Music in the Naughties: A turbulant soundtrack

January 10, 2010

By Madeeha Syed

With 2010 slated to be a comeback year for the music industry – provided everything goes as planned – here is a concise look at Pakistani pop music this past decade

From 2000 to 2001: Slow beginnings

Pakistani rock phenomenon Junoon was at the peak of its glory and had just released an album titled Millenium Edition, a compilation album which contained 12 previously released popular Junoon songs. The album also contained a live version of Allah Hu and Laal Meri Patt as well as a song titled Azadi – a somewhat haunting number – which they did for the soundtrack of Jamil Dehlavi’s film, Jinnah. The year 2000 also marked Junoon’s decade as a band in the industry. Pakistani pop band Strings got together after a hiatus of eight years and released Duur (which was later re-released in early 2002). The first single from the album Sar Kiye Yeh Pahar was a massive hit which was later followed by the hugely popular title track Duur. Although the reformed band was two members less and now consisted only of Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia, Duur marked a very strong and popularly-received comeback of the band.

Fresh from the breakup of his boy band, Awaz, Haroon released his first solo album, Haroon Ki Awaz (October 2000) which also became quite popular scoring hits with songs such as Pyareya, Yara and Jee Kay Dekha. Mizraab released their album, Panchi, which was well-received by their growing cult following. Pakistani rock band, Karavan shot and released a one-hour documentary on their 1999 album, Safar, which aired on PTV and received a global audience via satellite.

After the plethora of album releases in 1999, 2000 was considered to be a somewhat ‘slow’ year in Pakistani pop. It was in 2002 when things began to pick up… slightly. Ali Haider, (reportedly) influenced by his time spent in London’s rave scene, released an embarrassingly horrible techno album, Jadu. As expected, the album did not catch on to the public’s fancy.

On the other hand, Jawad Ahmed released his hugely popular bhangra-pop album, Uchian Majajan Wali (UMW). It was one of the bigger albums of that year. Jawad Ahmed seemed to finally have found a style that clicked with the audience – the only drawback being that he never quite grew out of it making his subsequent releases sound the same as UMW and therefore, incredibly boring. Junoon released Ishq, but the album failed to match the popularity of their previous efforts.

Other noteworthy albums released in 2001 include Abrar-ul-Haq (The best of Abrar-ul-Haq), Fakhr-e-Alam (The Falam Connection), Faraz Anwar (Abstract Point of View), Sajjad Ali (Cinderella) and Junaid Jamshed (The best of Junaid Jamshed: the remixes) among others.

From 2002 to 2003: Pop explosion, the definitive years

Junaid Jamshed promises a Vital Signs reunion – a line considered four-years-old. His trips towards the side of religious spirituality and back are becoming more frequent.

The year 2002 was when Indus Music was born, which single-handedly accelerated the pace at which music acts came out on the mainstream media. It was also the year Faakhir launched his album, Aatish, which although sounded like an incredibly cheesy form of the kind of music his former band Awaz did, but managed to become a massive hit with the audience. Videos that made their appearance on the tube included Aagey Hee Aagey (Karavan), Tum Hans Diye (Noori), Aankhon Kay Saagar (Fuzon), Teri Yaad (Sajjad Ali), People are people (Aamir Zaki), Sawaal (Aaroh) and Hum Ko Aazma (Entity Paridigm, EP) among others.

It was also in 2002 that Pepsi Battle of the Bands (BOB) took place in which Aaroh beat out 173 unsigned artistes to win the competition. The runner up was Entity Paridigm. BOB was instrumental in the sense that it was on this platform that established acts today – Mekaal Hasan Band, Shahzad Hameed, Mizmaar, EP and Aaroh, off course – made their first ever appearance.

In slightly off news, according to a BBC poll, Dil Dil Pakistan by the Vital Signs was the third most popular song in the world (it was preceeded by India’s Vande Mataram) and Junoon was awarded the “Biggest band in the world” title at the BBC Mega Mela Awards show in 2002. The Vital Signs which had done several gigs both local and in Dubai (they were dubbed “reunion” concerts although the band is quick to state they never broke up in the first place to have a reunion) drop their plans of coming out with an album. Rohail Hyatt plans a solo album, Shahi Hasan becomes a full-time music producer and Junaid Jamshed gives into his spiritual side… for the umpteenth time.

The latest band to hit audiences in 2002 was Noori. In a short span of time, they managed to become very popular and following the launch of their album, did free concerts in almost every local imaginable, courtesy of a telecom sponsor, which definitely added to their mass appeal. In 2003, Noori managed to gain footage from one of their crashed gigs at Karachi’s Café M-Live for their song, Dil Ki Qasam. The owner of the café, Wajahat Rauf, re-edited the video of Noori’s Gana No1 which was originally directed by Babar Sheikh stirring quite a bit of controversy with most established video directors vowing never to work with the band again. Other than Noori, Fuzon was the band which struck a chord with audiences and managed to amass quite a bit of following.

