November 8, 2008

After a great band breaks up and the fans are done grieving, they brace themselves to see what will come out of it. The departure of Shafqat Amanat Ali from Fuzon was one such moment. His years with Fuzon marked one of the high points in the musical movement that shares its name. Carrying forward fusion into the post-Fateh Ali times, the band contributed much to the genre under Shafqat Amanat Ali. His unquestionable singing prowess and respected classical training provided the rich music taste of eastern classical that clicked magically with the guitar and keyboards of Shallum and Emu. With Shafqat gone, Fuzon suffers a visible loss of vitality in the vocals department. So where his loss can be noticed in the band, has he been struggling without his partners as well? Like many others, I listened to the album to find out just that.

Tabeer’s musical content leans towards the spiritual and folk. Most of the lyrics are from classical songs and the album contains only one conventional ‘pop’ love song composed by Zeeshan Haider (aka Shani). The musical style we are used to with Fuzon has been maintained with almost no change. There aren’t any stark differences or surprising changes from Shafqat’s previous sound, except that he has chosen to sing mostly classical and folk poetry.

Shafqat introduces his moving voice in ‘Khairheyan De Naal,’ the Tufail Niazi song about never wanting to leave home (the des). This is a mellow song with moving lyrics. The next number is ‘Naina,’ in which a piano and wah guitar intro gives way to slightly up-tempo harmonised vocals, singing over sparse music that builds slowly into full flow. The song’s lyrics are quite clichéd and the arrangement is neat but forgettable. The album soon reaches its low with a very unremarkable rendition of the old folk classic ‘Dum Ali Ali Dum.’ The number has a digested musical composition and a very ordinary singing performance and it characterises the album’s lack of creative drive. The next song, however, is the one that breaks out of the mould. ‘Rang Le’ starts off very well, finally capturing the fusion spirit by using a refreshing combo of two instruments, the accordion and the guitar. On top of this very interesting French arrangement, Shafqat then sings Amir Khusro’s beautiful lyrics with a strikingly poignant and fresh chorus (‘Mohe apnay hi rang mein rang le/ Tu tau sahib mera, Mehboub-e-Elahi’). Other devotional songs in the album are ‘Bulleh Shah,’ and ‘Manqabat (Ya Ali),’ both good songs but the compositions largely remain ‘in the box.’ In the track titled ‘Pagalpan,’ for the first time we hear the singer’s impressive vocals being pushed during the introductory alaap. However, after this the song catches a more electronic sound, Shafqat follows up his initial blaze of vocals with forgettable singing of ungainly lyrics. In contrast to ‘Pagalpan,’ ‘Rohi’ has a much better composition, with an interesting piano bridge and arrangement. It is one of the few times in the album that Shafqat has decided to sing it up a little. Finally, the album ends on a high with ‘Kartar,’ a song that Shafqat’s respected father used to sing. One of the fresher fusion efforts on the album, the up-tempo song has a raunchy guitar intro, followed by a very skilled alaap opening a very interesting number with energetic classical singing that accompanies a semi-symphonic musical composition, which is quite rousing.

In conclusion, Tabeer is a good album but far from original. Because Shafqat is an accomplished singer, and he has chosen classical lyrics, none of the songs are below a certain level of quality. But if we judge him against his own vast potential, this seems to be an album where the fusion is basically formulaic and the creativity limited. Shafqat will definitely not disappoint his fans with this album but he hasn’t been able to leverage this new direction into a refreshing surprise either.

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