Folk music can transcend cultures: Casim Mahmood
By: Sher Khan
LAHORE: With a perfect blend of Punjabi folk and western blues in their debut track Daru Di Botal, East Side Story made its way into the spotlight earlier this year. The Lahore-based band has been anything but conventional and ordinary with its music. The duo is now back with its new single Mela, which is a rendition of Indian folk singer Asa Singh Mastana’s song Mele Nu Chal Mere Nal. The tribute has garnered a great response on social media as expected and exposes a unique angle to folk blues.
“We both had been playing in different scenes for quite some time before we formed our band. Our chemistry blended into our music very naturally,” says Casim Mahmood, who plays the guitar, ukulele and harmonica while Tariq Yousaf, also known as TG King, provides his rough vocals. “TG King’s raw vocals complement my style of music in a very natural manner as I have a very dirty style of playing the guitar.” Mahmood strongly believes that blues and folk music are timeless and have the power to transcend cultures.
The music of the song which incorporates blue riffs and traditional Punjabi folk was designed with a lot of thought. “We haven’t changed the lyrics of the song but the music, yes, since we follow a certain genre of music [folk blues],” says Mahmood, adding that the words gelled well with the overall sound.
TG King’s personality, a rugged middle-aged vocalist, connects smoothly with the folk culture of the band. He explains that the song is primarily about the Punjabi culture of fairs; it’s telling a girl to leave all her work and attend the fair with the guy. “The song has a happy and positive feel but also addresses how the girl can’t really go to the fair although she wants to,” explains TG King. “The music has a country touch to it; we have kept its purity and brought it [this genre] back to the music scene for ourselves and so that others can listen to it as well.”
The number opens in a rather abrupt manner with the sound of a ukulele; as soon as the lyrical verse ends, drumbeats begin and the song transitions into a Hawaiian sound with the incorporation of the drobo guitar, a forgotten instrument. An interesting stint was towards the end where the vocals came to a halt as the song transformed into an instrumental reggae mix; this experiment definitely kept the listeners deeply hypnotised.
As far as the music scene in Punjab is concerned, Mahmood feels a lot of the music is untapped and needs to be brought back to the surface. “This is one of our small efforts to make this happen,” he adds.
When it comes to performances and concerts, East Side Story hasn’t been as out there as one would expect. Mahmood justifies this notion by saying, “The thing is, live shows aren’t really happening that often and if they are, they are done in selective areas.” If any opportunities come forward, they would love to perform.
The band recently performed live on a Punjabi radio show; Mahmood remains sceptical of how helpful this medium would end up being for bands in a similar league as theirs. “The radio is a very interesting and unique medium but unfortunately, a lot of Bollywood tunes are given preference,” he admits. “If only they was more airtime [given to local musicians], you’d be better able to judge the benefits.”
He feels that the current, pro-Bollywood scenario, is very discouraging for local artists who invest in themselves, are self-made and don’t get the kind of exposure they should.
Speaking about challenges musicians face in this industry, Mahmood feels that the band has not been intimidated by any such thing or competition yet. “It’s more about producing music for both me and TG King,” he says. East Side Story will be out with its next single sometime in January or February — a blues song titled My Darling.