‘A band that caters to all age groups’: The In Time Band is bringing back 1970s’ Karachi rock and roll
Let’s dive back into the 70s with ‘Zindagi Ka Safar’ [Journey of Life], brought to you by the In Time Band, a group of men carrying decades worth of music in their hearts.
Some 50 years ago, Karachi did not look like the Karachi of today — you’d be surprised to see the city of lights, its thriving music scene and iconic fashion. Lucky for you, all is not lost. Music dances in the veins of those wading through years and years of change. Like they say, rock and roll is forever.
‘Zindagi Ka Safar’ has been a safar [journey] of its own in the making. Being the In Time Band’s first-ever music video, it “pays homage to the spirit of disco” and was intended as a “re-recording of a lost musical treasure from Karachi’s history”.
The music video quite literally takes a page from Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker Hamza Bangash’s short 1978, based on the life of Norman D’Souza, a rockstar whose life transformed drastically after the Islamisation of Pakistan. “The music video is set right around the time things were changing. From my conversations with people who lived through that time, the changes were less overnight and more creeping,” Bangash told Images.
The music video opens into a house party flooded with warm light, the sound of a saxophone luring us into the plot. “We’re with Norman [played by Zeeshan Muhammad], in the swinging 70s as his bandmates try to convince him to pitch to the music producer whose party they are crashing,” Bangash explained. “Norman is unsuccessful due to the bigoted views the music producer holds towards his community. However, as the party progresses, he meets the love of his life. Later we see the real Norman reflecting on his youth as he listens to his song on the radio. It’s a bittersweet journey.”
The filmmaker revealed that ‘Zindagi Ka Safar’ is a re-recording of an original song by the band. It was specifically set aside for 1978, with hopes of a stand-alone music video. “It was always a dream of mine to have a music video released as part of one of my films — I never would have thought it would be for a short film though — life works in funny ways.
“The short film, 1978, went on to be hugely successful — we had our world premiere in-competition at the Locarno Film Festival and were even broadcast on Canadian television. The success inspired my team and I to create something special for the In Time Band and this led to us running a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter,“ said Bangash.
The campaign helped the project lead CityLights Media — “a Canadian-Pakistani production house that amplifies marginalised voices through film and digital content” — raise funds to shoot the music video. The majority of it was contributed by the executive producer Porto Celyon who fell in love with their campaign and their dedication to honouring Pakistani artists.
Bangash called it “a labour of love” that took months to shoot. It was described as a vibrant return to the glory days of Karachi of the 1970s. “I’m so happy it’s out in the world now,” he added.
Where did the In Time Band come from? If this is the first you’re hearing of them, you have truly missed out. “[It] is the latest iteration of a collection of incredibly talented musicians from the Goan-Christian community, headlined by Norman D’Souza and Clifford Lucas,” said Bangash. “Norman was a legend in the 70s and used to play with The Talismen during that period, they even toured across the Far East!”
The filmmaker met the gang through his producer Carol Noronha as part of his research for 1978. “We collaborated with them on the film, and stayed in touch. They are still performing pretty regularly in Karachi and we’re so thrilled that we were able to produce their first-ever music video,” he said.
In a conversation with Images, D’Souza traced the beginning of his career to when he was a 14-year-old boy juggling school and nighttime gigs, hailing a cab to the other end of the city, all for the love of music. “In those days I used to entertain my friends with a guitar and sing Elvis’ songs in blue suede shoes. They used to get very excited, they’d say ‘Come on Norman, sing a song for us’ and I used to do some hip shaking. I was young of course, excited, wanted to be like Elvis.”
The musician’s stars twinkled as destiny carried his boat to all kinds of shores. “In the 60s and 70s, there were only Christian bands around in Karachi and Karachi was swinging those days. People used to come from Lahore, Pindi to entertain themselves because all the discos, nightclubs and all sorts of things were going on here. Karachi was like New York — that’s what people used to say, Karachi is our New York. We used to get artists from abroad, bands, singers [and] dancers [too].”
Having built up a long list of bands he’s been part of and collaborated with, D’Souza eventually started one with Lucas 15 to 20 years ago. In the beginning, it was a trio but over the years, the In Time Band expanded.
Commenting on why the song didn’t originally become a hit, Lucas said, “There was a lot of prejudice, racism — that’s the main reason why many of our Christian people didn’t get opportunities at the time. ‘Zindagi Ka Safar’ was originally written in the 80s by my band called Vision at the time. We wanted to present in PTV’s Music Channel, they took our demo tape but they never called us in. There was no exposure for the song the way bands like Strings got it — that is what our story told by Hamza in 1978 is,” he explained.
“This is nothing.” Elaborating on the way they were treated, he said, “There are a lot of things we haven’t picturised in the movie, like how we were attacked by the Jamaat-e-Islami people at Village. I was playing and they threw my keyboard up in the air — we were saved from getting beaten up by a bunch of people in buses. This was Zia’s time, that’s when the country when through Islamisation and the five-star hotels started closing down live music and discos. Those are eras that we went through, that’s why it’s called ‘Zindagi Ka Safar’ because we never gave up on our music. We journeyed through hard times and good times, and continued to play.”
The band is still in the processing stage when it comes to comprehending the fact that their first music video is out. “Sometimes I still pinch myself and ask myself if I’m dreaming,” said Lucas, adding that it has also given the band a spark, “a kick in the butt” to get them to write more music.
They can be found on their Facebook page and they also play at private shows. “People engage us for private parties and clubs. The music we play is very versatile — we can play songs from the 40s, 50s, 60s right up to now — [such as] Lewis Capaldi and Sia. We pride ourselves on the versatility of the different genres of music that can be played. We’re also doing Urdu, Punjabi and Arabic.”
D’Souza added that they have to do so in order to adapt themselves to the crowd. “We are a band that tries to cater to all age groups — we can entertain people from the age 60, and above, and below,” said Lucas. “I think all of us have come to terms with the fact that till as long as our hands, legs and our health allows us, we’ll continue playing.”
1978 was made through extensive research and collaboration with the Goan-Christian community of Karachi, a community that was “disproportionately affected by the sweeping cultural changes in 1970s Pakistan”.
The producer Noronha, also a member of the Goan-Christian community, commented on the musical invasion before social media was a thing. “Before social media, the Goan-Christian community was heavily active! From all the stories my dad tells me, back in the 60s and 70s our community played for live audiences in clubs, hotels, discotheques and Christmas/New Year/Easter balls as well as consulates and embassies.
“Even up until a few years ago when social media wasn’t really active, as a teenager I would attend rock shows in our church compounds, private parties with our live jazz and pop bands, events at KGA (Karachi Goan Association) hall and of course, weddings!”
She divulged that the community has also been an active part of the commercial industry — playing ad jingles or with popular bands back in the day when Indus music, PTV and MTV Pakistan were active on television. “Quite a few of the band members were from the Christian community, playing bass, guitars, drums and several other instruments.”
Noronha added that social media is only a very recent development — even before that, the Goan-Christian community has thrived in Pakistan’s music industry.