Farhad Humayun

Multi-instrumentalist, producer, and pillar for Lahore’s music scene – Farhad Humayun – passed away tragically at the age of 42.

Humayun was one of the icons of the Indus Music era of the early 2000s. This time period in Pakistani pop music is memorable for a rock-based sound. Much rock and pop that was produced during this time, was constructed around the structure of a rock band. There weren’t that many drummers in this scene, and as a result the best ones played for everyone and became the pulse of the music industry in more than just literal terms.

Humayun played with 90s rock bands Coven and Mindriot, before playing with acts like Noori in the early 2000s. His crowning achievement perhaps, was the creation of Overload. Humayun also featured on Coke Studio, both as a featured artist as well as a member of the house band. In the Coke Studio era, Humayun’s own production worked zigged when everyone was zagging. I look back to live sessions, hosted independently or with Levi’s, and an electronic-sounding Pepsi Smash. In totality, Humayun’s work represents a fierce independence, a boldness of vision, and desire to invest in the infrastructure and foundation of the music industry.

Mindriot, which Humayun started, was named after a Soundgarden song. Humayun later founded a production company called Riot, and riot is an appropriate word to describe the desired effect of Humayun’s music. This is eminently visible in the work of Overload, a percussion-based band who’s entire thesis of existence is to be louder than everything else.

Overload was an incredibly important contribution to the trajectory of Pakistani music. It illustrated that people would listen to different things. In an industry where the vocalist remains prime, Humayun turned the whole idea on its head by centering the music around the beat. What became clear was something that should not have been a surprise to anyone to begin with, young people like to dance to loud things. This resonance with an audience seemed central to Humayun’s approach, and when one looks back at his interviews it is clear that he maintains a deep respect for those that choose to listen to his music. Despite his knowledge and experience, Humayun understood that performances were in service to the audience, which meant that whatever he did would rarely be boring.

Commendation is also due to Overload for being one of the more influential vessels for crossing boundaries of class in Pakistani music. The coming together of English-medium and Urdu-medium with Overload – in the collaboration between Humayun’s drums and Pappu Saein’s dhol – is one of the big moments in this boundary being crossed successfully in Pakistani music. Mohammed Ali Shehki’s breakthrough song with Allan Faqir, Salman Ahmed bringing Nusrat’s Qawwali into Led Zeppelin’s hard rock, Shafqat Amanat Ali’s eastern classical vocal adorning a modern Western pop sound, and lately Talal Qureshi’s transformation of Naseebo Lal’s vocal into an EDM anthem – were huge moments in the sort of thinking they opened up. Overload deserves to be credited in this list.

I’ve attempted to collect some tributes on Twitter and in Hamnawa’s Instagram Stories, and am attaching below an early, iconic Overload recording. Rest in peace Farhad Humayun.