The Musik Awards

Yes, it's that time of year again.

Time for the various award shows to clutter up our Television sets. And time again for us to ask the infamous question: Who judges these awards, and why weren't they fired last year?

This year the award season began with the 3rd Indus Music Awards and was followed soon by the 13th PTV Awards. Both the shows aired on the respective channels on the same night. Ironically, that very night - The Musik Awards (TMA) 2006 were being staged in Karachi. Post-awards observation includes: too many awards and not enough stars; we have to remember that the Grammy's and Oscars are decided by not a jury but by music and film professionals numbering in the thousands; in our part of the world: the respective channel's jury and owners do the do, which anyone with a sane mind would find absurd. As the famous saying goes, "Out of 5 billion, twelve decide I am guilty and they call that justice". The last laugh: we have no more than a hundred "legal" releases in the year and have more award ceremonies than England!

Having sat, earlier, through the very first ceremony that ARY networks had organized, all three hours of it showed from the beginning that TMA 2006 would be a very different awards show. Umar Amanullah (Creative Director/Head of Events) was responsible for the entire look and feel and the perception of the Awards - starting from the name TMA & the Award/Trophy Design to the whole theme, the set, the flow - it looked classy and spoke volumes about the amount of effort put into it since April.

TMA showed the difference. In the main, this was a rather tasteful, restrained affair. A bit long as it started a full four 4 hours past its scheduled time; a bit disorganized as the VIPs seated in the front were without a projector screen; a bit lost as it missed out on some major categories as that of the best singer/vocalist and best music journalist; a bit racist by offering the fashion brigade business class tickets while musicians flew economy class; a bit sad that some major contestants were missed out such as Mekaal Hasan from the best producer and Fahad Khan and Salman Albert from the best drummer categories. Despite all these shortcomings, it accomplished its mission showing off the best in contemporary popular music, with several touching tributes to the music that was.

While never being able to achieve its over-the-top, younger, and hipper feel- the definitely crasser rival, Indus Music (now MTV Pakistan in the making) has suffered in recent years with an identity crisis. It always tried to juggle its role as the "official" arbiter of authentically good music while being so "fashionable" at its music award ceremonies that it misses out handing the right awards to the right people. At most levels- TMA was everything that Indus Music Awards wished to be.

The process was simple and fuss free. The categories were decided by the channel and all the applicable list of nominees were sent to the Jury. This contained an average of 10 to 12 possible nominees per category. The Jury gave points to all the nominees and out of these, 5 top scoring nominations per category was short listed by the auditors and hence they became the final 5 nominees.

The Jury decided the winners for 14 of the Jury Awards Categories, while the viewers of The Musik decided the winners of the 7 Most Wanted Viewers Choice Categories via SMS, website polls and IVR. These sealed results for all categories whether Jury or Viewers' Choice, were delivered in sealed envelopes to the Auditors which were then compiled, sealed, and sent to ARY directly before the Awards began. So no one except the Auditors knew who had won! That makes TMA the first awards in Pakistan to be audited. The channel did what it's supposed to do: merely facilitate the awards as the actual winners are determined by the Jury and the viewers.

What also made TMA the most credible music awards this season was its jury that boasted of names such as: Pakistan's top music composer Arshad Mahmud, former Vital Sign, Shehzad 'Shahi' Hasan, Nayyara Noor, the very versatile Anwar Maqsood, style guru Tariq Amin, music journalist Nadeem Farooq Paracha, and ace director Asad-ul-Haq.

You can also tell a lot about an awards show by judging its hosts. I certainly was looking forward to watching some new faces taking on the stage at the TMA. And even though there were no major surprises the three duos - Hassan Shehryar Yasin aka HSY with Meesha Shafi, Aijaz Aslam and Sonya Khan, and the young and hip VJs, Faraz and Natasha - did a rather good job at introducing the categories and calling on the presenters.

An exhilarating opening performance by Ali Azmat ("Main Chala") accompanied by 10 models and a few clowns on-stage was more than just a perfect beginning to any music show.

Ali Azmat fans are not the brooding lot who like to analyze performance or set list. Azmat fans don't filter their Azmat experience through anything. That would just dilute it, stupid. Keep it simple: "brilliant", "great", "awesome", "whoo!" is about as polysyllabic as it gets. Little did anyone predict that a few hours later these few hundred people would be walking out of the venue with the exact same words coming out of their mouth just thousand times more intense!

Whereas in Pakistan, award ceremonies are mainly to socialize, world-over they are held to recognize the efforts of on-screen and behind the scene people who brought about a change or simply provided entertainment. The "Best Pop Song" "Pyaar To Hona Hee Hay" by Suroor pulled the biggest upset, nudging out the most popular songs "Zinda" by Strings and "Saali" by Shehzad Roy. The next award went to Shiraz Uppal's "Saiyan Wai" for the "Best Bhangra Song" and although his lovely track "Jhuki Jhuki" was a hit earlier this year, the award should have rightfully been given to Rahim Shah's "Ishq" which was by far a more rocking tune. Noori's slight chances of winning an award that night died when Ali Azmat walked away with the "Best Rock Song" for "Na Re Na". By the end of the show Ali had bagged the "Best Lyricist" for the same song (co-written with Sabir Zafar), "Best Music Producer" and "Best Album" of the night. "Na Re Na" was also one song too lucky and got Saqib Malik his "Most Wanted Video" award!

