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In the earlier days, it was hard to divide Indian and Pakistani music. It was the time of Noorjahan and KL Sahgel. After several years of Independence, we got a clear distinction between Indy and Paki music. The hindi filmi music was household tune for pakistanis and pakistani ghazals have gained the same kind of popularity in India, In fact, the souls of pakistani music were ghazals and qawwalis, or in single word, the Sufis. If we look back and get the history of pakistani music, we strangely find that every genre of pakistani music was influenced by Sufis. More precisely, sufi-influenced music has been referred as less-standardized music and the original sufi is rather more popular in the world. The gateway of pakistani music to the world is the great sufi music.

The most popular form of sufi was qawwali. It is the most dynamic music of Pakistan and very popular in the subcontinent. The qawwali was invented by Amir Khusro in the 13th century and it was said to be a way to express the love and worship with the god. Qawwali has 3 components- rhythum, vocals, and pitch of the melody. Besides lead vocals, the qawwali crew is formed by dholak, hamonium, and back-up vocalists & chorus.

Precisely, the pakistani music can be divided into 2 eras- core music and fusion music. Sufi music, ghazals, and qawwalis can be grouped in the first generation, however the modern pakistani music is formed by modern sufis, pop, rock, and others. This era has begun in 80’s with the emergence of Nazia Hasan, however, the popularity got the pace in the early 90’s. Undoubtedly, the early era of pakistani music has generated more talented artists and they have maintained the same popularity in this 21st century. Some of the gems of the pakistani music were Noorjahan (malika-e-taranum), Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan(Classics-Patiala Gharana) Mehdi Hassan(Ghazal), Ghulam Ali (Ghazal), Abida Parveen (Sufi), Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan(qawwali & sufi), and Sabri Brothers(qawwali).

The Pakistani pop music started its period in the early 80’s when Nazia Hasan emerged in the subcontinent. She revolutionized the image of pakistani music and during the time, she had gained the same level of popularity in India as in pakistan. remember “Aap Jaisa Koi”.

The current generation of pakistani pop music had started its operation in the late 80’s. There were two main catalysts – IM and VS. IM(Indus Music), a private television channel, tried to explode the new era of pakistani music and they did it. VS(Vital Signs), first pop band of Pakistan. Their debut album in 1989 is still a milestone and it was really a sign of the beginning of the new generation with dreamy, longing, brooding and rich music with floating melody. It should be noted that it was the same time when Indipop music has started taking pace in the neighbourhood. Vital Signs took the pakistani pop music to the global music for the first time. Their “Yeh Shaam” captured well the feeling of euphoria, hope and liberation felt by the youth culture of the time at the violent demise of Zia’s myopic and repressive eleven-year-dictatorship and the arrival of democracy in the shape of the liberal Benazir Bhutto government. In later years, several other artists appeared on the stage, but noone could take over the popularity of the VS. In the mean time, the legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was transforming his style and synchronizing his music with the current trends. His global image helped him and he became very popular in the sub-continent. He entered in the bollywood music and it created an interest and curiosity in the next-gen pakistani music.

The trails of Vital Signs was followed by two artists who carried the spirit for next 5 years. One of them was “Ali Haider“, king of harmless melodious filmi-pop. They started making landmarks with “Chahat”, followed by “Sandesha”; but the history was made by “Purani Jeans“. This song, which is still being whistled by the college students of the subcontinent, captured the lifestyle of a common middle-class college students. Thereafter, he released several albums, another popular one was “Chand Sa Mukhra”, however, it was “Purani Jeans” that let Ali Haider popular for the years. Another most popular artist from the period was “Sajjad Ali” who neither seems to be aging nor sounding cynical. He released a large number of albums one after another and surprisingly, all were hits in pakistan. His ability to use the sound of a sliding bass to communicate the emotionally sticky content and nature of the song was the USP of his songs, ever since his first album in 93 “Babya“. According to the pandits, “ham kinarey par kharey hain” is said to be his best song (though it was released in 2002). The theme of this song fascinated the youth a lot and it was about a restless, sad spirit of a young man telling his tragic but simply tale to a group of young picnic makers who first take it as pure entertainment but end up feeling thoroughly disturbed.

The third most important event was the appearance of Junoon with their sufi rock. The entered in the mainstream with “Inqilaab”, but it was “Azaadi” (1997) which created the history. It became the most profound and indulgent expression of the band’s Sufi-Rock phase. With “Sayyoni“, inspired by the traditional Sufi music of Turky’s whirling dervishes and as well as the music centred in the Beralvi psyche of Pakistan’s Mizar culture, the band brilliantly fused it with raw but understated guitar twangs and with the tabla taking the place of the drums. It was a typically bold experiment that Junoon had become famous for and it worked wonderfully.

Then came the “Strings” who took the credits for the third important step of this generation. Although they have debuted in 1992, they finally made it in 2000 with their ever-best song “sar kiye hai pahar“. It was their second album “Duur” and each song from this album was generating a magic. The composition was charismatic and the melody was brilliantly understated, elusive and subtle. Since their comeback, they never looked back and achieved a new height every time they appeared, be it Indo-pak song, Spiderman II soundtrack, or recent bollywood flick Zinda. They are simply magical and they are also legend and contemporary at the same time.

