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The resurgence of Malang Party and the birth of Surkhwaab

Islamabad-based Zishan Mansoor, an artist-in-residence at A for Aleph for a few weeks, sat down with Instep to talk about both bands before returning back home.

The resurgence of Malang Party and the birth of Surkhwaab
(From left to right) Anas Alam, Kami Paul, Umair Dar and Zishan Mansoor. Photo by Ayaz Sheikh

Several years ago, a band emerged from Islamabad that released three singles including the famous ‘Dil Jaley’. Years later, the band re-appeared in national consciousness and played their most famous tune on Coke Studio 8. But the band then disappeared from public limelight.

Now they have re-emerged, having recorded their debut album at A for Aleph – the visionary studio and space created by Umair Dar.

As the artist-in-residence, Zishan has recorded the Malang Party album and is also in the process of recording another album, as Surkhwaab, also at A for Aleph.  “We came up when we were in university in London,” begins Zishan, who has lost the long hair and at first sight is almost unrecognizable – about Malang Party.

“It was me, Iba (Ibrahim Akram) and some other people like Asad Zafar. Iba and Asad were living in Newcastle so initially, when these guys came to Islamabad, they were staying with me.”

As Zishan recounts, the initial line-up also included Shehzad Hameed as well and they played their first show in 2008 at The Guitar School, which was then owned by Hamza Jaffri.

“In 2011, everybody returned from various universities and in 2012, [with some changes in the band such as the addition of Zain Ali], ‘Dil Jaley’ came out.”

Malang Party was formed with musicians, some of whom are a decade later doing various things such as Zain Ali playing with Atif Aslam and Iba, who has played with several artists, becoming one of the members of Saakin and VIP.

“By 2013 the band got wrapped because it was costing us a lot of money to record,” remembers Zishan.

Despite recording ‘Dil Jaley’, and singles such as ‘Uth Malangi’ and ‘12 Meel Duur’ and releasing them, getting songs recorded in the first place and getting them mixed and mastered was a costing process for which the band got nothing in return. For most musicians, their bread and butter is playing live shows and Malang Party got none. It was also followed by remarks like ‘you are an underground band’.

“We played some shows but by 2013 we had wrapped up and weren’t doing anything.” But Zishan Mansoor continued with music, playing with Zeb and Haniya since 2009 and with Arieb Azhar. “I was playing session for both these acts.” “I tried to get the guys from Malang Party, like Iba and Zain Ali, to play with Zeb and Haniya as session players. I took them to Arieb. For a while, we were doing that.”

Speaking about industry challenges, Zishan notes, “We’re affected by glamour; we’re into celebrities; I’m a musician, I take it seriously.”

This brings us to the present.

Malang Party may have released just three singles but releasing an album has always been a goal. As Iba is unavailable and presently in New York, the upcoming Malang Party line-up includes Zishan Mansoor (vocals and guitars), Kami Paul (drums), Anas Alam (bass) with all songs written, composed and arranged by Zishan.

“This is me really happy,” he laughs, discussing the album.

A listening session featuring a song from the upcoming Malang Party album called ‘Ziyarat’ and Surkhwaab tunes follows.

Zeeshan explains afterwards: “None of this stuff is complete; ‘Ziyarat’ – the Malang Party song – is like a spiritual journey and the name came to me and I liked the sound of it without knowing what it meant. I named it and later found out the meaning.”

While most of the band has recorded the Malang Party album, Zain Ali’s parts were not recorded at the time of the interview. But Zishan hopes to add his parts in the capital city.

“It’s recorded live,” says Zishan, “No studio in this country can give you this sound or there are private studios that won’t risk it, produce it; this is like the best of the best. You have the best musicians, production facility and the best producer (Umair Dar). Whenever he said, this is it; we were like ‘this is it’ because otherwise everyone in the band is meticulous to a point that one person or the other says, “‘Nahi huwa’.”

Surkhwaab features Zishan Mansoor on guitars, Mishal Fatima on vocals, Jasir Abro on bass and Ajay Harry on drums. Photo by Minah Jasir Abro

Surkhwaab features Zishan Mansoor on guitars, Mishal Farina on vocals, Jasir Abro on bass and Ajay Harry on drums. Photo by Minah Jasir Abro

“We trusted Umair and whenever he made a call, it was the right one so in that way, just four of us did it; we worked like till four or five in the morning because the songs had to be rehearsed six or seven times as we were recording them,” says Zishan. He plans to record Zain Ali’s parts as per availability.

Zishan has also formed a second band called Surkhwaab. It features Zishan (guitars), Mishal Farina (vocals), Jasir Abro (bass) and Ajay Harry (drums.

“It’s very different; in September or October or whenever I come back, we’ll do another 6 or 7 tracks. Most of them have been written. It’s totally different and Balochi-inspired, folk inspired.

“Balochi is an oral language and it is kind of dying. So if you make songs, you can preserve the language. In a way, I want to promote Surkhwaab at national festivals, trying to save and preserve a dying language and while doing it, we’re having lots of fun. Surkhwaab can be dissected in many ways like ‘sur’ ‘khwaab’ and two other things escaping my mind.”

The public in Karachi got a glimpse of the band at Creative Karachi Festival 2019 on day one and from the kind of response they elicited, it is safe to say that Surkhwaab will find an audience that will pay to see them play live music. Prior to CKF2019, they also played for about 60 or so people at A for Aleph.

Having heard Jamaican, African and Caribbean music, reggae, dubstep, Zishan admits that he listens to a lot of music. “I like black music and I have no problem saying it. Jazz, hip-hop, funk, Motown, soul, reggae, blues, rap – all these art-forms are made by black people, not white people.”

“I think Bob Dylan is one of the greatest songwriters and I used to listen to him daily but I don’t think I can anymore. I respect and like him but I can’t listen to him anymore,” he adds.

Malang Party and Surkhwaab, according to Zishan, are two different projects and he is equally excited about both of them.

“It’s time to stop talking and release music. We’re planning to mix Malang Party by September so hoping by October/November it should be done. We’re going through the logistics of it. We will record Surkhwaab but like 6-7 songs together. Albums need to be recorded. So, even with Surkhwaab, I want to record an album, not just two or three songs. We’re trying to figure out funds and we have 5 songs; I think an album should have at least 7 songs.”

Malang Party songs will be political in nature while Surkhwaab is nicer, folk, desi, says Zishan. “All in all, it’s been a great space – referring to A for Aleph – where I keep coming up with stuff I like.”

Yup, a third idea is flying in Umair and Zishan’s head but for now, we’re happy to see the return of Malang Party and the groovy-folk charms of Surkhwaab.

- Surkhwaab photo by Minah Jasir Abro

- Malang Party photo provided by A for Aleph

Maheen Sabeeh

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