The Upward Spiral


The rolling stone of rock has been gathering moss over the years. It started rolling with Junoon and a bunch of bands like Scratch, Barbarians, Arid Zone, and a host of others who have since evaporated into thin smoke, who liked to dish it out harder, faster and more ferociously than pop ever could. And now, the rocking underground has a phenomenon to reckon with.

The music underground has emerged from the cavernous depths of confusion in which it was formerly submerged. Pakistan has finally started rocking. We now have our own music channel and a network of musicians that just keeps on growing. There is the Lahore scene and the Karachi scene and now there is a lot of communication in between. The result is a crackling energy of creativity that is more raw talent than it is polished but at least it's there.

Come to think of it, the strangest things have been happening in the music scene since the beginning of this century. Pretty much all the old, established acts have got into a groove. Zoheb Hasan is in his forties running a company. Junaid Jamshed has a sponsor and is making the kind of music that is his only forte. Ali Haider has a sponsor and the guts to go stark raving mad with his music at the peak of his popularity. The Strings have matured like fine wine with an enviable live act with songs people scream along with them. Hadiqa still has 'that' voice and releases albums consistently. Jawad Ahmed and Abrar are the undisputed kings of the folk music scene, while Fakhir and Haroon have found their own individual awaz. Rohail Hyatt has his own production house. Shehzad Hasan his own recording studio. Aamir Zaki is still pursuing his own mad dream. Junoon are in New York exploring international avenues with a song called "No More" about 9/11 that one can hear on their website (which, incidentally, happens to be the only place where I have heard chatter about the song). But, they have all done well for themselves. They have answered their true callings in life and have succeeded in making a career out of the kind of music they wanted to create. The kind of music people said wouldn't work here. They have their path to follow and an audience to cater to. However, the Pakistani music industry is about to get a face lift.

The new warriors are here with a suitcase of brand new songs, ideas, riffs and beats. And these are not kids with mere ideas; they are talent that has been waiting in the wings for a long time and now that time, their time, has come. Aaroh, Noori, EP and a host of others have started making inroads into the hitherto limited aural landscape that has started expanding at the pace of a Gumby drum roll. The newcomers have started penetrating the market in the unlikeliest of ways.

Just when one was worried that everyone had gotten into their own groove (read: rut), which is very worrying because that meant the industry had started stagnating, along came a really bad drama serial with a killer title track. The drama serial was "Jab Jab Dil Mile" and the song was "Aankhon Ke Saagar". Soon after that, a video was released of the song with an impressive band by the sea interspersed with melodramatic clips from the drama serial. The clips were tacky and shots of the band far and few in between, but the way the song captured the national imagination was a rare case of when people watch music rather than listen to it. Fuzon's "Aankhon Ke Saagar's" musical content overpowered the visuals making it a chart topper.

The last Pakistani star to make it big in the West was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He gave them something that they didn't have. He could do things that they couldn't do. He could take them where they hadn't been before. Shafqat Amanat Ali could well carry on from where he left off. That voice soars over the harshest of musical compositions and undulates gently with the sweeter ones. Immu has enough experience to weld the Shafqat gharana honed genius with the guitar wizardry of Shallum Xavier to come up with an album that has reinstated the faith of so many in the alternative music scene. The combination is a phenomenal mix of reinvented raags and innovative tunes that go to the very roots of all we know and bring them out of the earth to bask in the contemporary sun of all that is alternative. And for this reason, Aankhon Ke Saagar transcends so many boundaries and makes people of all ages and wages sing along. Chances are it even plays in your grandmother's head.

Then there are the post Junoon rockers who thankfully have no illusions of belonging to any sufi tradition. And they don't need Sabir Zafar to write their lyrics either. The most innovative of them is Noori, which relies on the song-writing talents of head honcho Ali Noor to make them the messiahs of a new generation of headbangers.

Suno ke main hoon jawaan
Upar khulla hai aasman
Andar kadakti bijli
Phir bhi nazaara darmiyaan

Neat, clean and when you're sweet sixteen, you can sure as hell identify with them. Noor has attained cult status via the Lahore underground scene and the internet. At the recently held show at CBM, Noori were the ones people were waiting for. And it's not that the other bands aren't good, it's just that Noori have a voice that is speaking to a whole generation of rock lovers like Junoon did in the first few years of their existence. That is probably because Sabir Zafar wrote all their lyrics while Noor writes his own. Plus, with veterans like Gumby and Mohammad Ali Jafri, Noori rocks and the BC boy Ali Hamza, Noori is a combination to watch out for.

There are a lot more bands on the cards, but unfortunately they haven't hit the recording studio yet. Aaroh, the brand new Pepsi band are also waiting in the wings. With an incredibly tight sound, they have an electrifying stage presence. Farooq, the lead vocalist has incredible body language and the ability to strike the right notes. Combine that with keyboardist and producer Kamran Khan's ability and Pepsi sponsorship you have one more band to watch out for.

Then there is EP with enough energy to short circuit the Energizer bunny, who, frankly speaking look better than they sound. Their reworking of Sajjad Ali's "Bolo Bolo Tum Ne Kiya Dekha" has become a hot favourite, but they have yet to come into their own. With Mekaal Hasan helping them, one is sure that they will do well. Unfortunately, one can't say the same for Mekaal who has played some dazzling shows but there is no way that his unique brand of music will sell. And the man knows and he understands and he's got a recording studio and all the time in the world to invest in the upcoming musical acts. Another ten years of rock and maybe, just maybe the market will be ready for him.

The market is growing and many niche markets are being formed within it. The older baby boomers are looking over generation X with care. There game is different now and they trust that their proteges will play on.

Muniba Kamal
December, 2002
The News International, Pakistan

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