It takes a certain brand of courage to do what guitar maestro Faraz Anwar did on Friday night.
He played in front of a couple hundred people in an aesthetic café along the busy Shahrah-e-Faisal thoroughfare of Karachi, largely unaccompanied. He blazed through the fret board and sang his lungs out with backing tracks to fill in for a rhythm section. It was like watching a musical of Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Listening to him was like reading the book, a bittersweet feeling.
Characteristically, the show started late. The Mizraab frontman walked on stage with the voice of Karavan, Tanseer Dar. They couldn’t sort out sound issues with the acoustic guitar so Faraz slung his bottle-green Jackson to do a rendition of his ballad Roshni. Tanseer made an early slip and apologised. He had already given the disclaimer ahead of the show that they had only a day to rehearse. The apology was earnest and when they started Karavan’s Gardish, Dar was at his roaring best. They did another popular Karavan number, aagay hee aagay, before Dar left the stage for Anwar to take over.
Then came the backing tracks and a young rhythm guitar player to accompany Anwar for his set of Mizraab tracks. Anwar’s guitar prowess is not open to debate. The skill is undeniable. His voice, however, is acquired taste. The higher register is where he seems to be more comfortable, his voice wobbling as it dips down to the lower octaves. Ballads like Ujalon Mein may not be pitch perfect, but he sings with enough emotion to own the performance.
Anwar took a short break in between to give way to a cover band that did three Metallica numbers, bringing the audience, largely male, to their feet. This set the tone nicely for Anwar’s last performance, a blistering instrumental called Autumn Madness. This time accompanied by just the backing track, not the rhythm guitar player.
A live band could have infused much-needed energy. But Anwar says his music is too complicated for any set of musicians to get accustomed to in a day or two. This is true. But one wonders why he has to stick so closely to the album’s sound and cannot make simpler arrangements for a band to follow.
He admits Mizraab is becoming a one-man band. “I tried looking for a band to perform with, but the search was not productive. No one was able to get into the groove and play it accurately in a short margin of two days. For now, I am playing on my own and will continue to do so,” Anwar told The Express Tribune after the concert.
Yet, Anwar said he was undeterred and wanted to play for his fans. He hailed the organisers for the opportunity and hoped for more of the same kind in the future.
“The crowd was small but the response was huge. I am humbled. But at the end of the day, performing over a pre-recorded track doesn’t feel as amazing as a rock show should. The performance gets too mechanical and as much as I enjoy people humming along Kitni Sadiyan, there’s nothing like an improvised guitar performance.”
Playing live is not the only thing on his mind. There is also a solo album that Anwar has already recorded. Unsurprisingly, he’s done pretty much everything himself. “I have written, composed and produced all the music myself.”
The concert was unexpectedly cut short because someone had called the police. The high-octane riffs and high-pitched voice had apparently not found favour among some of the neighbourhood’s populace.
“I am quite sad that the event had to end so abruptly, but on the other hand, I am quite happy to be able to play in front of my fans again. Events like these should happen more often and I would be more than willing to perform for this audience again.”
Just as well; the deprivation of live music has left many starving. As people were leaving the venue, someone quipped, “If this is how he (Anwar) sounds like, I wonder how majestic Pink Floyd might be.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2015.
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