Madboy/Mink are everything you imagine them to be: effervescent, opinionated and crazy about each other.
After wrapping up the photo shoot, we headed back to Imaad Shah and Saba Azad’s cosy twelfth-floor apartment in Yari Road. Imaad offered to make us all some tea. He scooted away to the kitchen while Saba, Neville Sukhia – our shutterbug – and I made small talk. A couple of minutes into discussing my everyday Thane-Bandra work commute, a sound extremely familiar and rare at the same time caught my ears.Curious, I peeked inside the kitchen. Mortar and pestle-armed, Imaad was happily crushing away adrak! Hipster much? Not even close. Not even in the old-school-is-cool-again-kinda way.
He returned with what I consider was the most delicious cinnamon-ginger tea I’d ever had. A full mug of it was all that I needed to make that annoyingly rainy day a happy one. As Saba went in and out of the living room, drying her still wet hair and Imaad attended calls on his phone, I stealthily picked up the double-bookmarked book on their window sill – Kaghazi Hai Pairahan by Ismat Chugtai, the feminist Urdu poet from '70s and '80s. When Imaad finished his calls and settled down on the sofa, I asked him, “Imaad, pairahan ka matlab kya hota hai? Kapde?”. “Haan, yes,” he said. Saba offered a more accurate word, “It means attire.” I asked him if they both were taking turns in reading the book. “No, Saba is reading it right now,” he informed.
I don't know why but this duo suddenly won over my heart.
Imaad and Saba formed their disco/funk/jazz/punk act Madboy/Mink two years ago and they are currently playing their longest and most extensive tour, fresh off the release of their second EP, Union Farm. Here are excerpts from my wonderful chat with them:
So guys, how’s the tour going?
Saba: The tour has expanded. We started with four cities and now we are playing nine.
Imaad: Guwahati and Shillong will be our first. The rest of them – Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata – we’ve played before.
Saba: We’re excited to play Cal because we don’t go there often; it’s usually an annual trip. The audience in Cal is nice but very judgy.
Imaad: Yeah…They somehow seem to get our music. Also, there’s something about the people from Cal. I get a lot of fanmail from Cal.
Saba: I remember at our last gig there, there was a guy who stood right at the front, with his arms folded. Throughout the show, he just stared, no nodding, no nothing, but towards the last song, he just broke into a dance. It was quite funny.
How has been the response in the other cities. Do people know your music well?
Imaad: It’s been great. Yeah, people know the lyrics. They are singing along also.
Saba: We’re doing a small experiment these days where we’ve stopped inviting our friends to our gigs, just to see what kind of an audience comes out.
Imaad: There’s been enough time between each release, so people know our music now.
So are you guys working on an album now?
Saba: We want to release a bunch of singles first before the album. We have a lot of… a lot of material, and a lot of it are tracks that might not fit in an album.
Imaad: Some songs, like a sample heavy track, are just stand alones.
Saba: What we are aiming towards now is that we make music/songs that we can play even on a guitar if we don't have our computers.
A lot of electronica artistes struggle with trying to find a sound they can call their own. You guys have been able to do that…
Imaad: Finding our sound was organic process but keeping it great wasn't easy. Not following trends, relying on your musicianship – its challenging to make it well. DIY production isn’t easy when you want to do it well. Now it’s all about wanting to produce better as we go along.
Saba: We are two highly opinionated people; we know what we like and that helps in creating our sounds. One might pigeonhole us into calling us a swing band, or a funk band or a disco band, but we aren’t that. Following an electronic music trend was never a priority. Maybe we won’t ever be in fashion but we will create music that will last and not die out.
Imaad: There’s a strong punk rock mentality. We like to stay punk. Punk is more about the mindset and the philosophy. At the same time we love electronic music, the tasteful side of it. We believe in anarchy, anti-imperialist ideas, maybe anti-establishment also.
Saba: Not maybe, definitely.
What do you think are your biggest strengths as musicians?
Saba: That we’re just the two of us. We don't have to bounce ideas off other people. But because it is just the two of us, it’s also very difficult. That also works against us.
What are the challenges you face as a young band in India?
Imaad: Touring. Sometimes venues are less professional but it gets strenuous when things are particularly bad. Some venues can be hard to deal with.
Saba: Also, being a musician is not about being a musician anymore. You have to pimp yourself out.
Imaad: it’s not the phrase I would use actually…
Saba: Yeah, but a musician has to be active on social media, it's a necessary evil.
Imaad: But we do have management and they do a good job... but we still do a lot ourselves.
Saba: Yes, it’s a nascent scene in India right now, but we are also reaping the benefits of it.
Imaad: We've been through the most enjoyable and hardest part of the journey with Madboy/Mink.
Saba: Yeah like carrying equipment for two kilometres in the scorching sun. But it has made us a better band.
With both of you coming from privileged backgrounds where pursuing creative arts was encouraged, do you think you have a greater responsibility as artistes?
Saba: We are very lucky to have families that support what we do.
Imaad: We are lucky because our parents had to fight in their time and we don't have to do it now.
Saba: And yes, there’s a sense of responsibility. But I know that our parents won’t judge us. If I told them tomorrow I won’t do music, and I want to be a carpenter, they’d say okay you do that. So in a way, there’s pressure then to do well.
Imaad: The idea is to push the envelope through your work. You can’t do that by shouting from the rooftop.
Do you make time for rehearsal?
Imaad: We are trying to become more regimented.
Saba: We are trying to be a little more organised because right now it’s so easy. We’re like, ‘We’ll discuss that over dinner’. And sometimes when we start, we never stop. So now we want to take time out only for rehearsal.
Do your parents love your music?
Imaad: I think they are curious.
Saba: They are curiously amused. My mother is very amused. She’s like: ‘Arrey yeh computer se hota kaise hai’.
Imaad: The one thing they always say is, ‘We couldn't understand the lyrics.’
Saba: Haha, yeah, ‘Kuch samajh nahi aa raha hai’, they say.
Saba: For logistics and stuff, Imaad is damn lazy. But when it comes to production, he’s on the ball. I’m the other way around.
Imaad: I’m lazier because the stuff I do, I do for my own pleasure.
What annoys you most about Saba?
Imaad: That she doesn’t drink coffee.
Saba, what do you love most about Imaad?
Saba: His ability to remain calm in chaos. That’s also very exasperating but.
Imaad, what do you love most about her?
Imaad: I love the way she brushes her teeth.
Saba, who’s the sexiest musician in India? No, you can't name Imaad.
Saba: Oh god! This is a very difficult question.
Imaad: You can say Anu Malik.
Saba: Oh yes, because he totally rocks my boat?
Imaad, who’s the sexiest female musician according to you?
Saba: Match me!!!
Imaad: Suman Sridhar. I think she’s very sexy.
Saba: This is a good answer. She’s a very accomplished musician also.
A slot at Coachella or soundtrack for five Bollywood movies?
Imaad: I’d choose Coachella.
Saba: If they are great movies, then the movies.
Which is the one place you really want to play at?
Imaad: Madison Square Garden.
Saba, who are the most overrated musicians in the world, according to you?
Imaad: Oh! We have a buffet to choose from.
Saba: There are so many. Lady Gaga, Beyonce, the works…all these women who are propped up by a thousand people. And…Kanye West. I’ll stab him man! Someone should just slap him and tie him. You want more?
Imaad: What about Skrillex?
Saba: I wasn’t even going there.
The last question sparked quite a blazing debate. But we did find closure soon, just around the time I licked off the remnants of the last sip of Imaad’s glorious tea from my lips.
Photography: Neville Sukhia