The music scene today is a far cry from what it was like just over a decade ago. In the absence of entertainment channels dedicated to music, the only option left to release new music out there is via the internet.
The absence of a functioning live music scene, for a variety of reasons, has resulted in the general ‘pop’ sound turning more and more heavily towards electronic. Electronica you can create far more easily in the privacy of your bedroom, mostly either by yourself or with a very good, usually self-taught producer, instead of having to scour music haunts for talented instrumentalists to collaborate with.
This is not to say that moving towards electronic requires less skill, only that there are far more roles for one person to fill, so it helps not having to spend years learning only one instrument at a time. One person almost synonymous with electronic music in Pakistan is Talal Qureshi.
Talal Qureshi is a well-known name in the underground (now the new mainstream?) music scene in Pakistan. He’s collaborated with Adil Omar on their project SKNM, has performed at the South by Southwest music festival in the United States, performed with Diplo, Major Lazer and Skrillex among others. Personally, my favourite Talal Qureshi song is the one he did with Naseebo Lal called 'Aag'.
The rising star of the electro-pop scene, Maanu, collaborates on two back-to-back singles with one of Pakistan’s most recognisable names in electronic music, Talal Qureshi
On the other hand, Rehman Ashfar aka Maanu, has been around for a couple of years, mostly focused on putting his music out in the indie music scene in Lahore and performing in True Brew gigs while also releasing his album dedicated to Lahore, Yain City. He’s still up-and-coming though and, this year, he’s finally getting the attention from audiences that he deserves.
His collaboration with Talal has resulted in two very interesting yet diverse tracks, '5am' and 'Hico' (yes, it does reference the popular Pakistani ice cream brand), that are completely different from Maanu’s popular release earlier this year, 'Melancholic'.
'5am' has been written, composed and performed by Maanu and Talal Qureshi. The song, which is mostly in English with a few Urdu lyrics, has been produced, mixed and mastered by the latter as well. Melancholic and self-deprecating, this somewhat dark, groovy number has Maanu rapping about making it big and wanting to be heard, while at the same time talking about the fact that he’s also his own worst enemy. He puts himself down, so that it doesn’t make a difference when others try to. It’s the ‘happiest’ and closest to exhibiting angst a pessimist possibly can.
Musically, the treatment is fairly simple and smooth, it begins with keyboard chords setting a somewhat ominous tone to the song before the electronic beat that gives the song its rhythm steps in. What are impressive, however, are Maanu’s rapping chops — boy, can he spit out lyrics seamlessly.
His other release with Talal, 'Hico', has been written, composed and performed by Maanu and Talal Qureshi. The song has been produced by the latter as well. 'Hico' starts with the familiar Hico ice cream music tune. The bass thumps in, there’s a fun riff on the been that becomes the signature sound of the song and Maanu launches into the diss track that is 'Hico'. Predominantly in Urdu, with some lyrics in English, 'Hico' is definitely the groovier track. In 'Hico', Maanu is tooting his own horn about how he only sings originals, no covers, his superior rapping chops (sans the ego that those who drive a Vigo have) and how he’s currently having a ‘moment’ in Pakistani music.
He definitely is — in the indie-electronic music scene in Pakistan. Judging by his own lyrics, Maanu is going to enjoy and make the most of this wave while it lasts.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, July 4th, 2021