Music | Performance
Louis John Pinto is no mystery as his low-profile might deceive one to think. At 33 years of age, two decades of which have been spent strumming in the lil Pakistan music industry, Pinto knows the ins and outs of life and what makes it click for him. As you chat with him, his directness at first takes you aback but then as the conversation moves from friends, families, dictatorship, image and being a minority (“that’s such a cliché here in Pakistan” he will tell you without missing a beat) you mildly appreciate the matter-of-factness, pride and zero-tolerance level. In fact, you can’t help but grin and nod your head in agreement when he confesses to being “cynical” and a “sarcastic Susan”.
Indeed, his imp-like appearance – sallow cheeks, an uber-lean frame, scraggy stubble, and lax shoulder length hair that haven’t seen the sight of a straightening iron recently – belies the energy house he is on stage and in real life. But considering “I want my work to speak for myself rather than hogging up the spotlight and being everywhere” this isn’t out of character. In fact, he is one of the few people in the music industry who are known for being anal when it comes to professionalism: punctuality, payments and endless jam sessions and deadly silences as storm upon storm of controversies rage on for his fallouts with famous groupies, be they Junoon, Awaaz or Noori, “whom [I] had considered to be family”.
A perfectionist to the core, he doesn’t let you off the hook easily without reminding you repeatedly: “I would like to be remembered as someone who always put out stuff of good quality. It’s not about your image, it’s about your respect as a musician. I don’t want someone coming up to me and saying, “your last performance was pathetic.” In fact, I can’t remember the last time someone said I played bad,” he says wryly.
Lest one forget, Gumby’s sole wart is his vitriolic temper that can flare at the merest of slights. In fact when one enquires about the apologetic note on Ali Noor’s blog, he caustically delivers this: “I don’t know what he [Ali Noor] is trying to get: publicity or sympathy. I am not quite sure. I’ll forgive people if they deserve it. That incident, what happened between me and Noori that was three years ago. Did it take him three years to decide to write me an apology, didn’t he know 3 and a half years ago he made a mistake?” And it ends at there — this is generous considering he declined to comment on the issue completely three years back.
Starting small, literally speaking, at the age of six when he played at a community function, it was in 1989 as a 13-year-old that he first jammed with the likes of Aamir Zaki and Junaid Jamshed. And though there was no fan following for the hard-core drumming that he wanted to do, Gumby was undeterred. In 1992, he joined Milestones working with Candy Pereira and Ali Tim before he quarreled with them. 1992 saw his mellowing at the Sheraton Lobby Band but four years of that and he scooted to his roots. In 1999 he joined Junoon, touring the world with them and working on the hit Ishq album, but fell out soon, and then joined Awaaz, parting ways with them not long after. In 2003 he joined Noori as their drummer, drummed his heart out in Suno Kay Mein Hoon Jawaan but completely in character left them in 2006.
Amid all the transits, he continued independent collaborations with other artistes most prominent among them being the Meekal Hasan Band, with whom the genius Sampooran was composed. 2008 saw him working with Zeb and Haniya on Chup, Ali Azmat’s off-beat album Klashnifolk and Strings’ Koi Aanay Wala Hai”. And he continued flying solo this year as he worked wonders at Coke Studio.
Music is relative and you can’t argue about it. There have been journalists who lambasted musicians for signing up deals and accused them for the deteriorating standard of music being produced. But I ask: who are you to judge whose music is good or bad. You don’t judge anyone’s music: you like it you like it you don’t then you just don’t. Music can either be justified emotionally or technically.
Of course, education had been dispensed of so much earlier on, with him barely finishing his high school from Saint Paul’s Convent. “I told my mother that I don’t want to study and want to take this on. In the beginning she wasn’t supportive but after some time she supported my decisions,” he says without any regret.
He though does admit that the ride to the top has not been smooth. “You know ours is a confused society, we don’t know if we want to accept music as halal or haram. So government policies do affect us. For instance, when Nawaz Sharif banned Junoon, at that point it hit us: wow, a government can just come and clamp down on music. When I started off, [it was post-Zia] but music wasn’t accepted let alone drummers and I pretty much revived drumming. That was a very difficult time for me to prove to people that this is how drums are supposed to be played and make them appreciate it. That’s when I got my first break with Mekaal Hasan… there were many studios but none of them recorded drums. Mekaal Hasan was the first one.”
