It isn’t often that someone in Pakistan can say that they had the opportunity to see Jal live! That is not all that surprising since they seem to perform most of their shows in India to large audiences craving live acts. A vast majority of India’s music consists of playback singers for their massive film industry. When live acts like Jal, Ali Azmat or Atif Aslam perform there they do so to sell-out crowds.
That’s why when we heard that Jal was performing at a corporate event in Karachi, which is more unlikely as they are Lahore-based, we jumped at the chance to see them strum their guitars and belt their voices out on stage. Taking place at the Pearl Continental Hotel (not exactly the ideal place for pop-rock concerts), the hosts were holding a musical evening for their crew and clients.
The evening’s MC was Kashif Khan, famous Pakistani comedian who now also tours India, more specifically Mumbai. While he brought a serious, seated audience some comedic relief, telling jokes about the Indian Premier League and their Bollywood stars, he also introduced the night’s musical guests.
Opening for Jal was one Saleem Javed. Yes, the same ‘bhangra-pop’ star, kitted in Kanye’s gear (as per his ever evolving look, does anyone remember his ’80s mullet?), riling an audience which seem to consist of some avid fans of Pushto tunes. His rendition of ‘Bibi Shirin’ roused the audience into dance-floor frenzy.
After he was done exciting the audience, Kashif Khan again took to the stage to tell a couple more of his jokes and introduce Jal. In retrospect he should have taken as little time as possible to do this as it was getting late and the audience was getting thinner.
By the time the band graced the stage their manager had seen the numbers dwindle and the dissatisfaction on his face was evident as he probably, and rightfully, would have wanted a larger audience for Jal. To their credit though Jal had come to perform, which they did with smiles and enthusiasm, at least from Gohar and Farhan as Shazi seemed a little wooden. The boys from Jal came on as they probably would on any other night, in their rock attire. Gohar Mumtaz in a jeans, shirt and blazer seemed the most casually dressed for the night and while Farhan Saeed wore a sparkly t-shirt with shades (that for some reason seem mandatory for most performers here; Saleem Javed even had them) it was Shazi who stood out. The least talkative and expressive out of the trio seemed to be giving out the loudest message. He walked on stage wearing an outfit that can only be justified if The Terminator and Neo from The Matrix were his stylists. For a well built guy, he was wearing a tight fitted overcoat (which went down to his heels), what looked like a wife-beater underneath, jeans from the ’80s and boots from the wild west.
Clothing aside it was refreshing to see that they were determined to go out on stage and churn out tunes, while having fun amidst themselves despite the crowd a little less than warm. Even though they were applauded before and after their performance, it was during it in which two members of the audience seemed caught in Saleem Javed’s trance.
One shouted out loud with a request for Pashto songs while another bemused member asked Gohar to ‘play’ the guitar. While the first request seemed to be genuine, it was the second gentleman who was trying to irk the band, or at least Gohar. Much to his credit, Gohar smiled at the man and delivered his request in the very next song when he broke out into a small solo. Quite what the man was listening to till that point was anyone’s guess as their performance was heavy on the guitar and drums.
Jal, who had opened with ‘Rangon Mein’, performed all their usual hits such as ‘Woh Lamhey’, ‘Sajni’ and closed with ‘Aadat’, also performed a couple of covers. Their version of ‘Lal Meri Pat’ was perhaps one of the poorer ones out there, but their rendition of a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan classic was more pleasing to the ears.
Overall their performance was forgettable and not one that sticks out in one’s memory. The fact is that even though the audience was small they managed to have fun amongst themselves, which means that their egos haven’t yet gotten the better of them, as there are some artists in Pakistan who would refuse to perform to such an audience. Gohar still bounced around on stage with a consistent smile on his face, Farhan sang to an audience which was craving dance numbers rather than a solid rock performance. Shazi, who was robotic for most of the night, even managed to turn around and have a little moment with Gohar.
Worthy of mention are their session musicians who played brilliantly to back up the band. Their enthusiasm was highlighted towards the end as the rhythm guitarist burst into a solo which took me by surprise, if not the audience. What can be surmised is that Jal needs to play to a packed house so that one can truly tell if they are crowd pleasers and good performers. One would think that they wouldn’t be performing beyond our borders if they weren’t.