Also in 2003, for the first time, acts such as Junoon, Fuzon, Abida Parveen and Pappu Saieen performed in one of London’s most coveted venues, The Royal Albert Hall. Junoon also launched their album, Dewaar and although it sold around a million copies, it failed to garner positive reviews. Rumours of Ali Azmat branching out and launching his own solo album also begin around this time. Boy wonder, Ahmed Jehanzeb’s album Parastish also failed to create an impact in the local market. The Shoaib Mansoor directed video of Anarkali came out on TV and became a massive hit. The year 2003 was also when Ali Zafar launched his debut album Huqa Pani. The album, along with singles such as Channo and the title track, Huqa Pani, launched the artiste into pop stardom and he soon became the industry’s blue-eyed boy.

Jal also released it’s debut single Aadat in December 2003 and first introduced audiences to what would be Pakistan’s next pop phenomenon: Atif Aslam. On the other hand, guitar virtuoso, Aamir Zaki started working with Hadiqa on an English album, Rough Cut but never released it. The album found a release four years later in 2007.

Some of the albums released during this interval included Chandni Raatein (Ali Haider), Daur-e-Junoon (Junoon), Dil Ki Baat (Junaid Jamshed), Rung (Hadiqa Kiyani), Gardish (Karavan), Saagar (Fuzon), Jaisay Chaho Jiyo (Najam Shiraz), Suno Kay Mein Hoon Jawan (Noori) and the brilliant, “concept” album Irtiqa (Entity Paridigm) among others.

From 2004 to 2007: Growing at a steady pace

Soon after the release of Sawaal, Aaroh breaks up with guitarist Nabeel Nihal Chisty and keyboard player Kamran Khan leaving the band while Haider Hashmi (of Lahore’s Mind Riot) makes his entry as the lead guitar player of the band. Jal which had gained overnight popularity also broke up with Atif Aslam leaving the band. Jal then went on to release their debut album Aadat which had songs that were also contained in Atif Aslam’s debut album, Jal Pari leading to a fight in court over the rights of the songs. The Mekaal Hasan Band launched their debut effort, Sampooran in 2005 and although it was very well-received by music critics, it failed to make an impact on local audiences immediately upon its release. It did manage to pick up around a year or two after its initial launch.

The rock band, Mizraab launched their album Maazi Haal Mustaqbil after their last effort, Panchi (2000) and is again extremely well-received by rock music aficionados. Abbas Ali Khan makes his appearance on the tube with his single

Sun Re and signs with Tariq Amin’s record label, Indispensible Communications. Karavan releases a single on the tube titled Shor Dhadkan Mein, which, while doing well with rock-music enthusiasts, fails to match the popularity of various pop ditties doing the rounds at that time. The release and popularity of Mann Ki Lagan as the soundtrack for the 2004 Bollywood film, Paap, was instrumental in establishing Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s (RFAK) own identity, separate from his deceased uncle, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. RFAK’s song Jiya Dhadak Dhadak for the soundtrack for the Indian flick, Kalyug, was released in 2005. Rahat also then lent his vocals to the Mel Gibson Hollywood flick, Apocalypto in 2006.

Noori launched its second album Peeli Patti Aur Raja Jani Ki Gol Dunya in 2005 and it’s touted to be better than their first, wildly-popular album, Suno Keh Mein Hoon Jawan. The band fails to follow their album release with a number of album-launch concerts and in 2006, controversy strikes when Gumby parts ways with the band. Posted on the Noori website were claims that because Gumby played as a session drummer for various other bands, had other economic obligations, and could therefore not give time to Noori, the band was ‘letting go’ of him. This refuted Gumby’s (somewhat quiet) stance that he had announced his departure to the band a couple of months before they put the notice up on their website. Former Junoon frontman, Ali Azmat, launched his solo album, Social Circus (2005) to both critical and popular acclaim differentiating his own, somewhat moody sound from Junoon’s.

In early 2007, Bryan Adam’s performed in Pakistan for the first time courtesy of Shahzad Roy’s Zindagi Trust. This move proved beneficial for Roy as he gained popularity like never before and his single, Saali, became a household song as the concert with Adams approached. It was also the year Annie Princess launched herself on our television screens with the annoying, yet catchy, Mahiya, establishing herself as the latest female entertainer to hit the scene. She also released her album that year posing on the cover with a white tiara on her head. The Musik Awards, the first private music awards of the country, held their first show in 2007 as well. Other than recognising excellence in the field of music, they rolled out another surprise; they hosted a comeback gig by an old pop icon, Alamgir. The English-language duo from Peshawar, Sajid and Zeeshan, launched their debut album One Light Year at Snail Speed which was also supposed to mark the comeback of the international record lable, EMI in Pakistan. Unfortunately, it seemed EMI wasn’t ready: it took them several months to even have the album available in just a couple of the major cities in the country and this continued for some time.

