“Sounds of Kolachi (SoK) was made as a collaboration of sounds, rather than musicians,” says Ahsan Bari.
Ahsan Bari is the singer/songwriter/producer of one of the more exciting music acts to emerge from the Pakistani music scene. “That’s the idea behind the band and that’s what we’re working towards. It’s a bit difficult to explain exactly what genre we fall under. I think we may have to come up with a new one — maybe ‘progressive world fusion," he says.
This 10-member ensemble takes over the entire stage whenever they perform. There is a lot happening at the same time in a SoK performance. There is the string section with Waqas Hussain (sitar), Gul Muhammad (sarangi), Saif Abbas Rizwan (bass) and the very popular Faraz Anwar (guitar), percussions with Abdul Aziz Kazi, Shamsul Arifeen and occasionally with Ahad Nayani and on backing vocals there is Quaid Ahmed, Ghazanfar Abbas and Nimra Rafiq. Ahsan Bari is both lead vocals and on guitar. Each section has their place and each section gets their due share of the limelight and time in which to perform their own solos.
Each performance features a slight change in the line-up: some musicians are added, some are dropped. Yet, despite this many performers on stage, there is harmony between all of them.
“This year, I will write music for 40 instruments,” says Ahsan Bari. “I’ve written it already in my head. All that’s left is putting it on paper and producing it — 40 instruments, 40 sounds, 40 voices.”
How do they even manage to make music with that many people together, let alone perform live and do it well? Isn’t there a risk of there being too many cooks...? “It’s really difficult!” laughs Ahsan, “This is a big ensemble. Bands with just four members are hard to handle and those break up. This one is made up of 10 (plus any guest musicians). The musicians keep changing. The line-up you see today might not even be there two years later.”
“As a band, we operate quite simply: I ‘operate’ everything. There is also Quaid who coordinates and manages the band with me. As far as the ‘making music’ part is concerned: I do most of the work. I write all of the songs and compose all of the music.”
Exactly three years to the month that they first performed, SoK is releasing their debut album in the following weeks. “The name of the album is Ilhaam,” relates Ahsan. “There are eight songs. I’ve composed all of them. Mekaal Hasan, Fahad Bukhari and I have produced it. Mekaal Hasan has contributed significantly. He’s added a lot of colour to the album.” Faraz Anwar has been featured in all of the songs. The album is being released via Ahsan’s own label; the rights to his music belong to him.
But SoK fans, be warned. According to Ahsan, “for those that have heard our live set, don’t expect the album to be the same. How we perform live is different. This is our studio album. We’re trying to give people a new way to experience our music. They’ve seen us live already, but with the album they’ll have a more ‘intimate’ experience with our music. Because it’ll always be with them.”
Surely it’s not easy writing music for 10+ people. “In a symphony orchestra, you have people writing music for over 100 instruments,” he responds, “I’ve written music for up to 10-15 instruments. I plan to write music for a far greater number than that.”
“This year, I will write music for 40 instruments.” He elaborates: “I’ve written it already in my head. All that’s left is putting it on paper and producing it — 40 instruments, 40 sounds, 40 voices.”
"It’s a bit difficult to explain exactly what genre we fall under. I think we may have to come up with a new one — maybe ‘progressive world fusion."
Ahsan might be the main songwriter and composer, but music still remains a collaborative art. “The contributions by the musicians featured in the band and otherwise are significant,” he says, “especially by Gul Muhammad and Waqas Hussain. Ahad Nayani, Gumby, Faraz Anwar, they have all added their colours to our music. The musicians are given an idea to work on. It’s up to them as to how they want to interpret it.”
“We’re constantly featuring different musicians so it’s not that hard to collaborate for us,” he explains, “but gathering 10 people together can get a bit tricky at times.”
In a span of three years since their first performance in January 2014, with no exposure on the mainstream media or appearances in televised music shows, SoK now does tours across the country and was the main closing act for the I Am Karachi and Lahooti Melo festivals last year. This year they’re going on tour to the United States as a part of a program called Center Stage — their alumni include Khumariyan, Noori and Usman Riaz.
But according to Ahsan, the band was never ‘meant’ to become this big. “SoK was formed as a ‘practice’ band,” he laughs. “On how to merge local/indigenous music into [the format of] an orchestra. I had been studying [the workings behind] symphony orchestras. I’d learned everything about it theoretically, but I wanted to put that knowledge to practice as well.”
“Around the time the band was formed, I was working with Shahi Hasan. I’d been with him for four to five years and decided to work on my own music. I took a break and focused all of my attention on how to create a contemporary fusion orchestra.”
“Since then SoK has just been getting bigger. Mostly because we’d feature different people in every other performance — we’ve had up to 30 guest musicians in our band!”
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 8th, 2017