Is Pakistan's music problem caused by bad musicians or a tone-deaf audience?

Is Pakistan's music problem caused by bad musicians or a tone-deaf audience?

A recent comment by Ali Noor suggested the latter. But it isn't as simple as that.
Updated 16 May, 2016

A few weeks ago, during a music festival in Islamabad which also featured panel discussions, a statement by Ali Noor was tweeted by his band’s official account.

The tweet, since deleted, recorded one of many things being said in a certain context within a wide-ranging discussion, but seen on its own it felt outrageous, and outrage predictably followed. Going by memory, Ali Noor felt that the reason for the slump in Pakistan’s music industry wasn’t musicians, but the fact that “audiences were getting dumber.”

The thought has stayed with me in the days since. If you can can sidestep your offence it's worth questioning why exactly the Noori frontman said that.

For those who might not know, Noori had released their third album, Begum Gul Bakaoli Sarfarosh (BGBS) last year and had spent much of their time since touring extensively across Pakistan. Like in Islamabad that week, they had often played to large crowds, but unlike their glory days, these crowds were often sponsored by corporates, colleges or someone of that ilk. And unlike their previous albums, BGBS wasn’t quite a cultural moment in Pakistan.

What had been a cultural moment in Pakistani music was the release of Taher Shah’s viral hit, 'Angel', which had also come out recently. It was without a doubt the most excited people had been by anything in Pakistani music in a long time, and beyond the pointing and laughing, there was also a vocal minority that celebrated his cheesy-yet-all-embracing message, devoid of prejudices.

Also read: 7 key moments from Taher Shah's Angel that you may have missed

Given that sort of engagement, it might be unfair to call this audience 'dumb', but you could understand why local musicians might be horrified by what they see as mindless tracks overtaking real creativity and effort. After all, if velvet gowns and blond wigs and large, prosthetic wings are the only way to get attention, what hope is there for anyone?

Indeed, Taher Shah’s success highlights the basic problem for Pakistani musicians – they are unable to make themselves heard amongst the relentless noise generated by the hyper-media of our age.

Food for thought: when both the quality of the music as well as the ease of access align, there is a large audience waiting to be tapped. The problem is that our audience doesn’t stick around to look and wait for the music that comes in between.

The previous two golden-eras of Pakistani pop had occurred in times of relative isolation. Accessing foreign media of any sort was considerably more difficult, and so it was easier for Pakistani music to be heard. In contrast, the era of the Internet has obliterated all previous boundaries to foreign music, leaving a situation where one has to be an Angel to be heard.

To be fair, it isn’t as bad as that either – Atif Aslam’s rendition of 'Tajdar-e-Haram' in the previous Coke Studio season was a sensation. It was also a reminder that when both the quality of the music as well as the ease of access align, there is a large audience waiting to be tapped. The problem is that the audience doesn’t stick around to look and wait for the music that comes in between. They end up ignoring the stuff that is released in between the annual music-as-marketing TV shows.

That is a shame, since there is plenty of excellent music that can’t really create the gimmickry, nor has the resources, to catch the attention of audiences.

A great current example is the release of 'You' by The Sketches, a long awaited album that marries the vibrant tradition of Sindhi and Sufi folk with contemporary blues. The band’s decade long experience of relentlessly touring the big and small towns of Sindh shines through in the album. Saif Samejo, the lead vocalist as well as a talismanic figure for modern Sindh, typifies the range and sincerity of the band’s sound. Go from listening to the haunting 'Nind Nashay Vich' to the melodious Mai Dhai duet called 'Mann Moriya' to get an immediate insight into the spectrum of both his and the band’s abilities.

More than a month after their release, The Sketches remain the fourth most heard artists on Patari this past fortnight, with 'Neend Ki Naiya' their highest ranked track at 10. Nescafe Basement, which has come of age this season, have six tracks in the top 20, while two of their covers have dragged Mizraab and Aaroh’s original tracks to the charts as well. Laal’s tribute to Sabeen Mahmud, 'Intesaab' ft. Arieb Azhar, shot up to no. 3. Noori’s recent collaboration with Coca Cola has them with four entries, which seems to have bumped up their cross-border collaboration 'Yaariyan' to no. 20. Atif Aslam shows off his perennial strength as his track in January’s Ho Mann Jahan OST comes in at no. 4, but even more impressive is Somewhat Super, whose track 'Bandook' has stayed in the top charts for almost a year now!

