Last Sunday, we saw underground act Kashmir emerge as the winner of Pepsi Battle of the Bands.

Stand-out performers from the start, we saw Kashmir win over judges and the audience with original number after number, peppered with soul-stirring covers of some of Pakistan's most iconic tracks. (We've had 'Menda Ishq' on repeat.)

But the band never really thought they'd make it... till they won.

Kashmir takes a pause from their sessions in the studio (next goal=album!) to talk about the highlights of their Pepsi BoB journey.

Images: Can each of you talk a little about yourself? Do you guys do anything apart from music?

Kashmir: Shane works at Careem and is also completing his final year at SZABIST right now. Ali is currently in his final year of his MBBS at Dow University.

Bilal, Vais and Usman study at Greenwich. Bilal just graduated, he actually received a job offer from an ad firm, which he turned down to commit all his time to Pepsi BoB.

Zair is wrapping up his studies at CBM. The Greenwich boys play a lot of DOTA in their free time.

From L-R: Lead guitarist Vais Khan, bass guitarist Usman Siddiqui, drummer Shane J. Anthoney, rhythm guitarist Zair Zaki, keyboardist Ali Raza and vocalist Bilal Ali
From L-R: Lead guitarist Vais Khan, bass guitarist Usman Siddiqui, drummer Shane J. Anthoney, rhythm guitarist Zair Zaki, keyboardist Ali Raza and vocalist Bilal Ali

And how do you guys know each other?

Kashmir: The band itself started off about 6 years ago, with a very different line-up.

Usman was one of the founders of the band. He met Vais during A-levels and called him up in the band. Me (Ali) and Usman have been friends since Grade 1 so he called me when they needed a keyboardist. Zair came in next, we were friends with him for some time.

We met Bilal when our previous vocalist had to leave the country. He was studying in the same university as Vais and Usman. Shane is the latest addition to the team.

So we all have been friends for some time now and it’s our friendship that brought us together.

What were your thoughts going into Pepsi BOB? When did it occur to you that you could really win this thing?

Kashmir: We were actually very confused going into BoB. The day before the auditions, we had serious reservations about going, but in a spontaneous decision, we decided to give it a go.

To be honest, every round felt like we might not make it to the next one. So winning wasn't even remotely part of our imagination.

Steadily, one step at a time, we kept moving ahead, eventually ending up winning, something which hasn’t sunk in yet.

Kashmir says their Pepsi BoB victory hasn't sunk in yet
Kashmir says their Pepsi BoB victory hasn't sunk in yet

Apart from your original tracks, you guys sang eP, Amir Zaki and Pathanay Khan on the show. How did you decide which song to sing each time?

Kashmir: A lot of things factored in for our song selections. Sometimes it was just a random jam to a song that started sounding good. With ‘Menda Ishq’, it was a tricky choice. We received some crucial advice from Atif to switch from the folk song we had earlier selected and we're glad we listened.

EP was one of the closest sounding influences of ours in the Pakistani music scene, so naturally, we felt comfortable covering that. ‘Mera Pyar’ was close to our hearts, and all of us put our emotions into that song. The idea behind the mashup was to take two of the most popular songs in Pakistani history and give a Kashmir touch to it.

Who are your favourite Pakistani artistes? Who would you like to work with?

Kashmir: EP, Noori, Vital signs are some of our favourite Pakistani artists.

We would really love to work with our fellow competitors, Pindi Boys, Madlock and Roots among others. We developed a really good bond over the past few weeks and we feel the blend of our music would be something the crowds would really love.

What was the most memorable moment of your Pepsi BOB journey? What was the worst part of the whole process?

Kashmir: There were many cherishable moments from Pepsi BOB, but if one moment stands out, that would be the standing ovation on ‘Kaghaz Ka Jahaaz’ followed by Atif Aslam's hugs for the band.

Even while doing the soundcheck for this song on stage, we were having such a great time. We were laughing, mimicking each other, Zair was singing his favourite songs on the mic and then we all joined him. That was one of the best times.

"Every round felt like we might not make it to the next one. So winning wasn't even remotely part of our imagination."

