Parvaaz — an indie-rock quartet comprising of members Khalid Ahmad, Mir Kashif Iqbal, Sachin Banandar and Fidel Desouza — arrived on the scene in the fall of 2010, letting their infectious melodies laced with Urdu and Kashmiri poetry, and a progressively dreamy sound to do the talking. And it worked. Seven years later, Parvaaz is being hailed as one of the most exciting bands on the Indian music scene
Mohammad Mudasir spoke to Khalid, Parvaaz’s frontman and vocalist, as the band wrapped its December tour. Khalid, who hails from Srinagar, is on the lead guitar along with fellow Kashmiri band-mate and childhood friend Kashif. Excerpts from the interview:
Starting with the clichéd question, what is Parvaaz’s story? What got you involved in this in the first place?
Parvaaz came together in 2010 in Bangalore when I and Kashif found a common interest in writing and performing songs. The initial lineup comprised Neil Simon on bass, Adarsh Deokota on guitars and Somarashi Bhattacharjee on drums. The lineup finalised around 2011 with Sachin on drums and Fidel Dsouza on bass, leading right up to our debut E.P Behosh.
How did your and Kashif’s parents as well react to your choice of becoming fulltime artists/musicians? What do they think of it now?
It’s every parent’s dream that his or her child should stand up on his/her own feet and find a respectable job in the community. This has always been our work, while we’ve been travelling to various places to perform for our audiences. Our parents and family have been more than supportive and appreciative of our vocation and surprisingly enough are often our biggest critics.
How has your music evolved since you first began playing music together? Walk us through your creative process like song writing, composition, etc. What sort of music do you like? What are your musical icons/influences?
Our process usually involves multiple iterations of jams that reveal musical layers over the course of pre-production towards a track or an album. Be it from a melody or a groove that we pick up and find better ways to express the exuberance, liveliness, or even lament/loneliness that the song requires. Sections of music get written in the jam room and we spend time poring over the lyrics to get right to the essence of each composition. Artists that inspire us right at home include Indian Ocean, Avial and Warren Mendonsa.
Parvaaz found its roots in Bangalore, but there are elements in your music that are heavily laced with Kashmiri. Be it Gul Gulshan by Mahjoor or Roz Roz. How do you manage to connect to the non-Kashmiri audience at large?
Audiences have been more than just appreciative and supportive towards our music. Throughout India, we’ve had people singing along to our tracks regardless of the language barrier. The association of lyrics with sounds that are raw and textural draw listeners to our stage.
You have been doing mostly live gigs as more intimate form of expression. Has that been a defining factor of the Parvaaz experience?
As performing musicians, we feel the most alive while playing live. It is also our bread and butter. As far as the “Parvaaz experience” is concerned, it is really up to the listener, but the common thread between all the ways in which we make our music available is that intimate, personal connection with our listeners. Our recorded music is, of course, available across major digital media platforms as well as CDs to play in your car.
Your music, your songs convey a multitude of elements, and intrinsic to them is that there is a story that you want to tell us, whether that story is yours or of your experiences. What is it that you want to convey and what is it that we are not listening?
The themes of songs vary from time to time. We have a mix of metaphorical poetry as well as adaptations of literary works. A song like Beparwah, for example, speaks of a person caught up in the materialistic world and his struggle to break away from it. Shaad, on the other hand, is about loss and regret. So there is never one set theme or motif. However, lyrically we seek to address human nature at its core, in one way or the other.
You recently pulled off a successful gig in Kashmir at the SKICC. This was your first gig in Kashmir and it became a sold out ticketed concert. Were you apprehensive about performing on the home turf given the fact that there is risk of such events usually getting politicised as some form of state-sponsored exercise to project that all is well in Kashmir?
With a well-educated audience and good technical support there ought to be more such congregations of cultural exchanges that can enhance quality of life. We hope that in future such artists are not denied their opportunities to present their work to audiences, and that they are of great interest to both culture and politics. Especially in a place like Kashmir where we’ve been deprived of such cultural events over long periods of time, it would be great if they are made freely available to the public.
Were you apprehensive of any negative reaction in Kashmir to Kashmiri songs and poetry being played on western instruments which have traditionally been played on Kashmiri musical instruments?
We did not face any negativity. Constructive criticism is always welcome though. One of the purest forms of music, for example folk, receives a certain treatment when commercialism comes into the picture. The youth turn to common homegrown wisdom when it comes to a suitable place to find their feet. Our art forms choose us, and with it the responsibility to carry this forward to the next set of audiences.
Outside Kashmir, Parvaaz has been getting rave reviews. The Hindu termed your rise ‘phenomenal’, while GQ India calls your music ‘soul-stirring’. What do you plan to do with this unique space/place that you have created for yourself as a different band?
We’ve been on this path of creating music that is unique to us and our sound. Audiences are of the opinion that the lyrics and voice keep them mystified while the music keeps them on the edge. Motivated by this kind of support from our listeners, our future plan is to continue creating albums that we will release in due course.
Tell us about the commercial side of the Parvaaz’s success story?
Digitally, we’ve moved close to 800 album downloads. Physical copy sales of our E.P., Behosh and L.P., Baran are at about 1000 units. Our Youtube channel has tracked close to 500k views. We’ve played in all major festivals in India and have also completed our first international tour in 2017 successfully.
You have been away from home for quite a few years for now. What is that you miss most about Kashmir? When can we expect your next homecoming gig?
We’ve performed recently at the SKICC Srinagar before a wonderful audience. I, personally, am always eager to give a good performance and wait eagerly for the next opportunity in Kashmir. What I miss most when I’m not in Kashmir is my den and, of course, home food.
What are the plans for the future? Any new music you guys are working and when can we hear it?
Work is being laid down for the next album and we’re looking forward to having it released early next year. Our music will also feature in a major Hindi motion picture, Vodka Diaries starring KK Menon, in early 2018. Stay in touch with us over social media for updates.
This interview was published in Kashmir Narrator’s February issue