He says the paradox in the society exists because music doesn’t pay as much. “It’s hypocritical and shallow, but if music was a regular paying job, most people would accept it.”
Performing with artistes from varied genres, he doesn’t discern music into “good” or “bad”. “Dekhain jee, music is relative and you can’t argue about it. There have been journalists who lambasted musicians for signing up deals and accused them for the deteriorating standard of music being produced. But I ask: who are you to judge whose music is good or bad. You don’t judge anyone’s music: you like it you like it you don’t then you just don’t. Music can either be justified emotionally or technically. Some person listens to Paapi Chuloo, while another person might listen to John Codroy. I can’t shoot the person who likes the former.”
He does admit that it is easier to be a musician now with the media boom, accessibility of instruments and many other facilities that were nit available then. In fact, Gumby plans to convert his jamming pad into a recording studio.
But just when you think here is an enlightened young man who would uphold all that was right, comes the bust when he unapologetically professes to be a supporter of danda-giri and takes pains in explaining his supporting argument, of course generously peppered with his pet peeve “dekhain jee”.
“When we talk about leadership, you have leaders and followers – there is no one who is superior or inferior. Democracy is a great thing as the people choose is what they deserve but how do they know what they deserve. There are times when a dictator is more effective than a democracy. I support Musharraf because in Rome do as the Romans do. If a nation needs someone to dictate them, so be it.”
Clearly, an extension of his own personality which also borders on the dictatorial: “I don’t believe in gray areas as it eliminates a lot of other problems. It’s a yes or no, there is no maybe. I am very particular about these things. I believe someone who cannot respect other people’s time and work has to be let go – it is not my problem. When my dictator nature comes into play, there is no way around it.”
“My mother always told me: ‘Don’t show off your things but show what you can do with it.’ You don’t have such issues when you have worked hard and built it up, you have a different approach to life.”
But with all this attitude that borderlines pomp and circumstance, he never once winces from telling his times doing the otherwise “low jobs” when he could easily spend hours dropping names of industry bigwigs left, right and centre.
In fact, he tells you with great pride that he played at weddings well into his career, even as others in the industry will dissociate themselves from any such act. “Here’s a thing: if someone plays a band at Muslim wedding they are treated differently. But when a Christian or Parsi wedding takes place and a band is performing there, it’s of a different stature. Music is an integral part of our community, we treat it differently. When you play for weddings, you are of a different league, respected differently, and known differently,” he explicates.
“The Muslim community has never understood it. So initially when I was enquired by my contemporaries in the industry very condescendingly, “Oh, so you played at weddings.” I never shied away from admitting it.”
Gumby also credits his mother, who brought him and his sister up as his father had passed away while she was still pregnant, for instilling these values in him.
“My mother always told me: ‘Don’t show up your things but show what you can do with it.’ You don’t have such issues when you have worked hard and built it up, you have a different approach to life.”
Despite being a formidable name in the industry, Gumby acknowledges the fickle nature of the business: “I am as dispensable to others as they are to me. I work hard to maintain standards and if someone can’t cope up, I let go of him.”
Though he doesn’t force himself at every get-together or has his pictures splashed in glossies, he is very conscious of his image. “I feel it is the safest thing to do it’s always good to have space. I shut people away when I need to. I am a people person but there are days when I want to just play music or be alone. I only socialize with people who I know. I guess I am a very demanding person when it comes to work and friendship. I can be a great friend and an even greater enemy.”
A perfectionist to the core, he doesn’t let you off the hook easily without reminding you repeatedly: “I would like to be remembered as someone who always put out stuff of good quality. If I go to a party tomorrow, I don’t want someone to say: “Oh god, that guy did that cheesy ad” or “remember that shit song he played.” It’s not about your image, it’s about your respect as a musician. I don’t want someone coming up to me and saying, “your last performance was pathetic.” In fact, I can’t remember the last time someone said I played bad,” he says wryly.
This profile was first published in the August 2010 issue of the Herald magazine