And The Nominees Are ...

A private music channel has finally taken the initiative to launch Pakistan's first Pop Music Awards. It's about time we start concentrating on a rapidly growing event and scene like homegrown pop music in the country rather than bundle in millions of rupees and thousands of minutes of airtime promoting glamorised fringe and sub-cultural activities such as fashion or, for that matter, depleted institutions like the land's film industry.

However, there's a cynical side to it as well. And it cuts both ways: The event may end up looking contrived and downright silly like most Indian and Pakistan show-biz award ceremonies, and/or worse it being plagued by factors such as corporate and media-related favouritism. These are valid fears but let us deal with the matter at hand.

The big question is, how justified are the nominations? In an effort to find the answer I went through the videos, songs, and albums nominated. The answers were not always so convincing ...

Best Female Artist

Huma Khwaja: Laaj

Sehar: Choti Si Baaton

Hadiqa Kiyani: Mahi

Fariah Pervaiz: Kokla Chapaki

Humera Arshad: Main Nahi Boldi

By the sound (and looks) of it, the female scene is still a Hadiqa monopoly. It's sad that where it took a mere four years for a talent like Hadiqa to fill the gaping void left after Nazia Hassan's departure, nine years after Hadiqa's debut album, she is yet to be seriously challenged in this category.

The result: Weak new talent contributing to a rising sense of complacency and disappointing musical performance by the country's leading pop diva. It's sad that the lady in black had to use an expensive and highly stylized video as compensation.

Best Male (Pop) Artist

Shahzad Roy: Bhool Ja

Ali Azmat: Gharaj Baras

Ali Zafar: Channo

Faakhir: Sab Tou Sohniye

Najam Shiraz: Aao Wahan Chalain

This is a tough one. Ali Azmat hits a much awaited peak with the thunderous "Gharaj Baras" (with Junoon), and Ali Zafar is quite impressive with his debut song, the tongue-in-cheek and playful, "Channo". Roy is as he always is, i.e. not too exciting nor a total dud. Same is the case with Mr. Faakhir as he lends his pink bubblegum touch to Madam Noor Jehan's dreamy eyed ditty. Najam, however, continues to disappoint. He's not Cat Stevens, y'know. Because Stevens, after he became Yusaf Ali, started reciting the Koran in a Jallalabad madressah instead of reciting agarbatti naats on the telly.

Best Rock Song

Mizraab: Izhaar

Noori: Suno Ke Mein Hoon Jawan

Mizmaar: Laut Ke Aa

Karavan: Yeh Zindagi Hai

Junoon: Pappu Yaar

In spite of Junoon's album "Deewar" being an overall farce, "Pappu Yaar" became its only highlight. A jumpy rocker that proved that if the aging Junoon allow themselves to cut down on their sudden, apathetic dependence on cola calories, they can still manage to churn out that old Junoon magic. Apart from this song, nothing else in this category seems as exciting. Noori's "Suno ..." sounds just too tame to be treated as a rock song, while Mizmaar and Mizraab tunes are all over the place, struggling to find direction and totally failing at that; even though, comparatively speaking, the Mizmaar song seems more compact, if not exactly better. Karavan continue to impress, but yet again this song (like most Karavan tunes), reflect that longing by the band to one day be recognized as Junoon's true successors in the local rock scene.

This could have been a possibility had leader/guitarist, Assad Ahmed, spent a good part of the '90s building Karavan instead of posing with Pepsi cans with boy-band, Awaz.

Best Debut

Ali Zafar: Channo

Mishi Khan: Meray Mahia

Danish: Chalo Meray Saath

Shuja Haider: Tera Woh

Imik: Piya

Khadija: Oh Dilbar

Absolutely nothing comes close to Ali Zafar's "Channo" here. But what on earth is Mishi Khan doing bouncing about and chanting silly little nothings? Who the heck gave her the idea that she can sing, or worse, dance? And why aren't Danish, Shuja, Imik, and Khadija at school?

Best Video

Junoon: Pappu Yaar (by Sohail Javed)

Fuzon: Teray Bina (by Sohail Javed)

Hadiqa: Mahi (by Asim Raza)

Ali Zafar: Channo (by Ahsan Rahim and Amena Khan)

Okay, this one's close. But I'd like to put Zafar and Junoon in front because their songs are as strong and entertaining as the videos, even though Hadiqa's video sprints past in technique and glamour. But the song is weak. With Fuzon it's the other way round. The video just doesn't do much justice to the song, which is in effect a solid pop ballad.

Best Song (Female)

Fariha Pervaiz: Kokla Chapaki

Humaira Arshad: Main Nahi Boldi

Hadiqa: Mahi

Huma Khwaja: Laaj

Sehar: Choti Si Baaton

A weak grouping, so much so, that Hadiqa's substandard "Mahi" appears to be a clear winner. And just when will Fariha Pervaiz realise that she was destined to be a one-hit-wonder? Sehar shows some spark but it's not bright enough. And the less said about Huma Khuwaja and Humaira Arshad, the better. Sorry ladies.

