Hear Hyderabad Fingerstyle Guitarist Akram Ul Haq’s Intricate New Album, ‘The Catmaster’
The artist opens up about the journey to completing his debut record, which incorporates everything from metal to acoustic guitar and western classical, and talks about taking his music to South America
As far as intriguing album cover art and titles go, Hyderabad guitarist-composer Akram Ul Haq went one up on a lot of indie artists when he released his debut LP The Catmaster last month, which features an anthropomorphized, cigarette-smoking black cat wearing plaid and toting a guitar across its back.
Ul Haq – who began writing music as a solo guitarist in 2015 after a few years in the metal scene in Hyderabad – assures us there’s a “big story” behind the choice of album title and his affinity for cats (his Instagram handle is @whoisthecatmaster). He relates his belligerence towards authority as something that “reflects very well in cats.” Ul Haq adds, “You cannot be a master to cats, in fact they are the master and you are at their service.” There’s an added layer that can be interpreted as commentary on masters and people in positions of authority, but sonically, the eight-track album takes on trembling, serene and emotional guitar melodies with occasional percussive elements.
The 10-and-a-half-minute title track, especially, sees Ul Haq incorporate seemingly Carnatic guitar playing, as the intensity ramps up. Originally intended to be recorded in 2019, the guitarist-composer says he was juggling responsibilities at home, including being a primary caregiver for his ailing mother. “Added to that, the pandemic hit. I wrote few songs during that time. One of the songs that came about was ‘Passing Through the Dreams.’ That song came to be so close to my heart that I wanted it to be part of my first album,” Ul Haq adds.
As much as intricate guitar melodies are at the center of the eight-track album, Ul Haq says he chose to move away from “technical aspects and solely rely on emotion” while composing. Wholly instrumental and averaging at five minutes per track, The Catmaster can be a mesmerizing experience for those who give it their undivided attention, with each song title offering some kind of “allegorical or literal” meaning according to the artist.
As someone who went on to study western classical music and other styles after initially being a metal riffsmith, Ul Haq feels that “expression comes after a certain level of knowledge is achieved.” He adds, “Music for me is a medium for expressing an idea or emotion, but the tools and the styles have changed over time.” With the release of The Catmaster CDs and the full album on streaming platforms, the artist incidentally traveled to Colombia for a personal visit and ended up performing an intimate show in June.
There’s a performance video from studio sessions expected to be out for “Passing Through The Dream,” while one for the percussion-aided “Ataraxia” is already up on YouTube. Ul Haq adds about shows, “I am not planning anything at the moment, but I am in Latin America for a few more months and I am hoping to perform in a few countries while I am here, traveling. I am also writing some new music that I hope to record once I get back home, or while here.”
Watch the video for “Ataraxia” below. Stream ‘The Catmaster’ here.