From college gigs to Ms Marvel: Lahore-based duo Hassan and Roshaan still have some surprises up their sleeves
Pakistanis are grooving to the tunes of dynamic duo Hassan and Roshaan, even if they don’t know them yet. Hailing from Lahore, this young duo has been taking the Pakistani music scene by storm with their infectious beats and soulful lyrics. Their fusion of traditional Pakistani melodies with modern Western elements has created a sound that is as unique as it is addictive.
Their music has something for everyone; from ‘Sukoon’ being the anthem of my grad trip to the north to ‘Ishq Bina’ being the go-to song for car rides with my parents.
Hassan and Roshaan both attended the Lahore University of Management Sciences (Lums) for their undergraduate studies. But it was coincidentally at a nearby gig where they first met. They started working together and exploring their passion for music, realising that the chemistry they had was one they were lucky to have found.
Hassan has been singing and composing songs since he was young. He was in his second year at Lums when he thought to himself, “If I had to do one thing for life, it should be this, to compose and sing.”
A few years younger than Hassan, Roshaan too decided during his second year of college that music was his calling.
Their first big breakthrough came with their debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Ms Marvel. Their track ‘Doobne de (reprise)’ was featured in the predominantly South Asian cast-studded miniseries, bringing the duo great recognition and appreciation. In 2022, their biggest hit to date, ‘Sukoon’, came through, with over five million streams, earning them a spot in Spotify’s Top Local Artists of 2022. The track was a collaboration with the iconic and not-so-new star, Shae Gill.
Images sat down for a chat with the duo to talk about their musical journey.
What does music mean to you?
Our first album was a snapshot of our lives and so was the second, said Hassan. Roshaan elaborated, “For me, music has always been a language. Aik tou woh hota hai na [there’s that thing], that poetic way of saying ‘music is also a language’. For me, it was practically that. Music is like another language or way of communicating. The way I speak Urdu or English, music is another language with its own rules of grammar. The next, more important question was, how will I use music for my own expression.”
Which artist inspires and influences your music the most?
“AR Rehman has had a huge influence on me,” said Hassan, with Roshaan adding that this is an influence they both share. Hassan jokingly said to him, “Tumhara aik aur bhi hai, woh bhi bata dou [you have one more, tell them that too], to which Roshaan laughingly responded “Yaar us pe main judge hota hoon [I will get judged for that].” The second artist is none other than American hip-hop star Kanye West, who has come under the spotlight for his problematic behaviour in the recent past. Roshaan quickly clarified that it is his music he loves, not the artist.
How did your families take your decision of wanting a relatively unconventional career path?
While his family was supportive of his decision, Roshaan knew he had to show them substantial progress by the end of college to be able to justify it — “Until graduation, I wanted to build enough momentum where it would become naturally understandable,” he said.
Being the only son from a business-owning family, Hassan felt the road less travelled had slightly more hurdles for him. Telling his family that this is what he wanted to do instead of going into the family business was tough, but “slowly we kept doing more, and better, and the resistance faded away.” In fact, it was their debut in Ms Marvel that really changed things around for the duo.
Speaking of, how did Ms Marvel happen for you?
“Quite unexpectedly, actually,” said Roshaan.
“Our manager got a DM on Instagram at 2am from a very shady account with 400 to 500 followers and no display picture and we thought yaar kya scene hai, this is probably a spam account or a friend messing with us. For the first couple of days we didn’t even take it seriously. We even tried rationalising incentives for people to mess with us, but when we couldn’t really figure it out, we started researching. And that’s when we were like…This is real, it’s not a joke. One thing led to another and within two months the season was already out,” the ‘Doobne De’ artists explained.
“When we actually saw the song play in the teaser, that’s when we really internalised that it really is coming out. Before that, we still had doubts, maybe something or the other would happen. We hadn’t told anyone, I hadn’t even told my parents,” said Roshaan.
“It came at the perfect time,” they said, adding on to how the feature changed things for them. “It created the hype we needed for our second album and we also got the funds we needed to execute it,” said Roshaan. “They paid really well,” added Hassan, with a smile he could not hide. “And people started taking us more seriously, the collaboration requests started coming in after it.”
