Because sometimes words are not enough

As Independence Day approaches, we see in front of us the task of discussing and celebrating Pakistani music. But how do we go about it? Do we talk about how Pakistani Pop has given us a vocabulary for our highs and lows? Do we dissect about the songs that have the power to unite us as one Pakistani nation? Do we write tributes to the songs that remind us of our triumphs as a country? Do we discuss songs that shake us and wake us up against apathy? We can do all that or we can simply let the music do the proverbial talking.

Back when there were no CDs, mp3s and streaming services, there were tape cassettes and on those tape cassettes, people made mixtapes – compilation of songs made at home. Making a mixtape was a labor of love – the process wasn’t easy or fun and that‘s why it was only done for the people you love. We wanted to do something similar – painstakingly curate a list of songs that highlight our dear country’s rich musical tradition and find out what its musical DNA is like.

Now the question arises: How do you make a mixtape that can capture Pakistan’s musical DNA and also shows adoration for its many facets?

Let’s begin with the breezy side of Pakistani music. This kind of music is designed to make you feel alive and relaxed at the same time. It’s a unique balance but one that has been perfected by Pakistani musicians. Songs like Ahmed Rushdi’s “Koko Korina”, Vital Signs’ “Woh Kaun Thi”, Nazia Hasan’s “Aankhein Milaaney Waaley” and Ali Zafar’s “Chal Dil Merey” are good examples of this. We are after all a young nation with around 50% of the population under the ages of 25 years old. Abhi toh mein jawaan hoon, indeed.

With the joy of youth comes the angst and that also reflects in our musical legacy. Never was it more prominent during the 90s. Songs like Najam Shiraaz’s “Inn Say Nain”, Aamir Zaki’s “Mera Pyar” and Sajjad Ali’s “Bolo Bolo” are anthems for heartbroken Pakistanis even today. These songs have left such a lasting impression on us that they still get quoted in our conversations and our tweets.

For some of us, music was a major part of our cultural education. Alan Faqir, Reshma, Shaazia Khushk, Arif Lohar and Abida Parveen were staples on TV variety shows and music specials where they sang folk tunes and introduced us to the diverse cultures of our country. Watching Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Aziz Mian Qawwal and The Sabri Brothers were our gateway to appreciating Qawwali and other forms of devotional music. The performances recorded for TV by Ustaad Amanat Ali Khan, Mehdi Hasan, Ghulam Ali, Iqbal Bano, Farida Khanum and Balqees Khanum introduced us to the institution of Ghazal and classical music. For a whole generation, Nur Jehan, Mehnaaz, and Naheed Akhtar were the first musical divas that we witnessed and stood in awe of. Even if Bally Sagoo remixes it, it doesn’t capture the zeal and zest in Musaarat Nazir’s “Laung Gawacha”. Even if Bollywood musicians recreates them, we still prefer to listen to Farida Khanum’s rendition of “Aaj Jaaney Ki Zidd Naa Karo” and Tassawar Khanum’s “Agar Tum Mil Jao”. Speaking of renditions, the ones by Nayyara Noor and Tina Sani of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s work opened us up to appreciating our literary heritage. Fusion music may be at the height of popularity right now but the foundation for this was set in the 80s by “Allah Allah Kar Bhaiyaa”, the Alan Faqir-Muhammad Ali Shaiki collaboration.

There is great versatility of themes in our music. Not all of it is a soundtrack to a romantic stroll in the woods and patriotic milli naghmay. We have songs about everything – from the minutia of our lives to the state of our country. Current job doesn’t pay well? Waqar Ali’s “Paisey Aaney De” is your jam. Enamored by the Channo next door? Ali Zafar has a song about that. Feeling heartbroken and emo? Hadiqa Kiyani’s “Iss Bar Milo” is there for you. Ready to love again? Alamgir’s “Socha Na Tha” is your anthem. Feeling super devotional? Jawad Ahmed’s “Allah Merey Dil ke Andar” and Sajjad Ali’s “Bolo Ali Ali”. Missing Basant – the kite festival? Listen to Fariha Pervez’s “Batang Baaz”. Peeved by ecological concerns? Dr. Aur Billa’s “Jeeney Do” shares your concern. Disillusioned by the system? Awaz’s “Mr. Fraudiyay” sums it up. Don’t like how some people abuse their power? Ali Gul Pir has some songs on that too. Want to stand up to bullies? Sajjad Ali’s “Chief Saab” is your armor. Want a rallying cry for accountability in the country? Junoon’s “Ehtesaab” gives you that with a catchy reggae tune. Getting cynical with the state of things? Shehzad Roy’s tongue-in-cheek “Laga Reh” shares your sentiment. Want to fight apathy and make Pakistan great? Strings’ “Ab Khud Kuch Karna Paray Ga” and “Mein Tou Dekhoonga” gives you the emotional strength for it.

We haven’t even begun to talk about the years of home-grown rock acts this country has produced. Junoon, Mizraab, Mizmaar, Call, Fuzon, Faraz Anwar, Meekal Hasan, Aaroh, Entity Paradigm, Noori and many others – each has contributed in furthering the evolution of our ballads with rock instrumentation. We can write another blog post on songs that have been written solely to encourage our cricket team – Junoon’s “Jazba Junoon”, Strings’ “Hai Koi Hum Jaisaa”, Hadiqa Kiyani’s “Inteha-e-Shauq”, Jawad Ahmed’s “Kamyaab Raho Har Qadam”, Vital Signs’ “Maula” to name a few. It’s very possible that the next cricketing legend will grow up listening to these songs.

Whether you grew up on Sohail Rana’s PTV specials, Ahmed Rushdi’s compositions or Video Junction, there is no doubt that we all have an untenable link to Pakistani music – one that we will cherish throughout our lives. Going over 70 years of Pakistani music is a tall order and there is a possibility that we missed out on some legends and traditions. So, do tell us who we missed. If you were to give Pakistan a mixtape on its birthday, what songs will be on it?