MTV Pakistan got launched in Pakistan. Unfortunately it’s not very different from the channel it was replacing: Indus Music. Raeth, a band composed of teenage boys who release the single Bhula Do to surprising popularity become the youngest band to get signed on by Indian label, Universal. Bands that make their appearance on the mainstream media include Co-VEN (Sailing Fast), Sahil (Dil Chahey), Siege (Najane Kyon) and Ali Khan (Saathiya) among others. In bands breaking up further, Shafqat Amanat Ali leaves Fuzon, and Fuzon pretty soon announces that Shafqat will be replaced by a lesser-known chappie by the name of Rameez. Entity Paradigm also breaks up and 2006 saw them give their “last” performance. This was not to hold true in 2009 when they got back together again. Aaroh bids farewell to 2007 with the launch of their second album, Raag Neela. The album, although done pretty well, fails to match the popularity of their debut effort. Jal also released their second album, Boondh, in 2007.

Haroon released his bubble-gum pop album, Haroon Ka Nasha, to a lukewarm response that same year and desi Canadian band Josh also launched their second album, Mausam. Omran Shafique’s Boston-to-Karachi based band, Mauj is introduced which immediately catches on to the public’s fancy with their rock pop ditties such as Pahelian.

Shahzad Roy collaborated with Abida Parveen on song for education which receives sponsored airplay on television, but on its own, doesn’t even manage to create a ripple. Meesha Shafi began performing with percussion-based band, Overload in their performances. Aamir Zaki allegedly released online album called Radio Star, which turns out to be half-filled with re-hashed compositions by the artiste from the past several years. Rough Cut is also released but not only sounds incredibly dated, but fails to create an impact.

From 2008 to 2009: Struggling to survive

This period has been one of the bleakest in the pop music industry, except for perhaps, in one or two instances. By 2008, most of the other record labels had faded out leaving the arena to one contender: Fire Records which was well on its way to establish its monopoly as the ‘only record label in Pakistan’. The Musik Records was also functional, but their one and only noteworthy release of the year was (the new) Fuzon’s Neend Na Aye Teray Bina which garnered a lukewarm response.

The other albums released in 2008 included Strings (Koi Aney Wala Hai), Rahat Fateh Ali Khan (Charkha), Zeb and Haniya (Chup), Atif Aslam (Meri Khanai), Ali Azmat (Klashinfolk), Abbas Premjee (Elements), Shahzad Roy (Qismet Apney Haath Mein). What was the most disappointing about this year was not that these albums failed to create a considerable impact, but that there were almost virtually no concerts. What good is music if not performed live? The only concerts that did take place were those that were held on a very small scale, through word-of-mouth limiting attendance to the band’s acquaintances and their friends.

A TV show of sorts, but not limited to a particular album, Coke Studio (CS) launched in 2008 and did its second season in 2009. In the midst of all the gloom and doom that had enveloped the country, both socio-politically and economically, CS’s inclusion was important because it not only brought the music industry together to work on one project – displaying a certain measure of unity – but it also gave what was very much lacking in the industry at that point: good music. From Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, to Ali Azmat, Strings, Zeb and Haniya, Noori, Saieen Zahoor among others, all participated in CS. What’s more is that the audio/video of the show was available online for free download as well spreading it’s awareness and influence way, way beyond the audiences of Pakistan alone. Spearheaded by Rohail Hyatt, CS is one of hallmark project to make its mark in Pakistan’s music industry.

In 2009, Farhad Humayun from Overload established The System, a platform through which upcoming and established music acts could do live performances. Their launch gig saw the likes of Overload and Co-VEN perform while Shahzad Hameed performed in their subsequent gigs. Co-VEN also distributed their political anthem, Ready to Die, at first System event as well.

Later that year, the Mekaal Hasan Band finally released their second album, Saptak, albeit online through the video Chall Bulleya. Hadiqa Kiyani (Aasmaan) and Rahim Shah (Maa’ma Dey) also released their albums in 2009 but they went largely unnoticed. It was the percussion-based band, Overload, that was going to create the most noise for their release. They preferred to keep themselves out of the record label/artiste mess and released their second album, Pichal Pairee, online for free download on their website. The response was phenomenal. Granted that the socio-political conditions of the country were far from favourable when it came to music, but a certain vaccum had been created since no noteworthy album had been released for several months. This rebellion from the record-label “dictatorship” that most considered the industry to be a victim to was perhaps refreshing to most and the idea of being able to use music freely – you can’t “pirate” free music – was refreshing.

Source: DAWN.COM