There really was no worst moment, even all the hectic shoots and tedious interviews and waiting backstage for hours all now seem very memorable.

You guys performed lots of original music on the show. How’d it feel to put your original stuff to the test on such a big platform?

Kashmir: We are all about original music. Every time we faced the risk of elimination, we did our original song. Over the last decade, original music hasn't received much appreciation in Pakistan.

But we like telling our own stories through our music and will continue doing so.

Recently we did a concert in Lahore where a lot of the artists from the country presented their original songs, and the crowd there absolutely loved that. That was a good feeling, knowing that people really appreciate original music too.

Who do you feel was your toughest competition? Did any band make you nervous? What was it like to battle it out with Badnaam?

Kashmir: From the moment we set foot in the hall where the candidates for auditions of BoB were seated, we were intimidated by the serious amount of talent all around us. Every single band had something different to offer. There was Sufi rock, qawwali rock, grunge music, groovy music, so every band had their unique flavour.

We feel that it was only the format of the show that required one band to win; otherwise, all the top 8 bands were extremely talented and winners in their own way.

There was genuinely healthy competition among all of us. Badnaam was a very professional outfit. They have been doing music for a very long time and their passion for it is very admirable. We hung out a lot, cracked jokes and had a really great time together. We never felt any serious pressure of competition.

Kashmir performs a cover of 'Menda Ishq'
Kashmir performs a cover of 'Menda Ishq'

Did you make any friends on the show?

Kashmir: Our most prized achievement from the show was friends.

Everyone, from the sound team to the bands to the Pepsi management, hung out together. There was a very humble, humour-filled environment backstage. We jammed with the other bands, ate together, laughed together. It was a really great experience.

Who was your favourite judge?

Kashmir: All the judges were very respectable, very helpful. We took their critique very positively and worked upon them.

Identifying one favourite might be difficult, but I suppose it would have to be Atif. He personally came to each one of us off-camera and told us about our weaknesses and how to overcome them.

"We feel that it was only the format of the show that required one band to win; otherwise, all the top 8 bands were extremely talented and winners in their own way."

Before our performance of 'Menda Ishq', Atif came to Bilal (who was suffering from a chest infection) and told him to "sing with your heart on stage, go into that spiritual state of mind that I know you can and everything will be great". He is a great mentor; he made Bilal believe he could pull off the performance even though he couldn't talk. That sort of motivation can make someone do impossible things.

He also gave us very genuine advice on how to present ourselves to the masses and how to carry ourselves, [the importance of] remaining humble and respecting everyone.

How has Pepsi BOB affected your personal lives? Do you guys get recognised on the street? What have your early fan experiences been like?

Kashmir: We never expected such an amazing response from the public.

Honestly, we are six socially reserved people who just know how to make music. Pepsi gave us the platform to showcase that music and project ourselves, and thankfully the crowds loved it.

We respond to everyone who sends us wishes and are deeply humbled by all that has happened. We're the same, simple people we were before and will continue being so.

People recognize us, click photos with us, send us regards, and we really appreciate all the feedback, the love and support. We love interacting with the people.

Lead guitarist Vais Khan and bass guitarist Usman Siddiqui
Lead guitarist Vais Khan and bass guitarist Usman Siddiqui

So, what can fans expect from Kashmir in the future?

Kashmir: Previously, we were relatively unknown, so there were no expectations from us.

Now, we're the face of Pepsi BoB, so a lot is expected from us. We will continue doing what we've been doing till now, expressing our creativity through music. We will keep learning and keep progressing as musicians.

Our next goal is to release an album because an album really defines the sound of a band. We hope to revive and enhance the music listening experience of the public, while simultaneously enhancing our own musical skills.

We would love to amp up the concert culture in Pakistan, and hopefully, give people the kind of musical experience that people enjoy in the west.

What do you guys foresee as the biggest challenge in your future careers?

Kashmir: The biggest challenge might be to lift up the seemingly fizzled out musical scene in Pakistan. There is a lot happening in the music scene, there's a lot of talent underground. The appreciation has died out. There seems to be a gap between the kind of music the musicians are doing and what the audience is expecting. We hope to bridge that and revive the music scene in Pakistan.

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