No one could’ve predicted, least of all them, that they’d come out from constantly fighting for their space at the very bottom, episode after episode, to being crowned as the winners of the third season of Pepsi Battle of the Bands. But this isn’t Bayaan’s first gig on telly. They’ve come a long way since they first came together to record for a different music show (which shall not be named) almost five years ago. That’s where they first met and after a couple of seasons of performing together on the show, decided to collaborate in their off-camera life as well.
Dig up those recordings on YouTube and some of the band-members still have a bit of ‘baby fat’. Sitting in front of me now is a band that’s mature. As a group, they’ve been through a few life experiences. They know what their sound is and how to deliver a great performance. Most importantly, they seem quite comfortable being together and give each other the space to individually express themselves as well.
The lead singer, Asfar Hussain, is quite tall and towers over pretty much everyone. Originally from Chitral, he moved to Lahore just under a decade ago to pursue a degree in musicology. “Music is generally integrated into the culture of Chitral,” he relates.
“At my house, friends would get together for a mehfil — singing, playing sitar etc. My father is a poet so people would come over and sing his work. My older brother is a really good Chitrali sitar player, he’s more inclined towards that side whereas I used to listen to a lot of Urdu music.”
“Our songs when we were in the danger zones were always better than the ones in the main episode!” laughs Shahrukh.
Asfar briefly moved to Peshawar for a year when he was in middle school — that move would be significant in that it introduced him to the wave of Pakistani pop music that was coming through in the early 2000s.
“Because back then in Chitral I didn’t have cable or the internet,” he explains. “Over there [in Peshawar] we did. And so, I got influenced by pop music there.” There was little opposition in his family regarding his move to Lahore. “My father said: Do what your heart tells you to do.”
Fast forward to the present era and this interview. I notice his eyes twinkling with amusement now and then as he quietly observes his bandmates as they make their statements.
Haider Abbas, the bass player, is another one who’s relatively quieter. Whether in old or new videos, one notices that he tends to furrow his brows in concentration as he performs, less so off stage, giving him a very ‘serious’ look.
Shahrukh Aslam (guitars) comes across as a bit of the ‘intellectual’ of the group, often giving the impression that he’s composing and editing his responses while he’s speaking. Also, on guitars is Muqeet Shahzad, who strums the guitar throughout the interview, often subconsciously playing according to the tone the responses would take — soft and mellow when a band member would talk about the band being in a difficult situation, fast and upbeat when a mate would talk about overcoming that difficult situation. Drummer Mansoor Lashari couldn’t join us at our tête-à-tête because of a family commitment.
Did they expect to be picked for the show? “Yes,” responds Shahrukh. “To win? No.”
One of the things I noticed during the season was that they would do alright during the main show, but the moment they were put in the danger zone, their performance would rise up a few notches to a whole other level. Almost as if they were coming into it with guns blazing.
“That’s true!” laughs Shahrukh. “Our songs when we were in the danger zones were always better than the ones in the main episode!” They would also end up performing a song they’d been saving for future episodes just to survive the current one. Case in point: Hum Nadaan which they sang in the danger zone of episode three but which they had been saving to perform in episode four.
“For episode four we picked up an old song, Raaz-e-Fitna, dusted it and gave it a new coat of paint,” relates Shahrukh. “This was the day before the performance in episode four. We had an hour to rehearse and prepare and most of our time was spent figuring out the chords.
The worst moment was the very first danger zone. That was completely unexpected.”
“There was a short period in between where relations between the members could be described as strained… We did a round table with all of the band members and talked it out,” says Asfar.
After that, it happened so often, that they were comfortable constantly being in trouble and fighting to simply survive. So, it’s not surprising that their favourite moment from the show (other than winning) involves performing for their life in a danger zone — episode six, in which the band performed Azadi by Junoon to save themselves.
While I am a massive fan of the original version, Bayaan’s version starts off eerily (in a good way) and has a haunting quality to it that pierces through you and makes you take notice right from the beginning.
“We got our first,” starts Asfar, “… and one and only standing ovation [for Azadi].” “Half!” Muqeet corrected him. “We got half a standing ovation,” laughs Asfar.
“We were really pumped about the arrangement we’d come up with of Azadi,” adds Shahrukh. “We were up against Tamasha in the danger zone and Tamasha was the favourite. They had gotten standing ovations throughout. Half the band was in the give-no-sh*ts mode. We’d even taken off our in-ear monitoring. We were going to play on ‘feel’. We felt so badass.”
“There was a specific thing each judge liked,” relates Asfar. “And we tried to give each of them what they wanted in this song.”
“We were also a bit angry,” adds Haider. “Because why were we always in the danger zone?!”
The band has said previously that they aim to create music that hasn’t been done in quite a while. What do they mean by that? Muqeet stops playing to respond: “We do music that is sincere. That we actually feel. We don’t package and create it into a commercial product.”
Asfar explains a little further, “Whatever new sound came out 10 years ago is constantly being replicated with slight modifications. People want something that’s easy. It’s easy to remember the lyrics because it’s [a combination of] the same four words being rehashed for the past decade.
“So, when those lyrics change, the context changes and you not only have to listen, but understand as well. For that you need to spend some time really listening. We would like to be known as a good band that produced meaningful stuff. Not necessarily the best or the biggest in the world. We don’t have those kinds of ambitions.”
Muqeet immediately starts playing the main riff from Smells like Teen Spirit by Nirava.
How has the band evolved since they first got together almost five years ago?
“Musically we’ve become tighter as a unit,” responds Haider. “We’ve jammed and rehearsed a lot.”
“In the non-musical sense, our communication has gotten a lot healthier,” adds Shahrukh. “There was a short period in between where relations between the members could be described as strained …” Right on cue, Muqeet starts strumming a soft, rather mournful tune in the background.
“… there were just little adjustments that we had to make in how we communicated with each other,” finishes Shahrukh. “We did a round table with all of the band members and talked it out,” adds Asfar.
Even before they got on PBOB, Bayaan had small but cult-like following. Other than the numbers, did anything change with their fans after the show? “The Bayaan hipster was born,” laughs Shahrukh. “They would say things like, ‘I was a fan of them before PBOB. We are the true fans, yeh sab jo abb aye hain, they don’t know anything. They’re not real fans.’ There was this type of demarcation. We also became a lot more active and responsive on social media, so our interaction with our fans increased as well.”
Are they working on anything currently? “Yes,” says Haider. “We’re working on an album and a music video which we’ll release hopefully this year.” “We did that song in the show,” adds Asfar. What song that is, remains a mystery. The band wants to keep that as a surprise.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, December 2nd, 2018