Personal favourites this week were the new entry 'Khanabadosh' (no. 14) and 'Jegi Jegi Lailijaan' by Zeb Bangash’s new band, Sandaraa (no. 18). And don’t miss out indie darlings Tamashbeens, who have two old tracks recently resurging in the top 20.

Ahmer Naqvi is a freelance journalist, and Director of Content at @patarimusic.


Satt May 16, 2016 04:06pm
Actually Pakistani people has lost the reason to play music and listen music and they have become more serious and they don't want to enjoy in their life or waste their time in enjoying and if they feel like enjoying they go for other things for enjoyment.
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The Kraken May 16, 2016 04:27pm
More of a self-advertisement for Patari than anything else. Totally agree with Ali Noor! The audiences are certainly getting dumber. I disagree with the writer's notion that the two golden eras of Pakistani pop music took place in times of isolation. The music produced in those times still reverberates among the enthusiasts of Pakistani pop music in our current era. Had there been internet even in those times, Pakistani Pop music would have stood out easily.
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XoF May 16, 2016 04:56pm
Disagree with article agree with Ali noor...Coke studio and nescafe basement both are refining hits of our past glory music days..nothing new is comming..lack of education and innovative exposure is keeping our people dumber who are stuck in either old typical music or if they want to feel updated they prefer rubbish bollywood tracks that also are there to serve the dumb masses itself.
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Hashim Malik May 16, 2016 05:15pm
Oh the good ole days of less interactive world.
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Humzah Qamar Yazdani May 16, 2016 05:44pm
People are getting outraged coz they know it is true. I have been saying this for a while now and couldn't agree more with Ali Noor and the author of the article.
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Rahul May 16, 2016 06:26pm
Pakistanis expect Mujra from Singers and Dancers.
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AHA May 16, 2016 07:46pm
Tone deaf and beat agnostic. I am sure people would have noticed many within a Pakistani audience clapping to a song totally out of sync with the beat of the song.
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Iamnotjoking May 16, 2016 08:09pm
There are no schools of music in Pakistan,only few gharanas and few singers who got their ranks, but others OMG individuals mostly young, or groups,are appearing like mushrooms,they are alien to sur, they did not learn singing from anywhere,and are just creating noise or noise pollution,many Indian bonafide singers,and teachers says so. Unfortunately India is also accommodating,and encouraging some guys without their any CV on music education. Only well bonafide musics or songs must be approved,not the sound pollution please.
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Fani May 16, 2016 09:01pm
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flipflop May 16, 2016 09:37pm
To each their own. People have different tastes and there's nothing you can do about it. Considering the current Individual financial situation and safety in Pakistan low attendance could be expected. Those days are behind when people would freely go to public gatherings. Also, be mindful many people are leaving Pakistan because of current conditions or due to better opportunities so this may also affect the attendance. Calling someone dumb is the dumbest thing to do. I loved Noori's new album though, It was epic.
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zafar May 16, 2016 09:44pm
Let me admit that I love our music, but of late have been totally dependent on coke studio or facebook for intro to new/upcoming artists and their tracks/albums. Whenever a singer releases his new album or track, we get to know about it from social media (facebook primarily). Our TV channels also lack a regular programming on entertainment section (if there is any, its occupied by stupid bollywood gossips) Why our music industry has failed to come up with a well known forum to promote their music (frankly if there is any, I don't know) and also is there any reputable which can regularly release charts of top music tracks regularly (on monthly basis) for those who want to follow our musicians and know a place to search for new tracks and artists. Our senior music artists must come up with a 'go to place' for those who want to follow our music industry.
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Ali S May 16, 2016 10:14pm
The main problem is the lack of concerts - which is how professional musicians are supposed to earn their living, not by corporate-sponsored TV shows or a few thousand plays on internet radio (although I do think that Patari, Taazi etc are a healthy outlet for Pakistani indie music). Today our media is far more accessible than it ever was when Vital Signs, Junoon or even Atif Aslam and Ali Zafar were coming up - yet we hardly ever come across a well-publicized, large-scale concert more than once or twice a year. It all comes down to the perceived 'security risk' and to a lesser extent, the rise of right-wing soft-radicalism, especially among our middle class youth.
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SyedChaudhryGangaDinKhan May 16, 2016 10:22pm
Pakistan's music problem is because of talentless garbage trying to make a fast buck and confusion about identity.
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Hasan May 16, 2016 10:55pm
As a Noori fan it was quite hurting, seeing BGBS not getting the success that it truly deserved. Songs like pinjra, 1947 and hoshiyar were quite brilliant. Ali Noor is definitely right and spoke the harsh truth. Pakistan's music taste has truly become horrible with crap like angel, eye to eye, char botal vodka and all these senseless songs being prefered over some real class produced by our local artists. Such a shame!