What song(s) by Hassan and Roshaan should a new listener absolutely listen to?
“‘Rung’ and ‘Ehsaas’,” the two agreed. But Roshaan had another suggestion that Hassan was not too keen on listing — ‘Khalbali’. “It’s new, it’s experimental, I see potential in it but it may not be for everyone,” he said.
Where did you learn your music skills from?
“I learnt to play instruments off of YouTube, starting in 2009, but with composing, there are no set rules, no one can teach you, it just comes to you. For example, Roshaan and I were hanging out. He came out from the bathroom humming the melody for ‘Sukoon’,” explained Hassan.
“It’s more a matter of practice, the more you engage with it, the more you refine your skills [and sense of composition],” added Roshaan.
About how he got into music and began playing, Roshaan said his journey was more “accidental”: “Baba got a keyboard for himself to learn when I was young, but he didn’t really continue learning for very long. So when I was growing up, I had this ‘toy’ lying around to play with, meray liye tou khilona hi tha [for me it was just a toy]. So when I was around 10 and he saw me playing with it very often, and since we already had a keyboard, he thought, ‘why not get him a tutor to teach him properly?’
“So that’s how I learnt the basics over two to three months and then I left the country. When I came back, I continued learning on YouTube, like Hassan, and have just built upon those basics overtime. Buss kartay kartay kartay ajata hai,” he said.
Some of your music has quite a bit of a classical/spiritual element to it. Where does that come from?
“While our second album doesn’t have much of that element, it was a conscious effort in the first,” explained Roshaan. “We tried to incorporate classical elements of Pakistani music, to bring forward the music we and our elders have grown up listening to, but to do that in a more fresh or contemporary way, which would make sense to us and our generation today. You could say it was our interpretation of Pakistani music.
“In one-liners too, we describe ourselves as ‘contemporary subcontinental’.”
“But we are evolving and trying out different things. Our next album is going to be… different,” said Hassan.
Many people have compared Hassan’s voice with Atif Aslam’s. How do you feel about that?
“I don’t know why people do that,” laughed Hassan, shaking his head. “It always seems to come up with new listeners.” He went on to tell Images that they recorded their album in Sarmad Ghafoor’s studio. Interestingly, Atif Aslam recorded his first album with Ghafoor too. “I would ask him again and again, ‘aapko tou nahi lag raha yeh?’ [you don’t think this do you?] and he would say no. But for the past three years I’ve actively been trying to change that.”
Does he not like the association? “I just think it shouldn’t be there,” he said, adding that he would rather be known distinctly for his originality than similarity to another artist.
Tell us about the idea behind ‘Sukoon’
We asked the duo to give us a breakdown of what the song means to them, and what inspired it.
The hook’s lyrics go,
“Zindagi hai kitni haseen, hai phir bhi kahin
Ajab Tanyahi, kaisi yeh veeraniyaan“
This line encapsulates the essence of the song. Life is beautiful, yet there remains a sense of loneliness. “Zindagi bari haseen thi, phir bhi ajab tanhayi thi dil mein,” Hassan joked.
But more seriously, Roshaan added that if one were to take a snapshot of their life in 2021, this song would best represent it. 2021 was the first year they started making money from music. On the surface, everything looked great, but it wasn’t through the trajectory we wanted it to be, he said. It was really uninspiring work, external projects, making jingles for companies etc. “Usse behtar tha hum kuch aur kaam hi kar lein [We would’ve rather done something else],” said Hassan. We realised the trajectory we wanted to follow was kind of getting lost, he added.
“2021 was so far the worst year for us since we started music. Even though Covid hit Pakistan in 2020, we felt its impact the most in 2021. There was some turbulence we experienced with people in the industry as well. Things just weren’t good. But at the same time, they also were.” According to most metrics, life was good, but internally there was discontentment in the heart, “and I think ‘Sukoon’ reflected that really well,” said Hassan. While being a poetic genius, it remains true in the literal sense too.
While the song encapsulates the feeling of emptiness, it is hopeful at the same time. “For me, ‘Sukoon’ was the time when we changed our trajectory to come back to the path we intended on,” said Roshaan. “It was written from that state of hopefulness, it’s quite bittersweet.”
How have people received the song?
