Omran Shafique: A magnificent life
Omran Shafique is returning to Coke Studio in a much more comprehensive manner this year. Seen here with Bilal Maqsood,
on the sets of Coke Studio 8.
The music producer and guitarist talks to Instep about Coke Studio, playing with Chand Tara Orchestra, Undercover and more…
Every other artist, it seems, wants to get on Coke Studio. There’s always a conversation happening somewhere about who should be on the show and who deserves a spot more. Every song is scrutinized by listeners.
For Omran Shafique, who rose to prominence with the music group, Mauj and has since then gone on to become an instrumental member of Coke Studio as it reached one milestone after another and has worked with a diverse list of artists including the likes of Ali Azmat, Rushk and so many others, getting a spot on Coke Studio is not just about having a version of a Sufi song in your repertoire.
“My Whatsapp is full of people sending me messages that go like: ‘Yeh mera gaana hai, mein nay yeh sufi gaana banaya hai, please Coke Studio may baat karle meri.’ I’ll forward it, that’s all I can do and I’m not even in charge of the selection process. Can you imagine what Bilal and Faisal go through, the vetting process?” Shafique tells Instep in an interview.
Having made sporadic appearances on Coke Studio in the last few seasons, Shafique returns to the platform in a much more comprehensive manner this upcoming season and he tells Instep that the right way of getting on the show is creating your own identity by writing songs, playing music and making music videos.
“If you’re making noise, if you’re the new thing, they (Coke Studio) will come and that’s the way you should try to get on Coke Studio as opposed to ‘yaar meri kisi se baat karade’. It’s not just talent, it’s not just looks, it’s the right atmosphere and the right people talking about you.”
Having made its debut in 2008, Coke Studio has featured some of music’s most prominent names and has, in some ways, helped in putting Pakistani music on the map. And going by numbers, the show remains an enormous success.
“The biggest hit Coke Studio has had, I think, was ‘Tajdar-e-Haram’ by Atif Aslam; people still get riled about who is on it or not, that’s good, that means people are still taking ownership of it.”
As Shafique explains it, the show has its own ethos and also has a target it needs to achieve which is to create 30 songs. “We have a quota, we have to do 30 songs and we have to record it in a space of like two weeks; it’s like clockwork. We literally have one day to get a song in shape and then we move on.”
Meeting after spending a better part of the day rehearsing/recording for the upcoming season of Coke Studio, Shafique confesses, “I hadn’t done it like this since season five. I’m a little bit older and I’ve realized I don’t necessarily have the energy I used to back then so it’s a lot more taxing. Musicality wise, there is a little bit more intricate stuff, with Rohail it tended to be a bit more open, feel it out and now there are definite parts so it’s a little bit more stressful as well.”
When asked about Mauj, Shafique admits that there was a compulsion within him to do the first record that no longer exists. He is often approached by young players who tell him that they picked up their instruments inspired by Mauj. “It feels very good to hear it obviously. I’ve been talking about doing the Mauj thing literally like from January 1 and then Coke Studio started and I’m busy and these are good problems to have. What I would like to do is to make it completely different. These are all, I think excuses, more than anything else in my head, to justify why I don’t keep working on it,” he trails off.
For Shafique, who identifies most as a blues guitarist, playing on Coke Studio and working with maestros as well as names like Ali Azmat and Rohail Hyatt has definitely influenced the way he plays the guitar and has also affected his approach to music.
“I was trying to write pop songs before. And they were structured. Now, I’m really into improvising and keeping it loose and a lot of it is playing into the Chand Tara Orchestra stuff.”
Among the many music identities that Shafique has, one of them is playing in the ambient outfit, Chand Tara Orchestra (CTO) and another is playing in a cover band called Undercover. In the former, Shafique is joined by Shahryar Raza, Babar Sheikh and Louis ‘Gumby’ Pinto.
“The two songs – ‘Khak Nasheen’ and ‘Makki Madni’ – that have been released have just been like a jam. We did one jam and then we picked up the parts we liked and we put them all together and that was a song. And it was loose and accidental and I will never play it the same way again which I really like.”
In Undercover, Shafique plays alongside Louis ‘Gumby’ Pinto, Anas Alam Khan, Jon Saville and Sheldon Emmanuel. “Undercover is a completely western outlet for me,” says Shafique. “It is fun because we do classic sixties, seventies and eighties cover songs. There is no pressure, there’s no prerequisite, we just play, mess around and have fun. I can’t justify going to that many rehearsals now because I’d rather be home with the kids. That’s why Undercover works for me because it doesn’t require a lot of time. They are like, this is the set-list, learn some of these songs, come and play on some of these songs. It is open-ended versions of those songs and we’ll play them live at a gig/jam and say hello to our friends.”