Instep Today

The rise of the dervish

Instep Today
By Maheen Sabeeh
Wed, 11, 19

Usman Shakeel from Saakin talks about conceiving the melody for ‘Sik Mitraan’ from Sarmad Khoosat’s upcoming production, Zindagi Tamasha.

When Saakin, an Islamabad-based music group first emerged on the horizon in 2018 with ‘Saki-e-Bawafa’- a kalaam by Persian poet Shams Tabrizi (who inspired Jalaluddin Rumi’s most precious works), with their unique, indefinable brand of mystic music, they won hearts of the staunchest of critics and the people alike.

‘Saki-e-Bawafa’, said to be 300-400 years old, didn’t stop this band from creating incredible musical moments that eventually led them to win a Lux Style Award in 2019 and top several year-end lists.

Made up of Varqa Faraid (currently a member of the house band on Coke Studio 12), Usman Shakeel, Parham Faraid, Ibrahim Akram and Ali Hamdani, it is thus not that surprising that Saakin was roped in by Sarmad Khoosat to design the original soundtrack for his upcoming film, the very appealing production, called Zindagi Tamasha.

It is, however, an affirming moment for the band that at a time when cola companies keep reminding us that bands are back, as if they had all just run away, here is a band that emerged from the capital city and just with their third song (second being ‘Kundian’ that was performed on True Brew) has us completely floored.

The fact that Sarmad Khoosat is one of the better directors to exist in Pakistan is not something that is lost on us or the band and therefore his roping them for his film is no small achievement for them.

The first song from the soundtrack, ‘Sik Mitraan’ is in essence a film song except we’ve never heard a film song like it before. It is based on the kalaam of Peer Syed Mehar Ali Shah, a Sufi scholar and not picked by the band but by film director Sarmad Khoosat.

To sing a film song is to sing a track that will be placed somewhere in the film because it is driving the narrative forward and yet ‘Sik Mitraan’ with a melody structure conceived by Usman Shakeel sounds like a dream. Saakin takes ownership and the result is divine.

The music video, featuring Saakin (minus Ibrahim Akram, although his contribution to the song should not be dismissed since he co-produced the track as well) is directed by Nirmal Bano with calligraphy by Zahid Mayo and Sarmad Khoosat the executive producer.

Saakin, standing behind a window etched with calligraphic words, are juxtaposed with one of the film’s lead characters walking through a street, as the music video opens. The juxtaposition is perhaps a clue as to where the song will possibly be placed.

Saakin has sung this song so beautifully that you just want to hand them an award and remember this is the first; there will be at least one more track that will be sung.

Even though Pakistan’s music industry seems to be drowning in a frenzy of Sufi kalaams – from Coke Studio to the average upcoming band – with few doing justice to it, Saakin has taken it to the next level.

To learn more about this beautiful rendition of ‘Sik Mitraan’, Instep spoke to Usman Shakeel who conceived the melody structure with the rest of the band having arranged, composed and performed the number.

“Initially, Sarmad (Khoosat) came up with the lyrics; when he told us about this kalaam and that he wanted to put it in the film, he wanted a new composition, the kind of composition that when this track comes in the film, it complements the situation and also describes the overall situation,” noted Usman Shakeel.

“Luckily, all the band members looked at me and gave me the opportunity to compose it because I have had an affiliation with this kalaam from the beginning.“I composed the initial melody structure and the rest of it is contribution by everyone.”

Speaking about the difference of making music for yourself, such as ‘Saki-e-Bawafa’, versus making a song for a film with ‘Sik Mitraan’ being one example, what was the experience like?

“It was a great experience and Sarmad had a strong role to play in this because he delivered and explained the script properly; he was very clear about the kind of feel he wanted, the kind of situation where the track would be placed and these things helped in composing the melody and how the mood should be and we were very excited as well because it was very individual for us to compose music for a film after doing two songs and because of it we’ve put our heart into it. I was surprised when I composed the melody and everyone started giving input on its picturisation, in its arrangement, and when the final product came, we were all quite happy that it is something that is taking along Saakin’s identity and is complementing the film at the same time.”