“I have run/I have crawled/I have scaled these city walls/Only to be with you.” – ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ by U2
You know this,” says
Mr Faisal Kapadia, “and we’ve spoken about this before. It was understood that after 33 years with Strings and after ending the band amicably, I wasn’t going to pursue a solo career.”
As we discuss how a new solo song from Faisal Kapadia happened, it turns out that the inspiration was accelerated by the success of ‘Phir Milenge’ from Coke Studio 14. The astonishing success was humbling. The interaction with the present breed of musicians was an inspiration, which he had first experienced in the ‘90s.
Mr Kapadia is calm, composed and slightly excited. He is addressing members of the press, one-on-one, on a regular, almost humid Kar-achi afternoon because the occasion calls for it. His first solo song called ‘Jaadu’ has just been released; independent of a platform like Coke Studio or as part of a band like Strings.
Along with the new solo song, he also announced the establishment of a record label titled 29 Records. None of this was foreseeable by critics, fans, and even Mr Kapadia himself.
“After 33 years with Strings, it was like ‘okay, you’ve done it,’ and I didn’t want to make music just for the sake of it. There wasn’t any desire to.”
In 2021, remembers Mr Kapadia, when Strings decided to end, he took to traveling with his family. He credits his father for it because when Mr Kapadia was young, his father would do the same. “I was exploring and traveling with my family and enjoying it. Then ‘Phir Milenge’ from Coke Studio 14 happened last year.”
‘Phir Milenge’ was the result of a long conversation with Xulfi who convinced him for a musical collaboration with Young Stunners. Mr Kapadia said yes and scored one of the best songs of his career and that’s really saying something if we look across the six Strings studio albums as well as a slew of singles credited to them.
Coke Studio 14 also allowed him to meet the post-noughties generation (“no, not new, since they’ve been around,”) of music including Young Stunners, Hasan Raheem, Abdullah Siddiqui and others.
As Mr. Kapadia recounts, in addition to the humbling response to ‘Phir Milenge’, meeting younger artists changed his outlook and became an inspiration that jump started a (sporadic) solo career, with ‘Jaadu’ being the first song.
“The vibe I felt during Coke Studio 14,” says Mr Kapadia, reminded him of the vibe that existed in the ‘90s. “It was a time when new bands and new music were coming up. Vital Signs came up in 1989 and Strings started out in the ‘90s. But other artists were also coming up in the decade including Awaz, The Barbarians, The Milestones, Jupiters and many others.
“I felt the same way during Coke Studio 14 and all the artists who have made the music scene so exciting. ‘Phir Milenge’ gave me the inspiration to do something; it gave me that hunger and curiosity.”
The process for ‘Jaadu’ began with Faisal Kapadia going back to the drawing board as he made melodies and tapped Ahsan Pervaiz Mehdi to work with what he had created and what he was looking for, sonically.
Ahsan Pervaiz Mehdi, who doesn’t disappoint often, came onboard and understood what Mr. Kapadia had in mind and agreed to make something for him.
“For a lot of people, my voice resonates most with dark, deep songs like ‘Zinda’, ‘Akhri Alvida’ so I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and that frame of music people know me for the most.
“I wanted to be in a happier space because (honestly and unfortunately), we are surrounded by depression. Every day, we see, hear or just go through something dark. So, the approach was to find a happier side of me. This is the beginning. I’m a firm believer in going with the flow so I don’t know what happens next.”
Mr. Kapadia does admit that in the near future, he will be making more music.
Is ‘Jaadu’ groundbreaking? No, not exactly. But and this is a big one, it is a happy electro-pop song, made superior by Faisal Kapadia’s vocals. You just can’t dismiss him or the song because it does have that edge to find a space in your permanent playlist of happy songs that can elevate your mood or even a permanent playlist of the best voices from Pakistan. If ‘Phir Milenge’ was like meeting an old friend after a period of going away, ‘Jaadu’ is like knowing that old friend is back and planning on staying for good.
“I’m a shooting star/ leaping through the sky like a tiger/Defying the laws of gravity/I’m a racing car.” – ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen
As Mr. Kapadia confesses, that hunger to do more in music is back and whenever he has time, he is at it.
