For session musicians, music is more than just a labour of love. Look at the manner in which they go about their job — constantly going from one recording session to another, tirelessly. Performing in the background at live concerts and playing set pieces that lead into the guitar solo being performed by the group’s lead guitarist. All of that for no, or little attention.
One of the truly remarkable feats of Coke Studio has been of bringing such longstanding talent into the spotlight. House band member and guitarist Imran Akhoond is one such example.
With his career in the Pakistani music industry spanning close to two decades, the guitarist most popularly known as Shehzad Roy’s ‘associated act’ recollects his own journey with The Express Tribune.
Growing up in an era when bands like Strings, Vital Signs and Awaz were coming to the fore, it was only a matter of time before Imran’s love for music finally kicked in.
With Nadeem Jafri residing in the same neighbourhood, Imran recalls how he once turned up at the actor-musician’s doorsteps hoping to learn some tricks of the trade. Having impressed Jafri with his skills the singer recommended him to a post-Vital Signs Junaid Jamshed, who was on the hunt for a band for his live concerts.
“I still remember playing in Nadeem Jafri’s drawing room (to Junaid Jamshed) and the compliment he [Junaid Jamshed] gave me after my performance. He said that I should be in Vital Signs,” Imran tells The Express Tribune.
Imran with Matt Sorum and Slash
That one audition seemed to have sent his career into hyper-drive as Imran kept on impressing one band after another, musician after musician with the likes of Awaz and Junaid Jamshed availing his services as a session musician.
Even though he was enjoying his time playing with household names of the Pakistani music scene, this role as a gun for hire was eventually getting to him. “There were moments when I used to have three shows a night and that was becoming very difficult to manage.”
Enter Shehzad Roy. Having met the pop star while on tour with Awaz, Imran had developed an excellent rapport with him and with his schedule cramping with multiple artistes, he decided to join the singer’s studio and live band, a decision he has no regrets about.
“With other artistes I was only playing live but Shehzad [Roy] also gave me the opportunity to play in his studio sessions, which was really great for me. It provided me a chance for self assessment, unlike live shows, where you play on stage and then get off not knowing how you have performed.”
But despite being an established star in the local music setup what really won Imran over about Shehzad was his loyalty to teammates.
He shared an incident from a North American tour where Shehzad was to perform alongside a musician of Slash’s stature and how he still chose Imran to play alongside the legendary guitarist. “Imagine you are going to perform with Slash. Obviously you would want to take the best guitarists, maybe someone like Amir Zaki but he still chose me.”
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Imran has not ventured into composition and production and is actually quite content staying away from the spotlight.
“It is a case of survival. It’s just like working for someone else and then starting your own business. Obviously that other person won’t hire you if you are running your own business. And most of the musicians who ventured into music production are just making their ends meet.”
He stressed on the importance of diversifying and breaking out of your shell in order to succeed as a musician in a country like Pakistan. “Look at me I have also worked on the soundtrack for Moor, there is also Coke Studio I play all sorts of music. You can’t be too choosy saying I won’t play blues, jazz or bhangra, as you may end up losing out on many projects.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2015.