2003: A Local Pop Odyssey

Huqa Pani - Ali Zafar **1/2

Interesting fellow. Seems to be a better made-for-video artiste than a more seriously talented contender. Reminds me of Fakhr-e-Alam (circa 1993's "Bhangra Pao"). The later could never really cut it as a mentionable recording crooner, but survived purely on his video and telly friendly antics. But then that's exactly what Alam's sponsors are usually looking for in him, even though his 2001 effort, "The Falam Connection" was not all that bad. And neither is Zafar's "Huqa Pani." But unfortunately the tongue-in-cheek humor usually found in his videos is hardly a frequency on the album; which makes it an entertaining bhangra-meets-Y2K-pop affair. Entirely disposable, though. Use it, enjoy it and then forget about it. Better stick with the visual sides of his talent. Can't see any sonic waves being made by Zafar via the studio or even live. "Huqa Pani" is an ambitious and colourful attempt at irreverent parody-pop (ala Dr. Aur Billa) and retro-disco-laced bhangra. But the results are only mildly amusing. Perfect for teen queens bored with Jawad Ahmed.

Dhaani - Strings ***

Must've been rather tough to follow up the melodic dynamics of 2001's "Duur" or even repeat the wonderfully understated charms of 1992's "Sar Kiye Ye Pahar." Seems that way, albeit the fact that on "Dhaani" the band sounds as if it is giving its best. But this best is not best enough. The arid zone melancholy, which gave "Duur" great depth and unassuming drawing powers, is somehow missing here. After sitting over it and spinning it a zillion times on my CD player, I still feel empty and find the whole experience rather shallow with pretentious takes on 'experimental pop', and songs that seemed to be solely cut for videos. And where Bilal Maqsood's jangling U2ish guitar runs fitted well with Duur's introverted scheme of things, they sound extremely repetitive and just too Pepsi-happy on "Dhaani." Yes, this is the expression I would like to use to sum up the said album's overall make-up and sound: Pepsi-happy!

Attitude-wise, if "Duur" was a step forward into matter far deeper and thicker for the Strings, "Dhaani" has pulled it all backwards. It's a slick, well-produced disappointment.

Jind Jan Sohniye - Jawad Ahmed **

I gave up on Jawad Ahmed long time ago. Never did he even attempt to recapture or evolve and expand the intense sufi-pop sound and attitude he so boldly offered on his excellent debut album, "Bol Tujhe Kya Chahiyeh" (1999). Instead, he went straight for those alluring and glitzy charms of mainstream fame with the massively popular but sadly formulaic bhangra-pop blah, "Uchiyan Majajan Wali." His idea was to make it big, enough to return to his sufi-pop roots, but no. Right away he was found in sponsorship deals, corporate enticements, and sob-story shaadi songs for pompous, bourgeoisie costume dramas designed as elaborate soap operas. And now this: "Jind Jan Sohniye." And yet another soapy lil' costume dittie called "Yeh Hi To Hai Apnapan." Yet another 'pop song' made around a catchy (and cynically put) advertising slogan by yet another meaningless (but popular) Pakistani pop artiste.

This album even lacks the disposable entertainment value of "Uchiyan Majajan Wali." It hits rock bottom with another round of jaded bhangra-pop, the usual folk-pop and shamelessly sentimentalized ballades which would require tons of onions for anyone aware enough to shed those "Awwwwww, how shweeet" tears. Sniff, sniff. Ye Hi To Hai Chichorapan!

Suno Ke Main Hun Jawan - Noori ***1/2

The Pakistani pop scene's best kept secret suddenly burst onto the scene with this pie of wholesomely digestible Alternative/college-rock and a natural feel for all the right media-savvy moves. A highly enjoyable outing but with a sound and attitude threatening to deviate and willingly land in the laps of cynical corporate sugar daddies and blinding media overexposure. However, listen closely to drummer Gumby's Stuart Copeland like roundabout style for all the right reasons.

Band leader, Ali Noor says Noori is "a product" (up for sale). Well, if this is what his music is a product of then I foresee another Fakhir Mahmood in the making! And God I wish I'm wrong because Noor's just too goddamn talented for such an end?

Irtiqa - EP ***1/2

Not since Junoon's "Talash" (1993), Jazba's "Jago" and Najam's "Sona Chatha Hoon" (1995), has the local scene been assaulted with such rage and fire. In fact the whole of Irtiqa is packed with raving angst rock, smartly arranged with dynamic twists and turns and some excellent lyrics. That is, if you minus the misdirected (slanglish) rap parts and that irritating lil' Pepsi logo on what is otherwise quite an album cover. I plan to barter mine for a Mecca Cola poster (wink, wink).

However this does little to deter me from announcing that as far as I am concerned, "Irtiqa" was one of the most sonically vital releases of the year.

Kash - Mizmaar **

An interesting addition to the scene. But Mizmaar tries to achieve a bit too much on "Kash." Of course, 'cash' is one of them, even though the band's tormented soul lyrics and a rather hotchpotch attempt to sound like virtuosos, mars Mizmaar's noble attentions, almost making them sound, err, a bit pretentious, perhaps? However, I'll be looking closely at the band's impressive instrumentalization and power play. Faith No More anyone?

Dewaar - Junoon **1/2

Take out the explosive "Garaj Baras" and the hypnotically sedated "Tara Jala" and you're left with an ageing band of bygone sufi-rockers desperately revamping and recharging their jaded souls with cola fizz and hectic PR. Sad.

Sawal - Aaroh ***

Surprise, surprise. Shall like to call them hard-rock equivalents of the superb Fuzon. Should be taken as a compliment. Loved the tight, three-chord HR riffing which accompany songs mostly structured over tested pop anthems and ballads. Lyrics may not be all that original or having the intensity of those spouted by EP, but the vocals and the rhythm section sound compact and assessable for mass consumption. Another one of Pepsi's hijack-the-rock-moniker byproducts. Cute!

Volume 2 - Dr. Aur Billa *1/2

A massive disappointment and absolutely nowhere close to the wonderfully irreverent parody-pop exploits of 1998's "Greatest Hits." Here vocalist Jawad Bashir tries to take himself a bit too seriously which is a big no-no for anyone who initially made it big as a what-me-worry madcap act. Seriously, the songs on Volume 2 suck! Why on earth should I listen to a parody-pop man trying to immolate (the beardless) Junaid Jamshed, and end up sounding a (bearded) Junaid Jamshed doodling with parody-pop? Scary thought.

Jawad's biggest mistake: He grew up and decided to go "mature." How absolutely boring.

Tera Naam Liya To - Ali Haider **

Sigh. Yes. Even poster-pop boys grow old. Reaching a peak with his harmless, swinging filmi-pop mantras on 1994's terrific, "Sandesa," Haider overhauled himself with the adventurous techno-fest, "Jadu," now only to go back to square one searching for that lovable, chubby and soapy ballad-maker of "Sandesa." Too bad he comes out sounding like an ageing boy-pop crooner who has nothing left to offer beyond the tried, tested and the (usually trash-worthy) soft pop routines.

Gardish - Karavan **1/2

Veteran guitarist Asad Ahmed should've done this ten years ago. But no, he had to stupidly waste all that time tagging along with corporate boy-band wonders, Awaz, banging his long locks more than his guitar and jumping about like Ace Fernley on, gulp, la-la-land toy-boy teen anthems!

Nadeem Farooq Paracha
December, 2003
The News International, Pakistan