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Pakistani Music I Heard This Week – Post Hakeemullah Session

Pakistani Music I Heard This Week – Post Hakeemullah Session


In the grand tradition of blog series on this website, PMIHTW (what a lun acronym) has seen a break in its regularity. Thankfully, you can relax because I am back with a few more tasty brownie delights.

We start this week with Lussun TV’s third session. During the break in this blog, the boiz at Lussun were clearly working a lot more diligently, managing to get out two songs. The first is Hilm by Sikandar Ka Mandar. SKM is fronted by Nadir Shehzad, who also happens to be the producer/director of Lussun as well as a filmmaker and actor. A measure of their stature was revealed to me on a recent trip to Karachi, where I got talking with some young cousins of my wife’s. We were on a boat and I was asking them to tell me who they’d like to be stranded on a desert island with. One of them said “the drummer from Sikandar Ka Mandar”. Having teen girls crushing on band members, particularly the less-obvious drummer, is a coup for any band seeking cred, and that’s what SKM have got.

However, my favourite song in what promises to be a superb season (Janoobi Khargosh OMFG) is Hum Bhagay by Natasha Ejaz. Natasha had first appeared on Ufone Uth Record’s debut season, and while her song was really good you got the feeling it didn’t capture all her obvious and varied talents. Since then, she’s made a few appearances on City FM89, done some electro stuff and worked as a producer on the second season of Uth Records, among much more. This song though is perhaps the finest one she’s done so far; full of infectious joy it uses Natasha’s extraordinary vocal talents to great effect.

Moving from an underground, alternative music show to THE MUSIC SHOW OF PAKISTAN, Coke Studio, which came out with another single and a full episode in between breaks. There is an increased level of “LOLOL Coke Studio suxxzz” sentiment this year, which experience now shows surfaces each year during the show’s run and dissipates almost completely once its over. Bandwagons are hard to come by I guess. Still, for those more genuinely concerned about the show seeming to play it ‘safe’ I would like to quote some observations by Safieh Shah, who’s started her third season of Coke Studio reviews over at The Friday Times.  Talking about how replicating their trademark sound while using a completely new, and constantly changing, houseband, Safieh writes:

“it represents a turning point for pop music in Pakistan, which has traditionally borrowed influences from around the world to make its own music sound more modern. Now it is Coke Studio doing the same. Convinced of its own identity, Coke Studio Pakistan has begun to seek out musical frontiers which enhance its own singular self. “


“What further became apparent with the first episode’s three sessions is that each of the songs has varying levels of self-referencing by Rohail Hyatt and team, allowing for the theoretically disparate post-production process to have a familiar foundation to build on and work around.”

Keeping all that in mind, here is what is perhaps the consensus choice for the song of the season so far, Laili Jaan by Zeb & Haniya. The jazz interlude is the highlight of a superb song, sounding like a montage from a Woody Allen film set in Peshawar or Kabul.

From Lussun TV to Coke Studio to yet another music-show, Nescafe Bassment, which is now in its second season. I’ve written previously about the need for patrons for art, particularly in Pakistan where the ‘market’ doesn’t quite exist, but this corporate+music concept is running a bit hollow. Nescafe’s strategy seems to be a mix of Coke Studio and Uth Records, with young unknown talents covering pop classics under the guidance of Xulfi, formerly of eP and Call. It is an intoxicating mix, but I am not sold as yet. I think the problem is that while Xulfi was extremely influential and creative in his hey-day in the early 00’s, his musical touch feels like it hasn’t gone much past that. With Coke Studio already setting its own template for covers, I feel the Bassment sessions don’t (as of yet) have an identity, relying far too much on soaring classical vocals and some kick-ass guitars – all of which sounds a bit dated. There has been a lot of support for Tere Ishq Main, but I prefer the Fuzon remix instead.

On to the more indie sides of the scene, let’s start off with Slowspin, who has a couple of new tracks out. The impact of Slowspin on musicians I know is like (topical reference alert) the impact of the Velvet Underground – people want to make music after listening to her. Being more gawaar, it took me a while to see the ethereal beauty of Slowspin’s tracks, but one handy cheat code is to notice the textures of the sound, which almost have different physical properties from the way they are layered.

Its quite sasta for me to start repeating artists here too quickly, but I just couldn’t ignore this song by Rija Yousuf, largely because it sounds so removed from the ones I posted here last time by her, and yet still feels part of her work. Wonderful song that manages to surprise.

Speaking of surprising songs with lots of texture, Smax has released another new EP. Again, I am beholden to far more articulate critics for helping me access this music. In this case, we have @asfand to thank, who wrote the following about Smax’s previous EP.

It’s hard to make music that reminds one of certain spaces, even indistinct ones. It’s certainly a task that becomes even harder if you eschew sounds that resonate an idea or an area – tablas, for example, are an easy way to sound oriental, while sounds like train whistles can denote movement. Smax’s (Amman Mushtaq) music, however, manages to evoke not only a strong sense of space, but also of movement, without ever resorting to any such pitfalls.

I am not sure if I am right about this but I feel that sense of space and movement is really amplified in NEWZ, the latest EP. Even if it isn’t, this music is fresher than the hashish in Tirah. Check it out.

Speaking of @asfand, who is also known as TMPST (short for Tempestuous – seriously, its not that Shakespeare reference you thought it was) has a new EP out as well. Having started with post-rock music that had the elegance and despair of the 1974 Dutch football team, TMPST represents a growing evolution within a different genre that evolves from, and far beyond asfand’s post-rock stuff. Here’s Safieh once again on the standout track of the EP.

Blue blocks – Is my favourite, I love the start – the nostalgia it gives with the rough edges contrast sharply and beautifully with the characteristic tmpst lead (melody). What I enjoy is the bass and the looping of the instrument which starts at 1:18. I think it gives a very desi feel but a clean rural spacious one. I feel like the I could visualize this music as blue blocks on a monitor building and taking away from each other to varying degrees. Also at 2:27 it seems to have faded away and finish, but then it takes a turn toward a more tantric drums, beat, bass and even the clapping – very sexy – so much fun, so clean and neat with some very spicy desi flourishes.

Finally, the last song of this week is a return to another folk-meets-pop track. I had been despairing when news came through of The Sketches having broken up, but the band has continued to prosper. What I like about this song in particular is that it moves away from the soaring, joyous style of doing Sufi pop/rock/etc and has a much darker, foreboding feel to it. They did the same in an older song called Nind Nashay Vich, and return to that style here as well with lyrics that could well feel cliched but instead come out as true and powerful.





About Ahmer Naqvi

Ahmer Naqvi is the Brian Lara of his generation. He's a genius but his team usually loses.

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