Assad Ahmed has had a fetish for rock band Kiss for the longest time. They are icons and he has incorporated their flashy showmanship into his own style. With lustrous long hair that would definitely make it to a Silvikrin ad if he were woman, Assad on stage is the ultimate bad-mad-rocker stereotype. That is why music industry insiders often referred to Awaz as "Eddie, Freddy and the Long Haired Dude". The dude in question has since left the band that gave him his first taste of commercial success. That decision in itself is as much of an enigma as the naturally calm demeanour of this man who does a great impression of a bad boy of rock.
If one follows Assad's career, the reasons why he opted out of Awaz becomes clear. Assad's first stint as a musician was with The Barbarians in 1987. This was the time when the country started lending its ears to rock music. The influence of the "Summer of Love" finally started creeping into Pakistan and the stage was set for a different sound. Bored stiff by the bubble gum pop of the eighties, musicians started listening to harder music and got into Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep whose intense attitude was closer to the approaching angst of the nineties. The Barbarians were a product of this search for a hard, rebellious sound. With the country's return to democracy, the stage was set for young rebels. Many were toting guns, Assad was one of the few toting a guitar. With The Barbarians, Assad unleashed his fury.
His big moment came when The Barbarians participated in the "Rock vs Rock" show at the Taj Mahal and won a shield and 20,000 rupees. It was a lot of money in those days. having struck jackpot, The Barbarians continued playing gigs and making a bit more moolah here and there. In 1989 they appeared on "Music Channel Charts", the first pop/rock music show in Pakistan. In the same year, they released an album called "The Barbarians" with EMI. However, it was a limited edition album because the company thought their sound was too heavy to sell. Those were days when recording companies did not look too kindly on noisy music. By 1990, the disillusioned Barbarians fell apart.
Things have an uncanny way of falling in place for those who don't give up. Later that year Assad did an impromptu jam with Salman Ahmad at a party and by 1991, he started playing bass guitar with Junoon. Thinking that he might have to have an alternate career to counter the instability of being a musician, Assad also started studying business. Perhaps he didn't realise that he had started rolling and wouldn't stop.
Sure enough, he was playing with Junoon in November 1992 at the Marriott in Islamabad when he met Haroon and Fakhir, and also Rohail Hayat of the Vital Signs. He subsequently played on Vital Signs' "Aitebar" album and also recorded with the two people along with whom he would soon form the most successful pop act since the Vital Signs. Awaz was born in December that year and by January 1993 Pepsi had signed them up for a year; the contract was later renewed till 1997. Thus, Assad compromised on his sound and image to be a lone ranger in a cutie-pie boy band. Pop went the weasel.
Awaz came out with their self titled album in 1993. Between then, and 1996 when the band finally parted, they came out with "Jadoo Ka Chiragh" and "Shola" that remain perennial classics of Pakistani pop. Things must have gone well for the band initially. By March 93 Assad had left college and dedicated himself to making money by playing music that was not really close to his heart. By 1996, he had had enough. The long haired dude separated from "Eddie and Freddie", chilled out for the rest of the year and enjoyed the money he made from his foray into bubble gum pop.
After re-energizing his batteries, Assad set up a studio in Karachi in early 1997 and started doing jingles for multinationals like Pepsi and ICI to support himself. He also allowed young bands to avail of his studio and went out of his way to help them out. But he was a musician who craved playing live. He had nothing left to lose. He was free. The realisation made him do a double take and he took a u-turn back to where he belonged.
In August 1997, Assad Ahmed conceived his brainchild Karavan. By 1997, the band released its first rocking album "Rakh Aas". The music was raw and hardhitting, but the long hair was deemed objectionable by the censors. They got limited airplay with the video, but won their own cult following of headbanging hipsters who loved the riffs and ruckus of rock. However, when vocalist Najam Sheraz went off to do a solo album, Assad digressed again. He played with the Vital Signs and then went with them to England for BBC's Mega Mela. He even got back with Awaz for a bit, but left soon after. By 1999, Karavan was happening again with Tanseer Dar on vocals. Assad had realised that nobody was indispensible and nothing is impossible.
"Safar", Karavan's second album was released in January 2000 and they launched their website karavanonline.com. They are coming out with an unplugged album in March and Assad can be seen on Nasir Tehrani's "Rock Music Show" for new television channel Indus Vision jamming with other musicians.
Assad Ahmad finally seems to have found his own off-beat niche within a rather limited industry. Somebody up there must really like rock.Muniba Kamal