A personal note about a flamboyant singer, songwriter, composer, drummer and rock star, whose death (earlier this week) has sent shockwaves throughout the music scene
I can’t pretend to have been much of a fan of Overload or of a lot of Farhad Humayun’ s music (he was aware of that) but I was a fan of him. I am deeply stunned by his passing today (June 8, 2021). I was aware of his music, especially liking the cover songs project he did, but I was more a fan of many of his other aspects: his visual side, his videos and the persona he cultivated were eye-catching and memorable. Not only was he a rock star, but he impeccably looked the part. He was effortlessly cool, but had no airs about him. Plus, there was the fact that he was a doer among musicians who often do little. He stood out. Our last conversation was about how he had done some production for Sir Paul McCartney’s segment in Carpool Karaoke. Whereas most musicians would make up a story about jamming with Sir Paul, he was secure enough to confess he did not meet the great Beatle.
Farhad came from a family of high achievers; he was leading artiste Madam Naveed Shahzad’s son, his father was a businessman/noted cricket commentator and one of his grandfathers was a former Chief Justice of Pakistan. Yet what defined him was how he cut his own niche. He drummed up a storm. Sang when he felt like it. Played metal songs because he felt like it. Fused drums with dhols, east with west. And in all of this, along with his great talent, he conducted himself impeccably, looked impeccable, talked impeccably. His intelligence was always apparent and never overbearing. There was depth to him, and also calm. Yet, he had that NCA artistic streak. He taught as well. We shared a kinship through being Aitchisonians, but he to his credit, was not overbearing. His Riot Studios was a great setup too. The last time we talked music, he commented, “I try to tell musicians here to minimize their playing so we can do a nice pop show. But every guitarist is a Jackson player and every drummer wants to show off death metal chops” That was typical of him. Effortlessly switching between genres, following his own muse.
For the last several years, we, of all things, used to talk about musical equipment he would be getting rid of and I would pester him about arranging an electronic kick drum pedal for an obscure drum machine for me. His taste in music ranged to Floyd, Roxy Music, Judas Priest and others. I still remember the time I chanced to mention the ‘80s pop group A-ha to him, and then it was off to the races. We bonded over a shared love for the band and the belief that A-ha was so much more than a one-hit pop wonder, and was one of the greatest, most underappreciated bands of all time. He talked of seeing them live and how Morten Harket’s solo albums were great too as were ‘the song [sic] Scared of Heights and Spanish Steps.’ How Magne’s keyboard playing was more flamboyant than Ray Manzarek from The Doors (which band inspired A-ha). I could go on and on. We did. At length talked about the band’s lyrics, arrangements and various albums.
I interacted the most with him when he was all-too-briefly a part of Noori. He featured in two videos, ‘Jana Tha Humne’ and ‘Tum Hans Diye’ and lit both up with unique charisma. He was an essential part of the Lahore music scene.
His bravery in dealing with a life-threatening and indeed, as it proved, life-ending illness was remarkable. He was so balanced and poised. He reflected on his illness and when talking about a legal dispute with a neighbor I think said, “Ever since my transformation, I’ve really become patient with a lot of rubbish we encounter every day.” That was typical of him.
The very last time we talked, we were making plans for post-covid-19, when he would get better. We talked about doing up an archive about the Lahore Music Underground. He promised to contribute his Mind Riot tracks. He also wanted me to give feedback on some of the English lyrics he had done for an album he had recorded abroad, I think, at Abbey Road, with leading musicians Tony Levin on Bass and David Torn on Guitars.
I am stunned at his loss at age 42. I am even more stunned to see that in COVID times, the last time we talked was over a year ago. If feels like yesterday. Yet, life in COVID days is so distracted and self-centered, that we lose touch easily. This piece is perhaps a first step to remedy that. An effort to celebrate the effortless cool of Farhad Humayun. Rest in peace sir.