2014: Pakistan's year of music idols, festivals and indie bands

By Zahra Salahuddin

When it comes to music in Pakistan, it has always felt like the Dragon coaster ride at Sindbad, Karachi. One doesn’t entirely trust it at first, but then we get used to the ups and downs and get a thrill out of it.

Similar highs and lows have been prevalent in our country’s music scene as well. Record labels are now somewhat dormant and the gig culture continues to gasp for air, but some exciting music moments have helped remind us that the joyride known as Pakistani music continues in its attempt to thrill us.

Here’s a list of some of Dawn.com's picks for the best music moments in 2014.


First Pakistan Idol

Although the show officially started in 2013, the season continued till the first few months of 2014 and it was a great start to the year musically, as scores of men and women in cities across Pakistan went out to audition.

When was the last time we saw thousands of people all over Pakistan make an effort for music? (No, dharnas don’t count).

Pakistan Idol was a great way to suss out the incredible talent we had no idea existed.  People auditioning for Pakistan Idol. – Photo credit: pakistanidol.com

After the selection process was over and the various competition rounds of the show began, many tuned into the show every week at 9pm.

    Ali Azmat. – Photo credit: pakistanidol.com

Ali Azmat. – Photo credit: fmmultan.com

There were some moments in the show one can pass off as comic relief as contestants cracked jokes during auditions, and some were just plain ugly. In his attempt to follow the American Idol format, Ali Azmat forgot he is not actually Simon Cowell.

Hailing from Mandi Bahauddin, Zamad Baig charmed the judges and voters with his classical, Sufi renditions. With no formal musical training, he became the first ever Pakistan Idol. He later went on to do a collaborative performance with Ali Azmat on the show Cornetto Music Icons, and is currently working on releasing an album.

Speaking about his experience in the first ever Pakistan Idol season, Zamad said: "The experience was life changing, it was something happening for the very first time in Pakistan, so whoever was part of the venture learned a lot.

"I went in as a young boy, and came out with so much experience."

Strings produce Coke Studio Season 7

Was Rohail Hyatt a better producer than Strings?

That is one never-ending debate.

The last season Rohail produced was an elaborate affair with all those foreign musicians, but it felt like the show was running its course.

And then Strings (Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia) stepped in to produce season seven, playing a bit with nostalgia.

Being able to witness the likes of Zoheb Hassan and Amir Zaki in a show together brought back memories of a time when music in the country was thriving.

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Bilal and Faisal really knew how to achieve the perfect balance in what the show would offer to music listeners who love to criticise, incorporating styles and genres that had mass appeal.

On one hand, we saw legends like Abida Parveen and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, while on the other there were upcoming musicians like Jimmy Khan and the band Naseer & Shahab, who were greatly appreciated after the show.

“It's important that the songs we select show a wide spectrum not only in genres but also in time,” Strings said.

“From ancient Sufi kalams to classic film songs, to eighties pop and unreleased songs, Coke Studio has to cater to a wide range of audiences spread all over the world.”

Talking about their experience with Coke Studio this year, Strings commented: “As the producers of Coke Studio our responsibility is immense. We want Pakistani music and musicians to shine out and want to present the show in a way that they look and sound at par with international live music shows.” Strings. – Photo by Kohi Marri

What was Strings' most memorable Coke Studio moment?

“Working with Abida Parveen and Raees Khan sahib was a dream come true," said the band.

"Similarly, Rahat and Abidaji's collaboration is something we are very proud of. Just sitting in the company of these musical geniuses and discussing the songs and concepts are some of the most unforgettable moments.”

25 undiscovered musicians on Nescafe Basement 3

We haven’t seen much of this season so far, but the reason why it is one of the best moments for music is because of the 26 unknown musicians that producer Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan, popularly known as Zulfi, took on board with him.

Be it musicians from Karachi or Rahim Yar Khan, it seems this season Zulfi decided to pull out all the stops.

A group of young, promising musicians covered some great classics most of us grew up listening to, including songs by Roxette and the Back Street Boys.

From what we’ve seen so far, it seems that Sharoon Leo, the violinist, is definitely going places.

Indie bands represent Pakistan in the US

Struggling underground, independent musicians are the new trend in the Pakistani music scene, serving as the ventilator that keeps things alive.

Poor Rich Boy and Khumariyaan, indie bands based in Lahore and Peshawar respectively, got selected for a concert tour in the US for Center Stage, which is an exchange program with the sole purpose of using performing arts as a means of spreading cultural awareness.

Umer Khan, one of the vocalists from the band Poor Rich Boy, said it was a "dream come true" to play in America: “People there seemed genuinely interested in the arts and cultural activities in general.”

“Playing music out on the streets and parks is the norm there. Nobody thinks you're crazy!” Umer added. “Plus, we got paid enough to be able to buy our own instruments. Till then most of us had been playing borrowed instruments.” Band members of Poor Rich Boy. – Photo credit: Senna Ahmad

Indo-Pak collaborations

The political situation in Pakistan and our relationship with neighbouring countries have remain strained across the year, which is why collaborative gestures by musicians on both sides of the border serve as a beacon of hope for any compassion and harmony in the future.

This year on Independence Day a song called ‘Rang Rangiya’ was released by an Indian band Maati Baani.

