Formed in 2011, Blue Sax is Pakistan’s pioneer blues/jazz band. Based out of Lahore, the band usually follows a blues structure for their songs about social and spiritual themes. With roots in diverse educational and musical backgrounds, Blue sax decided to apply their experiences in the creation of a rich music style which would make them pioneers of a beautiful blend of jazz/blues and eastern classical music which they like to call the “Desi Blues“.
Ink speaks exclusively to frontman Talha Ali Kushvaha.
Bluesax was formed in 2011. I had been playing for years for different bands in Karachi and then went to the US. In 1993, I had moved from New York and Jawad Ahmad, who later became a good friend of mine, was the first established musician in Lahore who gave me the chance to play live in the Jupitars Band owned by Naeem Saeed. I would usually end up with only two or three tracks in any given concert as rest of the songs were not “suitable types” for sax. I had spent few years thinking how I could play more of what I wanted…blues! By 2010, I was completely frustrated and thought of making my own band. That is when I called my friend Salman Bobby, the incredible bass player from the Jupitars fame, to help me start my band BlueSax. I told him that either he plays with me or plays with his life ☺ He transformed from a friend to a “friend indeed”. The year was 2010, but we struggled with equipment and musicians. Finally in 2011 we came up with the final line up of Bluesax with Ali Raza on guitar, Nadeem Tafu on drums and Shahid Ali Khan of the Punjab Gharana on table. Ali Raza later left for his masters and PhD and Steve George joined us and this is currently the composition of the band.
2. How were you first introduced to the genres of blues and jazz?
I was initially into rock but soon heard the blues especially when I went to New York in 1992. That is when I heard jazz and blues and there was no looking back.
3. Which musicians have been major influences on the band’s music?
Eddie Cleanhead Venson, BB King, Ustad Barray Ghulam Ali and Sonny Rollins.
4. Jazz and blues have a very niche audience not only in Pakistan, but globally. Did this every make you second guess your decision to make these the main genres of your band?
Yes it is niche, but no it did not make me question my decision at al. Blues is what I love to hear and play and Bluesax was started exactly because of this reason, so yes it never occurred to me and still does not.
5. The band has often described its music as Desi Blues. Can you please elaborate this term for us?
Desi Blues is what one of our fans on our Facebook page called our music and we somewhat liked it because it does define our music to a great extent. What we do is Blues but not really the Western Blues. These are desi blues, in Urdu with Pakistani styled lyrics and vocals…
6. What kind of audiences come to your live gigs?
Usually Blues lovers and also some curious people who want to find out what the fuss is all about ☺
7. The lyrics of your songs are usually based on a humorous take on social issues. Who writes them and what are the main themes that inspire your songs?
Usually I write the songs…they are more of stories than songs ☺ Our lyrics are based on whatever catches my attention.Themes are usually social and cultural and come out of my teaching and studying history and culture. Examples are “hum mehmaan nahin hain” meaning we as Pakistanis are not guests and if Pakistan has some not so pleasant things then it is our responsibility to rectify them. Then our title song “Babu Blues” is about the colonial brown sahib in most of us and how he affects our lives, “Mehangai” on inflation and “paisa” indicating money effects on our psyche etc.
8. What are some of the best gigs/ performing experiences you’ve ever had?
Usually our private gigs are fun as audience is there to just listen to our music. Gatherings are smaller – 100 to 200 people max but most are interested listeners. We also enjoyed our gig at the launch of the Al-Razi labs and hospitals.
9. Can you please share a playlist of some of jazz songs you recommend for all music lovers?
10. What message would you like to send out to the readers of Ink?
To encourage performing arts activities and events and support bands like ours so we can do more of our music. Unless there are listeners and some money coming in, no art or for that matter any activity including businesses can thrive. Demand for performing arts can only be increased by awareness and taste building by increasing exposure especially of children so that when they grow up, they are able to appreciate and demand performing arts and become great patrons of arts themselves, just like the Maharajas of the olden days. Without their awareness and appreciation of the role of arts in our lives, they would not have supported arts and consequently the classic arts of yesterday would not have reached us as our rich heritage anywhere in the world. People and the government need to come together to support arts and without the right education, this will never happen. People pay for nihari and payay but do not want to pay for live music or theatre because they do not have a mental taste for art… our own education could do it. About time we think of making our own balanced education system and curriculum and give up the currently borrowed education system in Pakistan producing glorified clerks – we can get a glimpse of these glorified clerks in our song “Babu Blues”.
Listen to Blue Sax’s music here: https://soundcloud.com/the-bluesax-band
Their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/bluesax.pk5