The more obvious winners of the night were Gumby for "Best Drummer", Sajjad Ali for "Best Live Act - Artist", The Mekaal Hasan Band for the "Best Live Act - Band", Atif Aslam and Annie for the "Best Male" and "Best Female" of 2006 respectively. However, the category for the "Best Guitarist" seemed slightly flawed to me that night. The nominees included Aamir Zaki who has not released an album in over a decade and his last commercial work is the song "Iss Baar Milo" by Hadiqa Kiani where he's been featured as a bass player and not a lead guitarist. A more sensible nomination should have been that of 'Sufi' Salman Ahmad who released his debut solo effort "Infiniti" earlier this year. The award was thankfully accepted by Shallum Xavier who literally ran to receive it from the gorgeous Aminah Haq and Ammar Belal.

Further on, a few felt that Abbas Ali Khan should have received the award for "Best Ballad" for his beautiful track "Sun Re", instead of the actual recipient Call for "Sab Bhula Kai". It was also most shocking to see Call win the "Most Wanted Band" category whereas the other nominees included the most deserving bands such as Noori, Strings, Fuzon, and The Mekaal Hasan Band. The least said about this particular result, the better. The Awards also acknowledged the next generation of superstars and honored Kaavish with the "Best Rising Star" award. Here's hoping that they'd now stick around for at least one album. Having already received the Pride of Performance more than once, Arshad Mahmud was given the TMA for "Outstanding Contribution to Music" in recognition of his distinguished services to music and the music business.

The most surprising nomination of the evening was that of Ali Noor as the "Best Producer" for his second album that was actually produced by Mekaal Hasan at the Digital Fidelity Studios. When asked how he felt about it Mekaal said, "I was nominated! Only my name was Ali Noor!". He thinks he'd never be able to own the record for the simple reason that Noor didn't give him credit for it. Some of the surprising winners included Sameer Ahmed for "Best Bassist" instead of the more applaudable Khalid Khan; Imran Momina aka Immu losing out to the extremely underrated Shuja Haider for the "Best Keyboardist"; "Leeway" by Corduroy winning the "Most Wanted English Track" instead of the very celebrated "Free Style Dive" by the Sajid and Zeeshan duo; and "Mahiya" winning the "Most Wanted Song" 2006. The most underrated song of the evening happened to be the most classic song to have come out of the music industry in terms of melody, arrangement, production, lyrics and so on - "Zinda" by Strings. And when this song lost to "Mahiya" by Annie - that's not even bubblegum pop, this writer felt like sulking in a corner somewhere. The audience was however treated to a live rendition of the song by Strings straight after winning the "Motorola Icon Award" of the night.

TMA was a good, solid show. The producers just pushed the music. The awards almost seemed to be an afterthought to showing performers. With a performance each by Ali Azmat ("Main Chala"), Annie ("Mahiya"), Haroon Rashid ("Jiya Jaey"), Strings ("Zinda"), Aaroh (Raag Neela"), Shazia Manzoor, and The Mekaal Hasan Band ("Jhok Ranjhan"). Thus it was almost a lengthy concert with an award presentation and acceptance slipped in here and there. Generally speaking, that worked.

The second last performance of the night was one of the two reasons that the audience didn't realize the amount of time they spent waiting for the awards to begin and walked out as happily as they had walked in!

The rather humongous stage was ready to rock to the TMA Band comprising Shallum Xavier on lead guitars, Gumby on drums, Immu on keyboards, and Khalid on bass guitar. Together these four performers had created a unique blend of sound composed by Shallum. The theme of the awards that was running all through the nominees and the show was being staged for the very first time. The true musicianship of these 4 over-the-top musicians came forward as the band played how every act should play at every show: live and with a passion that would translate itself to the audience with no words required. After a small break the band was to come back on for the grand finale!

Though first, it was now time to honor a lifetime of classic contributions to the field of music - the recipient of TMA's Lifetime Achievement Award was a man who infused new blood in the music of mid-70s. At a time when people thought that after Ahmed Rushdie, Akhlaque Ahmed, Runa Laila and the likes they will breathe in a world without music - Alamgir dawned a new hope at just that point in time. Alamgir's teary-eyed speech was one of the night's more touching moments. After the standing ovation, the TMA band came on stage again and for the first time in 15 years, Alamgir was set to belt out a few of his classic songs with four of the most rocking musicians on the scene today.

Where Ali Azmat's audience was rapturously seduced by the monosyllabic simplicity of it all, Alamgir took his audience to places greater than great, more awesome than awesome and whoo-er than whoo with a rakish ruffle of his tousled head and a few off beat clicks of his fingers. His performance was a wake-up call in Ali Azmat's face that he hadn't performed on stage in 15 years, that he was old now and looked it but that he was still the King of Pop! As all such shows are guaranteed to have at least one incredibly strange moment each year - the kind of moment that is talked about for years Alamgir's performance was that moment!

By the time the reverie starts to dissipate, he'll have left the stage, leaving hundreds of sated fans inexplicably humming "Keh Dai Na" at the exit, "Albela Rahi" on their way to the after-party and "Daikha Na Tha" for the next thousand years. Ladies and gentlemen, the awards have spoken. And, Alamgir has landed.

Insiya Syed
July, 2006
Dawn, Pakistan