Gimme Shelter

July 12, 2020

Omran Shafique talks about singles, records, numbers and the changing landscape of music.

Even Omran Shafique couldn’t have anticipated the strong response to (CTO) Chand Tara Orchestra’s debut album, Volume I, released in 2018.

In its current iteration, the band includes Omran Shafique, Babar Sheikh, Sherry Raza and Rizwanullah Khan. Both Sheikh and Rizwanullah are former band mates from the good ol’ days of Ganda Banda and The 3D Cats. CTO - having been through several line-up changes - seems to be the strongest in this iteration that has fetched them award nominations and more than that, converted the unlikeliest of listener in keeping an open mind about the band and its work.

Though CTO has been on Coke Studio (season 11), the band’s purpose for existence was never to score a shot on the show. However, making most of their appearance, the band unveiled its album in the same year as their national appearance, circa 2018.

Omran Shafique is also the front-man of Mauj, with just one album to their name that still enjoys a cult following, more than a decade after its release. Many have been hoping an album is near, especially after seeing Shafique perform as Mauj at an edition of Lahore Music Meet. The reinvented line-up of Mauj that includes Anas Alam and Aziz Kazi also performed in Karachi via a Salt Arts show. But Shafique admitted to Instep that a new album is not on the horizon. Though some rough jamming sessions did take place at Umair Dar’s A for Aleph studio, those sessions happened before Covid-19 landed in Pakistan. Even the jam sessions were rough but it gave fans hope. However, now Mauj is on the backburner.

Like most working class musicians, Omran Shafique - married to Eva Shafique with whom he shares two daughters - is doing his best to stay afloat at a time when the bread and butter of musicians – live shows – are no longer possible. But irrespective of the difficulties faced by so many due to Covid-19, Omran is as accommodating, and forthcoming as the past. And, as one of the most intelligent voices in the industry, his views carry significant weight.

Speaking to Instep, he noted, why an album is the best bet for a musician. “The more songs you write, without having the pressure of each one being a single and pop hit, the better you get and the better you get, you start writing more interesting songs. In terms of Coke Studio, it takes 30 songs to get those three songs that really stand out.”

Omran feels that what people had been doing in the last couple of years was releasing singles. “But then, that puts so much pressure on the single; if it’s a single there has to be a video. The video has to capture people’s imagination. Every song you write has so much built-up expectation behind it that it’s impossible to meet it. What, then, happens is that none of it really makes the kind of impact that one solid album from a new, unique fresh voice can. The album gives you a general feel of what the artist is like and maybe they have one or two songs that everyone can like. You see how that works.”

Omran reiterated that innovation comes from an album.

“The album allows the artist to grow not necessarily for the audience but for themselves and with the added benefit of a commercial element – one or two songs that cater to everybody. The rest of the songs on an album are your songs that people can grow to enjoy. Because they like you as an artist and your approach to things and you develop from there. So the next 10 songs that you write will once again have some interesting music. Maybe you will evolve from the person that you were on your last album.”

As Omran, colloquially known as ‘Momo’, sees it, one song is not enough to get a feel of an artist. “If someone says, name 10 albums, I’m like it’s not the albums but the artist I care about.”

“Any artist can have these super bursts of creativity and energy and in like 5 years, they’ll come up with 3 or 4 albums that are mind-blowing.”

As Omran noted, record labels made sense 20 years ago because that was the only way to get your music out there. “It’s not the case now but the role of the record label has morphed into digital media guys. Most artists haven’t figured it out yet and neither have those guys. The pendulum keeps swinging obviously but the goal is to always bring it into balance – which is that there will always be people who will help you reach a bigger audience. Our job as artists is to make a good amount of music and hope that it can be sent out to enough people and they will (hopefully) appreciate it. It explodes in the viral sense or however things work now.”

The trick, said Omran, is not to find new music because there is so much music out there; it’s essentially about finding the music that you like. Coming to an end of the conversation, Omran noted that you do need some form of corporate sponsorship because the streaming system in Pakistan is not a very smooth system until now.

Omran noted that singles by themselves, without a follow-up album, feel shallow. One can only hope other musicians are listening.

Gimme Shelter: Omran Shafique talks about singles and records