The music boom of 2002 lived up to its hype and exceeded expectations in 2003. All it needed was the steely resolve of underground musicians, the mushrooming of local music channels, and the dependency of drama oriented TV channels to fill their empty time slots with music videos. All in all, the stage was set for the emergence of the third generation of artists in 2003 such as Fuzon, Noori, Ahmad Jehanzeb, Aaroh, EP and Ali Zafar, all of whom have helped drag the industry through its latest phase of evolution.
The local music scene has gone through years of dealing with a lot of outside interference, so the new breed had to persist in creating their own music. For the last five years, we have watched second generation artists such as Abrar, Junoon, Hadiqa Kiyani, Ali Haider, Fareeha Pervaiz, Najam Sheraz and others dominating the music scene, but 2003 brought a steady decline in their sales and a renewed hunger for something - anything - new in the market.
Having released their astounding debut album towards the end of last year, Fuzon are the hottest pop-rock band in the country. With the success of their first single "Ankhon ke saagar" behind them and their third single "Teray Bina" currently all over the music channels, the future is looking bright for the trio.
Noori kept at it in the year 2003 with mediocre video production and no sign of image enhancing mainstream video clips to take them beyond their current image. However, they remain popular amongst the young urban youth with their brand of punk-pop, rock and grunge, and the anthemic "Suno Ke Main Hun Jawan." Products of the ever-expanding Lahore underground scene, Noori remains one of the hottest live acts of the country.
The year 2003 saw Junoon releasing their first English song, "No More," which was followed later in the year by the appropriately titled "Dewaar," which appears to be their last studio effort as a band and which attained reasonable success. More than 15 years after they stormed the scene, Junoon have progressed from a raw-edged rock and roll outfit to become the stuff of rock legend. With Salman migrating to new ventures in the West and Ali now searching for his own musical identity, the curtain might come down on the most illustrious chapter in the long, winding road of rock music in the subcontinent. Coupled with their mesmerizing performances and music, Junoon's accomplishments in the last 15 years makes them one of the most revered, respected and referenced bands of all time in the subcontinent.
People might question whether Junoon has lost their edge, like so many bands of the past. But if one looks at any rock album coming out of the subcontinent today and asks oneself what is the common link between many of the new bands, it's apparent they owe a lot to Junoon. For one band to have such an influence is somewhat staggering.
The year also saw the release of the much anticipated debut album from melodic rock outfit Aaroh. Consisting mostly of '80s styled melodic rock ballads with dated guitar riffs, the album lacks a consistent vision and sense of purpose. Their videos ran the gamut of age-old formulas with no thought given to image building. After encouraging initial sales, they have ground to a halt.
The modern hard rock band from Lahore, EP, released their debut album "Irtiqa," which did well, both critically and commercially. Launched with the third single from the album, "Aghosh," big things are expected from the record as songs such as "Hamesha" and "Waqt" have yet to be released as videos. "Irtiqa" opens a new era of concept album releases in Pakistan.
Strings enjoyed considerable success with "Dhaani." Gone are the elaborate guitar riffs, which have now been replaced with a more mainstream pop sound. Probably the most hyped album of the year, with lead single "Chaaye Chaaye" being the standout favourite.
The year ended with the latest success story being Ali Zafar's debut album "Huqa Pani" featuring the hit single "Channo," ably supported by a snappy video. It is a largely experimental first album, with the artist exploring various vocal tones, styles and genres.
The year also brought a plethora of meaningless releases by artists relying on poorly made videos running on the local music channel IM, such as Dr. Aur Billa, Rage, Ali Sher, Khadija, Mizmaar, Farah Hasan, Amir Jamal, Usman, Laiba Ali, Arshad Mehmood, Shahida Minni, Nizar Ali etc. There are so many artists who seem content not to push limits or be inventive, preferring mediocre formula-based drivel to something meaningful. It is very easy for these artists to just roll along and accept everything the way it is. They just seem to be along for the ride, following the worn out path into an abyss.
Ali Haider returned with a new album after a two-year hiatus from the scene. The album featured his signature style which had earned him his initial fame, and portrayed himself as a gentle and caring male, which is ironically his third image shift in less than five years. It's fair that an artist should not repeat his first album again, neither does one expect an artist to keep writing songs about girls and high school when he is in his 30s, but it is also imperative that he should not alienate any of his core fans. Ali Haider, with his ever-changing music and image, seems to have lost his fan base and received a feeble initial response to his new album "Tera Naam Liya To."
Meanwhile, Ahmad Jehanzeb finally delivered his much-anticipated debut album, "Parastish," which was well received. A hybrid of predominantly love songs, romantic lyrics and his trademark careening vocals, the album does have considerable staying power.
Another release by an established artist that got a feeble response initially is Jawad Ahmad's "Jind Jan Sohniye." The album is yet to be explored, but as time lapses, it is becoming more noticeable that any music album launched with the sponsor's video will rarely do justice to the artist's talents. A video should portray the visuals to the song's feel and lyrics, not a sponsor's brand image.
Let's hope that 2004 carries on the momentum that was built in 2003, as we wait in anticipation to hear and see which new artists are crowned, and which established ones are dethroned. At least the music industry has dared to move forward with hope rather than skepticism.Dr. Rafat Siddiqi