All that Aamir Zaki was
Aamir Zaki, a legendary guitar player and one of music’s unsung heroes, passed away on Friday at the age of 49 after suffering a cardiac arrest. Since the heartbreaking news of his unexpected death emerged online before being picked up by news channels nationwide, tributes and personal stories have been pouring in from industry insiders as well as countless fans who revered the moody guitar musician.
For some Zaki was and will always be the finest guitar player Pakistan produced while others will remember him for the many songs he wrote, sung and produced. But Zaki was not just another prolific guitar player who played killer riffs. He was also a thinking artist, a musician ahead of his time; it can be felt when listening to his work.
Zaki started his career at a young age and his earliest show dates back to 1984. He began playing with the legendary Alamgir while he was still in his teens and toured both home and abroad. A big proponent of live music, Zaki went on to feature in several music groups including The Barbarians, Scratch and Axe Attack but didn’t stay with any of these entities for too long. With a flair for jazz, blues and rock, he would play music in cafes around the city and no venue was too small for him. But what he had truly earned after years of contribution to the music scene, was the biggest stage in the world, a dream that was not to be.
A man of paradoxes, Zaki also played for Pakistan’s most iconic pop band to date, Vital Signs before reportedly falling out with the said group. His major breakthrough came when he released his debut album, Signature in 1994-1995. The album contained, among other numbers, the song ‘Mera Pyar’ that went on to become one of the biggest hits of the time.
More than one song or album or genre, Zaki was a misfit, an unappreciated genius who refused to compromise on authenticity in a time when it’s so easy to forgo principals for quick bucks. But the restless Zaki also lived through the cost of not selling out and it accrued over time. In his case, it meant never having financial stability.
Despite these staggering odds, he emerged in the new millennium and collaborated with several artists including a full-length English language album with Hadiqa Kiani called Rough Cut. He played with an underground band from Karachi called Spoonful and also appeared on Uth Records before making his Coke Studio debut in 2014. He also taught at NAPA and inspired many youngsters into picking up the guitar.
In the current context of the music scene, where either a strong PR machinery is in place that keeps many artists permanently in the spotlight or corporate-fueled projects give a handful of artists visibility and revenue, Zaki had neither. He neither wanted to be the poster child for corporate money nor did he make an effort to branch out into other fields like so many musicians today who have taken a leave of absence from music to follow a career in films.
Not a fan of the consumerism that is the driving force in mainstream music, he struggled for space to exhibit that dynamic, explosive talent of his but the troubled artist, born to a country that has no respect for its brightest stars, never did find space. He was not glamorous and he pandered to no one. Vulnerable, troubled with some very real demons, while others mastered the art of self-promotion, Zaki continued to work in his own way.
In the end, an artist like him comes along once in a generation. Through his death, we have learned it the hard way. Gone but not forgotten, Aamir Zaki will live on and will be cherished through the albums he made, the songs he sang and the experience he created for all of us.