Aamad: Sameer Rahat unearths new metaphors of loss in this ravishing debut album
Known for his Urdu Blues, Sameer Rahat’s debut album Aamad delves into various shades of the human experience — sounds, ideas and words that now give respite from the grief and loss that comes with a pandemic
Music, like cinema, has the power to upturn the conventional ideas of society. And that is why this album is here to stay. This might sound like the end of a review, but we are all about subverting things here. Let’s go backwards.
Consider this scenario — a visual that is played out in movies, probably in American ‘rom-coms’ and may be in your own lives too:
It feels like the end of everything. It looks like the end of everything. You are holding a box of several items — except now they are no longer yours. Heavy-hearted but somewhere there is relief — that box has to go. And there is the swap: you return those once cherished items, tokens of love, once belonging to you, back to their owner, the love you have just lost.
This seems a familiar gesture that comes with the loss of love. In the literal sense, tokens and objects that were once gestures of love are snatched back at the end of love, or returned more than willingly.
Why is this a rite of passage for love lost? What is this ritual that helps one move on? The immediate answer coming to mind is to get rid of the pain, not so much the love so-to-speak. Does one need a clean slate in order to start anew?
But what if we can look at the pain, feel it differently? What if loss need not be a fresh start but an acceptance (‘aamad’ after all means ‘arrival’), even celebration, of all that is renewed in its loss: a celebration of the self, what it has gained in its losing, or what it has evolved to be, because loss, and love — the two being different sides of a coin — is more complex than that. Perhaps then the predictability of symbolic rituals is a deliberate diversion from the messy business of human experience and living.
Sameer Rahat’s epic solo debut album Aamad, released early this year, provides a space to make sense of the messiness and complexity, through its poetry of loss. And what better place to explore this than through music and the world of Urdu poetry, a poetic tradition rich in its history of documenting the travails of the world and at its prime center, the human heart.
Aamad shows us different ways of experiencing loss, what becomes in loss: it shows that loss is not necessarily losing.
It is as if you are the protagonist in the movie that is this album, and Rahat lays out the canvas for us. And that is why I allude to cinema while talking music. Aamad is extremely cinematic in its depiction of loss, love and living.
The album is also elaborate in its execution and style, and in the scope of the narrative. One can say it is a folk-rock opera in Urdu! The songs trace the different shades of the self, the heart, the continuous negotiations and reconciliations with our selves as well as the other.
Jo Bhi Hai
In my mind, the first track ‘Jo Bhi Hai’, a beautiful poem written and recited by Sameer is at the center of this narrative.
In keeping with the cultural metaphor of the gesture of giveaways — what if those tokens of love are not something you part with? They are now yours, even part of your identity. In Rahat’s poem:
darwaaze or khidkiyan
ghul gaye hai deewaron mein
aur chat par yadoon ka daera hai
jo bhi hai, mera hai
‘Jo Bhi Hai’ is an alternate philosophy of loss with a new cultural metaphor for the all too familiar motions that come with losing love. Here all that is lost is now yours to keep with ‘jo bhi hai mera hai’.
But this is not to be mistaken for that which is selfish or egotistical, a deluded perusal of the object of love. Far from it; on the contrary, the refrain alludes to the realm of the intangible, memories and experience.
Perhaps then the symbols and rituals have some meaning after all; they are not just crude gestures. They make tangible the pain, where the material world of possessions and physical matter is the very manifestation of loss. But the poem subverts the very idea of possession in love, which changes the very experience of loss itself: jo bhi hai mera hai.
There is something gained in loss and love; pain is held and confronted, cherished; where the material world of shared lived experience now turns to memory, your memories; where memory is loss but as keepsake.
It is a compassionate take on loss and an empowering idea, when loss of any kind can leave one broken, doubtful and helpless. This philosophy of loss is also to say: you still have your own heart!
This idea of abundance in loss is carried throughout the album through the rich, cinematic orchestral arrangement. Here, loss is that vessel that holds the entirety of the experience of love, life and its meaning.
The oud-sounding resonator guitar used in the tracks expresses that absence and longing; but there is a warmth to that instrument, the notes, that again express the presence in absence; the gain in loss. In a sense, the album is a journey of loss, with its many realisations and reconciliations.
With loss comes pain and that is why the album is not entirely an easy listen. It is also not a ‘one-time-listen’ — presuming we sometimes respond to a piece of music in the same way one might to a movie one doesn’t like. It took a couple of times, dipping in and out of the songs, before I listened to the entire album at a stretch.
The process of this album also took about a decade the artist has said. In a way then, in its exploration of pain, the album is also an investigation on time and change and its relation with the self.
It is almost as if the process of listening and creating this album is the time it takes in moving on, step by step, with each song. And not caving in to the pressures of fast output of single releases, Aamad gives testimony to the artistic process, a hat-tip to the age-old album release.
The idea that love and loss is not a neat transaction is once again seen in ‘Khat’ where endings are not necessarily the clean cuts that we’d like them to be. Endings can be left messy or open-ended; it might not be a perfect exchange, an expectation met, or even a mutual farewell. Sometimes, it can be a half-finished letter, or an unsent one: ‘Yeh khat… yeh akhari hai, yeh hai adhura…’
There is another line in ‘Khat’ that goes ‘ban gaye jaise koi aur hi’. ‘Hum Kaun Thae’, a musical adaptation of the poem by the famous Urdu poet Jaun Eliya, reminisces, perhaps even mourns, who or what you were before it all.
‘Hum kaun thae’ is a nuanced track where the self mourns that which is not only something that is outside of oneself but also mourning yourself and who you were.
Those single notes of the piano towards the end are faint traces of you were, are, and still becoming. But there is also an acceptance in change, the foregoing of a self, making you new, with the playful and repeated refrains at the end of the song. This is another compassionate take on loss, making way for hope and possibilities.
There is comfort in Aamad’s world, in spite of the knowledge of the world’s unfairness. And true to Urdu poetry’s subversions and challenging societal norms, ‘Chehre Gehre’ questions the conventions and rituals of the world:
rasmein, dushman hai tere…
kaise jiyega ladega akele
While there are rituals and traditions and norms, there is poetry, which provides a deep space for investigation of human emotion and experience. Aamad holds that mirror up for you.
Why do human beings shy away from looking in the mirror — the aina being yet another metaphor, like poetry — evading their own existence? It is here that Aamad shows deep compassion:
mukhtalif hai… aina bhi
mukhtalif hai… har koi
Loss, and on a deeper level, existence is not an individualistic experience. Just like ‘Jo Bhi Hai’ there are myriad faces, lives, interactions, traces of memory that make you whole in spite of loss. ‘Chehre Gehre’ is about the faces that linger on, not leaving you entirely alone:
yadon ke thaele
gham bhi sare
mil kar hai jhaele
‘Mukhtalif hai har koi’ is the last line of this song made further brilliant with the outstanding orchestral arrangement. But it is these multitudes [mukhtalif, ‘different’] that keep you whole: ‘yadoon ke gehre’.
This song embodies the collective enterprise of grief that is this album. It is a collective mourning but also a celebration of the human experience, of oneself as well as the other — with deep caring and compassion.
The journey of loss that the album traverses leads to ‘aamad’: and we are back at the beginning, the very title of the album. ‘Aamad’ is both the closing and opening of a door; it is arrival and departure; past and future; it is both loss and gain: it is where you are now.
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