Hamza Butt – The Scientific Musician
Hamza Butt, a Lahori to the core graduated from Forman Christian College with a BSc Honors in Biotechnology, as a transfer student from University of Hong Kong. Currently he is enrolled in the Masters programme in Biostatistics from University of the Punjab. Both his parents and elder brother are medical doctors while his younger sister is an undergrad student.
With the mention of so much science in various forms, it might be expected that his story will have a highlight in the said field but anyone expecting this is in for a surprise. The reason My Voice Unheard is covering Hamza’s story is because of his exceptional music talent!
In future he plans to professionally work as a biostatistician in the medical or pharmaceutical sector. However, music is always going to be an important part of his life and be plans to keep working on it as well, especially focusing on trying to popularize instrumental and quartet style music among the locals.
Music never ran in their family, however when their parents saw that the kids had potential for musical skills; instead of discouraging it they helped nourish it. Hamza started showing an inclination towards music at the age of five and started off with casual singing performances at social gatherings, including events arranged by pharmaceutical companies. Initially going through the phase of stage fright and not enjoying the process, he stuck through it because of his parents’ persistence. The performances continued which later were accompanied by a keyboard synthesizer that helped me take a step forward in overcoming stage fright during his high school years. During the same period he became the Music Society President at Lahore Grammer School, furthering developing his confidence.
The interesting fact is that there is no professional training involved here. This is all self-taught talent. The closest thing to any formal music education is the literature he himself collects on music history, composers and various playing styles. The focus of his collection is mostly related to orchestral and bowed string music that is violin and viola, instruments which he mostly frequently plays.
When asked as to when music became more than a hobby Hamza shared:
“I first perceived music in a different light whilst I was doing my undergraduate study on a scholarship scheme at University of Hong Kong (2009-11) in Biotechnology. There I studied a semester-long physics course titled “The science of music”. Being a science student, it really intrigued me to study musical instruments from the perspective of sound frequencies, wave patterns and the mathematics behind musical scales and chords that we hear every day. But it was when I transferred to Forman Christian College in 2011 that I decided that I should explore this field more actively, and the Forman Music Society was of great support. A strong motivator came when I was selected as a keyboardist/violinist alongside another amateur musicians in Season 1 of the televised music show “Nescafe Basement” in 2012 under the mentorship of Zulfiqar J. Khan, a leading rock musician from Pakistan.”
One of his recent project is working on a small violin ensemble called “Forman Symphonic Strings” which currently consists of 4 violinists who initially started off as students in Hamza’s introductory class at FC College in 2014.
Even before Nescafe Basement, as a random experiment, in 2011 “Three Musketeers” was formed in collaboration with some friends and guitarists from FC College, Shahrukh and Zaryab. In a casual jam session on two nylon guitars alongside a violin, which until that point was not Hamza’s primary instrument yet. The resulting sound combination clicked and in that session the band came up with the tune of their debut track, “Spanish Alley”.
“As a band, we first performed publicly at events in Forman Christian College arranged by different student societies. We hadn’t even named the band yet, but after a few rounds of performances the name “Three Musketeers” seemed ideal as our characteristic tone was acoustic, dynamic and reminiscent of Latin music style. We did our debut music video for “Spanish Alley” in 2012 which gave a good response, so we have since continued performing at different universities, corporate events to diversify the genres that we incorporate in our repertoire of instrumentals, often exploring trance, hip hop and mainstream pop tracks.”
Hamza is of the opinion that given our rich South East Asian musical heritage, Pakistanis have great potential to develop as musicians, even though at times we face hindrances due to religious and cultural stereotypes in present times. Furthermore, turbulent political situations also adversely affect the prospects of concerts in Pakistan. However, shows like Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement are doing a great job in providing our talented youth and experienced musicians alike, a platform to explore their musical talents.
“Initially it is a bit tough for the amateur musician here since you need to do a lot of free shows to create a potential market for your work. But it is important to remain persistent in the process. It is also important here that budding musicians should keep themselves flexible and open to suggestions so they can cater the audiences better.”
On the issue of brain drain that Pakistan suffers from, his opinion is that it can only be countered if people start to recognize the potential of career options other than the traditional doctor-engineer category that our parents’ generation stuck with. It is important that the benefits of performing arts be thoroughly understood and only then will they be accepted as potential careers.
“I believe that playing orchestral string music instills a sense of harmony, discipline and good manners in individuals. It also proves as a learning experience since understanding principles of harmony allows one to relate other disciplines like physics and mathematics to music. Hence if our people learn to appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of these specialized careers, brain drain would definitely go down. Plus it is also evident that brain drain would decrease if trained individuals are provided more employment opportunities with better returns.”
In the end talking about stereotypes, especially the ones that are associated with our homeland, Hamza shared that his message to the international community is that there is much more to Pakistan and its people that what is sadly highlighted in mainstream media, which mostly revolves around extremism and in general our intolerance to change. The fact that our youth is quite talented and determined to make a positive change in different sectors despite all odds, unfortunately gets sidelined. The international media and community in general needs to focus of such positive stories which are more in number and will not just help change the stereotypes but will also help the people on the ground in spreading their positivity and nullify the negative elements.