Waleed Ahmed’s Janoobi Khargosh conflates ideas from the glorious days of PTV and present day sounds and stories; an amalgamation that is striking and makes for addictive listening.
To release an 11-track album with no real support – apart from the indie darlings who have contributed to the record – Waleed Ahmed belongs to a generation who make music for the love and passion of making music.
Currently pursuing a master’s degree in music production from London, England, Waleed Ahmed is the real force behind Janoobi Khargosh and has been since its existence. Though this is not his first music outing - having released the Cpt. Space EP as well as Billi Khamba Aur Urantashtari (2014) - Survivors, Janoobi Khargosh’s latest release, is the strongest in his repertoire. It is also clear that the album contains contributions from various independent artists, which makes the listening experience all the more sweeter. So, here we go.
‘I don’t have to sell my soul/He’s already in me’
Written, composed and produced by Waleed Ahmed, who is also featured on most songs on vocals, guitars, synths and bass, Janoobi Khargosh is another example of the polymaths who walk among our indie music society.
Our introduction to Survivors began with ‘One’ for which a retro music video was also released. But we’ll come to it later because, and this is important to remember, the album is a journey that traipses between the past, the present and the future with each single contributing to that experience. This is why albums are important. They take you on a journey.
Survivors begins with ‘Signal’, a futuristic single that sounds like a space rocket taking off or maybe landing for the first 30 seconds before the bass kicks in and you can hear a shift in sound as the landing frequency alters and slows down before disappearing. At 1 minute and 10 seconds, the song doesn’t attempt to bore you or make you interpret; it simply emerges as a landing frequency opening. It might sound like something entirely different to you and that’s the great charm.
The journey continues with ‘Duniya’, a song that also features Zain Ahsan from Poor Rich Boy, who did the guitar sounds and played the guitar outro as well.
‘Duniya’ opens like a nostalgic trip to the 90s and for the first 20 seconds plays bizarre tricks on you but then it changes lanes and beats start to emerge; the bass is there but it empowers rather than overpower while the synth levels the playing field. The guitar-playing by Zain Ahsan is not a show-off match but simply a style that adds to Janoobi Khargosh’s sound. ‘Duniya’, running over 5 minutes continues to make you wonder where we are going next. The stage is set and when Waleed starts to sing about how he kept drowning (‘Main Doobta Gaya’) and what is a human being - the song becomes an entity you cannot forget. His questions are both relevant but he isn’t pulling an Entity Paradigm on you, which is excellent. The vocals lend themselves to questions none of us can answer.
With ‘Enter’, it literally makes you sound like you are allowed entrance to a world that is unknown, beautiful and concealed. It also sounds like a synth special where the other instruments know exactly where to slow down. It’s a gorgeous treat before that abrupt end, and it feels like it was done by design.
‘Hum Kal Mein’ (feat. Umer Khan of Poor Rich Boy on vocals) is where the PTV nostalgia, including the Vital Signs love that many of us grew up listening to, kicks in. Umer Khan’s love for those days – something he shares with Waleed Ahmed – shines through. After singing songs in Urdu such as ‘Tootay Huay Aadmi’, ‘Kaghazi’ and ‘Samundar Ki Teh Mein’, he delivers again with ‘Hum Kal Mein’ where the lyrics speak of us going back to the past; it’s also a song where a Tame Impala-meets-Stone Roses sort of landscape emerges and you want to hear where the words are going next and it really does take you to a place you didn’t think existed. As a listener, you just have to give it that time with no disturbance, at least once.
On ‘School’, Waleed Ahmed is joined by Umer Khan, appearing on vocals and Ali Suhail on guitars. Together they conjure a four-minute track that begins slightly ominously; as the song builds within the same realm of sound, the urgency keeps growing until we hit the 1 minute 15 seconds mark and ‘School’ converts into the same sound that Waleed has imagined for the full scale of the album and that cohesion of sound carries on with Ali Suhail lending it more gravitas.
The vocals are hard to decipher but there is something very touching about the song itself, which takes you to a time long gone by. Rocket off a song, it is one of the masterpieces on the record.
The short ‘Cape’ is like stepping into the unknown, robotic future. The narration on ‘Cape’ is by Umer Ahmed.
On ‘Wizard’, Umer Khan and Altamash Saver (of Takatak/Keeray Makoray) appear on backing vocals.
The phone rings again, this is a universe of retro synths, distortion before the same sound gets a higher tempo where you are asked if you are tired... before a beautiful chorus makes the song come alive further and the vocals go on about flying. A very Tame Impala-meets-Stone Roses universe, again, but as the chorus goes by so do these influences that we think exist but it could be an entirely different set of groups that make this album such a journey.
As the chorus drops, the song begins to, for an odd reason, perhaps because of its words, brings to mind the tragic, trauma of the children of Kasur and the ring of pornography and abuse they were caught up in. The very thought makes you cringe but this is that unspeakable trauma. “Ek Chota Sa Insaan Phaans Gaya Hai Meray Dimagh Mein/Ek choti si machine agayi hai/main ro raha hoon kya/main ro raha hoon kya? Sab jal gaya hai kya? Mera Sawal Suno lo. Meri Awaaz Sun lo..” - This is another masterpiece.
Waleed’s younger brother, Umer Ahmed, is featured on the song ‘Single Fighter’ that makes you bop your head without causing a migraine. The breaks – literal – make it even more special. A peripheral end arrives and you wish the song was longer.
‘One,’ that released with a music video, features Ibrahim Imdad - who wrote the bassline - Poor Rich Boy’s Umer Khan and Zain Ahsan, Umer Ahmed and Waleed Ahmed. It is one of the stars of the album because it sets the pace with its maturity and approachability. It’s as if they’re telling us the story of Naya Pakistan within a song.
The title track, ‘Survivors’ (featuring Umer Khan on vocals and Ali Suhail on guitars) is the slowest song on the album and it is by design. So you let every little part reveal itself and when it does, Umer sings like a charm as he starts off about a computer within which a secret is hidden. It is a gorgeous song that’s part grief, part dreams. “Dhondo Sitaron Ko Kahin/Dekho Aasman May Bhi Nahin” and you are uplifted momentarily. Ali Suhail really shows the many different ways he can play the guitar and here is just one showcase. And it’s a little throwback to the VS days.
The final track on the album, ‘Computer’ is almost all Waleed, and while he is singing, his voice is replaced as a shift in frequency appears; a phone is ringing and the sound of music is replaced by another machine. Yusuf Ramay makes an appearance as the drummer on ‘Computer’ towards the end, which is most surprising because it just doesn’t sound like typical drums.
It’s a smart take on how computer-driven our lives have become, where even sitting in the same room means people keep looking at their phones. It’s all becoming too much. And it’s captured on the track.
The many musicians who have contributed show Lahore does have a strong bond between independent musicians and the record is the coming out party of Janoobi Khargosh. Some lyrics are hard to decipher and that is, I think, by design. Will we be like this in the future, traipsing between the past and the future, not being able to stop in the present? Janoobi has asked a lot of questions. He isn’t pretending he has the answers and is an oracle and that maybe the most endearing quality of this record.