Why isn't the Magic Working?


Once upon a time, there was a fair chubby boy who strummed out songs about old jeans on a guitar while the love of his life looked at him with her zaalim nazar. The boy went through life weaving cultural cliches into soppy but sweet songs that were predictable, yet catchy at the same time. Critics were fond of tearing him apart. Fashion scions labeled him pappoo and music industry insiders scoffed at his brand of pleasing pop. But Ali Haider stuck to his guns and came up with enough hits garnered enough appeal with his boyish looks to win sponsorships and record deals galore. He must have laughed all the way to the bank and then something snapped.

Maybe Ali had made enough money. Maybe he went out there and saw and did something different that made him come out with "Jadu". With a trancey feel with music that overpowers the lyrics, "Jadu" pulsates with club energy. It is easily the most experimental effort by any commercially successful artist. Who would have thought that Ali Haider would be the one to take up the cause of spreading trance in Pakistan?

Trance is a culture unto itself. With an electric mix of steady grooves and fast paced hypnotic rhythms, it places music over words and establishes a mood rather than pander to an emotion. The stress on music makes it pure dance music. Trance is not what you listen to when you are in love or out of love. It is not music that you can choreograph a dance to for your best friend's wedding. It is music to dance to, ideal for letting your hair down, moving to the beat and being a slave to the vibe for all extent and purpose. How many people do that in the land of the pure? This is why Ali Haider's "Jadu" is not selling.

Ali Haider has always been a seller because he has also always been a sell out to commercialism. However, the minute he decided to do something different, his share of the market plummeted. Though to people into music, Ali Haider's "Jadu" is something of milestone. People's respect for Ali Haider has suddenly gone up. Everyone, from Ali Azmat to Rohail Hyatt have been raving about "Jadu". No one believes that an album such as this has come out in Pakistan. And what people find even harder to digest is the fact that Ali Haider of fluffy pop and puppy fat fame has come out with this album. However, the facts speak for themselves. Ali Haider has successfully done what no man has done before.

It is not as if an effort like "Jadu" has not been made before. There are people making music in a lot of nooks and crannys of Pakistan. Unfortunately, the music has not managed to go beyond the corners in which it is made. Ali Haider, as an established artist can do for trance what some unknown who might be making music cannot do. People have bought "Jadu" for better or worse. However, Abrar-ul-Haq and Jawad Ahmad are leaping up the charts while "Jadu" remains at the bottom. But the point is that it remains on the charts, because there are only ten albums by ten artists that go around. Sometimes, it pays to be a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind.

People are buying "Jadu" and the video of the song is quite a rage. Directed by Babar, the "Ganda Banda", it is a simple video with all the colour that "Jadu" offers musically. The video is also found on every Indian VCD that you rent out. However, one wonders if it will catch the national imagination or the Indian imagination when and if it makes it to MTV. Nothing like Ali Haider's "Jadu" has come out of India either. However, better trance music that can be compared to "Jadu" is being made in the West by musicians like Talvin Singh and the Asian Dub Foundation.

Ali Haider's "Jadu" is not perfect by any standards, but it is a milestone of sorts. Ali has taken a worthy risk and come up with something new. Despite all of it's faults, "Jadu" will go down in the annals of Pakistani pop history despite it's performance in the market. That might change too. Junoon's "Azadi" made it big after "Sayonee" became all the rage on Channel V and MTV. All it takes is one lucrative trip to the other side of the great divide.

As they say: It ain't over till its over.

Muniba Kamal
April, 2001
The News International, Pakistan

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