Music | PREMIUM CONTENT

PAKISTAN HAS AN INCREDIBLE TALENT POOL OF MUSIC

Sep/01/2022 / by ABHIJIT MASIH
2D3CFRJ Members of Pakistan 's controversial rock band Junoon, (L-R) base guitarist Brian O'Connell, vocalist Ali Azmat and lead guitarist Salman Ahmad perform during a concert in New Delhi late May 13, 2001. The band, which landed in trouble with the Pakistani government for their India tour in 1998, performed to raise funds for victims of the Gujarat earthquake, which killed more than 30,000 people. PK/PB
Pakistani band Junoon perform at a concert

We are one, ‘cause we all share the same passions. As we celebrate the 75th year of our respective freedom from imperial rule, we also sadly are reminded of 75 years of division. Whether it is India or Pakistan, as people we rue the fact that we are on opposite sides and the split of 1947 is not just limited to territories, but talent as well. 

Our love is common for cricket, films, food and music. Passions that have stood the test of partition and continue to thrive on both sides of the border. For artists, that border did little to restrict their talents thriving. There had been numerous instances of actors and singers working in both countries. But this was before the Kargil war of 2000. Since then there hasn’t been a regular cross-border artistic engagement. 

As part of the music industry in India before the Kargil war, I was fortunate enough to witness some incredible talent from Pakistan live and in person in India. There are innumerable stories that can be narrated about these artists; a few of them not mentionable with names or deeds. Like the one about the singer who along with his manager could drink a sailor under the table, but was sober as a saint while giving interviews to scribes. Then there was the one who had to visit the cop station every day to sign a register, as part of his visa prerequisite to remain only in Mumbai. There was also their humility when they attended live performances of Indians singers and bands. As when I found Bilal and Faisal from the popular band Strings enjoying the performance of Mohit Chauhan while standing right behind me.

The impressive soundtrack of Ms. Marvel has brought to the fore the incredible South Asian talents that complement the show about a desi superhero. The soundtrack maintains an authentic balance of some of the most popular artists as well as some that you may have heard for the first time. It includes music from Bollywood, music from South India and also does an exceptional job of highlighting the Pakistani music industry.

Here are a few of the unbelievable Pakistani musicians whose talent and fame have not been restricted by the Line of Control, and have earned love and respect in not just Pakistan but India as well. 

Strings

The group that gave memorable hits like “Duur” and “Dhaani,” unfortunately announced in early 2021 that their band was splitting up. The group, formed when they were in college in 1989, with Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia at the helm, had its ups and downs. But they were popular in not just Pakistan but in India as well, with their pop albums flying off the shelves from music stores around the country. Their most soulful track, however, would be “Sar Kiye Yeh Pahar,” which was released in 1992. Other than in private albums they also collaborated with Indian bands like Euphoria and performed live with Indian rock bands like Parikrama and Indian Ocean. They even had a couple of Bollywood hits with “Yeh Hai Meri Kahani” from the film “Zinda,” and “Aakhri Alvida” from the Sanjay Dutt-starrer “Shootout at Lokhandwala.”

Ali Zafar

One of the very few singers who established themselves as an actor both in Pakistan and India, Ali Zafar has ruled the hearts of millions, particularly of the ladies on both sides of the border and around the world. The pretty face started off as a model and established himself as a singer in 2003 with his first single “Channo.” Some of his all time hits are “Allah Hu, Jhoom and Nakhriley” from the Hindi film “Kill/Dil.” His acting credentials are even more impressive, with measured performances in the Shahrukh Khan-starrer “Yeh Zindagi,” and Yashraj Productions’ “Mere Brother Ki Dulhan.” His last film was the romantic action comedy “Teefa in Trouble” with Maya Ali.

Junoon

Their debut international song and album set fire to the music scene in India with their song “Sayooni” in 1998. They registered a record breaking sale on the first day at Rhythm House, the Mecca of music retail in India back then. Junoon in Urdu means obsession and that was what they generated with the launch of their debut international album. The reason their music was and is such a hit was perhaps the way they fused Rock music of the 70’s and 80’s with percussions like Tabla, popular in the subcontinent classical music.  The initial lineup included Salman Ahmad, Ali Azmat, Nusrat Hussain and Brian O’Connell who were absolutely on fire when they performed live in Delhi in 1999, sharing the stage with legends like Sting and Def Leppard.

