Jawad Iqbal of ‘Yasir & Jawad’ on Pashto, folk music, politics | Pakistan Today

Jawad Iqbal of ‘Yasir & Jawad’ on Pashto, folk music, politics

  • Says recording with Gumby was ‘one of the most amazing’ experiences they had as a band

  • ‘We have been working on our first album for a long time now, and have recorded enough music to release it’

Yasir & Jawad use the poetry of Pushtun (Pashto) rebel philosopher Ghani Khan to shed light on the questions, struggles, and emotional tensions facing their generation in Pakistan. Moving between melancholy and exhilaration, between the love of one’s home and hope for profound change, the band, including vocalist Wali Aurakzai, merges the earthy sound of the rubab (traditional Pushtun lute) with rock and electronic elements.

The band comprised of Wali Orakzai on the vocals, Yasir on the traditional rubab and Jawad on guitar. The band came into the limelight with “Uth Records” as the trio astounded the audience with a combination of Pashto folk rhythms and western beats, in the second episode of the venture. Back in 2011, their track “Reid-i-Gul” went viral soon after its release.

Pakistan Today had an exclusive conversation with Jawad Iqbal, who is currently studying in Switzerland.

Pakistan Today – Tell us about the formation and early years of the group ‘Yasir and Jawad’?

Jawad – Yasir and I were studying at Government College University (GCU), Lahore, where we use to play music in our free time as a hobby. Wali joined the university later and at that time he had quit singing. We met him in one of the university functions where, surprisingly, he was supposed to sing a song “Mung ya da khyber zalmi” without music while we were doing the instrumental version of it. We asked Wali to join us and provide us with the vocals and that’s how it all started.

PT – Punjabi music is immensely popular both in India and Pakistan, whereas Pushto music is popular only in Pushto speaking parts of Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Was selecting Pushto a conscious decision on your part?

JD – When the local cable networks started operating their own channels, things got a bit messy. The quality of music was going down and to be honest, the lyrics were pathetic. I still wonder how they track those vocals or whether they are just immune to it now. Maybe it was Nazia Iqbal and co who inspired us, and Ghani Khan’s poetry was our first choice because of many reasons mostly because we could relate to his poetry, considering it was so relevant to what is happening in our country. The corruption and manipulation carried out by our political and religious leaders and the struggles faced by the Pashtuns is what we could see in his poetry. We chose the poems carefully though to capture the overall essence of his poetry and not just focus on one aspect.

PT – Did you guys find an audience in Afghanistan?

JD – Yes, we did. We share our language and culture with them so it was clear that our neighbours will connect to our music. They are going through the same tough time as us, so that was probably the reason we got a following there too.

PT – Tell us about your experience of recording with the drummer Gumby?

JD – It was probably one of the most amazing experiences we had as a band. We were selected for Uth Records and were supposed to spend four days with the producers and sound engineers there to record our debut song. Gumby and Omran were extremely helpful and we learned a lot during those four days. I hope they will come up with a new season of that show soon.

PT – What type of music appeals to you the most?

JD – I enjoy different kinds of music. From contemporary classical music of Ludovico Einaudi to the world music of Tinariwen to rock music from the 60’s and 70’s; I listen to all sorts of genres.

PT – There was a time in the 90s and early 2000s when the music industry was booming in Pakistan; sadly, it all came crashing down. In your opinion, what were some of the reasons behind it?

JD – I think one of the reasons behind the boom was that there were no private music channels before. That changed in the 2000’s when we saw a flux of new bands, who were able to find a platform to showcase their music. Another reason was that there used to be concerts and people would get to know about new bands. But the 2000’s saw a drastic and terrible increase in terrorism in our country; as a result, concerts and shows decreased greatly. Private channels also started airing more foreign content than our local music, which was a hard blow to our industry. However, we can’t entirely blame the music channels because they will play what the people want to see and listen to, and the majority of the population prefer commercial music, which is coming from a bigger industry than ours. There are a lot of bands in Pakistan who are doing great work but, unfortunately, they are unable to get shows, airtime and appreciation from the masses.

PT – Just like the interviewer, you’re also a Ravian. How important has that been for you?

JD – We formed Yasir and Jawad when we were in Government College University, so yes it is a product of that institution. Besides music, GCU is one of the finest places to study. It helped me grow as a person and helped me open my mind, as I grew up in a relatively small city with little to offer.

PT – You are currently studying in Switzerland. What about Yasir and Wali and the future of the group?

JD – Yasir and Wali are working in Pakistan. Both of them have found professions they are satisfied with. Whenever we get time to meet, we make music and record it. We have been working on our first album for a long time now and have recorded enough music to release it. Maybe one last meeting and we can finalise everything.

PT – Reid-i-Gul was very well received by the audience despite it being a Pushto folk track. How proud you and the rest are about it?

JD – Reid-i-Gul was very well-received. We were not expecting this kind of response as the majority don’t listen to this kind of music. It was not commercial enough I would say, but it still garnered enough attention. We are for sure glad that there are people who would listen to music with a message.

PT – If you ever got a chance to collaborate with a European musician, who’d that be and why?

JD – Ideally, Ludovico Einaudi—but the chances of this happening are close to none. But then again, there is no harm in thinking about it.

PT – In your opinion, what is the future of Pushto folk, and folk music in general?

JD- I think because of shows like Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement people are listening to the contemporary versions of folk music, which is great to see. I recently saw a short video on Facebook in which Patari is recording and promoting folk music, and it looked promising. I hope Pashtuns from KP, FATA, Balochistan and across the border will keep Pashto folk music alive.

PT – What is in store for the fans of Yasir and Jawad? Any good news?

JD – An album. Don’t ask me about the dates of release as I don’t know either. But it’s going to be well worth the wait.