It’s hard to imagine Faisal Kapadia on a stage at a concert without Bilal Maqsood. In the minds of those who grew up listening to Kapadia croon out treasures like 'Duur' and 'Dhaani', there is an unconscious and almost unquestionable pairing of the two musicians in whatever endeavour they took on as Strings the band. Kapadia and Maqsood were the core of Strings, from the moment the band began till the moment it ended some 33 years later.
For Kapadia too, there was no imagining life or music as anything but Strings for a long time. But a year after the duo decided to conclude String’s journey — a year of stepping back, reflecting and spending time with his family — he feels it is time to hop back into the saddle for a solo journey in music. It’s the beginning of something unfamiliar yet thrilling. The musician sees it as a chance to learn new things, because after all, one should never stop learning. “I spent more than 30 years of my life with Strings, 34 years. I never thought in my life, ever, that I will have a solo journey but now that I am in it, it is exciting,” Kapadia told Images. “All of us humans have this learning streak within us and for me, my new journey is all about that. I want to learn. I want to learn as much as possible. I want to collaborate with younger people. I want to try new things."
The musician looks forward to growing even more as a musician. He looks forward to change, even a "reinvention"of sorts but as long as it isn't forced just for the sake of it. “I want it to be organic," he said. "I just want to go with the flow, go wherever the winds take me. I do not want to force myself into doing something just because I think I should. The phase of my life where I am now, getting a hit song or getting popularity is not a priority anymore. The priority is to improve my 'musician-ship'. I want to try new things. I want to do new music experiments. I want to work with new people. Every project and every new thing I try will have a lot of learning, so that is the exciting element for me right now."
It all started with a phone call
Kapadia is the closing artist — alongside Talha Anjum and Talhah Yunus of Young Stunners — for Coke Studio’s wildly popular season 14. Their song ‘Phir Milenge’ is the last we’ll hear of the music platform in 2022, a song full of some groovy vibes and intense emotions. The two Talhas are all about poetic delivery in their music (something their fans love about them), much like Kapadia is in his own iconic music repertoire. But despite this welcome similarity, it was hard to ever imagine Kapadia and Young Stunners in the same universe. A call from Xulfi, Coke Studio's executive producer for season 14, changed all that. It also changed Kapadia's thoughts on pursuing a solo career.
“I never thought I would have a solo career till I received a call from Xulfi to do a song for Coke Studio," he said. "I tried convincing myself after that. I said to Xulfi, 'You know Strings has been a part of my life for more than 33 years and mein toh sochta hee nai hun key mein kuch hun [I don't even think I'm something on my own]. Without Strings I don't want to even consider anything'. I kept talking to him and he told me 'you should do it, it's important'. We talked generally about music and his philosophy, and I shared mine and I think in that instance, that call made me realise I need to do music again, not for the sake of fame or money or anything, no, but for the sake of learning."
Something else drove Kapadia to keep pursuing music as well. "Whatever experience I have gained through my journey with Strings, I should share it with people who are working with the younger generation right now or whoever else who's contributing," he said. "I need to help them out. I need to give back to the community whatever I have gained.”
For the musician, the word “awesome” comes to his mind when he thinks of his experience with the Talhas while working on 'Phir Milenge'. “They are such dudes," he said with a smile. "The first time I met them, I hadn't heard a lot of their music to be honest, not until we started working on the project together. I had only listened to what was commercially available. When a brand sponsors a song, you get to listen to it everywhere. But yeah, Young Stunners have done some amazing work. Jab kaam karney key baad [after work] I got to meet and know them, I started listening to their songs, especially their song 'Dear Zainab', which is intense. Their music is really, really amazing and I am so happy and fortunate that I got the opportunity to work with them," he said.
'The Times They Are a-Changin'
There’s a new crop of musicians making a name for themselves in a world driven by digitally streamed music. It's a music scene that's quite different from the one Kapadia knew so well some years back and he's well aware that things have changed. “Six years back I would have felt I know a lot about music and I can contribute a lot with my knowledge and experience, but the music industry has completely changed now," he said. "The streaming business has completely overtaken things and thankfully it is now here in Pakistan, thanks to our first international streaming platform Spotify. The artists I see nowadays are completely new. Six years back, the names of the artists were completely different and now they are completely different.
"In our times we used to make music videos that were solely for TV channels where your song would come on for the world to see, and that is how you would reach out to audiences. Now it is completely different. People like Young Stunners, Shamoon Ismail, Hasan Raheem and Abdullah Siddiqui are the relevant people. They know the tricks on how to reach out to audiences. That's where I think people from my era will lag behind because we are still used to the old methods."
It will take some time for people to connect with them because all of this is a sudden change but it is just the beginning. I think this is a revolutionary era for music in Pakistan and we are going to get better and better
Not everyone is as thrilled as Kapadia about Pakistan's new wave of music. For some purists, music nowadays lacks the oomph of good lyrics, the kind that Vital Signs, Noori — and Strings — worked magic with. For the naysayers, the golden age of Pakistani music is well behind us — but Kapadia doesn't share this sentiment. “See, in every industry there is a change in cycle and it happens after every two or three decades. If you go back to the 1990s or late 1980s, apart from Vital Signs, all the other bands had some really bad lyrics. Koi apney lyrics par kaam nai karta tha [No one used to work on their lyrics], they used to concentrate only on the music. There was little concentration on the singing as well. But with time they evolved and the second phase that started in the 2000s, the bands that came in that time, they learned from those past bands and their mistakes.They wrote mature lyrics and improved the music production and singing."