And then comes the greatest ever awareness of global listeners in the pakistani music, in the 21st century. The trails generated by “Nazia Hassan, Vital Signs, Ali Haider, Sajjad Ali, Junoon, and Strings” are followed by “Ali Zafar, Fuzon, Jal, Atif Aslam, Fakhir, and now, Call”. This was the new start and the biggest phenomenon in the Pop scene in the new millennium seems to be “Ali Zafar“, with fan following so huge that he happens to be the only Pakistani artist whose images appear on Google Web search showing a large number of link backs from websites all over the world. This time, it was bhangra-pop adopted by Zafar’s bestselling debut song “Channo“. The mass-appealing flow of the tunes made it an instant hit. It was the time to re-vitalize the pakistani contemporary music and the spirit led “Fuzon” to create a blend of rock, pop, ghazals, sufis, and eastern classical music in “Ankhon ke sagar“, eventually one of the finest and richest pop melody. In obvious ways, their neighbors inspired this idea of fusion music. They were quite late in accepting it coz the fusion music had taken its maturity in India, but it was Fuzon who finally made it. Then a song came and thrilled the youth of the subcontinent. This time, it was Jal with “Aadat” having sufi-rock baselines and beautiful lyrics, a trail that was generated by Junoon in mid-90’s. The theme of the song can’t be admired, but as far as the music is concerned, Jal has beautifully constructed a story came from pessimism, fate, and failures. The history depicts that whenever the darker side glamorized, it became a hit. Jal cud have become the next “Junoon”, but sadly the band split and Gohar Mumtaz and Atif Aslam took their own ways. After splitting, Atif Aslam released his solo, Jalpari. Followed by the magic of Jal, Jalpari became a mega hit, with the beautiful songs Woh Lamhe and Dil Haarey. The release of Jalpari brought several controversies about stealing songs created by group efforts. Gohar kept crying, but Atif’s beautiful voice made the voices of Gohar blurred. Atif’s greatest times arrived when he made appearance in Bollywood with Mahesh Bhatt’s flicks Jaher and Kalyug. Sadly, it was Gohar who had written and jointly-composed the songs “Woh Lamhey” and “Aadat”. Whatever, Atif has left Gohar behind and the listeners are now waiting for his next release “Hangami Halat“, worked with 2 new mates.

There are few other gems of Pakistani Pop Music who are worth mentioned here. Among them are — Ahmed Jehanzeb who was contemporary to VS, Najam Shiraz, Alamgir (from the earlier time of Nazia and the talent who got ripped by Pakistani autocrat Zia-ul-haq), Hadiqa Kiyani (heir of Nazia), Collage(another sufi-rock), and Abrar (magical bhangra-pop). And how can we forget pakistani-altaf-raja, mr. pessimist, and the inspiration of T-series in India– Ataullah Khan for his hundreds of songs like”Achha sila diya tune”. There is one more artist who has some base in Pakistan, but he can’t be referred as Pakistani artist. He’s called Adnan Sami (former husband of Jeba Bakhtiyar) who has traversed a long journey of Pakistan-Canada-India. Well, significantly having a different western complexion, he never followed the souls and styles of pakistani music. There are few newcomers who can bring momentum in future. They are Call and Fakhir, talented and willing to bark loud the real effect is yet to be experienced.

It is quite difficult to admit the failure of Pakistani Pop despite of the massive talent of the artists in Pakistan. There could be several reasons. In the earlier times, it was the orthodox and hardcore-Islamic government. It was the time of Alamgir and Abrar. Nowadays, though this is not a problem anymore, the artists themselves have emerged as the reasons for their failures. It can be the the nature and the belief of the society in Pakistan, the economical conditions and social confusions in the country, or others. If we look back and try to find the causes, then we find that there were some more strange facts. The most important is the confidence they should have carried with their minds and works. Other reasons are fear, lack of passion, consistency, and vision. They lacked confidences within themselves and with their associates as well. Sometimes, it seems that they lack courage to take experiments and make another step forward. It has also been conceived that they couldn’t sustain the quality of work and most often, they found it hard believe their success. If they can remove the roadblocks, they’ll definitely be able to bring miracle(as it seems now), because they’ve got the talents.no doubts. Few are working on it (take the example of Strings..that’s why I call them the leaders of the next-gen pakistani pop) and others(like Jal) should immediately follow the trail.

My 10 picks

Sar kiye hai pahar :: Strings
Sayyoni :: Junoon
Purani Jeans :: Ali Haider
Mast Kalandar :: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Disco Diwane :: Nazia Hasan
Ik din aayega :: Jal
Aankhon ke sagar :: Fuzon
Channo :: Ali Zafar
Ham Kinaray Par Kharay Hain :: Sajjad Ali
Aadat :: Atif Aslam

My Ideal Band

lead singer – Lucky Ali
vocals & alaap – A R Rahman
vocal harmonies – Kem Trivedi
electric guitar – Bilal Maqsood
bass guitar – Rahul Ram
acoustic guitar – Mohit Chauhan
percussions – Shivamani
drums – Ziaur Rahman Turjo(Miles)
keyboard – James Asher
moroccan drums – Mike McCleary
sitar – Kartick Kumar
lyrics – Syed Aslam