After four decades in music, Faisal Kapadia is still showing artists how it’s done

After four decades in music, Faisal Kapadia is still showing artists how it’s done

The singer's debut album Zindagi Jahaan Le Jaaye is proof that he can broaden his discography and still outshine everyone.
21 Mar, 2024

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been partial to a few things in life; dinner for breakfast, hiphop music, Harry Potter and the sound of Faisal Kapadia’s voice. I don’t care what you say, his is the second most unique voice I’ve ever heard — the first being Dolly Parton’s twangy singing. My mother’s terrorising screams are a close third.

Needless to say, I’ve been a fan of Kapadia since the days of ‘Dhaani’ and ‘Ye Hai Meri Kahani’. I came across Strings’ earlier gems like ‘Duur’, ‘Sar Kiye Ye Pahar’ and ‘Anjane’ much later due to being indoctrinated into consuming only Western music and Japanese cartoons as a kid. I don’t regret it.

In fact, exploring Strings as a teenager, I felt more compelled to understand the weight and depth of the words that made up a large chunk of their songs. My love for Kapadia only grew for the simple fact that his delivery did justice to those words and thoughts. His voice not only complemented Bilal Maqsood’s, it became a key component of Strings’ signature sound.

And today, some three-and-a-half decades into his career, Kapadia is still showing artists how it’s done, with or without Strings. He is churning out music that is catchy, inventive, and has great recall value. His debut solo album, Zindagi Jahaan Le Jaaye, is proof of that.

“With Strings, it was always a predetermined thing that we have to go into the studio and make an album. From 1990 to 2019, it was always a conscious effort. THIS — me making an album — just happened,” Kapadia told me over a Zoom conversation. When I first heard Zindagi Jahaan Le Jaaye in February, I was convinced that it was the best thing Kapadia has done for himself in years. I wanted to sleep on that thought. A month and a coma later, I still believe it to be true.

What’s so great about Zindagi Jahaan Le Jaaye?

Kapadia’s debut LP takes off with a reflection he spends the rest of the album expanding upon. It’s a journal — his deepest feelings laid out bare and perhaps his most honest work yet. There is a quiet escape in Zindagi Jahan Le Jaaye, a feeling of having been set free. So if you’re looking to wallow in misery, by all means, listen to ‘Kahani Suno 2.0’ (meaning no disrespect to anyone).

The title track, ‘Zindagi Jahaan Le Jaaye’, is a prelude featuring a thought-provoking narration by Kapadia, much like the one in ‘Ye Hai Meri Kahani’ sans the despair. It introduces listeners to the journey they are set to embark on; one that involves a lot of introspection but no particular destination. It is more like a wandering that is neither defined nor limited by genre or style.

The second song on the list, ‘Dheema Dheema’, has a very Strings touch to it. Listening to it not only transported me to a destination of my choosing but also made me feel nostalgic. Kapadia has utilised the 80s infused synth wave sound palette for this song. I wouldn’t say the palette is a constant throughout the album but it does reemerge often. The track has a hint of Zoya Akhtar film music with a dash of ‘Ilahi’ from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.

‘La Takhoun’, a collaboration between Kapadia and Arab singer Krystel Dib, is easily my second favourite track on the catalogue. The song is testament to Kapadia’s ability to shapeshift. The Arabic chorus is super catchy and has been sung beautifully by Dib. Her voice has an amazing heavy texture to it, much like Kapadia’s. The chord choices are very interesting and different from your usual four-chord progression, drawing heavily from modern Arabic pop music.

‘Kabhi’ is consistent with the album’s sound and also stays true to its 80s synth wave domain. The choir voices in the chorus really add to the feel good vibes of the melody which is very sweet on its own. The verses explore Kapadia’s baritone prowess to full effect.

‘Ankh Mori’, my favourite track on the album, blends Kapadia’s vocals seamlessly over the synth laden sample heavy pop sound of today. The chorus, sang by Amna Rai, really stands out and keeps you hooked. The rap part by Zohan is very cool too in terms of production — courtesy Ahsan Pervaiz Mehdi. Needless to say, her flow and delivery are on point. And the way this song manages to bring together eastern style of singing over a western musical backdrop is spot on.

‘Yaadain’, however, leaves a lot to be desired — at least for me. Primarily because Kapadia’s voice does not sound like his own, especially in the chorus — I wouldn’t call it a production glitch because doing so may just be a creative choice. Moreover, the vocal effects on the intro before the verse kicks in just don’t work for that moment. There may be nothing objectively wrong with the song but it doesn’t do justice to Kapadia’s voice, nor the album stylistically.

I’ve written about ‘Jaadu’ and ‘Ham Na Rahay’ extensively before, since they came out last year. Both make an excellent addition to the LP and, based on my conversation with Kapadia, also serve as a catalysts for the album.

Why would you put out an album in 2024?

