Every Sunday, when I watch new episodes of Coke Studio's seventh season, something trivial invariably catches my eye. During the most somber numbers, while the rest of the musicians have serious facial expressions corresponding to the tunes being played, there is one person, the drummer, who is sporting a wide grin. I wonder if it is a tactic — something he came up with to reflect the upbeat nature of his instrument. Only when I met him on a pleasant November afternoon in his band's jamming room in Karachi, did I discover that he doesn't have to force a smile on his face — he is always happy when he plays the drums.
For Aahad Nayani, music has been his calling for as long as he could remember. "My mom loves singing and has a beautiful voice. When I was two, I used to play beat on pillows or whatever I could find. Then, when I was in the fifth grade, I used to play snare drum for my school band." Before long, he was part of a flute band at a local community centre and then a member of the community orchestra, where he learned to play on professional drum sets. At 16, Nayani started playing for a couple of underground bands.
Like any musician in Pakistan would attest, becoming known in the industry, let alone establishing a successful career, is an uphill struggle. Reminiscing about the beginnings of his career as a drummer, Nayani narrates how he used to take bus rides with his instruments to get to his jams and how he had to work at a call centre to support his family through tough times. He also let go of a fully-paid opportunity to study abroad and left his chartered accountancy studies midway because he couldn't manage school along with his music. "Most people, including my father, were against it which is surprising because he himself was a drummer, and I learnt the basics from him."
Nayani does not find Pakistan's music industry a helpful place for young and upcoming musicians. "The old-school mindset that music is not a serious career still exists." Relating the story of his struggles, he explains it is not easy for everyone to make a successful career in the industry. "Apart from talent, which is obviously important, luck plays a huge role." Nayani got lucky, indeed. While playing drums in a television show, he was approached by the judges of the show Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia of Strings with an offer to play for their band. Since then, Nayani has gone on to doing big projects such as Jami's upcoming film Moor and Coke Studio's seventh season besides enjoying commercial endorsements from leading drum brands.
For Aahad Nayani, music has been his calling for as long as he could remember.
Coke Studio is Nayani's first major encounter with Eastern instruments. Having idolised Western legends such as Dave Weckl and Vinnie Colaiuta, playing 24 tracks on solely Eastern beats was a big challenge for him, but the young talent came through brilliantly. He tells the Herald how Ustad Tafo Khan, one of Pakistan's well known musicians, hugged him after a rehearsal and told him, "You have an understanding of metronome."
Not many people know that Nayani was only a year old when Strings released its first album in 1989. But the age difference hardly matters in his relationship with the duo. "I have never felt like an outsider. It is never that the rest of us are at one place and Bilal and Faisal are hanging out on their own. They both are super humble and treat me like a younger brother."
The drummer has big plans for the next year. "I am going to Berkeley for a crash course in music. It has been my dream to go there to study. Almost everyone I have been inspired by has come from Berkeley." He has performed on Berkeley's stage and "was shivering [with excitement] throughout" his soundcheck.
That invigorating smile is a tactic, after all. It keeps Nayani going in the tough field that is the Pakistani music industry. "If you want to enter this field, you have to work really hard and practice really hard," he says.
This article was originally published in the Herald's December 2014 issue. To read more subscribe to The Herald in print.
The writer was a staffer at the Herald.