A poet first, singer second: Irfan Ali Taj hits the sweet spot with ‘Thak Gaya Hoon’

A poet first, singer second: Irfan Ali Taj hits the sweet spot with ‘Thak Gaya Hoon’

The singer's latest track with Varqa Faraid is a lament-cum-reflection on life, death, and the loss of a loved one.
Updated 02 Jul, 2024

Thirty-three-year-old Irfan Ali Taj has hit the sweet spot with ‘Thak Gaya Hoon’, his latest single featuring Varqa Faraid.

There was a time when Taj would regularly entertain requests for the song at jams in Karachi. Playing ‘Thak Gaya Hoon’ on his acoustic guitar, he’d transport you to the idyllic valley of Chitral. You could tell his soul was dancing somewhere between his quiet hometown and the bustling metropolis he’s grown so fond of.

Taj isn’t your ordinary artist — he’s wise beyond his years and grateful for his gifts. I say this because he has used them well. The singer makes an effort to preserve the traditional Chitrali sound as well as to redefine it. So far, his attempts have been successful without becoming perfunctory.

The artist came out with Mahal, an entire album in the Chitrali language back in 2022. The catalogue is his best work yet — ‘Khoshan’ being my personal favourite — and he knows it. But ‘Thak Gaya Hoon’ is a departure from everything he’s done so far and a testament to his ability to seamlessly blend tradition with contemporary sounds.

Rooted in the festive beats and odd time signatures characteristic of Chitrali music, the production of ‘Thak Gaya Hoon’ is entirely electronic. The track’s lyrical depth and Taj’s delivery, akin to the poetry and flow of qawwali, coupled with his soulful vocals and catchy music, is genre bending.

“The song is unique even to my audience because while I have always used acoustic instruments like the rabab, guitars, and sitar in my music, this track was entirely electronically produced,” Taj tells me. “The difference lies in the sonic preference. The production is relevant and at the same time very fresh to the ears. One key element I’ve incorporated in ‘Thak Gaya Hoon’ is the festive beat commonly used in Chitrali music. This rhythm is deeply rooted in my cultural heritage, and I learned it growing up in Chitral.”

One fine day, while playing the rhythm on his guitar, the melody for ‘Thak Gaya Hoon’ came to Taj. Intending to write a happy song with this beat, he accidentally played the minor chords, leading to the creation of a lament-cum-reflection of life, death, and the loss of a loved one.

Taj is a poet first and a singer second — something you can tell from almost all his songs. There isn’t a single track whose lyrics leave something to be desired. The most interesting part for me in ‘Thak Gaya Hoon’ was the poetic depth it so gracefully offered coupled with the lyrical wordplay. The repetition of “basa” and other rhyming words makes the whole track extremely catchy.

Teri soorat khayalon mein basa (x7) ke thak gaya hoon / Gham-e-dunya ki dhun baja (x7) ke thak gaya hoon [I’m tired of seeing your face in my dreams / I’m tired of playing the tunes of this sad world],” Taj sings laconically.

The decision to have a vocal solo is also very qawwali-esque, sans the vocal acrobatics. When he sings “wafa ke sookhey patton ko jala (x7) ke thak gaya hoon / Tere khonay ka gham dil mein daba (x7) ke thak gaya hoon [I’m tired of burning the withered leaves of trust / I’m tired of keeping the sorrow of losing you in my heart],” it practically ties the whole song together.

About the distinct time signature, Taj shared, “In Chitral, people often find the 4/4 more difficult compared to 7, 6, or even 5 or 3.5, which are more commonly used. The beat in ‘Thak Gaya Hoon’ reflects this tradition.”

More than a ‘Chitrali artist’

Tired of the label “Chitrali artist,” Taj sees himself as a musical storyteller with a penchant for transcending linguistic boundaries. “I don’t want to label or limit my creative expression. I don’t know what language or genre my next song will be in, and I want to keep it that way. People in our country like to label others, and I’ve had issues with being called a rababist just because I used the rabab in my music, or a folk artist because I made some folk songs. To me, I just love music.”