“After ‘Jaadu’ and ‘Hum Na Rahay’, I just felt that it’s time for me to tell my story because for the past 35 years, I’d been living under the beautiful roof of Strings. So if I wanted people to listen to Faisal Kapadia, I figured they should know who he is,” the singer told me.

Despite his massive popularity, Kapadia was not expecting such an overwhelming response for his album. “I’m loving the fact that people are actually accepting an album in 2024. They are listening to it as an album and loving it. That’s huge and very humbling for me.”

One of the pros of being a musician in 2024 is that you don’t actually have to churn out an album to be taken seriously. It’s also more feasible and profitable for artists to market one song at a time.

On the contrary, releasing an album can be risky, especially because we don’t purchase them in the form of records anymore — we stream them. And music streaming platforms are designed in a way that they end up pushing certain songs and artists, based on trends and streams, as opposed to promoting an album as a whole.

Even if listeners are directed to the album, they only end up ‘liking’ or ‘adding’ songs that they believe to be the best from among the choice of music presented to them. As a consequence, a song that would’ve done well if released as a stand-alone, ends up getting sidelined because of its lack of appeal when compared to other songs on an LP.

But Kapadia wasn’t afraid to take a leap of faith, especially since he wanted everyone to go through the experience of listening to his album in one-go, without his message getting lost in the process.

Collaborating with young artists

Another key takeaway from Zindagi Jahaan Le Jaaye is that Kapadia isn’t afraid to be outshined. And the fact that he is inspired by those he collaborates with, as opposed to being threatened by them, makes him both a learned artist and a teachable one.

“I went to Poland to attend a bootcamp, wanting to be a student all over again. That’s where I met Krystel Dib. She was actually teaching Arabic scales over there and I was very intrigued. We met and decided that, okay, you know, it’ll be great if we do a collaboration. And then one day, she came over, we recorded a few melodies, and that’s how ‘La Takhoun’ happened,” recalled Kapadia.

He also reminisced how he first met Zoha Zuberi at a singing competition in 2022. “I was the judge and she was participating. I found her voice amazing so I expressed the willingness to collaborate. You know how it’s like, at the end of a show, you meet the participants and say, ‘We’ll work together InshaAllah’. One fine day, Zoha messaged me asking if I am still down to do that. I said, let’s do it.”

The ‘Dhaani’ singer went on to express gratitude for having collaborated with so many female artists. “Female musicians in Pakistan are all so brilliant and somehow, I got this opportunity to work with them.”

Working with different producers

Kapadia also talked about his experience of working with different producers for the album. “When Ahsan [Pervaiz Mehdi] and I started working on ‘Jaadu’ I didn’t know where we’re headed. We didn’t decided whether we’re working on an album or a few songs. We were just working on ‘Jaadu’. But the chemistry between us was magical. Very seldom does it happen that someone has the same musical sensibilities as you. So when ‘Jaadu’ finished, we knew we had to make more music.”

Kapadia felt the same chemistry while working with Ali Allahditta: “I really liked his work, his production, his compositions. So we decided that one day, we’ll work on something together. And then we started working on ‘Yaadein’.”

Kapadia notes that it is very important for artists and musicians to work with people they get along with. “I think that bonding does more for your work than skills and musicianship do.”

For the record

For those wondering, he also clarified that his inclination towards electronic music isn’t recent. “In 1989, when we came out with our first few singles, ‘Duniya Walo’, ‘Tumko Maine Dekha Hai’, ‘Jadoo’, they were all electronic rhythm machines. Electronic music was introduced in the rock era by Pet Shop Boys and New Kids on the Block. All these electronic sound sounds are coming out. And Strings and Vital Signs were bands without any drums. We were all using electronic synthesizers and drum machines. I would say the last album 30 was more live acoustic drums so predominantly, we were always kind of electronic.”


NYS Mar 21, 2024 01:15pm
My choice is "Ha koi hum jaisa" 2003 strings all time favourite
Syed Hasni Mar 21, 2024 01:27pm
The record, titled, Zindagi Jahaan Le Jaaye, features 8 songs in total and out of those songs, there are 4 solo songs and 4 collaborations. It has been released by Mr. Kapadia on his own record label, Twenty-Nine Records. Does it has the potential to find a space in your collection of permanent records or is draped in hubris and can be discarded easily, yet to be seen. Kapadia has an unusual voice. My bet is that it will fall in the former category. I have already ordered the black Denim jacket, black T shirt and Lorenzo boots- love the look.
Khurram Ayub Mar 21, 2024 01:35pm
A welcome blast from the past. Excellent range and great work for revivalism of 80s music. Good omen perhaps our national treasure that was lost over the last 50 years in every domain might make its way back to us.
Taj Ahmad Mar 21, 2024 04:03pm
Simply great and ever lasting music, Faisal Kapadia and his team is the best.
chipmonk33 Mar 21, 2024 09:36pm
Overrated artists get exposure more because of connections and resources than pure talent.