“I don’t understand what he does!” Bilal Maqsood had once said about Shamoon Ismail in an interview to Icon. “But it works. His songs are very good, but how does he make them? I don’t know. There’s this mystery around the way he performs or writes his songs. Maybe I’m getting too old, I don’t understand his process. The final outcome is always very good.” Indeed.
And Shamoon has done it again. On the surface of it, his latest release 'Cold World', comes across as simple. It’s a typical, modern R&B pop song, with muted chords and a bass-line set to a 120 beats-per-minute tempo on a 4/4 electronic drum track that runs through the whole song providing it with the most minimal of foundations — devoid of any unnecessary ‘noise’ — so the focus is singularly on the singing. Shamoon has a way of quietly rapping his lyrics as if speaking to a close friend. It’s perhaps why he has such a widespread appeal, it sounds like he’s singing exclusively to you — the listener.
The lyrics, in typically Shamoon Ismail signature style, are a mix of Punjabi and English. 'Cold World' is about the complex feelings of love-hate one experiences in the last stages of a relationship. Listening to the song, you can’t help but wonder, is it really over?
Personally for me, in the current post #MeToo world, the opening lyrics start off rather uncomfortably. They shamelessly objectify his love-interest, but in a way placing the blame on her, as if she’s asking for it. They go: “Toon landi pics like that, pics like that/ Tharki nu hit right back, hit right/ Tera wakhra ey flow/ I knew this from before/ Halay vi fit like that, fit like/ Legs out and you sit like that/ Sit like that/ You know I wanted more/ Par haiga nae si sure”
[You take photos like that, photos like that/ Tharki hit right back, hit right/ I’ve seen your flow/ I knew this from before/ You’re fit like that, fit like/ Legs out and you sit like that, sit like that/ You know I wanted more/ But I wasn’t sure]
He follows that up with completely dissing the person he’s addressing entirely. In typical I-don’t-care (but really do) fashion: “Har vaari suttaan track navaan/ Ohi yaar mere naal they still back me up/ Yaad aanday tere nakhre used to crack me up (x2)/ Yeah yeah
[I drop a new track every time?]/ My mates with me still back me up/ When I remember your coquetry it cracks me up (x2)/Yeah yeah/
Just after that, in the main chorus, he goes back to the same position as in the opening lyrics, in which he’s longingly reminiscing their time together. And hoping she still wants him: “Cold world saanu ker ditta cold babe/ Saada pyaar labna nae kithay hor babe/ Nae-o pulda halay vi tera foreplay/ Wish that you would know this/ Mere uttay keetay band jinaay doorways/ Mein apay saray khol te/ Tenu dasaan saari gallan kadi bol te/ Bol te (x3)
[This cold world made us cold/ You won’t find a love like ours anywhere/ I still can’t forget your foreplay/ Wish you would know this/ All the doors that were shut on me/ I will open those doors myself/ To tell you everything if you say/ Just say it (x3)]
The video for 'Cold World' has been directed by Taimoor ‘Mooroo’ Salahuddin along with Shamoon and is shot in a single take. It opens with Shamoon ending playing a game of cards and follows Shamoon as he walks through a hotel with yellow walls and wooden heritage furniture accents on doorway arches. He walks past, briefly interacting with different people including a well-dressed woman or two, an angry corporate type character among others, before settling down on a couch at the end. It’s simple, slick and well edited.
'Cold World' is a song about the push-and-pull of toxic relationships — you want them when you can’t have them; when you have them, you don’t want them and thus this cycle continues until there is nothing left of the relationship anymore. When nothing else works, Shamoon places the blame of the demise of the relationship on this ‘cold world’. And a cold world it will be until he has her again.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, February 28th, 2021