Best Song (Male)

Ahmed Jahanzeb: Kaho Ek Din

Ali Zafar: Channo

Strings: Chaaye Chaaye

Faakhir: Sab Toun Sohniye

Abrar-ul-Haq: Maal-O-Maal

Fuzon: Teray Bina

Ahmed Jehanzeb has been a terrific find. His highly melodic (and melancholic) style reminds one of a folky version of the Signs' darker moments (especially those on their second (VS:2) and fourth (Hum Tum) albums. Right now the only thing that can whiplash Jehanzeb's hold over well made sombre pop is him falling for some wise guy's advise to push in a bhangra hit! Zafar's playful "Channo" may give "Kaho Ek Din" a little run and so can Fuzon's solid "Teray Bina", but I believe, eventually, Jehanzeb should (on merit) win this category quite easily. Always thought Strings' cola-friendly "Chaaye Chaaye" was nauseatingly overrated, while with 'Maal-O-Maal" Abrar does absolutely nothing what he hasn't already done a dozen times before. I have already commented about Faakhir's "Sab Toun Sohniye" elsewhere here, and really, the song does not merit another look (or listen).

Best Album

Huqa Paani: Ali Zafar

Jind Jan Sohniye: Jawad Ahmed

Deewar: Junoon

Tera Te Mera: Shiraz Uppal

Dhaani: Strings

Parastish: Ahmed Jehanzeb

Jehanzeb's "Parastish" is the one with the least number of bald patches. The bare and uninteresting parts are quite uncommon, enough to make this album an excellent listen and a true manifestation of Jehanzeb's obvious talents. Strings' "Dhaani" should be able to inch ahead due to the glamour attached to it and the "Pepsi lobby" working overtime to make it look like the best thing that happened to Pakistani pop after the Vital Signs. Of course, this is far from the truth, because "Dhaani" doesn't even come close to match the prowess and quality of its 2002 predecessor, "Duur". Zafar's "Huqa Pani" is a front runner as well, but it's patchy; at some places highly entertaining and funky only to be troubled by ditties sounding like flat, formulaic bhangra pranks! Not bad for a debut, though.

Junoon's "Dewaar", as mentioned before, is largely a waste of time and the veteran act's weakest release to date. On the other hand, Jehanzeb and Strings needn't worry at all about Shiraz and Jawad. Shiraz has promise but certainly by the sound of his album, he won't be doing anything out of the box in the future as well. As for Jawad, he stopped doing that a long time ago. A crooner with certain warped ideas about patriotism and life in general which, to him, seems to be like one big soap opera. What a waste, what a waste.

Best Band






Fuzon should take the cake here, but not by much, especially if you consider the impressive commercial credibility of Strings' fourth album, "Dhaani". Aesthetically, of course, Fuzon sprints past Strings' recent showings as a creative entity. Junoon on the other hand are blinking like a rapidly diminishing star, fading fast and now sounding no better than fat, complacent has-beens. "Pappu Yaar" should only be taken as a brief breath of relief.

Noori have a long, long way to go. No matter how many thousands of minutes they spend on music shows selling Polo holes and riding Foxys, Ali Noor and co. will have to pull something more substantial out to merit a place in the big league. Another pretty lil' album of bubblegum collage-rock just won't do. Karavan, anyone?

Best Alternative Band/Song

EP: Aghosh

Rushk: Khwahish

Abbas Ali Khan: Jane Kia Hai

Mizraab: Izhar

Mekaal Hassan Band: Raba

Dr. Aur Billa: Keh Do

Whatever happened to "Best Alternative" and "Best Rock" albums and videos? I thought there was a swinging local rock outbreak there. Whatever happened to all the Razams, Jals, Calls, Naqsh, etc., etc., etc.? Many of these acts may not have as big a market as pop, but I do see many of them jumping about on the telly. So it is surprising to see a television network which gathers at least 35% of its air time software from these acts, decide to blatantly ignore this category. Shame.

Whatever that has been nominated in this respect doesn't do much justice to the (albeit elusive) genre. EP's up there and I think it should win quite easily. Their debut was a cracker, though highly underrated, however I do believe it was for the local rock scene what Junoon's "Talaash" was to the scene back in 1993. EP should be getting a stiff challenge from Mekaal Hassan Band, even though "Raba" was not exactly the best song on MHB's excellent debut album. I was happy to see Rushk's name here. They are one fine act, but perhaps their bad PR keeps getting them ignored? Anyway, I've always maintained that true artists are inherently bad PR people and I believe on an artistic level, Rushk come closest to genuine artists like Mekaal and Aamir Zaki in the scene. Mizraab were a massive disappointment and I really do not see another album by the bemused band. At least not before guitarist/vocalist Faraz Anwar plays another series of sessions with seasoned pop tarts! Maybe this was the reason his own band ended up seeming so awkwardly confused on their own debut release?

I would not like to bother about Dr. Aur Billa. Once one of the most subversive, wittiest and exciting things to emerge from the confines of the local pop scene, D&B are now no more than their own sad parody. In fact ironically, they are now also perhaps one of the most boring and dull players getting unjustified air time and a mention in the nominations here. An insult to all those (better) acts that got ignored. And by the way, who's Abbas Ali Khan?

Best Ballads

Jao Tum: Haroon

Tere Bina: Fuzon

Kaho Ek Din: Ahmed Jehanzeb

Tera Naam Liya Tou: Ali Haider

Bin Tere: Jawad Ahmed

Ballads are a tricky business. Some can be wonderful (like Fuzon's 'Tere Bina' and Jehanzeb's 'Kaho Ek Din'), some can be too diabetic (like Jawad's 'Bin Tere'), but most, (like Haroon's 'Jao Tum' and Haider's 'Tera Naam Liya') can be formulaic duds and, eventually, absolutely nothing to write home about. Stop that glycerine laced sobbing, boys. Look towards those haunting melodies by the likes of VS and Sajjad Ali for some balladeer inspiration.

Nadeem Farooq Paracha
July, 2004
The News International, Pakistan