.Recommend

  • Mutee
    Mar 17, 2015 - 12:50PM

    Great to know Farooq is settled and happy.Recommend

  • original Aaroh's Fan
    Mar 17, 2015 - 1:02PM

    All the best for your new initiative, buddy.

    you will still be remembered as the face of Aaroh, one of the most talented rock bank, hailing from Karachi.

    by the way, where is Nabeel and what is he doing, these days ?????

    surprisingly, there was no mention of old friends/band members/fun times shared ???
    saddening to see and read, it was always all about him.
    anyways,
    have fun, dude !!Recommend

  • Mar 17, 2015 - 1:19PM

    Our loss. Best of luck.Recommend

  • rasheed
    Mar 17, 2015 - 3:16PM

    In contrast to this, Omran Shafique of Mauj Band is a US passport holder and he left US to work in Pakistan music industry. He is happily living in Karachi running his music studio and playing guitar sessions at Coke Studio and doing concerts with Ali Azmat.Recommend

  • Jameel ur Rasheed
    Mar 17, 2015 - 3:41PM

    Show business is still not recognized as industry in Pakistan and to the extent it has been accepted by our society it’s still a hobby or a part time activity. Many artists have become part of this oblivion.Recommend

  • Mar 17, 2015 - 3:49PM

    @rasheed:
    Thats because he already has a fall back plan. Farooq didnt.Recommend

  • Arsalan khan
    Mar 18, 2015 - 12:15AM

    The Aaroh guy gave up to easy. People who started parallel to him and persisted are doing well now. Ali Zafar,Fawad khan and Xulfi are obvious examples. Recommend

  • Asif Maudial
    Mar 18, 2015 - 1:15AM

    The guy was brilliant. I would say his fate was such that he had to end up running this retail store. But what’s so strange or big deal about it. People have been running doing side businesses since ages. This guy or any other guy who has left Pakistan – was a person born at wrong time, wrong place for wrong reasons. I pray that every other person who experiences an iota of pain in Pakistan, should leave this country for the good of us all of who are living here.Recommend

  • Babar Sultan
    Jul 11, 2015 - 1:15PM

    I was deeply moved to see Farooq leaving his passion music. What a rock she was back at hom……. I am his fan since the band was formed. My goodness,,,,,,, we people dont appreciate someone for his excellent talent……… now he has to keep the things rolling…….. Would that if it were in my power, I would never have let him leave the country or music.Recommend

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