By Sonya Rehman
In the early 2000s, two thoroughly charismatic young men released a song called ‘Aadat’ which put the Pakistani music scene in quite a little tizzy.
Sung by frontman Atif Aslam, along with a close friend – and guitarist – Gohar Mumtaz, ‘Jal’ (the name of the band) experienced national recognition which truly sky-rocketed once their music video (directed by the well-known music video director, Umar Anwar) was released on local television.
But as with instantaneous fame, things began going horribly wrong for both Atif and Gohar.
Amidst both professional and personal differences, allegations were slung, lawsuits raked up, and the instigation of painful, psychological warfare left a bitter taste in the mouths of the two musicians – who were once friends – and their ardent supporters.
And almost immediately after, Jal disbanded – Atif decided to do it ‘the solo way’, while Gohar teamed up with a relatively unknown vocalist called Farhan Saeed and a bass guitarist, by the name of Aamir Sheraz.
Picking up from where they left off, Atif Aslam – now a solo artist – somehow had it slightly easier in comparison to Gohar and his new line-up of band members.
For one, even when Atif and Gohar were one team, Atif managed to stand out. But perhaps that’s because the vocalist – to the listener and viewer – is always in the spotlight.
And therefore, Atif’s persona seemed far more ‘tangible’, rather than the guy who held the guitar – Gohar.
That’s just the way audiences are. At concerts no one’s focusing on the drummer or the guitarist…no one cares how well each is belting out mean tunes, or who has brilliant chord dexterity. It’s the vocalist, and the vocalist alone whose stage presence far outweighs the rest of the band members on stage.
The vocalist is put on this high, metaphorical pedestal (so to speak), where he/she is made out to be almost a demigod of sorts.
Consequently, Atif wound up faring slightly better when he released his first album (‘Jal Pari’) in 2004 rather than the ‘new’ Jal’s sophomore album, ‘Aadat’, released too in the same year.
This, however, is not to state that ‘Aadat’ bombed regarding its ratings…rather, it soared. But Atif had a bit of an edge, since his personality in the eyes of his listeners was more ‘defined’.
Jal, on the other hand set off on a slightly shaky footing, only because now, audiences had to ‘come around’, understand and ‘get a feel for’ Jal’s brand new vocalist, who mind you, managed to fit in with Jal’s sound perfectly well.
But coming back to both albums, ‘Jal Pari’ and ‘Aadat’ underwent fierce, neck-to-neck competition whereas sales were concerned. Concluding which did better than the other, would make for an unjust and rather sweeping statement.
Soon after, Atif and Jal – both of whom begun making waves across the border, what with music videos directed by Indian directors, eminent Indian awards and lucrative deals, Atif released ‘Doorie’ in 2006 – an album essentially cut-out for the Indian market as it was ripe in remixes, annoyingly filmy dance numbers, and Indian-made music videos, which quite frankly, were quite passé. Not surprisingly, ‘Doorie’ was pooh-pooed by music critics and listeners, yet at the same time, surprisingly (!) it sold incredibly well in the markets.
Jal on the other hand, after a three-year hiatus released their second album, ‘Boondh’, in December, 2007.
Simultaneously, Atif’s third, ‘Meri Kahani’, too, hit the shelves in music stores nationwide in January, 2008.
So what’s the final verdict? Drawing comparisons, at this point, perhaps would be extremely unfair to both Jal and Atif Aslam. Why? Quite simply due to the fact that both ‘Boondh’ and ‘Meri Kahani’ are uniquely diverse pop albums in their own right.
While Atif’s third is a much more temperate production in comparison to his previous two albums, Jal’s second carries with it a distinct Jal sound, and feel.
Compositionally, both ‘Meri Kahani’ and ‘Boondh’ are diverse, stimulating, rich, moving and soppy all at once.
From Jal’s pretty little romantic ditties, ‘Sajni’, ‘Humain Itna Pyar’, ‘Payal’, to Atif’s pacifying ‘Kaun Tha (Kapkapi)’, and ‘Chor Gayai’, both albums carry a distinct sense of mellow maturity.
And interestingly, if one listens to both albums – delicate vocal and compositional experimentation is evident.
The gentle timber of Farhan’s voice appears far more self-assured, and confident, whereas Atif’s vocals come across softer, steadier and more subdued.
In the final analysis, it must be remembered that both ‘Boondh’ and ‘Meri Kahani’ are essentially pop albums. And pop music – whether soppy ballads or cutesy-happy tunes – at the end of the day, is an instant, ‘feel good’ genre of music that eventually, always sells well.
While some Atif Aslam buffs remain disappointed given that the musician’s third production wasn’t fast-paced or ‘lively’ enough, other serious listeners welcome Atif’s (temporary or permanent) transition into calmer tunes with ‘Meri Kahani’.
Jal’s ‘Boondh’ on the other hand seems to have maintained a balance where ‘playing it safe’ is concerned, and interesting, compositional experimentation. Pakistani pop music truly has come a long way.