Rangi rang birangi…rangi rang birangi….rangi sari gulabi chunariya re….
Cant get the song out of your head? Well you have Jamal Rahman to blame! The ace music producer of the country who has worked with the likes of Ali Sethi and Zoe Viccaji to name a few, and has also produced some beautiful tracks for Meera ji’s triumphant return to cinema ‘Baaji’ collaborated with Generation along with Harsakhiyan to breathe a new life in the melodious tune.
The ‘Gulabi Chunariya’ music video was also his debut in the world of direction, and we are still reeling with the beauty and grandeur of the masterpiece he created with us. Today we have a long overdue chat with the man of many talents and find out more about his process as we reminisce in the beauty of the tune.
Photo by Aleena Naqvi
Lets dive into the conversation shall we?
1. What got you into music?
The answer to that isn’t unique, in that I was regularly exposed to a wide variety of music by my parents and always had something or the other playing in the house through the day ranging from Pathanay Khan, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to Pink Floyd, Queen and Miles Davis. The real turning point for me was when I had graduated from art school in 2007 and was at a crossroads. I had been playing and performing music live for over a decade but had never given a career in music any thought in earnest till then. I saw the music landscape in Pakistan and decided to make a contribution to establish and support an alternate strain of music, one that would allow the range of music available to be expanded beyond its relatively myopic state at the time. Thirteen years later, we have a substantial number of artists making vastly different types of music and True Brew Records has been involved in one capacity or the other.
2. How did True Brew Records come into being?
Jamal Rahman and Sikander Ali – Live at True Brew – Photo Omar F Rehman
Initially, I had planned for True Brew to be a recording studio and record label, where we would sign artists, record/produce their music and release it digitally. Unfortunately, around the time we were up and running in 2010, the security situation in the country started taking a turn for the worse; concerts, which would’ve been the main income stream for these artists, started getting canceled and music channels on tv started shutting down. Undeterred, I continued recording and producing artists and was able to finally set up a digital channel on Youtube called True Brew Tv in 2018, a couple of years after the Youtube ban was lifted. Ten years in, I continue to support artists by holding regular shows at our studio and now, very selectively, record and produce a few.
3. How would you define your music style? And how does it reflect in the track you produced for this collaboration? Share your association with Gulabi Chunariya.
I produce for a number of genres including folk, electronic, soul, semi-classical, qawwali, fusion, indie and now rap and urban music. Every track I produce has its own demands and challenges, and essentially the song itself dictates the direction it needs to go. My aim is to always try something fresh with each production and to strive for at least one idea within that production that sets it apart, even within its own genre. That, and to never repeat oneself with the same notions and approaches.
With Gulabi Chunariya, the Harsakhiyan came to the studio and we discussed a general direction for the song. I recorded each of their vocals with just a tanpura and a metronome and then spent a few days composing the music under the melody. The process was actually quite organic and everything seemed to flow into the song naturally. I had intended to keep the track largely minimal and so aside from the harmonium, duff and a bit of electric guitar, I let the vocal occupy as much space as possible. Its taken me a life time of honing my production skills to a point where I can trust the process and let creative decisions flow unabated. That, I’ve learnt, is crucial in allowing the emotional aspect of a song shine.
4. Tell us about your interest in filmmaking and the course you undertook?
I’ve been interested in filmmaking since I can remember but never ventured towards it for one reason or another; already had too much on my plate. Last year though, I felt I’d reached a point where I was ready to explore other avenues and expand my skillset. I decided on taking a crash course in filmmaking at the New York Film Academy and it was the perfect impetus to get me started and laid a solid creative and technical foundation for me to build upon. We worked on various aspects of filmmaking every week and made a short film at the end of each of those weeks which culminated in a final project at the end of the course. My short film Elizabeth was received exceptionally well at the school and I was encouraged to send it to film festivals (though that’s been postponed due to the current health situation in the world).
I remember being on set at the GENERATION shoot and being able to appropriately roll with the punches that are inevitably thrown at a director on set. It showed me how much the course had benefited my ability to pull a film together and that too, without much stress or any melt-downs during the process. The experience from the day we all first met till when the film was finally released was immensely informative and gratifying and I had a great team to work with at GENERATION.
5. How did you visualize the concept for this collaboration? What went into the framing, set, production etc for the video?
Initially, we’d planned for the shoot to take place outdoors on a grassy slope where we would intertwine long pieces of fabric between the models and the singers. After considering a few locations, we decided instead on using a courtyard next to the Lahore Fort that had a majestic tree in the middle, but on the day we went to scout the location it was raining heavily. The weather forecast for our shoot day also predicted heavy rain and so, as we drove back from the Fort, I had an idea to move the shoot to a studio and build a maze-like structure out of fabric that our cast could interact with. I quickly made a rough sketch for what I had in mind and shared it with the GENERATION team. A day or so later, Ifra Khan, the art director on the project, came up with an elaborate structure almost ninety feet in length! We went through several iterations and the final structure was about a third in size of the initial design.
Ifra had laid out in chalk the entire outline of the structure on the GENERATION factory rooftop, allowing me to meticulously work out all the shots I needed for each action. The set had several spaces, tunnels, corners, backdrops, layers, and we were able to shoot through it and around it.
6. How do you see the future of women in music
Personally, I feel we need more women in music and not just as singers but instrumentalists as well. Previously, most new female entrants had been vocalists but its evident via Instagram how more and more young women are picking up instruments as well and that can add a new dimension to the music scene. Having said that, noteworthy new entrants in the industry are few and far between, and there are more than a few barriers to entry. The music space is largely male-dominated and there’s the whole issue of societal restriction and lack of family support. Music is a hard industry to navigate for anyone but I try to be as encouraging and helpful as possible to the artists I work with.
7. Your experience of working with GENERATION.
GENERATION has one of the best teams I’ve had the pleasure to work with. They’re all exceptionally hard working and have a passion for their craft that is unrivalled. From the first day that we convened to discuss the idea till the last day of the release, everyone worked on the project as if it was their own, with a sense of ownership and pride that is hard to find in creatives these days. And the best part was everyone was as detail-oriented as I am so I didn’t feel like that odd perfectionist on set!
8. What are your plans moving forward?
I wanted to concentrate on working towards doing a few more music videos, start writing and directing my next couple of short films and eventually move up to directing feature films, but current circumstances have put a spanner in the works. With this Covid-19 situation everything is indefinitely on hold. I’m trying to use this time as productively as possible, researching and putting together stories to filter into a couple of screenplays. Once the pandemic clears up, I want to hit the ground running and go straight into production.
Here’s hoping to see what wonders Jamal goes on to create in the future, its creatives like him which truly make this world a wonderful place to live in.
Are you addicted to Gulabi Chunariya too? Tell him in the comment section! Jamal deserves all the praise we can give him.