The brainchild of Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan, better known as Xulfi (of EP and Call fame), the project, Nescafe Basement, aims to bring together young musicians, and give them a platform to exhibit their talents

What do you get if you gather together a group of undiscovered musicians, groom them under an experienced mentor, and set them to work in a recording studio? The new music show Nescafé Basement is an exploration of that very idea.

The brainchild of Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan, better known as Xulfi (of EP and Call fame), the project aims to bring together young musicians, and give them a platform to exhibit their talents. “The single most important aim [of Nescafé Basement] is to work towards a better future of Pakistani music, and I started this off for that very reason,” says the initiator of the project.

The Basement sees 15 aspiring musicians hone their talents, write new compositions, and revisit popular pop, rock, and foreign tracks. “The music that we have worked on in the Basement is a mix of originals and some very good local and foreign tunes. But every tune that we have worked on, we have given a fresh new perspective. I guess explaining it in words will not do justice to the real thing, hence I will leave it to the audience to watch and hopefully love it!”

The program’s name references “the basement in the house which is usually the place where aspiring musicians jam”, and also alludes to “all the underground artists, their talent hidden from the world while they strive hard for that elusive break.”

“I believe the best music is created only out of a jam where different musicians are connecting on a level beyond language,” Xulfi explains, “that makes the musical bond all the more special. So The Basement here represents that ideology, that jam and that creation process in which music is not manufactured, it is evolved. And I, along with the Basement artists, have ensured that our music sounds energetic and eventful, where all musicians can jam their hearts out and express what they truly stand for.”

The new musicians showcased in the project come from different parts of the country – from Lahore and Karachi to Khanewal and Chitral – and the process of finding and bringing them together actually spanned Xulfi’s own decade-long career. “During my 11-year-long career in the mainstream music industry, I have produced music for a lot of bands and artists, and most of them are musicians trying to break through,” he says. “Every now and then, I have encountered some amazing musical talent that is either unaware of how to go about expressing their art or is financially constrained. Both ways, their talent remains unrecognized and hidden. Moreover, there is talent that I have seen while judging various music competitions, especially in schools. And then at concerts, I have seen quite impressive opening acts. So Nescafé Basement isn’t a product of a month or two of recruitment of youth for this musical journey. In fact, it is the culmination of my own musical journey where I have realized I need to give something back to the industry that has given me the recognition, the respect, and most importantly the responsibility to make the best effort for discovering the raw but immensely talented musicians our country possesses.”

Xulfi shortlisted a few young musicians that he had met over the years and also auditioned musicians in some colleges and universities to be a part of the Basement. The selection criteria? Pure, unadulterated talent. “I was surprised to see the versatility these guys had in their musical expertise,” he says. The youngsters brought with them a diverse range of abilities; between them, the group can tackle instruments including the tabla, saxophone, flute, mouth organ, harmonium, violin, djembe, and rubab. “What I was looking for in the musicians apart from the music skill and the guts to own the stage was how these people think about music in general,” explains Xulfi. “Their philosophy about creating their own music and their thought process were very important, as people from different musical backgrounds sometimes take a lot of time to gel with each other, but when they do, they have the capability to create magic. That’s why my aim wasn’t to create a band where a singer is in the front singing, but create a team where every musician is equally important, just like it is in a jam. And that’s why you are going to see long instrumental and musical passages in the Nescafé Basement songs.”

The program presents a great opportunity for the newcomers, and Xulfi confesses it has also been a great experience for him as well. “As far as the musical journey goes, this eclipses every musical experience I have ever had,” he enthuses. “Never have I had this much fun creating, composing, and arranging music. Everyone put in their best and honest efforts to make the Basement experience the most memorable one for all of us. The thought that through this, so many musicians, who otherwise would have never come to the surface, will finally be able to get the opportunity and acclaim they deserve is a thoroughly satisfying one. This motive made this experience even more special. And at the end of it all, all of us were like a family; new friendships were formed, musical ideas were exchanged. The true ‘irtiqa’ happened right in front of me, and I was again a part of it. Plus the fact that Nescafé understood the motive and supported this initiative ensured that the Basement becomes a reality.”

So how does Nescafé Basement compare to other sponsored shows, like Ufone Uth Records and Coke Studio? “All these shows have one aim, to contribute effectively to the Pakistan music industry,” reflects Xulfi, “and Nescafé Basement is no different as far as this big picture is concerned. But once you will hear the songs, the difference will be quite obvious. When the music comes out of a jam, it comes out different naturally and that’s how we have created music at the Basement. Plus, the Basement stands for youth; it is a platform where they can express their musical talent wholeheartedly. The show is not showcasing the past or the present of our music scene. In fact, it is the future it is presenting; it is the future it is creating. I, as a composer and arranger, believe that music is not a very complicated art form, and its beauty lies in how simply it has been expressed. So the Basement, in essence, is the return of that simplicity that I feel hasn’t really been in the forefront during the last few years.”

And he hopes the project will not only introduce new talent and help develop the future breed of musicians, but also offer something new and different to the audience. “If I had to define the music that the Basement stands for, then the word that comes to my mind is ‘fresh’. And trust me, you are going to feel the same.”

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