Classical rock1 min read . Updated: 05 Feb 2010, 09:36 PM IST
The first song on Saptak, the Mekaal Hasan Band’s (MHB) second studio album, starts with a jazz-like shuffle on the drums before settling into a catchy, if straightforward, Pakistani rock tune. The false start is a little nod to MHB’s origins and its attempt at creating what some reviewers have called “Eastern jazz".
Saptak builds on that sweet spot. Four of the 11 songs on the disc cross the 6-minute mark, but they never seem meandering. Be it Bashir’s powerful classical vocals or Hasan’s snaky guitar lines—the solos are plentiful but never overdone. Fans of the Pakistani rock sound—with bands such as Fuzon or Junoon, for example—will find plenty to like here.
Since it was established in 2001, the Lahore-based MHB has been a regular on the live music circuit (they toured India in 2008), building up a reputation for tight, well-balanced live shows. They’re also cited as influences by a number of contemporaries, having featured on the Al Jazeera television channel and the American radio network, National Public Radio (NPR).
Hasan studied music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, before returning to Pakistan to set up a recording studio. His musical influences range from Led Zeppelin to Hindustani classical. Lyrically, the album draws, among other influences, on poetry from sufi saint Shah Hussain, Bulle Shah and the poet and writer Amrita Pritam. In his interview with NPR, however, Hasan is quoted as saying he “doesn’t quite know" what the lyrics of MHB songs mean most of the time. “To be quite honest, I’m just going by the sound of the melody," he says.
MHB seems to represent a new wave of independent musicians from Pakistan who are bridging the gap between the classical and rock traditions, coexisting with the slick Bollywood pop and robust classical scenes, and drawing from both. Saptak is an accessible record bursting with clever melodies. It’s highly recommended.