During the first few seconds of Maham Suhail’s song, 'Pauna 6', I couldn’t help but think that, finally, a song has been released that’s neither retro/electro/ghazal pop nor emulating the oft-done ’90s angsty rock music style.
These are the genres currently dominating the music scene in Pakistan, to a point where it’s become quite repetitive and tedious. 'Pauna 6' by Maham Suhail had the beginnings of a track that promises new, experimental, fusion music, perhaps an approach that will provide a much-needed fresh perspective into the potential South Asian has of going into a whole new direction.
It does not deliver on that promise.
'Pauna 6' has been composed, written, sung and performed by Maham Suhail. It features Rakae Jamil on sitar, Mitthu Saein on dhol, Akmal Qadri on the flute and Aamir Mazhar on the guitars and bass. Mazhar has also produced the song. 'Pauna 6' also features Olavi Lappalainen from Finland on the cello. A very powerful line-up of musicians indeed.
Maham Suhail’s 'Pauna 6' proves that there is such a thing as too much experimentation in a song
The song gets its title from the fact that the song has been composed in the 5.75 beat count. It’s literally on a pauna 6 musical time signature. All of this sounds very good… on paper.
In practice, the song comes across as utterly and completely confused.
The song starts intriguingly with a vocalisation of the taal to the sound of Mitthu Saieen’s signature standing dhol. There’s a slight echo to the vocals which give them an almost hypnotic effect. The vocalisation ends with a mournful sitar intro with the e-guitar and e-bass an almost unobtrusive presence in this section of the song. The dhol follows into with the song’s now recognisable, catchy, signature beat. So far so good.
It’s at this point, when the vocalisation — this time solo — begins again, followed by the cello and the flute in quick succession, that the song seems a bit lost. They’re playing the same repetitive tune again and again, but where is the sitar? Are we going through the featured instruments one-by-one as they do in live performances when they want to introduce or highlight each playing musician? That usually happens either closer to the end of a set, not in the very first song.
What the song is missing is a through-line — that invisible thread that binds any story, this song, together. Instead, in the second half, 'Pauna 6' suddenly has lyrics, in English, that sound at best, rather pretentious and, at worst, embarrassingly cheesy:
I am no baby’s breath/ I am no rising flame/ I am you/ And you are me/ And I have no name
One gets the impression that this song is trying too hard to be too many things at the same time. It sounds like a good work-in-progress. 'Pauna 6' has the potential of a powerful track, but it’s just not there yet.
I applaud Maham for trying to take a whole new approach. It’s a gutsy move. But perhaps tone it down a tad bit and dig deeper.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, June 6th, 2021