Where Do We Go From Here?

It’s the same story year after year: We insufferable music critics review the current pop scenario in the country in glowing terms and predict great things for the industry; we say the pop industry has got what it takes and it’s ready to break through. Yet at the end of the day, barring a few good ditties, we are left dwindling our thumbs.

Not so long ago (well, to be honest, it was more than a year ago) the music scene in the country was looking brighter than ever. With the release of albums by the likes of Jal, Atif, EP, Aaroh, and Ali Zafar, it seemed that Pakistani pop was going to overwhelm the country and overflow across the border to engulf all of Southeast Asia. Several optimistic music critics had predicted Ali Zafar fan clubs as far as the islands of Sri Lanka!

A year on, apart from Noori’s second album, none of the new kids on the block have released anything new. As for the music listeners, "Channo ki ankh mein ab nasha nahin raha!" It’s the lack of sustainability that dogs the industry. A cursory look at the scenario reveals that none of relatively new acts have any album releases to their credit. A good example is Rungg, who have been threatening to release their debut album for the past ten months. No one takes them seriously any more. Another case in point is Atif; only God knows how much longer he plans to continue singing "Aadat" and "Woh Lamhe." At a recent music extravaganza held at Alhamra, Lahore, fans thronged to an Atif concert to hear him sing "Aadat" for the 6,009,156,498th time, then they were back the second day to hear Jal sing, yes, "Aadat," and they still turned up on the third day to hear both Atif and Jal take their turns singing, yes you guessed it, "Aadat!" It’s amazing that the absurdity of the situation hasn’t struck Atif yet. He doesn’t seem to want to let up and is churning out remix after remix of "Aadat" and "Woh Lamhe." Someone need to tell the lad that changing “Kahin sey ye hawa ayi” to “Kahin sey ye fiza ayi” does not count for new material. The Indians may love it, but then they haven’t been subjected to hearing the songs constantly in various permutations and combinations by two different bands for two years. Enough, already!

The same goes for one-time mega band Fuzon, who rocked the nation with their debut album. Three years on, there’s still no sign of their second offering. The only new song they managed to cough up was a jingle for a bugglegum ad. Hearing the classically trained vocalist Shafqat Amanat Ali croon “Strawberry ho ya bananaaaa!” is enough to give one indigestion for weeks.

I mean the writing is on the wall: to be a pop star, you have got to have staying power; the pop world is full of one-hit wonders and flash in the pans.

Ali Zafar and EP have been resting on their laurels for too long and if they don’t come up with something new, fans won’t be queuing outside when they finally get around to releasing that second album. With a steady stream of hits being churned out by Bollywood and new albums of Coldplay and Matchbox Twenty available at music stores, it might not be too long before Pak pop fans turn elsewhere to quench their musical thirst. Take the classic case of Noori – they took a whole two and a half years to release their second album, by which time their fans, “The Noorians” as they call themselves, weren’t that Noorian anymore; they had moved on. Two and a half years in a Pakistani teenager’s life is a lot of time. Just imagine the number of girls/boys he/she has ogled at in that span, not to mention the number of Indian films watched. In all fairness, the album was decent but because they hadn’t struck when the metal was hot, their second offering has kind of fizzled out. It came and went without creating any major headlines.

The music channels have also become a tad bit boring, but one can’t really blame them. Given the slow rate at which new videos are being produced, what can they do except make up strange shows. Indus Music first made us suffer through Anoushey’s attempts at sounding intellectual, when the only thing she was interested in was trying to hammer it in our minds that she has travelled abroad. Most of her shows go like this, “When I was in England, I saw these huge posters of blah blah blah…” or “I heard Enrique’s new song while travelling in a train in Czeckoslovakia.” Ok girl, so you have been around, big deal. Spare us pleaseeeee.

And if it wasn’t irritating enough watching her on her own, she has now teamed up with her sister for a new show called "Sister Act" (Talk about being original… uffff!). Then there is the show called "On The Fringe" where a shabbily dressed man walks around interviewing stars and asking them the most inane questions. In an interview with Atif, he asked him what the capital of Ecuador was and Atif said Islamabad! Again, you can’t blame the music channels. With few singers and bands and not many videos to play, kudos to them for running 24-hour music channels.

But where our local singers have been rather complacent, the bigger picture is certainly heartening, with the industry as a whole making considerable strides. In my view, the greatest achievement made by our crooners is that the sheer power of their music has changed the tastes of an entire generation and unlike older generations who thrived on Madonna and Michael Jackson, the teenyboppers today listen to Atif, Aaroh, and Jal with pride. These bands have created loyal followings and one just has to surf the net to see how popular Pakistani bands have become with the youth. It’s no longer paindoo to say, “I watch Indus Music” or “I think Aaroh’s new song is cool”. Although we haven’t reached the stage where Pakistani girls are finding Ali Zafar cooler than Ricky Martin, the ball has been set rolling. Pop stars have now taken the lead when it comes to marketing products, which is a sign of their increasing popularity, and are being given the respect that they deserve. This makes it all the more important for bands to keep coming up with new stuff regularly.

It is the old guard who are continuing to be the flag bearers in this regard also. For example, the only real hit album to come out in the last six months has been Ali Azmat’s "Social Circus." With two great videos, "Deewana" and "Na Re Na," it’s the stalwart of the industry who’s showing the way. Breaking away from Junoon, Ali has come out with a new sound that has blown all of us away and to our delight, Salman Ahmed has followed suit. The only relatively new act showing signs of life is the Mekaal Hasan Band with their new song, the powerful "Andholan," doing the rounds on the local music channels. The others need to wake up and smell the coffee too, before it’s too late and the exasperated public has moved elsewhere to quench their thirst for music. The industry needs our pop stars to get their acts together and once again, spin the same kind of magic that gave us songs like "Hamesha," Aadat," and "Channo."

Shaiba Rizwan
February, 2006
The Daily Times, Pakistan