Lahore: “I wasn’t part of the first video by EP as my family initially didn’t accept my career as a professional musician,” says Waqar Ahmed Khan who, along with a few friends, launched Entity Paradigm (EP) in 2000 – Lahore’s most famous underground success story. Waqar tried his best to conceal his band from his family. At concerts, he would wear hooded sweatshirts and for band pictures he would pose backwards.
His life wasn’t always this complex. “Throughout my school and college life, I wanted to be a soldier,” says the drummer who grew up in Rahim Yar Khan and Lahore. “I even applied, but couldn’t get through and I am so glad, because if I had, I would not be here.”
A few months after his father’s demise, his life changed completely. “I was 19 and at a college performance when I discovered the acoustic drum kit. I was amazed by the sound the drum added to the rest of the music. It was love at first sight!”
These days, when Waqar is not behind a drum set, he is often seen air drumming to songs or creating a five-piece drum set with his knees and a nearby table. Looking at him now it is hard to imagine Waqar’s life before he discovered his love for drumming. “Once I had my own kit, I practiced every day for two hours. It was a slow and painful learning process,” he recalls. “It was my passion for the instrument and its sound that kept me going.”
As the youngest of six children, he often worried about his family discovering his secret life. “My first big performance was at the Alhamra Cultural Complex; my hooded sweatshirt wasn’t enough to hide my identity from my brother,” says Waqar, as he recalls the embarrassing ordeal. “It was bad,” he says while laughing, “But I understood where they were coming from; they wanted me to focus on my career and live a respectable life.”
Balancing two careers has led to many ups and downs. “I was accepted in a Masters program in Australia to study telecom networks. I worked two jobs to put myself through university,” says the musician. “One was carrying heavy boxes up five stories every day.” But that didn’t mean he let his music suffer. “When I was in Sydney, I worked with bands playing the bar circuit. It was one huge experience in itself. Good times!”
After completing his degree, Waqar returned to Lahore, even though his family had immigrated to Canada by then. “The first year was incredibly tough especially without my family. It was a great time for music in Pakistan and my being away had really set me back.”
He started working at a telecom company and spent his evenings rehearsing. His efforts paid off. “I think Ali (Azmat) saw me performing at a concert at Peeru’s Café. Later he saw me at another gig. That’s when he came to the stage, called out to me and said ‘Bohot ala!’(very impressive).” A few months later Waqar got a call from Ali Azmat for a concert in Karachi. “I was really nervous as was the band and the manager! But it went really well and we started touring together after that. Playing for Ali Azmat’s band was like a dream come true.”
Aside from Ali Azmat, Waqar has also played with the Mekaal Hasan Band, Call, Jal and continues to play with his band EP.
Waqar continues to work at a telecom company as he rehearses in the evenings along with touring around the country. In 2010, the restless drummer also launched a gourmet burger business in Lahore called Wacky’s. The company caters at events in schools and universities, and also stocks at some stores.
Performing internationally is something he would like to do but visa restrictions, among other things, make it difficult. “I really love living in Lahore and I know the music scene won’t be the same anywhere else.”
On March 15th , by reintroducing NOC requirements for traveling artists, the interior ministry has created yet another obstacle for artistes. The last time an NOC was required by Pakistani travelers, the world was a very different place. Pakistanis were easily issued visas in the 1980s as terrorism had not marginalised all Pakistanis traveling internationally. At that time, the main hurdle was the humiliation many artists endured from the local government when requesting travel permission.
However, 2011 is a new era. And the NOC and its impacts on the future generation of artists have aroused many worries. By creating hurdles for those few who want to be known as Pakistani and represent Pakistan internationally, many wonder how our next generation of hard working children will be motivated to live and serve the country.
But Waqar remains optimistic. Overcoming hurdles is only part of the process. Remembering how his family eventually came around to accept him and his desire to pursue music professionally, Waqar proudly says his mother is now his biggest fan.