Bayaan, the music group featuring Asf-ar Hussain, Haider Abbas, Shahrukh Aslam, Muqeet Shahzad and Mansoor Lashari, have been making music for 13 years.
They may have found themselves under the glare of national spotlight during the third season of Nescafe Basement, followed by the 2018 edition of Pepsi Battle of the Bands, but their story goes beyond these shows.
Presently in the spotlight for a remarkable and poignant new song, ‘Kahan Jaoon’, a single off their upcoming second album, and the first with Sony Music Middle East, Bayaan seem primed for bigger and better things.
The record label officially arrived in Pakistan last year and Bayaan is among a handful of artists the label has signed.
For this interview, three of the five members are present from the start: Asfar Hussain, Haider Abbas, Shah-rukh Aslam with Muqeet Shahzad joining midway. Mansoor Lashari was unavailable (but during the course of this interview, the rest of the boys confirm that while he may not be present for this interview, he is still very much a part of Bayaan).
Since Bayaan is primarily based in Lahore, Shahrukh Aslam’s first concern is about the city by the sea and how things are faring because rainfall in Karachi can be a dreadful thing and usually means loadshedding, waterlogging and in some cases, loss of life.
As I fill him in and we wait for the rest of the group members to join us, I can only think of Karachi in the words of Samuel Beckett: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on and on.”
Five minutes into the designated hour and I’m greeted by Asfar Hussain and Haider Abbas and without chaos and egos, the story of Bayaan begins again.
“And all things end/All that we intend /Is scrawled in sand/Or slips right through our hands/ And just knowing/That everything will end/ Should not change our plans/ When we begin again.” – ‘All Things End’ by Hozier
Most of Bayaan are in Lahore during this conversation but as Asfar Hussain confirms, Muqeet is in the USA. Mansoor is also unable to join us.
We discuss the present and the past in no particular order and the trio is unfazed by the volley of questions I throw at them. In fact, it is through this interview that their bond as musicians becomes apparent and is only surpassed by something deeper: the enduring bond of friendship and how that ultimately ties them together.
We talk about how and why they have signed up with Sony Music Middle East, particularly because we are no longer in an era where there’s just one music label operating in the music scene.
Asfar and Shahrukh throw the question to Haider. “We’ve been in talks with Sony since last year. I had my first conversation with Ahmed Zawar (Associate Director Pakistan Repertoire at Sony Music Middle East) around March (2023). We discussed our plans for the upcoming year and the record label had just stepped into Pakistan and at that point, they had not signed any artist. We were among a handful of artists who were in talks with them. The conversation materialized into an agreement for an album and four music videos.
“Globally, Sony is among three major players in music. The others are Warner and Universal. Sony has a wide array of artists in the global sense and they’re very active across the border as well.”
Sony, explains Haider, is the biggest record label in India, and in 2023 one of Bayaan’s tracks went viral across India through Instagram reels. Consequently, India became an important market for the band. Sony’s core team the band is working with is based out of India and the plans they have, are focused on the Indian market primarily in addition to Pakistan.
As the conversation goes back to the past, I ask Asfar Hussain, the lead vocalist and chief lyricist for the group, about having a prominent profile, particularly in the aftermath of appearing in Coke Studio 14 and his collaborative song (‘Mehram’) with Grammy-award winning artist, Arooj Aftab. The history of Coke Studio is such that after a band appears, the vocalist either gets a call back or after appearing on the music series even as a group, they tend to break up. It is the case nine out of 10 times. So, is Bayaan headed for a similar fate?
“It is perhaps easier to make something as an individual than as a group that has a number of people,” begins Asfar. “It does mean a difference of opinion or disagreements at times. Bayaan is a democracy. Each of us can share a point of view and whatever the majority says is what seals the deal. It is about intent. We met each other in the days of Nescafe Basement in 2011-2012.
Since that period, we’ve hung out a lot and that forged a lasting friendship. Then, ‘Nahin Milta’ came along and we got into the recording process and by the end of it, we decided to work together to create something as a unit but more than a band, it is the friendship that kept us together.”
As Asfar explains it, as Bayaan decided to make music as a unit, they mutually agreed that if anyone in the group gets an opportunity to do something in a solo capacity and if the band is together, then that person can, should he choose to, take that opportunity and run with it. “If anyone gains a fanbase in a solo capacity, it will ultimately benefit the band. So, we agreed on this from day one that whomever gets an opportunity that appeals to them, they can take it. No one is bound to work in Bayaan in strict roles only like one is a guitarist or a drummer and that’s the only thing they can do and nothing else.”
