The making of a song: a revival of old-school allure

August 9, 2020

Instep speaks to Zeb Bangash and Rameez Anwar (grandson of veteran musician Khwaja Khurshid Anwar) about their new song, ‘Woh Umeed Ki Manzil’ and how this collaboration came about

Poster of 'Woh Umeed Ki Manzil'

If Pakistan is seeing a boom in new sounds mushrooming due to newer bands and artists willing to experiment and producers who understand that vision, we’re also seeing a revival of old school musical allure. No song makes it more obvious or pertinent than a recent collaboration called ‘Woh Umeed Ki Manzil’ (‘WUKM’) between Zeb Bangash and Rameez Anwar, the grandson of veteran musician, film composer Khwaja Khurshid Anwar.

From the monochromatic music video – that brings to memory two elaborate music videos such as ‘Khamaj’ by Fuzon and ‘Kya Hoga’ from Sarmad Khoosat’s Manto OST - to the elegance of the song including composition, singing and the poetry, it is a combined and terrific effort.

To learn further about this unique collaboration, Instep spoke to Rameez Anwar and Zeb Bangash at length. Here’s what they had to say…

Instep: Given your familial legacy, how challenging was it for you to do this song, ‘Woh Umeed Ki Manzil’?

Rameez Anwar: I wouldn’t say it was challenging. I’ve always been mindful of my Dada Jaan’s (paternal grandfather) legacy and wish to do justice to it with every release. I know I’m representing him as well as myself, and that keeps me committed to the task at hand. It helps that I’ve got an obsessive-compulsive personality like Dada Jaan when it comes to making music. And I am fortunate to have supportive family whom I can turn to for advice whenever I feel I’m in a rut.

I do think I probably benefitted from growing up in America where Khwaja Khurshid Anwar’s presence isn’t as felt. I was allowed to grow and mature as an artist outside of the limelight.

Instep: Your song in Manto (‘Kya Hoga’) is monochromatic with a playfulness with which you sang the song. Was there a deliberate effort to keep vocals different for ‘WUKM’?

Zeb Bangash: Not really, I just stayed with the feel of the song. I can see why you would make a connection with Manto’s ‘Kya Hoga’ but that was fashioned around 1950s filmi pop songs, heavily influenced by Western music, specifically hot club jazz.
‘Woh Umeed Ki Manzil’ is an old school filmi ballad with a truly desi soul. The poetry reads like a ghazal, the arrangement uses both eastern and western instruments but maintains the temperament of the composition so musically to me they never felt related. In this song I was most struck by the composition and phrasing, the lyrical content was strong, and there was a deep personal story and context to the song from the point of view of the composer/music director. I was lucky to have time to internalize all these elements. We were trying to remain true to the spirit of songs like Khurshid Anwar’s ‘O Jaane Wale Re,’ or Naushad’s ‘Mohe Bhool Gaye Sanwariya’.

Instep: Why did you decide to go with Zeb Bangash for this song?
Rameez Anwar:
I’ve been a huge fan of Zeb for years. Ever since I first heard ‘Bibi Sanam,’ I’ve eagerly awaited every new release of hers. I actually attended a concert she gave in New York a few years ago. It was one of my favorite live performances. No lip-synching or backing tracks; just a high-caliber singer with her band in full command of the stage. I was struck by her understanding of desi as well as Western musical elements, something I picked up on in our first conversation about ‘WUKM’ in Lahore, as well. I would be lying if I said I was not intimidated during our first meeting.

Zeb Bangash and Rameez Anwa

When I was in Pakistan, I made a list of all possible singers I had some personal connection to, however tangential, as well as a list of dream singers whom I thought would be out of reach but whom I would want to work with on this track. Zeb (Bangash) was at the top of that dream list. I did not think at the time that this was a realistic or attainable goal; I didn’t have the first idea as to who could put us in touch. However, fate intervened. An aunt of mine put me in touch with Mr. Sharif Awan. He was kind enough to meet and he asked me whom I had in mind for the song, and on a whim, I started off saying, ‘Well, I would love to have Zeb Bangash sing the song, but…’ and before I could finish the sentence, he said, ‘Okay done.’ He reached out to her and she was gracious enough to meet with me in Lahore, where we discussed the project. She was intrigued, so I sent her a demo; when she heard it, she immediately replied saying she was in. I still remember how elated I was when I found out.

Instep: What is Modeltown Music?

Rameez Anwar: Modeltown Music is the name of my production company. It is derived from Model Town in Lahore, where my mother grew up and where we would stay as children whenever we visited Pakistan. My first memories of Pakistan were from that home in Model Town, and my first sarangi lesson was taken there as well. When I was considering names, I don’t think I considered any other name. For most of Modeltown Music’s existence, I was mostly doing sarangi covers of Western pop or rock songs. I did release a few demos of original music over the years, but it wasn’t until I composed the soundtrack for the award-winning short film Rani, directed by Hammad Rizvi, that I began to work on my own original music once again.

Instep: Is it an original song or an old song reworked for the modern age?

Zeb Bangash: This is an original song. A rough sketch of the vocal melody was conceived 55 years ago by Rameez’s father. Rameez, who is the song producer and music director expanded on the initial concept, filling in the missing gaps to create a complete song structure. Rameez also played the piano on the track. The opening couplet and a few other lines were derived from a poem Rameez’s father read as a young man. Rameez collaborated with lyricist Asim Raza, who built off of that original poem’s foundation by penning these beautiful, timeless lyrics. His uncle Saleem Mir also contributed a couple of couplets. I was called in to sing the song, putting the finishing touches on the track.

Instep: What was your experience like doing this song?

Zeb Bangash: It was a really special experience. Rameez brought a unique perspective to the process because of his personal and professional background. He has a deep connection to traditional South Asian music because of his lineage, much more than most people of his generation. At the same time, he grew up in Texas and knows American music, old and new, very well. He’s trained in Western and Eastern traditions and is both a composer and a performing musician.

In the studio, I found him to be thorough and meticulous. His focus was to serve the song which meant I could emote with freedom and bring that intense melancholy into my singing. I got to be part of a process of recording that was true to the ways of the golden days of the film industry.

The making of a song: a revival of old-school allure