Having been a part of the Nescafe family for almost two years now, Sever has demonstrated his vocal skills in various songs, most recently in exquisite renditions of 'Mr. Fraudiye' by Awaz, ‘Nishaan’ by Noori and ‘Larger than Life’ by the Backstreet Boys. Nescafe’s reinterpretation of the Backstreet Boys’ classic required a distinct, husky voice, and who better to serve this role than Sever. A passionate musician ready to march under the rock and roll banner at any time, Sever has been a vital contribution to the show’s recent covers.
In the last few years, the Pakistani music industry has borne witness to a slow and painful demise: it now finds itself stuck in a limbo of inefficiency, neglect and disenchantment, yet eager to regain the fervor and prestige it so gladly owned in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Rising entertainment taxes, political instability and musical intolerance are what most underground musicians cite as the defining causes of the dying gig scene in Pakistan. Altamash seeks to change this through his relentless passion for music, and believes that Nescafe Basement serves as an institutional remedy to this bleak scenario.
That notwithstanding, Sever has not let his other commitments get in the way of his real passion. Having been a popular vocalist for bands such as Keeray Makoray and Saya, he was long known in the underground rock scene before he joined the Nescafe team. He attributes his interest in progressive rock and heavy metal to childhood recollections of western musicians and bands such as Pink Floyd, Freddy Mercury and Ozzy Osbourne. Sever was in fact a guitarist before he began exploring his vocal capabilities, and eventually joined the second season of Nescafe Basement on a friend’s referral, soon thereafter making a prominent mark on the show. He distinctly recalls performing Badshah by Sikander ka Mandar, an underground alternative rock band, for his audition in front of Xulfi, the mastermind behind Nescafe.
In hindsight, Sever concurs that he made a wise choice by sidelining his skepticism over joining the Nescafe team on the possible grounds of it being a mere “commercial hub”. “Nescafe is like a family – it promotes a friendly environment where people get to know each other and widen their exposure to music”, Sever exclaimed while retrieving fond memories of his time there. He added that, thanks to Nescafe, numerous eastern musicians have also made it to the big stage in Pakistan.
Sever was also keen on objecting to the monopolization of Pakistani music by a handful of artists, who are driven by the quest for fame, recognition and money. For the 22-year-old, music knows no bounds, and is the only thing that truly sets him free. “It is like an expression for me – whatever I do is based on the grounds that it might also have some impact on the wider community”, said Sever. However, many new artists do not appreciate this aspect of music, and are straying along dangerous paths in the business by ripping off the very authenticity that music is supposed to guarantee. In a degrading environment where albums are being replaced by commercial singles, people need to be reminded of the once-flourishing industry by evoking in them unfeigned emotions through music. All hope is not lost, however. Sever recognizes that projects such as Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement aspire to embark on this much-needed, transformational journey to downplay the hierarchal and exclusionary tendencies of Pakistan’s current music scene.
Drawing parallels between Nescafe Basement and Coke Studio, Sever explains how the former restricts performances to covers of popular artists and bands such as Sajjad Ali, Noori and Jal, whereas the latter goes a step further by creating its own music. However, it makes little sense to compare the two projects, as they were meant to address different themes. What sets apart initiatives such as Nescafe and Coke Studio is the simple fact that the performers work from the heart, experiment with different genres of music along the way, and do not expect any fame or recognition out of it. This is perhaps the very reason why they have generated such a large following: people appreciate the genuineness in their music.
Such are the circumstances that ground not just Altamash, but many similar aspiring underground musicians in Pakistan today. These brilliant minds are often unable to reach their potential due to societal norms, which dictate a conventional and rigid approach to success. Sever finds a positive force in music and arts, and tries to re-imagine the world in a different, brighter light through his vocals.
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