Around the tail end of the 90’s, this band called Awaz came to my school in Quetta. Some of you might not know this, but Awaz was a pretty big deal back then. I was around 6 or 7, sitting in the audience with my parents. Yes, it was one of those families-only type concert. Anyway, the band comes on stage and for the rest of the show, my eyes are on this tall chap with long hair wielding a double-neck Carvin electric guitar who was just IN THE ZONE as he played. It was the coolest thing imaginable at the time.
The guitar wielding chap is Asad Ahmed and he has a very interesting career trajectory
Before ‘Awaz’ he was in Pakistan’s very first hard rock band “The Barbarians”.
This was back in the late 80’s when Glam Metal was at its peak in the West. Inspired by the music of Kiss, Van Halen, and Aerosmith, these young lads from Karachi decided to start something of their own.
You had Jamal Afridi on vocals and bass, Keith Venantious on Rythm guitars, Waqar Jaffery on Keyboards, Nabeel Sarwar on Drums and Asad Ahmed on bass. And here’s a fun fact: guitar legend Amir Zaki also played with the band every now and then. In fact, Asad Ahmed actually credits Amir Zaki for teaching him the basics of soloing on the guitar.
Having heard about this band here and there and not finding much on the internet, I decided to find out by going directly to the source.
” The Barbarians was a high school band,” said Asad ” I must’ve been 16 at the time”
Like most bands, The Barbarians started as a cover band. The very first gig they did was at the Village restaurant for which they had to learn around 200 tunes.
“They paid us Rs 500 and all you can eat”, said Asad. If you take into account inflation coupled with them being 16-year-olds at the time, these guys struck quite a deal. At that time, gigs such as these happened quite regularly. Hard to believe this all happening during the Zia era. “They hadn’t blown up that plane then”, as Asad eloquently puts it.
He went on to explain that things were pretty chill in terms of security as far as concerts were concerned. It was in 1989 things began to seriously pick up for The Barbarians.
“Somewhere along the way, we met Ghazanfer Ali who offered to put us on television” recalled Asad. The only catch is that the band had to produce an original song. Pretty soon they went on to record an album that was released a year later under the EMI label with a limited number of copies.
During this time the band was performing every weekend. In fact on some shows, Strings actually opened for them. “They had this sequencer that would play all the music over which they sang,” said Asad.
Soon after, The Barbarians decided to pack up and call it quits. ” Everyone had to go to college”, Asad put it simply. “The Barbarians was something we never took seriously”. Adding that none of the members including himself were ‘great musicians” back then. To put it simply, he isn’t exactly proud of his earlier work.
And just like that, Pakistan’s first hard rock band’s journey came to an abrupt end.
All in all The Barbarians was just a small chapter in the storied music career that has come full circle in some ways with the release of his solo album
Following the band’s disintegration Asad worked with a variety of mainstream acts including Vital Signs, Junoon, and Awaz. He went on to form Karavan later on while also collaborating on different projects including Coke Studio and playing sessions for Ali Zafar.
This year he has come out with a solo instrumental album called Rebirth. “During tours with Ali Zafar, I had started recording demos,” he says.
Asad went on to add that he initially wanted to make an album in English that was meant for the Western market. However after carrying out a series of meeting with a variety of producers in the U.S he opted to keep it instrumental.
“They told me that a certain level of prejudice was associated with a Muslim name singing in English”.
Unlike typical guitar albums that have a virtuoso vibe that is an amalgamation of speed and technicality, Rebirth is more melody oriented
“I never wanted to be Steve Vai or Joe Satriani,” he said, “While in my initial years I wanted to shred as fast as I can, later on, my style skewed towards blues and jazz”.
In Rebirth the tracks are structured like songs the only difference being that the vocal melody is played on guitar. Rather than showing off his chops, Asad is speaking his heart out on the album.
The response to his new album in the West, according to Asad, has been better than expected. Asad hopes to expose another local guitar player Faraz Anwer to the Western market through signing him with EMI.
” I believe we are the only ones who can help each other out at this stage.”