“A lot of people have also interpreted the song in their own ways,” they said, but that is the beauty that comes with art; it is not restricted to the artist. The duo was quite surprised with the wide range of events it has been played on: “It is being played at weddings and rukhsatis. We never really pictured this. In fact, we even made four to five songs in Day V keeping weddings in mind, but ‘Sukoon’ wasn’t one of them.”
Most surprising, however, was when a nicotine company reached out to them to use the song in their advertisement. “Mainai tou kabhi nahi socha tha ‘Sukoon’ kisi nicotine ad mein use ho ga, Roshaan tumne socha tha? [I never pictured ‘Sukoon’ would be used in a nicotine ad, Roshaan did you?”
Similarly, many interpreted the video in ways that were not intended by the artists — which even led to some controversial claims about it. The video was not supposed to have any romantic connotations. While they explained the idea they led with while shooting the video, Hassan and Roshaan also distinctly pointed out that art is always implicit. “You can’t really say it is this way and not this,” they said, as putting out their own version would restrict the viewer’s imagination, and that is something they did not wish to do. Art is boundless and thus the video is open to interpretation.
Did you expect that ‘Sukoon’ was going to be the song that would blow up?
“When I came out of the bathroom with this melody in mind and played it for Hassan, he was like ROSHAAN! Yeh kya kar dia tum ne? [what have you done?] And I was like, huh? Really, it’s that good?” said Hassan.
“But we had a list of songs that we thought would do really well. For me, it was ‘Sukoon’ and ‘Ehsaas’, but for some reason, ‘Ehsaas’ was the lowest performing song of the album.”
“But, according to performance, our top three songs have been ‘Sukoon’, ‘Dur Se’ and ‘Bandhan (featuring Qurutulain Balouch)’.”
What has working with a big name like QB been like? How did it come about?
“We were performing at the HUM TV Bridal Couture Week and the entire music industry was there. I saw QB and I asked Roshaan, ‘the one remaining track we have which needs a female vocalist, do you want to work with QB?’ Roshaan was thinking about it and I said, ‘tell me quick!’
“He said ‘yes, let’s do it’. I went up to her and told her ‘we have grown up listening to your music, we’re big fans and we want to do a track with you’. She called me later that night for more details and literally within three days we were recording the song.”
What has been your biggest struggle in your music career so far?
“2021 — when we had to shift our focus. That required great self awareness. We were earning good money at the time, but we didn’t come into music to make big money. You can do that through other channels, I could have joined my family business for that-”
“Although money is most welcome,” Roshaan jokingly interjected.
“…we came here because, well, we had the freedom to fail, to be honest. We thought, if we have the time and the resources to test things out, then why not? When we started earning money through making jingles, OSTs etc. For me, the main issue was working under someone else. When you do that, they dictate you according to what they want, you aren’t left with much room for creative input.”
Roshaan had a slightly different opinion and said this wasn’t the main issue for him. Artists often have to use other avenues to earn money — as the two have done individually — and that’s fine, as long as you still have your sense of direction. The biggest concern for him was losing their sense of direction and getting too lost in these projects.
Taking a break from all of that work, re-anchoring themselves and preparing for a new album with this in mind was one of the duo’s biggest struggles. “It took about a year and a lot of work,” he said. “If we hadn’t worked towards this shift, the duo might not have lasted,” added Hassan.
What is next for Hassan and Roshaan and what can we expect in the coming years?
“Surprises and surprises,” they said together.
“We have some new music videos for Day V and remixes for the deluxe album. And We also have a collab coming up with an artist we cannot disclose yet, but trust me, he is your favourite artist.” Well, we can’t wait to find out who it is!
What advice would you give to up and coming artists in Pakistan?
“It’s going to sound cliched but, just be. Just be yourselves. Consistently put out your work without worrying about whether you have zero subscribers, 100 or 1,000 views. Do not attach your value to that. Be consistent and you will build an audience and people will start recognising you.
“Do not chase the ‘hot thing’ or the newest wave. The wave will go and you will be forgotten. You have to stay true to yourselves,” Hassan advised his younger audience.
Roshaan added, “And lastly, as cliche as it may sound — and I can’t find any other way to say it — believe in yourself.”