Taj draws inspiration from various genres — from folk to jazz — and aims to capture the universal essence of human experience through his songs. Navigating the complexities of Pakistan’s music industry, Taj says that while he hasn’t gotten the recognition he deserves, “struggle is very important for any artist to grow.”

‘Coke Studio is not the benchmark’

It’s a wonder someone like Taj isn’t on the latest season of Coke Studio, for example, despite the show taking pride in its inclusivity standards. “I think it’s too soon to expect Chitrali music to hit the mainstream,” Taj says. “The lack of studios in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan has prevented artists from fulfilling their production needs. Despite the limitations, you will find someone sitting in the shade of a mulberry tree playing the Chitrali sitar in almost every household. Yet, for the rest of Pakistan, this music remains hidden.”

Taj hopes that with bands like Qashqarian, and their music reaching wider audiences, Chitrali artists may get a chance to be on national platforms. “Coke Studio featured the song ‘Pareek’ with the Kalasha girls, and that’s the only song from Chitral that has been part of the platform so far. In all honesty, I hate that people have started using Coke as a benchmark because it can push the songs to millions. Who said that what’s sold more is better? In that case, bottled water should be better than fresh spring water.”

Taj recognises Coke Studio as a “brilliant platform for recognition” but maintains that it does not guarantee longevity. “I don’t think I have received the recognition I deserve, still I know my art will live forever,” he says.

As the sun sets over the majestic peaks of Chitral, Taj’s melodies continue to echo through the valleys, carrying with them the promise of a musical legacy that knows no boundaries.


Taj Ahmad Jul 02, 2024 01:37pm
“Wow” simply just great and enjoy every moment of life.
Musa Ozhorik Jul 02, 2024 03:28pm
Wonderful...... very well written. Mr. Irfan is such a wonderful person. His voice is out class and his poetry...... just wow. Keep up my dear. All the Best.
Syed Hasni Jul 02, 2024 03:38pm
Jeeta Nahi Par Hara Nahi Hoon... Bas Thora Thak Sa Gaya Hoon Toota Hua Hoon Bikhra Nahi Hoon Bas Thora Thak Sa Gaya Hoon Khamosh Hoon Mein Bhoola Nahi Hoon Bas Thora Thak Sa Gaya Hoon Bilal was more poetic, understandably more talented due to genetics. Tajs song is more catchy but he need to do more singles, otherwise people will be tired of Baja *7 the same song
Sga Jul 02, 2024 05:45pm
It is soo different yet so beautiful. So much art in Pakistan yet we can enjoy so little of it in person.
Jamil Soomro Jul 02, 2024 07:20pm
" Bhai Agar Thak Gaye Ho To Bhet Jao " Is this even a song.? What a weird video too.?
Shamsher Ali Jul 03, 2024 01:33am
Dear sir , I admire your dedication to Chitrali music and your stance on recognition beyond commercial success. Your commitment to preserving the authenticity of your art is inspiring. The melodies you create promise a timeless legacy, echoing through the valleys of Chitral. Thank you for being a beacon of cultural preservation and artistic integrity.
Irfan Ali Taj Jul 03, 2024 02:10pm
Bilal Bhai is our senior and respect everything he does. I would recommend you to check rest of my song and my album Mahal, who said I only have thak gaya Hoon. If you really into poetry then check "Ibn e Adam" ,I hope you will like it
Alamgir Bukhari Jul 03, 2024 03:15pm
Proud of you man
Syed Hasni Jul 03, 2024 03:49pm
Dear Irfan, Ibne Adam hun mai, galtion ka putla, kya karun…” Thank you for pointing out and I checked out your YouTube channel. You are not only a good poet but a very talented musician. Your music videos captures local dances, cultural festivals and ways of celebrating life. They are a treat to all those who appreciate dancing and local instruments. I m so proud of you that you are Karachi based and have retained your true colors- you are khudrang. I highly recommend you to Bilal and Coke Studio for collaboration.