June 2, 2017 – Aamir Zaki was born on April 8, 1968 in Saudi Arabia from Pakistani parents.
Music was part of his home education with both parents sharing classical, jazz, blues and rock with their children. Aamir became an instant admirer of Rhandy Rhoads, metal guitar virtuoso with Ozzy Osborne.
Playing guitar since the age of 14, he became known for his melodic phrasing, feel, and tone.
The first mainstream musician to recognise Zaki as a teenage prodigy was Alamgir, who got in touch with him to tour India, Dubai, England and the U.S.A. After touring Zaki played on two of Alamgir’s albums. “Keh De Na” and “Albela Rahi” were two hit singles with young Zaki’s guitar sound and image, he played a self built Flying V guitar, inspired by his love for Randy Rhoads.
Post-Alamgir, Aamir Zaki formed three rock groups. “The Barbarians”, “Axe Attack” and “Scratch”. Axe Attack was the only band that made an original album called The Bomb, whose title track was about the Bohri Bazaar bomb blast. It was the first English album recorded in Pakistan and perhaps for that reason, all music companies refused to release it. However, some years later, the rhythm guitarist, Nadeem Ishtiaq took it to Australia where the songs made it to the radio and were well received. Back in Pakistan, the album lay forgotten. Zaki continued with his songwriting and started playing session guitar.
Zaki got married at the age of twenty two and divorced at twenty four. The next year Zaki toured extensively with Vital Signs and Awaz.
He became globally known for his short stint with the band the Vital Signs in 1994, when he toured the globe with the group. He also played with the band on their fourth album before being asked to leave.
He then released his debut solo album Signature in 1995, from which the song Mera Pyaar became a massive hit and Zaki was awarded a gold disc by Soundcraft UK for it. Signature was primarily an instrumental album with two English and one Urdu song. His second CD release Rough Cut was an English album, with a Tabla and six string bass Rhythm section, featuring Hadiqa Kiyani on vocals.
Signature was an independent release, and he put his own money into releasing this high-risk venture. The first CD batch was made in England, and Sonic released Signature in Pakistan. The album was an immediate success, and for the first time in the region, guitar instrumentals made it into the households through FM radio
Zaki had a cult following by this time. He played his original English and Urdu songs live, much before they appeared on the screen. He played at the Karajazz Festival and many a time at Café Blue (Karachi, Pakistan) that marvellous haunt for live music lovers, that witnessed the powerful synergy between Zaki, Gumby, and Khalid Khan, regularly. It was here that his listeners turned up week after week to hear him play. His bass playing shone on these occasions. Zaki played the bass like the guitar and the sounds he elicited from it are unlike anything heard before.
The musician, who made his overdue debut on Coke Studio in 2014, was last seen in action performing at the two-day long I Am Karachi Music Festival. He recently collaborated with Saleem Javed, reworking the singer’s classic Tum Mere Ho.
Widely considered the most influential guitarist in the country’s history, Zaki was known both for his musical genius and volatile temperament. Even so, according to most of his colleagues, he has left a void that is not only difficult, but perhaps even impossible to fill.
“I must say that he was the most talented guitarist I ever came across in Pakistan. Not just as a musician, but even as a person, he was likeable and humble,” fellow Vital Signs alumni and guitarist Asad Ahmed told The Express Tribune.
“He was a great teacher as well, who inspired so many people. He inspired them to just pick up an instrument and play, and when someone like him goes away, it doesn’t really feel good. It’s a loss for the music industry but more than that, for people in general, because he was one of a kind. He is someone who will be missed but celebrated.”
Calling him the most influential guitarist in Pakistan, Fuzon band member Imran Momina, also known as Emu, regretted not having worked with Zaki one last time. “We have been honoured to play with him several times. He was such a great mentor and a great person to hang out with as well, and it’s just sad to hear this news,” he said. “I have one regret because I wanted to work with him one more time on a project and it just couldn’t happen. Sadly, he succumbed to illness and other factors in life.”
Aamir Zaki passed away on June 2, 2017 due to heart failure after a prolonged illness. He was 49.