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Anju m Altaf May 16, 2016 11:00pm
At least in the case of classical music, I believe the Ali Noor statement was fair enough. Some time back I had made the same observation and asked the question: "So, if it is indeed the absence of a large enough discerning audience that can be entertained by serious music and keep artists honest, what is to be done?" The article was titled: "Classical Music in Pakistan: A Requiem?" You should be able to locate in on the Internet.
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mujhayroxo May 16, 2016 11:29pm
Don't agree with you Ali Noori the band. Thanks but no thanks for the trash you are churning. Please get the door on your way out.
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Irfan ul Huq May 16, 2016 11:51pm
You are discussing about top 20 songs. How these are compiled and which organization or a person does it.What is the process of determining there position in the chart
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Taha bin Javaid May 16, 2016 11:54pm
The author missed the point of the article... no commentary on listeners as such
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Zak May 17, 2016 12:25am
Pakistan music is far better but suffers from bad marketing and ignorant corporate heads , who do not have the vision to know its value.
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ROHIT PANDEY May 17, 2016 01:42am
I think Sunidhi Chauhan has something similar to say about Pakistani singers?:) ie. they were tone deaf!:):)
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Hamid Ali May 17, 2016 03:03am
A bit of both but most a tone def audience that also has very little appreciation for class.
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Arslan May 17, 2016 05:22am
keep up the good work, I love both dawn and patari, excellent services
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Faisal Ejaz May 17, 2016 06:07am
As far as Rock music is concerned, we are still lacking contribution from the middle and lower middle class of our nation. The bitter truth is that they can’t offerd to contribute plus no support from the family or community. If we look around the world, Rock legends came from the middle class.
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Armughan May 17, 2016 06:26am
I don't know about recent music Noori has produced or if people have actually gone crazy, i can only recall the song "jawani ke choaarey". Man i have never come across anything more senseless in my life. May be that "ispider man" song from Deccan where the hero was actually wearing a superman costume.
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illawarrior May 17, 2016 06:52am
If the audiences are getting what they want, then there is no problem.
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mossawir May 17, 2016 08:51am
Defiantly a tone deaf audience. noori and many other produced so many good pieces of music.. by blame also goes to tahir shah like singers who turned music into a joke.
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Imtiaz Faruqui May 17, 2016 09:47am
Hoshiyar , song is good but the music is too loud + guitar overlapping the VOCALS all is good except the recording balance. IMTIAZ FARUQUI. USA, Music producer.
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Imtiaz Faruqui May 17, 2016 10:09am
Tajdar-e-haram , good job , too much of Vocoder use and digital source. But good for the younger generation to understand Qawali. 30% of words in urdu and arabic that no body will understand are mysterious in our music some in foriegn language Arabic or Farsi , not even the Iranian or Arabs understand some words. I wonder WHY .
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Karam May 17, 2016 11:33am
The author makes a good point. Without ease of access, quality music will just disappear into the void without gaining audiences. Our F.M. radio stations generally prioritize foreign content, as do the T.V music channels. On social media, novelty content seems to gain traction faster than quality content. Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement are around only once a year; I wish we had T.V shows that would keep track of, and promote, the music that is released through out the year. Surely the success of Coke Studio proves that the there is an audience out there eager for local content?
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zic May 17, 2016 01:32pm
@Satt i can say for ppl of Karachi that for them entertainment is eating food! ..
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Farhan May 17, 2016 01:46pm
I loved Noori's previous music, especially the first album and the coke studio work. That said, I just listened to BGBS - Pinjra seems decent enough to harken back to their heyday. The rest are either bland or sound like a rehash of their previous songs based on a formula. The album should have been named BYOB. The audience is not dumb or tone-deaf, it's moved on dude. We will still lend you an ear based on your previous work, but don't expect people to cheer lazy composition based on fan-loyalty :-)
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khocha May 17, 2016 02:14pm
Thank you for introducing me to the sketches :D
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Hameed Ajmal Sheikh May 17, 2016 02:45pm
These One day singers from Rock Stars and band do not know Even ABC of music.They just learn to play Guitar and start their own band with few of their singing friend and make a band.What do they expect from people to waste their time listening to their so called one will !!!!!!!!
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