“One life you got to do what you should/One life with each other,
sisters, brothers/One life, but we’re not the same/We get to carry each other, carry each other.” – ‘One’ by U2
You can claim to not know the ins and outs of the music scene, you can be a bystander, an observer or even an insider who is ambivalent after watching just how corrosive the music industry can be, particularly when it is at war with itself. Or, you can have some correlation to the music scene in one capacity or another. It is irrelevant.
In the end, no matter who you are, if you enjoy pop music, spending some time to watch a documentary about a man who has had a music career that goes beyond decades and is writing a new chapter in his songbook just when we think he is calling it a day is perhaps the most important thing you can do, today.
Who is that man?
Watching him go through the past and the present, the ups and downs of his life and a larger narrative that we may or may not have known in this Redbull documentary is like being in a Nolan film where time is both paramount and is a glue that holds the story together.
In Redbull’s Off The Roof ‘solo’ story, the 51-year-old comes clean about subjects that we, as individuals, may or may not even talk about in front of a camera. And yet, Maqsood does his best to express the life lived and the promise of the future.
It may not come naturally to him to talk about his accomplishments as part of a music group or his solo successes or the fan following, which also makes him unique subject matter. With a running time of 16 minutes, it is divided into segments such as Safar where he is playing in a show that also features Hasan Raheem. While Hasan Raheem is performing to a cheering crowd, Bilal Maqsood is sitting in his room and speaking of rediscovering his own self at 51, the paradoxical ideas of missing Faisal and yet enjoying the solo run, and talking about how the music ecosystem needs to embrace the changes that are coming. “I haven’t danced onstage the way I do now and I never did that as part of Strings.”
In between shots of Maqsood onstage, we see him go home, feed cats and talk about the sonic set-up. This is someone who understands what goes into a live show and how the experience can be made better for fans and for his own self that he admits is “numb” onstage.
In fact, with each segment we learn about a part of Maqsood that we didn’t know before. The emotional currents interspersed with what the glory days of being in Strings taught him. Go out at the top of your game, he says, which is why Strings called it a day after their sixth studio album, Thirty. It is a narrative that tells us a great deal about Bilal Maqsood and his personal evolution. Still cherished but he is clear that there is a peak and after a point, new names do emerge and to not understand this reality is like being in denial.
In this short, sharp and beautiful documentary, beyond the visual techniques employed, it is a lesson in humility, vulnerability and what it means to be a creative artist after being in a band for 30 years and striking out on your own afterwards while letting your inner emotions speak.
Depending on who you are and what you take away from Maqsood’s Redbull ‘Off The Roof’ solo story, it is also a lesson in the art of storytelling visually that is both strong and poignant.
Because the person who has shot, edited and directed this documentary on Bilal Maqood is Zohaib Kazi, the result is unexpectedly open, raw and heartwarming.
Kazi, another creative mind, who is emerging as a sharp director (in addition to being a music producer and author) is someone who has seen Maqsood growing up, but it was not nostalgia that drove his storytelling method.
Having worked with Maqsood, there is a sense of quiet understanding of his subject that helps in achieving a breakthrough. Kazi’s passion for telling stories through the visual medium also means you don’t want to miss out on this piece of visual storytelling because not watching would eventually create a feeling of missing out or as the cool kids call it fear of missing out, most commonly known as FOMO.
Rattle and Hum
This documentary, a solo story, was not something that came naturally to Bilal Maqsood, who is somewhat reclusive and always had Faisal as the partner who’d address the press, whether an achievement was minor or major or even on the stage while performing. But this documentary required going all-out.
How does Bilal Maqsood feel now that it is out?
“It feels really different because during the period of Strings, it was always about the group,” he tells Instep. “It was never about myself or Faisal (Kapadia). We were insular in the sense that we always kept to ourselves, away from everything and the focus stayed on our band.”
But a documentary and one coming from the mind of Zohaib Kazi meant opening up before the camera.
“Now, I have a lot to talk about that reflects my own thinking, my solo experiences and the emotions I experience. Back then, all this was about the collective experience of Strings.
“Who I am and what my own story is and what role I played in shaping Strings was not something that reflected overtly during the years the band was together.
“To be honest, I was always an open person and there were times when I would state things as I saw them and Faisal would tell me that I don’t have to say everything. I, however, am accustomed to saying the whole thing. It is a habit.”
In our last interview, Bilal Maqsood had spoken about going through anxiety and crashing, which is what he poured into the song, ‘Thak Sa Gaya Hoon’. More to the point, Maqsood knows that people often don’t open up about anxiety and going through a period where things don’t add up even though the math is right.
“We spoke about my anxiety period and what I went through. People don’t talk about it. I thought that by telling my story, perhaps someone else might feel less alone or realize that it happens.
If my talking about anxiety helps anyone in any manner, it is a good thing and it propelled me to talk about it and not be reticent.”
We put Bilal Maqsood (and Faisal Kapadia) on a pedestal during their many years as Strings. But Maqsood doesn’t sound like a man who knows this and revels in it. He’d rather be the guy next door, or someone who passes you on a street and if you recognize him, he will sign an autograph for you. But, if you don’t recognize him, it is not a crushing defeat.
Since going solo, a major portion of his work is dedicated to children’s content. A slew of nursery rhymes for children, followed up by a children’s book, and he is far from finished. After four solo songs, and some ad campaigns, Bilal Maqsood has his attention set on a live show that will take place next month.
“It includes 13 songs for kids, a puppet show (like Sesame Street) that I have written and produced including the scripting, music and lyrics. But I have a team, an art director, and an amazing group of puppeteers. I will discuss it when we are closer to the date.”
As we talk beyond the documentary, Maqsood concludes, “The point is that I want to change my direction slowly. I want to focus on children’s music and create content for them. At the same time, I want to keep doing live shows because through them, I am exploring myself. There’s a new energy onstage with every show and now it is a different scenario. With Strings, I’d stand on the side with my guitar and Faisal was the one who would be interacting with the crowd. Even with the songs I had sung, he’d give the intro and I would come front and center, sing the song and immediately go back to my corner - for 30 years. It has changed. Now, it is a different scenario and I’m enjoying it.”
And so are we!
The point is that I want to change my direction slowly. I want to focus on children’s music and create content for them. At the same time, I want to keep doing live shows because through them, I am exploring
myself. There’s a new energy
onstage with every show and now it is a different scenario
and I’m enjoying it!