How many times have we heard about the struggling Pakistani film and music industry? Most times I am confronted with the depressing thought I just shrug and walk away to the tune of Puraani Jeans in my head. At least we have our laurels to fall back on. But thankfully for people like me, there are a few out there with the means and the will to do more than just rest on past glories.
Meet Jamal Rahman, the man behind True Brew Records – the place where all musically literate people go.
Like many newly returned foreign graduates, Jamal wanted to do something for Pakistan upon his return from the US; something that would have a tangible impact. This led to the creation of True Brew in 2008.
[quote]”There is a dire lack of space for musical performances”[/quote]
At this time a lot of music channels were springing up in Pakistan but Jamal not only felt “there wasn’t enough work being done”, his concerns also revolved around more alternative genres of music that bigger, commercial record labels couldn’t and wouldn’t sign.
“After much deliberation,” he says, “I decided that there was need of an alternative space for alternative music.”
The idea of a studio slash recording space slash performance venue, which was not yet concrete by any means, was “mostly inspired by The Guitar School” which existed before True Brew Records.
This is how the journey began. But it reached its culmination when Jamal was finally able to decide on a name. “I came up with fifteen odd names, most of which were pretty hilarious. Some of which I later thought were a bad idea. I wanted to have something related to food and recipes and kitchen in the name. And because I like chai so much, I sort of kept adding words to brew and finally true brew clicked. And I decided to stick with it.”
He laments that he has had to give up performing himself. His music has definitely suffered from the growth True Brew has witnessed, “I have become less of a musician and more of a producer now.” But the problems that most musicians in Pakistan face needed this initiative and he seems pretty committed to the idea.
[quote]”We want musicians to concentrate on making melodies, not publicity posters”[/quote]
“No support network exists for musicians, especially underground ones. This is not mainstream commercial music we are talking about here, hence not everyone listens to it. Performances have to be on a smaller scale. And there is a dire lack of space to hold such performances. There are no music halls or the like. On top of that, bands and musicians have to do everything themselves, from marketing to publicity, to set-up and tickets; almost everything. True Brew is a place where we do exactly that for the musicians, so they can concentrate on making melodies, not publicity posters.”
Thus True Brew thrives. “This space meets my aesthetics. It’s not about being better or worse. It is just different. We are trying really hard to plug this gap in the music industry and want to continue to be in a position to help and support artists,” Jamal adds.
The initiative is driven solely by the love of all things musical. There are no hidden or commercial agendas. For this, Jamal says, “We make sure that we give a cut of the profit we make from a show to the musicians as well. We want to encourage more music and therefore it’s important that we pay the musicians.”
[quote]One song for ‘Manto’ being written along with Ali Sethi will be a fun, old-school track[/quote]
The studio, which Jamal hopes will eventually evolve into a proper recording label is currently taking on some amazing new projects. In the recent past, he has worked on a song, Dil Jalanay Ki Baat sung by Ali Sethi for Mira Nair’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’. Currently he is working on the entire soundtrack of a biographical movie on Saadat Hasan Manto directed by Sarmad Khoosat called ‘Manto’. His studio doing the entire sound of the movie, from the creak of a door to the sound of footsteps. “The film will come to us completely mute,” Jamal said.
They are also recording four original songs for ‘Manto’, the first of which is a modern production with a 50s touch and a certain classical rootedness. It is a poem on Manto written by Majeed Amjad. Jamal describes the song as an audio-visual journey. The other track, he says, is a ghazal by Ghalib, Aah Ko Chahiye, being sung by Ali Sethi, who is making quite a name for himself by singing well-composed covers of popular ghazals: “Aah ko Chaahiye is a very mellow and somber song. And to accentuate the darkness of it, we have kept music very minimalist. Because the lyrics are so strong, they have to be the main focus. The song is so sad, every time we are working on it we all almost just die,” he says with a boyish grin.
The third track is being sung by the established and versatile Meesha Shafi, and is about Manto’s short story, Thanda Gosht.
The last song, which he says is going to be a surprise in terms of its genre has been written along with Ali Sethi, “But it’s going to be a fun, old school track, and that is a promise.”
“Live at True Brew” was one of True Brew’s flagship projects built around the idea of reviving live musical performances in the city. It featured live recordings of some talented musicians including Topi Drama, Sikandar ka Mandar, Keeray Makoray, A3 Cuban Jazz Trio, Talal Qureshi and my own favourite, Poor Rich Boy (and The Toothless Winos). The philosophy behind the Truesdays was to break down barriers that excise and entertainment taxes have put on artists. “Musicians want to play and perform for their audiences every now and then, but they don’t get a chance to do that very often because of the very corporate dimension of setting up musical shows. We not only make that possible but these live recordings also give musicians a chance to make a video. It is a chance for them to reach out to their listeners.” These videos are not conventional in any way but they are “completely unadulterated and have a raw feel to them that puts the listener in close proximity to the performer”. And this, according to Jamal, “is very important”. To continue bridging this gap between musicians and listeners, Live at True Brew or Truesdays, as the people at True Brew would rather call it, is going to be back with a second series of Truesdays by the end of October.
This is one of the first exciting things happening at Trew Brew this winter, besides the work being done by True Brew Records. “Summer is almost over. So there are going to be a lot of upcoming performances,” Jamal told The Friday Times. Another forthcoming project is “True Brew All Stars”, which also includes Jamal’s own music.
[quote]The space which cannot hold more than seventy people at one time has small traditional stools for seats[/quote]
The True Brew premises serve as a performance venue, a rehearsal and recording studio, where all sorts of technical and marketing support is provided to bands and performers. It is a small space — almost a small music hall but with a very intimate setting. The space which cannot seat more than seventy people at one time, has small traditional peerhas (stools) for seats just a few inches away from the live performers – a treat for any music lover. But be warned and be on time. If they say be there at 7pm sharp, better make it there by 6 30pm sharp instead, because no amount of pleading and begging will work on these guys. It’s a been-there, done-that kind of a situation for me. And not just once.
Professionalism, hard work and disciplined creativity. Now that is something we could do with more of in Pakistan.