Atif Aslam

His live performances are as soulful as his romantic songs. As part of the audience in a small and exclusive performance in Dubai, I was witness to the aura that he exudes through his touching songs. The playlist of which is pretty long. There was a phase in Bollywood that nearly every Hindi film had a romantic song which was sung by the tall and talented singer. The first of these were “Tere Bin” from the film “Bas Ek Pal,” and “Woh Lamhe” from the film “Zeher.” There have been many more, like “Tera Hone Laga Hoon,” “Tere Liye,” “Pehli Nazar Mein.” The list goes on.  

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

August is when the world lost the qawwali legend in 1997. The king of Sufi music sang primarily in Urdu and Punjabi and is still unparalleled for his vocal renditions. His repertoire of music was not just limited to qawawali but had a tremendous impact on pop music and Hindi film music of its time as well. The most popular song from Bollywood would be “Dulhe Ka Sehra” from the film “Dhadkan.” He was nominated for two Grammy Awards in 1997, an indication of his popularity around the world. Many of his songs were even plagiarized, which he didn’t mind – like “Dam Mast Qalandar” and “Allah Hoo.” His music was and continues to be an embodiment of an undivided sub-continent, the music of tolerance and compassion.  His nephew Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, who was part of the legends group since he was a teenager, carries the musical baton forward.

Hadiqa Kiani

The recipient of Pakistan’s Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, the country’s fourth-highest civilian award, has been a true pop star for more than 25 years. She recently performed in Dubai, where she was joined by popular Indian playback singer Sonu Nigam. Both sang her hit song “Hona Tha Pyar,” which had Nigam almost in tears. In 1995, she received the Best Female Singer of Pakistan award at the same function in which Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was recognized as the Best Male Singer. That in itself is a mighty honor. She was also the first Asian female singer ever to be signed by Pepsi International. She has sung in many languages, including Pashtu, and one of her most popular songs is “Boohey Barian” in Punjabi. 

Nazia Hassan

Who can forget “Boom Boom,” the anthem from the 80’s sung by the captivating voice of Nazia Hassan. The song was from her second album of the same name and was used in the Kumar Gaurav movie Star. The singer however had made her singing debut two years earlier when she sang “Aap Jaisa Koi” for the Hindi film “Qurbani.” Aptly referred to as the Queen of South Asian Pop at that time, her songs and she are not forgotten, even 22 years after her death from cancer. Karan Johar even used a remix version of “Disco Deewane” in the film “Student of the Year” in 2012. The man behind the brother-sister duo of Nazia and Zoheb was London-based music composer and producer Biddu, who gave hits like “Disco Deewane” and “Aankhen Milanay Wale.” 

Abida Parveen

The queen of Sufi music collaborated on a new song for Coke Studios with Naseebo Lal which was released early this year. “Tu Jhoom” was recently also included in the soundtrack of Ms. Marvel. She is a living legend and music royalty due to her talent. Some of her most notable Sufi hits are “Dama Dam Mast Qalandar,” “Main Sufi Hoon” and “Bulley Noon Samjhavan.” She is known for her heartwarming performances and has a following around the world.

Noor Jehan

The creation of the two nation in 1947 forced the famous playback singer to move to her birthplace as she shifted from India to Pakistan after having made a name for herself singing and acting in pre-independence films like “Khandaan,” “Naukar,” “Dost,” “Badi Ma,” “Anmol Ghadi,” and “Jugnu.” Pakistan’s gain was India’s loss. She went on to become a household name and was respectfully called ‘Madam’ in her home country and loved by South Asians across the world, case in point Hena Doba’s father who would listen to her songs driving his cab in New York. The title of Malika-e-Tarannum (queen of melody) was deservedly bestowed on her in Pakistan for her great achievement and success in music. Arguably her most famous film was “Intezar,” in which she sang evergreen hits like “Aa Bhi Jaa” and “O Jaane Waale Re.”