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24 Oct

Xulfi unplugged

It was a warm summer night made hotter by the sheer multitude of people, chanting, singing and dancing to the beats of their favourite contenders. When it was announced that Aaroh had won the Pepsi Battle of the Bands, the sadness of hundreds of people reverberated across the ground for the losing band.  Those echoes gave birth to a band that took over the minds and hearts of thousands of Pakistanis, a band that broke everyone’s heart when it split, a band that everyone remembers fondly: Entity Paradigm.

Much has been said and written about EP – a group of young FAST Uni students who perhaps had no idea where their lives were going when they produced their first album, Irtiqa, a herculean effort that propelled them to instant stardom in the early 2000s.

The band broke up in 2007, citing individual differences as the reason behind it, but reemerged in 2010 with the single, ‘Shor Macha’ and followed it up with an appearance on Coke Studio’s third season with their rendition of Sajjad Ali’s ‘Bolo Bolo’. This reunion was again short lived as the band went back to their lives and we didn’t hear from them again. The band members grew up to become big names in their own right afterwards and while they are all contributing to the Pakistani entertainment industry in different ways, fans still reminisce about the good old days and wonder what really happened to EP.

Whispers and rumours about the band suggest that a rift between two key band members led to the break-up while others have pointed fingers at one particular member of the band: Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan, popularly known as Xulfi. Instep decided to get in touch with the supposed architect of the break up to hear his side of the story.

Before we meet for our interview, it is evident that Xulfi is eager to discuss this matter. Perhaps it lingers in his memory as much as it lingers in ours. Aside from being cited as the reason behind EP’s split, there were rumours of a similar nature following his other band as well, namely Call. Is it a mere coincidence that this musician finds himself at the epicenter of two big controversial break-ups in modern music’s history?

We eventually meet at his studio, which is built in the basement of his home, much like any other Pakistani musician nowadays. Xulfi seems nervous. He keeps entering and exiting the studio to make sure there is tea accompanied by snacks, if the air conditioner is working okay, if he’s speaking too much or too little. His behavior seems to suggest the state of a man who is ready to address the hullabaloo that surrounds his name and work.

Eventually once we settle into our conversation, Xulfi appears to have calmed down. Not once does he get agitated or aggressive when I confront him with the aforementioned accusations. He willingly accepts his mistakes, a move that is very uncommon in the world of entertainment, where egos are high and tolerance is low.

Before one can delve into why EP broke up, it’s important to understand what EP meant to Xulfi and vice versa. And, that story began when Xulfi was just 13-years-old and his elder brother bought him a piano from the US. There was a book that came along with the piano that had nursery rhymes and musical theory. “That is the only book I’ve ever actually read on musical theory,” Xulfi laughs sheepishly as he admits to this.

But perhaps that was enough for the young musician because one day, he picked up his brother’s guitar and started playing it without any formal learning. “I think your subconscious is a very strong thing. It’s learning when you aren’t even paying attention. When it’s the right time, your subconscious just transfers information to your conscious mind.”

This is how Xulfi explains his musical education: simply listening to a lot of music. Eventually, he learnt how to play drums as well and big brother Khurram came up with the idea of forming a band in 1992. “This was the first version of Call.” Xulfi, along with his two brothers and a friend, completed the line-up for the band, where they only used to perform original songs.

A few years later, Xulfi became the head of the music society at FAST in the late ‘90s and eventually became very popular in his university for his musical abilities. A junior came up to him one day and said that he had a cousin and a friend who wanted to do music. Xulfi met the cousin and friend who turned out to be Hassan Khalid and Fawad Khan. Fawad sang U2’s ‘One’ for Xulfi. “He sang amazingly well. Performance is all about being the right person hitting the right notes. That is something I look for even today when I’m auditioning for Nescafe Basement.” Xulfi touches upon his mega-successful project briefly before returning to the discussion at hand.

That is how the union happened. Xulfi asked Fawad to join his band Paradigm, which later became Entity Paradigm when the former joined forces with Ahmed Ali Butt’s Entity. The two bands, Entity and Paradigm, got together to collaborate on a track that became the soundtrack to the hit comedy TV series, Jutt and Bond. The success that followed paved the way for EP to stay together.

EP old days

 

EP quickly rose to stardom and went on to become one of the biggest names in the music industry and played multiple shows in a single week. “It used to feel like a dream,” reminisces Xulfi. “But sometimes I would fear losing it all. I wondered ‘what if all this goes away’ and it did.”

