The political campaign song has become a mainstay of the Pakistan election scene. The phenomenon is not exactly new; one of the first songs recorded and released in this context was during the 1988 election, almost 25 years ago.
The song was ‘Dila Teer Bija’ (An arrow to your heart), a meaty ditty based on a funky, beat-heavy rendition of Baloch folk music and sung by Shabana Noshi. The song was recorded in a music studio in Karachi’s vast slum area, Lyari, at the height of what was called the ‘Lyari Disco Scene’ in the 1980s. Lyari being a Pakistan Peoples Party stronghold, the song’s lyrics and imagery depicted the passionate disposition of diehard PPP supporters known as jiyalas.
The song was an instant hit and was used to great effect by the PPP during the 1988 election. The same year the MQM came up with its own campaign song, ‘Saathi’ (comrade), a melodic tribute to its chief Altaf Hussain. These two songs were often heard in PPP and MQM rallies, so much so that their success even made a minor party, the Punjabi Pukhtun Ittehad, release the song ‘PPI Koh Jita Dey.’
Between the 1988 and 1993 elections, political campaign songs remained very much a Karachi-based phenomenon. By the 1993 election, the PPP and MQM had recorded over a dozen songs and made them available on CDs and cassettes. Ironically, it was the right-leaning Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) that picked up on the trend and released a song based on the party’s main slogan for the 1993 election: Zalmoun, Qazi Aa Raha Hai,’ (Oppressors, Qazi is coming).
After 1993, when the post-Zia democratic system began to wear out due to the continuous and exhaustive three-way tussle between the PPP, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the military establishment, the trend of producing political campaign songs also witnessed a dip.
Nevertheless, the PML-N that saw a rise in its electoral fortunes in the 1997 elections did produce a song of its own. The PPP continued to play songs that were recorded between 1988 and 1993, while the MQM failed to reproduce anything new either.
The political campaign song returned to the election scene once again during the tense 2008 elections. The PPP regenerated old material by producing remixes of their song ‘Dila Teer Bija’, and the PML-N matched it with the equally catchy ‘Mera Mulk Bachao, Hun Tey Wardi Lai Gai Ay’ (Save my country now that (Musharraf) has taken off his uniform). The song was sung (in Punjabi) by Bahwal Haq Shah.
It was also during the 2008 elections that the Pakhtun nationalist party, the Awami National Party, for the first time released a campaign song. The hypnotic tune ‘Pakhtunkhwa Zama Watan,’ sung by famous young Pashto singer Aziz Jani, not only paid tribute to Pakhtun nationalist leaders such as Bacha Khan and Wali Khan but also to the Balochistan-based Pakhtun nationalist, Mehmood Khan Achakzai.
But it was in 2011 that the trend of party songs truly revived itself with the rise of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). By then recording and employing specially recorded songs to attract the youth had increasingly become the vocation of right-wing parties.
First the PTI adopted the pop group The Strings’ ‘Mein Tou Deikoon Ga’ (I shall see), then almost immediately recorded its first well-known song, ‘Dil Mein Ho Insaaf’ (If there is justice in the heart).
During the same year the JI released a series of songs as well: ‘Logo, logo’ (People, people), and ‘Pakistan Ka Matlab Kya, La Illaha Illah’. Interestingly, since the JI is an Islamist party, it explained these songs as taranas (anthems) instead of songs. Also in 2012, the PML-N released ‘Sher Aaya’ (Here comes the lion) — the lion being the party chief, Nawaz Sharif.
As the 2013 elections approach, the competition between centre-right parties, the PML-N and PTI, and rightist parties such as the JI, for the large right-wing vote in Punjab is also accompanied by a competition to come up with the best songs.
The PTI took the lead by hiring famous playback singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan to sing ‘Chalo, Chalo Imran Kay Saath’ (Come with Imran). Fateh Ali then went on to sing the PML-N’s ‘Tum Sey Apna Ye Wada Hai’ (This is my promise to you).
This is at least one example of how the intense tussle between these parties has, on many occasions, managed to reduce them to caricatures of populist politics.
The PTI then moved to hire popular Punjabi and Seraiki folk singer, Attaullah Niazi, to sing ‘Banein Ga Naya Pakistan (A new Pakistan will be made), in his typical melodic style.
But while the floodgates have opened to produce tune after tune from the PML-N and the PTI, the PPP, ANP and the MQM have remained largely quiet. One reason could be the way these parties have been attacked by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. Sadly, the MQM and the PPP — the two parties that kick-started the trend of producing party songs in Pakistan — have not been able to keep up with the battery of songs pouring out from PTI and PML-N electoral machines.
However, though unable to freely campaign due to the extremist threat, the PPP has after many years finally found a brand-new party song in late April. It’s called ‘Hum Bhutto Hein, Hum Benazir Hein’ (We are Bhutto, we are Benazir). Though not as catchy as the classic ‘Dila Teer Bija’, it does manage to evoke imagery revolving around the aspirations of the peasant and working classes, bypassing the largely urban middle-class aspirations being highlighted in the PTI and PML-N songs.