His journey to where he is now has been a long, laborious one with its own share of publicised drama. Here this somewhat low-key drummer talks about being big, why he chooses to lie low and how he feels about his fallout with Noori.
He’s a drummer whose celebrity is as strong and enduring as any other vocalist or front man. He’s played with some of the biggest acts in the country (Junoon, Noori, the Mekaal Hasan Band and Ali Azmat, to name a few) and has considerable experience performing abroad, including collaborating with foreign artistes (the Norwegian band Fryd is the most recent example).
Although he’s been actively working in the industry for a little over two decades, Louis John Pinto (Gumby as he is popularly known) maintains a very low social profile. But that doesn’t stop him from being one of the most published musicians in the country.
Gumby has an unassuming presence in person, but the truth is he’s anything but that. His slim frame carries a powerhouse energy that erupts when he’s performing on stage, or when he’s angry. There are very few things that push this otherwise placid musician over the edge. The big no-nos include not touching his drum set without permission whether he is around or not; not lying, cheating, stealing or taking him for a ride. The rules are simple enough.
We’re at his place at the time of this interview. Gumby seems to be in a somewhat reflective mood. “I don’t like being in the press too much for various reasons,” he says about keeping away from the media spotlight. “I’d rather let my work speak for itself. Most musicians feel that every time they’re in a magazine, newspaper or on television they’re in the public eye. I think it’s more important to have you work put out so people will discuss you because of it. It’s the primary reason you are here in this industry — being a musician and wanting people to listen to your music.”
He reinstates, “It’s always good to keep a certain kind of mystery going when you’re a public person. Someone asked me a question some time back: Tell me five things that your fans don’t know about. I responded by telling her that I only let my fans know things that I want them to know, and I’d rather have them know me because of my music. My personal life is my personal life.”
Respected by his peers and contemporaries alike, Gumby may not be a social butterfly but this musician works hard, very hard. In this past year alone he’s recorded over seven albums (Jal’s Boondh, Strings’ Kohi Aaney Wala Hai, Zeb & Haniya’s Chup, Ali Azmat’s Klashinfolk, the Mekaal Hasan Band’s Andholan, Kaavish’s Gunkali, Abbas Premjee’s Elements), with several more bodies of work in the pipeline. “Those eight albums speak for themselves because one album is completely different from the other,” he says. “Whether it’s Ali Azmat’s or Kaavish’s or Maryam Kizilbash’s, or it could be Abbas Premjee’s album… there’s so much diversity that anyone who listens to my work will know my diversity as an artiste. And like I said, fans see your work as a reflection of your personality.”
Other than the lead vocalist who conventionally acts as the front runner, musicians don’t really come into the spotlight. “For most hard-earned musicians their aim is not to be the front man, it never has been. I don’t think if you pull out any bands like the Police or Rush or, you know, Bela Fleck — the band is named after the guitar player. Most people know the band because of the bass player. The aim is never to…”
But considering the way bands are looked at locally, I ask, interrupting him. “The thing is that the Pakistani mentality will have to change at some point and the question is are you the person that is going to make the difference? When I joined Noori I didn’t chose to be the front man. I’m generally quite shy in public, I can be a lion around my friends but when I’m on stage, I’m a mouse.”
Except when he’s playing the drums. “Yes. As long as I’m playing my drums, I’m fine. But if someone were to ask me to say something on stage, I’ll be very nervous because I’m not that kind of person.”
What a lot of people aren’t aware of is that Gumby is a very good guitarist. In fact, one remembers him trying to teach Ali Hamza how to play bass several months prior to Noori going in to record their second album, Peeli Patti Aur Raja Jani Ki Gool Duniya. “I didn’t really teach him,” laughs Gumby, adding, “I just showed him how to practice a couple of bass lines.”
At that time Gumby also had a music room in a local educational institution where he began giving drumming workshops. But coming to his guitar playing, it is in complete contrast to his high-powered drumming as it is more mellow and soulful. What’s more, he learnt it from the revered but reclusive guitar maestro, Aamir Zaki, some 15 or so odd years back. Gumby is also quick to attribute that he also got into hardcore jazz by Aamir. He considers the latter to have influenced him greatly during the early days of his career.
The fact that he is considered by almost everyone both inside and outside the music industry to be one of the most accomplished drummers in the country, has he come across any other drummer who he thinks will follow in his footsteps? “Yes. I see this as an ever-growing process,” he says about the growth of an artiste. “Even now, at this point in time, people label me as a certain status musician, but I still feel like I’m learning. It’s not a race, it’s just a choice on how far and how fast you want to go. Some people take time while others learn it quickly… there’s no hurry.
“I don’t see the point why one would compare me to other musicians, whether as a bass player or a guitar player. If someone can execute something great, then that’s great and if they can’t then better luck next time. If I were to see a musician playing very well, I wouldn’t feel bad about it. If that person can do it so can I, and I could probably do it better. So it’s more of a question of you put up or you shut up.”
One recalls that Gumby’s fallout with Noori literally exploded into a media mess. It was reported left, right and centre, and Ali Noor gave a few statements to the print and electronic press. What I personally found odd was how the website mentioned that Mandana Zaidi (Noor’s wife) was supposed to replace Gumby as a DJ-artiste. In the meantime, Gumby kept a low profile and didn’t talk to the press. One recalls him only saying something along the lines of ‘Ali Noor took a good thing and just threw it away’. After the departure of both Ali Jafri and Gumby, Noori hasn’t been the same.
“What Ali Noor did was unacceptable and quite shallow,” Gumby is quick to reaffirm, but feels that in retrospect it worked out in his favour. He’s literally taken to work straight on, producing and collaborating on a plethora of bodies of work one after another.
As a drummer who’s seen the highs and the lows of the industry for over two decades, Gumby’s hard-earned “moment” as a rock star arrived a while back. “Ali Azmat is a rock star. I’m not a rock star. I don’t have that kind of a lifestyle. I’m just very straightforward,” he is quick to add.
Having gone through the grind of having to work uber hard and be patient to earn his place, how does he feel about the so-called musicians who pop up on our TV screens today and become stars overnight? “There is nothing wrong with that,” he says. “Every artiste has his moment. Let their moment come… and why not?”
– Photo by Bilal Khan