With the security situation dwindling in the country as well as lack of infrastructure within industry ranks meant that the cycle of shows started slowing down significantly and reached a point where there were simply no shows to play for months on end.

“Something had started seeping in. Obviously, everybody was busy with their other commitments. Ahmed had gotten busy with his acting while Fawad also got caught up with his acting/modeling career. Obviously I couldn’t do modeling or acting so for me, music was my true calling.”

While most EP band members were busy with various projects, Xulfi started producing music for his old band, Call which also led to the discovery of one Junaid Khan, who went on to become the band’s lead singer.

“You have to be friends to remain in a band. Without friendship, it becomes a business,” notes Xulfi, referring to the real reasons why EP fell apart. He claims that the band members weren’t spending time together, which dented their relationship.

Were there any ego issues between EP, I wonder out loud. After all, it must be tough for all parties involved when the vocalist gets most of the acclaim and applause. “That never bothered me, honestly. My issue was that I just wanted to produce music and I couldn’t stop.”

Xulfi also claims that he had sensed an ‘anti-Xulfi feeling’ rising in the band. This happened when he was told to not make the second album on his own, unlike the debut album. “The  band thought that we should sit together and work on it. I felt a little weird about it but later agreed to it, thinking ‘okay I guess that’s fair’. I asked the guys to have consistent jam sessions so that we could make music together.”

But those jam sessions never materialized. “Everyone else was always busy and in the end it was just me and maybe two other people who would be sitting, jamming.”

Perhaps there was another reason that gave rise to this ‘anti-Xulfi’ campaign. “My mistake was that I became part of two bands at the same time. I remember, during one music awards ceremony, I went on stage to receive awards for both EP and Call. Even I used to feel weird about this.” This is where Xulfi admits to his own contribution to the fall out. But what Xulfi doesn’t openly talk about is the fall out he had with Fawad. “We never fought all these years. Fawad was the one person I truly bonded with. But then once we had a really big fight, and things were never the same again.”

Clearly, the band was being stretched thin from many different directions. Did things ever become normal with Fawad? “Well, I would message him every time I would see him on TV, for instance when Humsafar became a huge hit. I saw him at the success party for his film Khoobsurat and things between us seemed okay then. But then when I met him after that, things had changed.”

The reason why Xulfi is subjected to scrutiny is that this isn’t the only time he has had a falling out with a band member, leading to the break-up of the band. Everyone knows that Call, Xulfi’s other music project, also had a controversial run when the band was gearing up to enter Bollywood. It’s no secret that the song ‘Laaree Chootee’, Call’s biggest hit to date, didn’t feature the main vocalist. Sources close to the band have said that Xulfi went behind the band’s back and signed up for the Bollywood film on his own. “That is completely false. I had informed my band when I got the offer but due to some personal reasons, Junaid was unable to take part in that song.”

The song became a monster hit in Pakistan as well as India, opening the door for further opportunities in Bollywood. The next song ‘Yeh Pal’ included Junaid Khan because Xulfi didn’t want differences to spring up between the band members over this issue. However, he again got an offer to sing ‘Dharke Jia’ where the producers wanted his voice, as Xulfi pointed out that the Indian market appreciates light, slightly feminine voices compared to hard, raspy ones.

“What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t say no to all these offers, it was a big opportunity for me. But I can understand why Junaid must have felt a little odd because Call had a very rock feel, but because of these songs I was doing, the vibe of our music started changing.”

Whatever the issues were this time, Xulfi managed to work out the differences with Junaid because Call is back together. “We just performed a concert last night in Risalpur.”

And it doesn’t end here for this music maestro. Xulfi has moved on to bigger and greater things, such as Nescafe Basement, that has shone a light on young talent across the country.  Some have even compared it to Coke Studio. “That is a story for another day,” laughs Xulfi after our long conversation comes to an end because we’ve run out of time.

Whether someone believes Xulfi’s version of events or not, it cannot be denied that the man has taken ownership of the mistakes he has made in the past, which is a sign of great maturity.  Also, Xulfi is extremely gifted at what he does: every venture that he has dipped his feet into has gone on to become a huge hit. Whether it’s EP, Call or Nescafe Basement, Xulfi has proven time and time again that his dedication to music is greater than anything else. And for that, we applaud him.

 

This article was first published in Instep, 23rd October 2016. 

Manal Khan

The author is Deputy Editor at Something Haute who has studied film and journalism from SZABIST. Will be found at the gym if not in the office.