Hitting The Right Notes: Pakistani Music’s Comeback

By Sonya Rehman

After refining her craft in music production in Canada for five years, Haniya Aslam, returned to Pakistan last year to pick up from where she left off. A part of the local music scene for over a decade, Aslam thinks that the new phase in Pakistani music, that’s swiftly unfolding, is an exciting one.

Haniya Aslam. Photo courtesy of: Coke Studio

“I’ve been noticing a lot of young musicians who are really blowing my mind,” she says, “They’re all experimenting in completely different styles of music and the quality of their songwriting and production is so much better that what we were doing in our time.”

Having produced ‘Maa Behn Ka Danda,’ an anthem against patriarchy by the Pakistani girl band, Garam Anday, in 2018, Aslam believes that the revival of Pakistani cinema has cleared the way for young musicians and bands to claim their space in the local music scene.

“The renaissance in our film industry has allowed the old guard of Pakistani music to move up into the strata of film composers, therefore the new blood now has a bigger playing field to work in to have their voices heard.”

However, for the well-known sitar player, Rakae Jamil, it’s easy to get eclipsed amidst other up-and-coming Pakistani artistes who mainly use social media to gain a fan-base.

Rakae Jamil. Photo by: Amna Zuberi

“There’s a lot of interesting electronic and indie music being produced by young musicians; there’s so much content out there. But if it isn’t presented in an effective way – where people are able to connect with it – then that becomes a problem,” Jamil states, “Otherwise the sense of agency that young musicians have these days is amazing. You just have to really know how to present yourself in the space of social media.”

Like Aslam, Jamil too moonlights as a music producer, in addition to performing with his band, Mughal-e-Funk, as and when they get gigs. However, for Jamil, in order for Pakistani music to rise and thrive, an encouraging community of stakeholders needs to be fostered to help local music in sustain itself in the decades to come.

“It isn’t a question of survival anymore; it’s a question of growth and how people need to work together,” he says, “I see many collaborations happening between musicians, organizations and start-ups that are helping the music community by curating events and connecting musicians to investors who are interested in having them perform. It’s encouraging, but those interested in the arts need to continue working together to give Pakistani music a stronger foundation in the country.”

Having released his 5-track debut album, ‘Songs From The Cave,’ last weekend, Ammar Farooki has come a long way since his days of performing at embassies and house parties in the capital, Islamabad.

“After a long time there’s this huge inflow of new music thanks to technology,” says Farooki, who himself used popular social media platforms to publish his first album.

Ammar Farooki. Photo by: Danish Ansari

“The fact that new musicians can sit at home and master produce their own music themselves is fantastic. The new local music scene also now comprises of young women with great voices and sounds who are helping in pushing the scene forward.”

That being stated, a lack of venues for musicians to play at, in addition to the shortage of sponsors – unless you’re an artiste with a epic fan-following – has made the progression of Pakistani music’s new chapter slow and labored.

“It’s difficult as an independent musician because you have to practically do everything yourself, particularly if you don’t have a manager,” he says, “It’s appalling how some sponsors disappear and not pay, citing cash flow issues. So not only are you worrying about making new music, but you also have the added strain of chasing sponsors for money that you’ve coughed up from your own pocket. Just like my debut album that I’ve released for people to consume freely; the monetization element comes much later. But that’s the dilemma of the artist; you have to keep performing no matter what.”

For Aslam, celebrity culture has also impaired the field of music on home turf and overseas.

“In order to be a successful musician, you have to be a celebrity,” she remarks, “You have to become a brand and pitch yourself; you can’t just be a working musician. There’s no way to earn a decent livelihood by working steadily on your craft in the background. Everyone has to be a star on billboards. But the truth is, not everyone wants that.”


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