One interesting factor is that Mr. Kapadia has released ‘Jaadu’ under his own record label called 29 Records.
The process for ‘Jaadu’ began with Faisal Kapadia going back to the drawing board as he made melodies and tapped Ahsan Pervaiz Mehdi to work with what he had created and what he was looking for, sonically. “For a lot of people, my voice resonates most with dark, deep songs like ‘Zinda’ and ‘Akhri Alvida’ so I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and that frame of music people know me for the most.
An observant and honest singer, songwriter and composer, Mr. Kapadia admits that though he has no prior experience with running a record label before, he has started his record label with his own song but hopes to release new voices, talented emerging or existing artists, through his label and share his own experiences as well. “Of course, the music scene is completely different. Anything can go viral and what you think will become a success might not. It’s not in anybody’s hands. My experience, in some ways, will not matter that much because the times are so different. However, whatever knowledge and experience I do have, I should share it with the new and current generation of music and guide them through my label. That is the big idea.”
Mr. Kapadia is quick to admit that he, too, has a lot to learn when it comes to the role of a label and so, he will first release a number of songs on his own label first.
“Whatever test I need to do, I can do it through my own songs and when it is ready, I can start releasing other artists.”
How a label was run back in the day and now are two completely different beasts. With major streaming platforms, Mr. Kapadia feels that in a way you don’t need a label because you can just give it to those platforms.”
So, why launch 29 Records, I ponder.
“I still feel people who are not too savvy or somewhat newer do need some guidance,” responds the artist. “I have no intention of binding an artist and telling them what they cannot do. I just want to produce their music and provide an avenue thro-ugh which they can fly. I’m no one to give anybody wings but just give them that edge and if they can fly, it will be great.”
Another question that immediately comes to mind is that if Mr. Kapadia does want to first figure out the record label business by releasing his own music, will that translate to back-to-back singles?
The answer is yes and no.
“For me, I think, life is about exploring. Now I’m connecting by traveling with a sense of purpose. For instance, I was in Berlin with our Special Olympics team and it was a great experience. Watching them do what they do was phenomenal. I went to Poland to attend a music workshop; it was a beautiful experience. They were different musicians and singers from all over Europe and I was a student, just learning about different forms of music like Hungarian, Bulgarian, Spanish and Italian. It was just learning about what scales they use and harmonies. So, I feel like making music, working and getting out, exploring and learning, and then again coming in just when it feels right.
I hope I stay in this space and don’t get caught up in a rat race.”
From Coke Studio 14, Mr. Kapadia, who is in his early 50s, discovered what the music landscape is like now.
However, Coke Studio is one thing. As he embarks on a solo journey with ‘Jaadu’ being a starting point, what is it like working without his longtime cohort Bilal Maqsood?
“See, here’s the thing. Str-ings ended. If it had broken up, then it is possible that my feelings would be different. But since Strings ended, we discontinued a band (and a brand) by realizing that this is over. It was concluded.”
As Mr. Kapadia observes, it is about your mindset. “Strings has expired now. It was a beautiful journey and if God gives me another life, I would love to be part of Strings again because it gave Bilal and me everything. We travel the world being Pakistan’s ambassadors, and all the fame, experiences we have are because of Strings. That journey ended and God gave us the intellect to realize that everything has its time.
There is no reason to stretch something forever. So, when Strings ended, it was an evolutionary process and the new journey hadn’t begun. It began – for me – with ‘Phir Milenge’. Now my way of thinking and approach is different and it is a new journey for me.”
As Faisal Kapadia and I talk about how ‘Jaadu’ is a song he thinks he can sing to his wife, and laugh, it is also clear that he isn’t waiting to see just how quickly he can release his next song.
Maybe he will release his next solo song quicker than we thought or, as he clarifies, it could take six months before he releases a song. And perhaps in between, he will go to Spain with his wife and live there for six months and absorb the culture. He will not, he confesses, go and live in a mansion but use Airbnb and get a room and just explore.
The world, from the mindset of Faisal Kapadia, is his oyster, and he is full of positivity, possibilities and passion, in every sphere of his life. That’s not a bad way to be – at all.