Read more: Pakistani, Indian artists jointly release song on Independence Day

The band reached out online to a number of Pakistani musicians such as Omran Shafique and Komal Rizvi. Musicians from both countries worked on the song entirely with the help of the internet.

Two cinematographers from Lahore and Karachi also helped in shooting a collaborative music video, and sent it across to be edited.

The song revolves around spreading the message of love across India and Pakistan, and the beauty of music is its universal charm.

Music festivals

    Talha Asim performs at Storm in a Tea Cup. – Photo credit: Arsalan PirzadaTalha Asim performs at Storm in a Tea Cup. – Photo credit: Arsalan Pirzada

In 2014, there were a handful of notable music festivals that were held in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi.

Most of these festivals were organised by underground musicians in order to have a platform to reach out to their cult following.

These festivals include Storm in a Tea Cup, which was organised by True Brew Records and took place in January in Lahore, where underground bands from Karachi and Islamabad also performed.

Rockfest, organised in Islamabad by Kuch Khaas, also took place around the same time as Storm in a Tea Cup. The concert was part of the Khayaban-e-Lussun tour, organised by Nadir Shehzad Khan, the front-man of Karachi’s indie band Sikandar Ka Mandar.

This tour helped bands from the three cities come together and play shows for wider audiences.  Rockfest in Islamabad. – Photo credit: Riz Photography

Music mela Conference took place in May, which was also held in Islamabad organised by FACE (Foundation for Arts, Culture and Education) in collaboration with the Pak-US Alumni network. What is most special about this festival is that some musicians that performed at the show were selected to perform in the US.

Todd Puckhaber, a booker for one of the largest music festivals in America known as South by Southwest (SXSW), selected bands from Pakistan to play at the festival in 2015.

Puckhaber also met with Poor Rich Boy and Khumariyaan who later went on to tour the US for Center Stage. Music mela Conference. – Photo courtesy: fotology

The Empowerfest, an all-day music festival, was held in Karachi in August with the aim of raising funds for flood victims in Thar.

The proceeds from the festival were donated to Resettling the Indus, an NGO that aims to provide help for flood-affected communities in Pakistan. Empowerfest held in Karachi. – Photo courtesy: Ebtesam Ahmed

Top five songs of 2014

Pakistan surprises us each year. Be it politics or music, every year we see something completely unexpected.

The year 2014 also gave us some unexpected treats, although few and far between.

Here is our list of top five songs that were released this year.

Ghungat – Mekaal Hasan Band

Guitar maestro Mekaal Hasan, who also happens to be one of Pakistan’s best audio producers, disappeared completely these past couple of years and it was quite upsetting for his fans.

It later transpired that there is a whole new Mekaal Hasan Band – an indo-pak band!

With a couple of members from Pakistan and India, the new band released an album Andholan this year, which surpassed all previous virtuosity brought forward by Mekaal.

Check out this live performance of the song 'Ghungat' from the new album and you’ll see what we mean.

Sarak Sarak – Mai Dhai Band

Music in Pakistan can never be complete without traces of our roots and culture in it, which is why it would be impossible not to include Mai Dhai, one of Tharparkar’s most celebrated folk singers, in this list.

While folk music in Pakistan, more often than not, gets sidelined by new genres of music being adopted into the music scene, this spectacular fusion piece by the Mai Dhai Band gives us hope for the future of music in this country.

Accompanied by some of Lahore’s known indie musicians, Mai Dhai’s song 'Sarak Sarak' really hits the spot with this perfect fusion of jazz with folk.

Exploding Heart – Adil Omar

Thanks to Fakhr-e-Alam, rap music’s entry in the Pakistani scene albeit peculiar, has had sporadic hits over the years.

Although we don’t get to hear a regular stream of rap music, Adil Omar’s 'Exploding Heart' without a doubt takes the cake.

Not only is the production quality of the song impeccable, the music video for this song is the best to come out this year.

Directed and edited by Aisha Linnea and Shahbaz Shigri of Slackistan fame, the visual effects are remarkable, setting the bar very high locally.

Sau Dafa – Zoe Viccaji

Apart from Mekaal Hasan and Abbas Ali Khan, Zoe Viccaji was one of the very few brave mainstream musicians to release an album this year.

This feel-good song from Zoe’s album Dareeche has beautifully uplifting lyrics (yay freedom from societal expectations!).

Usually, Zoe’s music has a standard formula in all her songs, but the reggae undertones in her traditional pop style makes 'Sau Dafa' distinctive. It’s nice to sometimes have a song in your playlist you can tap your feet and wave your arms to.

Chaar Paanch Chay – Janoobi Khargosh

The year 2014 has been paramount for underground indie musicians in Pakistan. The amount of indie albums to come out this year has greatly surpassed the number of mainstream albums or perhaps even singles.

One indie album that did exceptionally well and went viral overnight is Janoobi Khargosh’s album Billi Khamba aur Urantashtari.

The fact that one of the songs from the album, ‘Chaar Paanch Chay’, has 21,938 plays on Soundcloud speaks volumes.

Janoobi Khargosh is Waleed Ahmed’s brainchild, who writes and produces all the songs. This particular song is the epitome of indie music in Pakistan right now, with its multilayered lyrics and intricate song arrangements and production style.

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