About 7 years ago, Faris Shafi appeared on the vista with a single called ‘Awaam’ featuring Mooroo. Apart from the latter, the debut music video also featured journalist and documentary filmmaker Fazeelat Aslam. Faris had taken on the role of repping the awaam and his role in the video said as much.
From that public beginning as a rapper, Faris has showcased how politically aware he is, by ironically being, politically incorrect with a slightly dark sense of humour that is now slipping because reality is gripping. Back then, Faris was writing about all the things most people (including many artists) would be afraid to say out loud – from drone attacks to perpetual religious issues to self-righteous “Jihad” to gun-wielding men – it was like someone was speaking of some of the most profound problems Pakistan was facing and still is facing. It was a courageous effort because no one sings about former dictators or all these issues without being ambiguous.
He’s not ambivalent to this country and the cultural mores we are forced to abide by. So, Faris Shafi has been holding a mirror to society and keeps removing the cloak of lies, both visible and convoluted by calling things just as they are.
‘Awaam’ was years ago but Faris’s rap has simply gotten more ferocious while staying politically incorrect. The next series of songs, appearing over the next couple of years, were strong collaborations.
‘Waasta’ (2018) with Ali Sethi, for instance, is a dynamic mixture of a heartbreaking and yearning, courtesy Ali Sethi, with Faris rapping in English and Urdu about the daily tragedies we pretend to not see, hear or speak about. On ‘Waasta’, Faris doesn’t hold back as he spits, “On the streets of Lahore/Murdering all the weak on weekends/I admit my defeat, Bus theek hai/Now I’m Down on my knees and bleeding/Gaoon Gaoon Main Jo Bachay Hain Bhookay/Roundabout Pe Wo Mangtay Hain Bheekain/SoundCloud Pe Main Ganay Charhaoon…”
Faris Shafi moved forward with collaborations with Talal Qureshi for two tracks for BBC Asian Network that are now up on his SoundCloud page. ‘Clap’ and the aptly titled ‘Jawaab De’ captured the frolicking days of the past as well as a numb generation not knowing how to handle the present.
He also collaborated last with Abdullah Siddiqui on ‘Prosaic’ featured on the young artist’s debut album, Metannoya (2019).
Each of these songs is looking at a people, at a nation, inside-outside that forms the rap. He’s cheeky but he’s also asking for answers to unanswered questions that no one seems to bother with. Greed, hunger, poverty, drug abuse are very much a part of his observations.
All this tour of the past brings us to the present where Faris Shafi has gone solo and released a single called ‘Nazar’. With snow-capped mountains making the landscape as well as gritty stoned walls, Faris Shafi, is for the first time, on his own and it doesn’t stop him one bit. ‘Nazar’ is an opening into Faris’s own existence as he begins, “Saari Saari raat main jaagta, Neend nai aati, baat nai maanta, Main betha, akela, main bistar, main leta, main pasay, palat-ta, main khwabon, main sota, hoon.”
The song is lo-fi, the soundscape somehow haunting and Faris continues to be vulnerable as he continues to have a conversation with the self. The music video actually complements the rap as it goes further: “Meri apnay saath hai jo guftagu/Wo bhi nahi main kabhi sun saka/kiss kashmakash, main gum para hoon/kash pe kash lagaoon/main sab ko sach bataoon….”
He isn’t afraid to admit things and it’s almost a quagmire he is addressing, not knowing how to deal with the grim realities of life, the existential questions that torment him.
At one point, he raps about those who doubted him. To his detractors and tormenters, he rips into them with verse upon verse, while remembering what matters most, noting that he’d rather disco than say any thing. Notes Faris in ‘Nazar’, “‘Block karoon in ke sim ko/Block karoon main in sab ko/I dont even wanna talk/main karoon in ko diss kyun?/main karoon in ko disown/main ja ke nachoon disco’.”
He further reiterates his point: “They look up to me new wave/they connect to me kyunkay/I just dont wanna spew hate!”
At Lahore Music Meet 2020, Faris Shafi only joined Talal Qureshi, one of the headlining acts in the latter half of the performance. And the crowd was on its feet. All this shows that Faris has tapped into an audience with whom his songs resonate and given the response, we can only hope that come LMM#6, Faris Shafi will be a headlining act.
The song is writhing in agony and catches our favourite rapper during a vulnerable moment and he, miraculously and against industry norms, hides nothing, adding thoughts that make you wonder and go back to the song again and again. He ends on a simple but powerful note: he doesn’t want to spread hate.
If any artist can make you think and use your Rote-learning skills, there’s magic there. He’s a great recording artist and with the response to LMM5, Faris Shafi has also proven that he’s a phenomenal performer and should get more live shows. He also has enough material.
In the meantime, listen to ‘Nazar’. It’s a song that has terrific, arresting written all over it. You may hear it and find completely different interpretations to the verses that are within and without.