A thought struck me as I stood near the red carpet at the recently held Lux Style Awards in Karachi.
On a night full of glamour and celebrity for the Pakistani entertainment industry, music seemed like the step-child, invited only because the whole family was coming. None of the few remaining mainstream musicians were present at the LSAs, and those who were around were there for their film or TV work. Members of the rock band Noori, winners of the Album of the Year award, were the only famous musicians present purely on the basis of their musical contribution.
It is an odd development in the context of the LSAs, which marked its 15th anniversary this year. For much of this time, music was perhaps the most viable and vibrant category (along with fashion, I suppose) while TV and film floundered in quality and output.
However, the situation has now been reversed. After musicians' commitment to Indian films, drama soundtracks and corporate shows have been exhausted there is little time or incentive left for musicians to make original music for themselves. We saw evidence of this in how the show didn't boast of any full-scale live performance.
As a result, there is a general feeling that no music is being made in Pakistan, a fact which is patently not true. But what it reflects is that Pakistani musicians are no longer heard by a mainstream audience. I doubt many people attending the LSAs would have heard Noori’s award winning Begum Gul Bakaoli Sarfarosh, let alone the lesser known artists who had been invited for the music awards. It appears then that rather than the amount of music being created, it is a lack of interest in it which is the bigger issue.
So how does one create interest in music?
One hint was provided in the week leading up to the LSAs in the form of a series of videos which were eventually revealed to be setting up the stage for a corporate-sponsored concert.
It all began with a leaked video of Ali Azmat verbally attacking the credibility and artistic merit of younger musicians, followed by a reply by Umair Jaswal. The two videos created a stir on social media, as people took to taking sides. As someone privy to the nature of those videos, I was genuinely surprised by how much of an organic interest they generated. When music generated controversy, people seemed to care.
Right after the LSAs took place, a second incident took place. A rapper by the name of Mubashir Naeem Butt released a short video on Facebook bemoaning Slowspin’s win as 'Best Emerging Talent' in the music category at the LSAs. The rant involved attacking electronic musician Slowspin’s appearance and alleging that nepotism and appeasement was the reason for her win.
Once again, social media was on fire as people took to attacking these extremely shaky claims. (Full disclaimer: I was on the jury for nominating the music awards). In perhaps what is my favourite tradition of the Pakistani internet, someone made a remix out of this rant.
The two moments got me thinking. Does music need controversy to be relevant? In an era of corporate-backed releases, all the discussion about music tends to be heavily stage-managed — all sunshine and roses. Perhaps, what is needed is some fire and brimstone.
Now, I realise that this sounds quite odious, and may encourage abusive behavior, which I am not condoning. But perhaps there is the need for a return to the era of epic arguments over whose music sucked and why; of debating the worst albums by a band or the reason someone’s songs became boring.
We can’t just keep pretending that everyone loves all music and keep forcing positive brand-association with every release. Let’s shake things up a bit, shall we?
Moving on, let’s take a look at the Patari top charts from the last two weeks. SomeWhatSuper failed to win any LSAs, but their latest release 'Kurma' has taken residency at the top of the charts, while their evergreen hit 'Bandook' also rises up to no. 3. The song was among several LSA nominated songs to reach the top 50, but the list is dominated by drama OSTs. Udaari, Mera Naam Yousuf Hai, Mann Mayal and Saheliyan all had their tracks in the charts.
Amongst the lesser known artists to look out for, check Ammar Rashid’s version of 'Aga Ye Rooz'. And stepping outside of music, do check out the Azaadi series of the Urdu story-telling podcast, Dastangoi. Their first episode, 'Khol Do' by Manto, marks an encouraging entry at no. 10 in the charts.
Ahmer Naqvi is a freelance journalist, and Director of Content at @patarimusic.
Is Pakistani music only interesting when it's controversial?