My Love - Yasir Akhtar (2001)

"My Love" is in a sense Yasir Akhtar's first solo album - the earlier two were credited to his band The Arid Zone. This musician-actor-director has come out with an album that has typically energetic, dance-oriented songs.

In the song "Chan Mai" (he pronounces it Mai instead of Mahi), Yasir comes up with a sweet and funny mix of Punjabi, Urdu, Pushto and some Balochi words with a fun, all-Pakistani bhangra song that is already popular with kids. Notable also is the Latin-style "Sanam" with Zara Sheikh portraying the sanam in the video. The song has a lively arrangement by ex-Collage keyboardist Jawad Hyder. There is a very eastern-sounding devotional song, "Sohna Ali", and a catchy national song (not another one!), "Sohni Mitti". Ex-Fringe Benefits composer Mohammad Ali also contributes a couple of bhangra-techno numbers with his own energetic flavour, "Betab" and Nuch Mere".

Among all the several fast-paced numbers, Yasir also manages "Samay", a thoughtful song about passing time, and the romantic ballad "O My Love". But the best song in the album is "Chun Chal", a romantic number, composed by Abid Omar, that in its nostalgic melody and arrangement evokes Alamgir's hit ballads of the '80s.

The breakneck remix of one of Yasir's best songs, "Milan", unfortunately ignores the melody to concentrate on the beat. The original one was good precisely because of its melody - the fast tempo takes away the sensitivity Yasir brought to the original. "Faster" does not necessarily spell "better".

And why are our male pop musicians so intent on singing Noor Jehan hits? Agreed that the Melody Queen is a part of Pakistan's heritage, a national and musical treasure, and agreed that Punjabi is in, but even the best female signers should be wary of attempting a Noor Jehan number because they are bound to fall short. Shazia Manzoor succeeded on a certain level with the turn-of-the-millennium UK version of "Mahi Aavey Ga", but most male pop singers cannot do justice to a Noor Jehan song. In this album Yasir sings Madame Noor Jehan's Sindhi-flavoured hit "Rab Jane" (with the original film lyrics being inexplicably credited to him!), with a good musical arrangement by Jawad Haider.

In this album Yasir seems to have given in to the tendency to concentrate on loud, dance-oriented songs that might prove rousing foot-stompers in concerts, ignoring softer more melodious numbers - with the exception of "O My Love". As a result most of the album sounds a bit loud, perhaps in order to appeal to younger listeners more interested in beats as opposed to melodies. One feels that in his earlier albums Yasir laid more emphasis on compositions and singing.

And what about the videos? Yasir is a pioneer of music video direction in Pakistan and has a good visual sense and a strong grip of the technical aspects of direction. He knows how to make the video medium look more like a film, and uses the Naran landscape and the breathtakingly romantic Lake Saif-ul-Malook to great effect in the video for "O My Love" and "Chan Mai", with lush, saturated colours and an illusion of cinematic depth often missing from our TV drama productions. One suspects Yasir has it in him to eventually come up with visually appealing cinema too.

He also projects Zara Sheikh well in the "Sanam" video, surprisingly shot entirely at night. So what does he think of the hot new starlet? Yasir observes that Zara has a chameleon-like ability to look different with every different style of clothing she wears. On the basis of the video, including the "uncensored" international version, this girl could go far with the right projects and good direction.

Is Yasir Akhtar spreading himself too thin by writing, composing, singing, acting and directing? Well, at least partly, because if he were not doing so many things, he could be concentrating on his singing. As he puts it, though, an involvement in different stages of the creative process allows him to better realize his original vision regarding each new song. However, though he started out as a singer, it is even possible that Yasir's strongest point may prove to be his directing.

So, the restless quest for new and better work goes on. After all, Kabhi toh hoga mera milan....

Aamir Agha