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8 Aug

‘Woh Umeed Ki Manzil’ revisits Khwaja Khurshid Anwar’s legacy

At a time when most Pakistani musicians are looking outwards, creating fusion, singing in English or developing sounds and beats that appeal to a global audience, there’s someone who – despite living on the outside – has turned to his roots for a musical evolution. This someone is Rameez Anwar, relatively unknown except for his surname that connects him to the late Khwaja Khurshid Anwar, one of the greatest music composers and lyrical story tellers of the Sub Continent. The legend was Rameez’s grandfather and from that legacy comes his love for old world melodies, Rameez’s newest release being ‘Woh Umeed Ki Manzil,’ featuring the inimitable Zeb Bangash.

Having grown up in Texas on a steady diet of western rock, pop and even a little hip hop, Rameez was also exposed to a lot of desi music from a very young age. His home flaunts a trusted Yamaha keyboard but it was the sarangi that he took more affinity to, creating desi instrumental versions of western pop songs on it. Music was in his DNA; his father – albeit a cardiologist – said in an interview that his was the only field in medicine that depended on sound and rhythm.

It was in fact Rameez’s father, Khwaja Nauman Anwar, who came up with ‘Woh Umeed Ki Manzil’, the concluding verses of a book he was reading. The melody came to him, almost like a reflex, and Rameez was all too happy to build upon it and nurture the song.

“It was really gratifying,” Rameez spoke to Something Haute, all the way from Columbia, where he’s studying law these days. “When I tried to figure out the vocal performance of the song, Zeb Bangash came to mind. She has an incredibly versatile voice, which has so many different styles. She has sung all over the world.”

The legendary music director Khwaja Khurshid Anwar

Why the need to revisit an old school of music in the first place?

“I’m taking my cues from Dada Jaan,” he replied, with love and adulation in his voice. “I never met him but he’s been kept alive through his music. This is what comes naturally to us. There’s an internal affiliation, an affinity for music. The guiding principal is that I would want to listen to the music I make.

“There’s also the cultural element, where you’re part of this diaspora and you’re citizen of this country but you want to connect with your roots,” he furthered. “With this song, what I’ve noticed is that it’s resonated with the South Asian diaspora…Pakistani, Indian, Bengali. Music connects us. We grew up listening to classic Bollywood and Lollywood. For us living abroad, we have a complicated relationship with our roots and music speaks to us. Rather than do a homogenous sound, I thought I’d reach back in the past and create these elements in a unique composition.”

Zeb and Rameez, making magic with ‘Woh Umeed Ki Manzil’

Bringing the composition to life was none other than Zeb Bangash, who’s been in Baltimore since February, finishing some projects, working on a couple of singles and working with her bands these days. She’s had time to reconnect with her singing, she says, as a benefit of the lockdown. Zeb is one of those generous musicians always open to work with new people and listen to the music they send her. 

“This was a little different as Sharif Awan sahab of Tehzeeb Foundation got in touch with me one day. I was in Pakistan at that time and he said Khwaja Khurshid Anwar’s grandson was interested in speaking to me about collaborating and I of course was very excited. I was also very intrigued in meeting Rameez because he had grown up in America and was doing classical music and I, as a student of classical music, was very interested. We met and he turned out to be such a great guy, so serious about his music. I hadn’t come across anyone with his kind of profile and approach and I was really excited. When I heard the song, I immediately fell in love with it.

“In the last 20 years, in Pakistan, the idea of band music has become more popular and the classic art form has taken a back seat. A lot of fusion has been happening. I’m not necessarily sure that’s the only way to reach out to international audiences. I have friends who go crazy over Coke Studio but then I also have friends, all over the world, who love Mai Dhai and pure classical music.” 

Music producers in Pakistan are trying to make music that is global and here was someone who couldn’t speak Urdu without an American accent, and who wanted the revisit the golden era of music, Zeb added.

Rameez really is a rare breed of musicians. Composer, producer and instrumentalist for Model Town Music, his own label named after his family home in Lahore, you can see his commitment to tradition in the body of work posted on his Instagram page. He spends a lot of time in Lahore and Karachi and is working on three new songs with local artists.

There’s a definite, concrete love for music, but what’s aspiring Rameez to take time out of a corporate career and spend it in making music?

“I want to make Model Town Music a self-sustaining enterprise. I don’t look down or am not disdainful of pop and fame. I haven’t figured out the formula but I need to straddle the line between mainstream and technical…not for the trappings of fame.”

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Aamna Haider Isani

The author is Editor-in-Chief at Something Haute as well as Editor at Instep, The News. Full time writer, critic with a love for words and an intolerance for typos.