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East Side Story To Release New Single This Month

How an art director with an ad agency and a middle-aged corporate lawyer are driving a folk blues band in Pakistan

Megha Mahindru Mar 06, 2013
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East Side Story

East Side Story

The odd thing about Lahore-based Punjabi folk blues band East Side Story, comprising Tariq Yousaf Gujjar, who goes by the stage name TG King, and Casim Mahmood, is that they have never performed on stage. What’s even more curious is that the duo managed over 10,000 hits within three days of releasing their debut music video last year.  “We were overwhelmed by the response and for the first time, it felt like we were on to something,” says Mahmood, an advertising industry professional, who has previously played for a blues rock band Rooted In Miles in Lahore.

Titled “Daaru Di Botal”, their debut song seems like an unlikely hit and has surprisingly faced no ban in a nation where alcohol consumption has been prohibited since 1977. “”˜Daaru”¦’ was written by a friend of Tariq’s in 2005. It took us many years to hit upon a unique sound for the words. We wanted to take our time with it because it was to be our first single and would define the direction of the band in many ways,” says Mahmood, adding, “We did not encounter any problems with the lyrics of the song as we live in the age of “Sheila Ki Jawaani” and such. The music listening population in Pakistan is open-minded enough to understand that it is just a metaphor.” While songwriting isn’t the band’s biggest strength, it’s corporate lawyer-turned-singer TG King’s dry yet striking vocals and Mahmood’s  Dobro resonator guitar that bring the sound of Punjabi folk and American blues together and set apart East Side Story’s compositions. Says Mahmood, “Blues is storytelling, news of the day. So is folk. Our themes are just that. Nothing new.”

While East Side Story was formed only in 2012, Mahmood and TG King met eight years ago through a common friend. “Both of our respective folk and blues backgrounds impacted what we brought to the table. The two worlds blended naturally and effortlessly when we met and started to jam together,” says Mahmood.  Their last release, “Mela” features a rendition of Punjabi artist Asa Singh Mastana’s song “Mele Nu Chal Mere Nal” with blues and reggae influences. Snapshots of Bob Dylan and Chuck Berry form the backdrop of the music video that features a girl who wants to attend the local fair. “The song has a happy and positive feel, but also addresses how the girl can’t really go to the fair although she wants to. It presents a promise in a situation that ultimately did not come to fruition,” says 33-year-old guitarist.

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Incorporating blue riffs and traditional Punjabi folk, Mahmood is seen juggling a guitar, tambourine, ukulele and harmonica. “I have three resonator guitars. One I got from Bangkok, another from France and the third I bought from a friend who got it from the States,” he says, adding, “My strength is the slide guitar but I like to experiment with many instruments and plan to keep introducing new instruments to the mix to our coming tracks.” Though barely two songs old, the band has won the support of American slide guitarist Bob Brozman, who regularly posts feedback on their new releases. “We sent him the work and he responded with a lot of generosity. Since then, we have been in constant touch with him for guidance and feedback,” adds the multi-instrumentalist Mahmood.

Even as highly renowned groups such as Mekaal Hasan Band and other upcoming bands like Qayaas from Pakistan have complained about the lull in the Pakistani independent music scene and the lack of gigging venues, East Side Story, formed barely a year ago, seems to have come up with a solution. Instead of relying on gigs to raise money for albums and music videos, the Punjabi folk act has been releasing new material by putting out low-budget videos online every few months. “Right now it seems like music videos are pretty much the only way to get noticed. The idea is to get the music to the audience in the best way possible. In that regard, the visual interpretation of the music and the words is key. We try and keep our videos high on concept, but ultimately they are low-budget videos,” says Mahmood, who has been relying on friend-director Ammar Rasool for the videos. “He does not charge us for the work but the production costs come to about three lakhs a video.” Though East Side Story is yet to land a gig, there have been few performances at radio stations, which may not be the same as a stage show, but have managed to reach a newer audience. 

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Up next, the two are adding final touches to their upcoming single, “My Darling,” their first song that addresses the socio-political scenario in Pakistan. “Given the times that we live in, it would be heartless of any artist to completely ignore the harsh realities of present day Pakistan. Our upcoming song addresses that in our own unique way,” says Mahmood. “At a larger level, it applies to wherever there is suffering of a certain kind. The video is a concept-based one and does not show the band playing at all. It was shot in Lahore over three days. It is going to be a song that will comment on the immense pressures the Pakistani society finds itself under and how the common man suffers in the extreme.” East Side Story plans to launch the video this month.

Watch “Mela” here: 

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