Kapadia is confident Pakistan's music scene is merely at the beginning of something extraordinary. For him, the younger generation is creating magic in their own right. They are doing something he didn’t see happen all that often before — they’re speaking their hearts out without fear of repercussion, and that is something the musician truly admires.
"This is a very early stage and whatever these guys are doing these days, I think it is fantastic. It is phenomenal. They are trying to express whatever they think. Their lyrics are genuine, their lyrics are original and about what they feel or say. I want to commend these young people, that they even had the courage, the thought, to express themselves. That is the most important thing. You know, the older generation, I think they thought a lot about 'kia mujhey yeh karna chahiye? [should I do this?] Will I get opposition to this move from somewhere?' You know, they used to keep thinking about this, but today's generation, they are out there and they just say it right there and then. They are not hesitant and that's beautiful.
"It will take some time for people to connect with them because all of this is a sudden change but it is just the beginning. I think this is a revolutionary era for music in Pakistan and we are going to get better and better."
Life beyond music
Go through Kapadia’s Instagram and you’ll find posts that are a mix of nostalgic throwbacks and present moments of retreat and adventure. There are pictures of him with his family in the Maldives. There are pictures from his time in Dubai; a smiling Kapadia can be seen posing with Indian celebrities like singer Sonu Nigam, actors Rohit Bose Roy and R Madhavan. In one particular post, Kapadia can be seen with our very own Fawad Khan, on a cruise meant to celebrate Khan’s 40th birthday with family and friends. To the casual onlooker, the pictures feel like stills from a grand (and rather glamorous) life — but they don’t show everything that actually goes in the musician's life. When you really get into the nitty-gritty of it, Kapadia’s life is simple and revolves entirely around his family.
“I wake up in the morning at 7:30am," he shared. "I drop my son Jibran to school every day and after that I go to the gym for an hour. Kill some time there. If there are some emails I have to reply to — kaam toh thora bauhut hota rehta hai [there's always some work] — I reply to them. After that I go back to pick my son up from school at 3:30pm and that is my everyday routine. In the evening I like to watch a whole lot of Netflix and Amazon Prime. I watch a lot of shows. I like to play chess. I like to play pool. Music toh chalta hee rehta hai [I'm always listening to music]. If there's a song I like, I sit down at the piano or with a guitar and play it. This is my simple life. There is no work in it these days. This is my chilled out routine.”
He’s a musician, father and husband but he’s also just Faisal, a “gung-ho” and “normal guy” with some very normal interests. “I don't plan a lot of things. I love sports, be it indoor sports, video games or chess and pool like I mentioned. I love Topgolf. Other than that, I try not worry too much about things. Let's face tomorrow when it comes. Let me spend my today in peace. Why should one ruin their present by stressing out about what tomorrow brings?”
It isn't all Topgolf, chess and Amazon Prime though. Kapadia performed at a concert at the Dubai Expo a few months back, his first solo gig in the post-Strings era. “I had a great time," he shared. "I was there, Euphoria from India was there and James from Bangladesh was there. This was a tri-nation concert and I had a really good time performing on stage after two years. In the end, me and Palash Sen from Euphoria had fun singing some great songs. It was good fun. Going on stage is always fun for any artist, for any musician.”
It was in Dubai when he got a chance to meet Coldplay’s Chris Martin as well, an extraordinary moment for a man whose favourite bands include Coldplay. “It was honestly unreal," he revealed. "A lot of our fans come to our concerts, they show enthusiasm to come meet us. We really respect them for that and appreciate that they feel that way for us. This moment was my very own fan moment. There are only two bands in this world that I am crazy about, one is U2 and one is Coldplay. I just love the way Coldplay makes their music, they way they perform, everything about them really. They are a phenomenal band. Meeting Chris Martin just happened that day. They were performing in Dubai and I got to meet them at the afterparty and I had a great time. It was a fan moment which I will remember for a very, very long time.”
There's a lot to look forward to in the future, as there is to feel thankful for in the past. If Kapadia ever got the chance to redo his life all over again, he wouldn’t change a thing. “If you were to take me 20 years back and ask me 'what would you like to change about your journey or about yourself', well, I am so thankful for whatever happened to me in these past 30 years that I would really like the same to happen to me all over again. When I was 18, I met my life partner, my wife Seema and we have been together for 32 years. I would want to have her again in my life. Then I had my band when I was 18 and that was beautiful. I would like to repeat both these things in my life.
"If I have to remind something to my younger self, I would say 'hey, whatever you are working on, do not lose hope because opportunity does come, the only thing is that you have to be prepared'. Opportunity knocks on everyone's doors. If you are prepared then that opportunity will be yours, but if you aren't then it will move on to someone else's door and you'll end up staying where you are. People who are working hard, just keep on working hard. You do not know when opportunity will come. Maybe it might today or after two years, or maybe four, but still you need to be prepared. If you are then it is all limitless."