In fact, Asfar says they’re more like a family and no matter what conflict or disagreement that may arise, they sit down and address it, together and as a family.
He adds that though ‘Mehram’ did add to Bayaan’s fanbase, it didn’t leave the kind of impact that their own song ‘Nahin Malta’ did as it grew into a viral sensation.
“Where we are, at the moment, is not exactly due to ‘Mehram’. It came from Coke Studio and got mile-age, but the songs we’ve done as Bayaan are what define us. It is about intent and co-existence. We want to work together, irrespective of what any one of us does in a solo capacity.”
“And we can break through/Though torn in two/We can be one.” – ‘New Year’s Day’ by U2
A second album is often tougher because once the hype and hoopla die down after a solid first record, the expectations are higher. And, at a time where music releases rapidly, how does a group like Bayaan approach what is surely a daunting task?
“It’s an interesting question,” says Shahrukh, “because all three of us will have different answers and that is reflective of the varied flavors of Bayaan in terms of our personalities. Our approach to the second album is, ‘let’s do it’ and how we differentiate our music from other bands or artists and how we differentiate from our debut album is not something I’ve even thought about.”
“Shahrukh has put it very nicely,” says Haider, “because with our first album we didn’t make it as an album but rather we approached it as one song and then the next and so on over a period of time. When it came to releasing it and compiling the songs, we added two more songs to give it the face of an album. So, as musicians, even with the second album, our plans are on-the-go. What we are interested in is experimenting with new musical styles and maybe doing things we haven’t done before.”
“The only thing I’d like to add is that prior to our deal with Sony, we did think of doing a thematic album and how every song would be like an episode but by the time we signed with Sony, we dropped all of that,” added Asfar. “But when we sit down to write and record, what comes out of the heart is the final material. So, there are no hard and fast rules except a rough sketch like doing collaborations with artists from Pakistan and elsewhere.”
“In this day and age, the one way to grow as a musician is to work with others and mix your stuff with theirs and see what emerges. It is a learning process.”
Halfway through the interview, Muqeet joins the interview from the USA and suddenly, the energy shifts.
As the others (Haider, Asfar, Shahrukh) first greet him followed by first marveling at his ability to join the conversation considering the time difference (6: 00 am for Muqeet) followed by quick jokes, the bromance and the friendship is palpable.
When asked who is the quietest in the lot, the answer is quirky. I add Muqeet and Asfar adds, “He wasn’t in on the call earlier so he sounds like he is the quietest.
“I’m quiet because I generally talk too much,” says Muqeet.
“I’d say that apart from the process of creating music, I tend to talk less and ask the guys about how they feel about the song and let them say what they think. But outside of it, I feel I’m the quieter one,” says Asfar. “In the creative process, I think all of us contribute,” admits Haider. “When it comes to work, none of us are quiet,” says Shahrukh, “which is a good thing.”
You should ask which one of us isn’t quiet, adds Haider and they all laugh, poking each other in a playful banter.
Who struggles to articulate?
“That would be me, and I am able to write down my thoughts because I do struggle to say them,” says Asfar, “with Shahrukh being on the opposite side of the spectrum because he was a debater so he knows how to say what he wants to… but what subject he wants to speak about or not speak is something else.”
So, everyone is quiet and struggles to articulate at one point or another and similarly in some cases, everyone can speak about the subject they choose to address, and the Bayaan boys concur.
This camaraderie is what keeps them together.
As we come to the end of this interview, Bayaan tell a stunning story about how music can be a strength and though they do become concerned about numbers and why they do not always have millions and millions of hits, what matters most is how their music is consumed by individuals who appreciate their songs and how some songs have kept them going where they were once considering ending their life.
That, to Bayaan, concludes Asfar, means more than any numbers spike could. Touching lives with one song after another, it is what keeps them going. Everything else is simply a bonus.
Presently in the spotlight for the remarkable and poignant ‘Kahan Jaoon’, a single off their upcoming second album, and the first with Sony Music Middle East, Bayaan seem primed for bigger and better things. While they do not always have millions and millions of hits, what matters most is how their music is consumed by individuals who say the songs have got them through their bleakest moments. That, to Bayaan, means more than any numbers spike could. Touching lives with one song after another is what keeps them going. Everything else is simply a bonus.