What you don’t know can hurt you. Similarly, what you don’t hear can make you arrive at the wrong conclusion — that the music industry is dying. It’s not. Like dark matter in space, you just can’t see it — even with a Hubble telescope.

In a similar manner it’s difficult to report on the music scene because it’s split between the visible-to-the-naked-eye ‘popular stars’ and ‘hidden’ indie-alternative acts. With the decline of music channels, most of Pakistan’s music has shifted online thereby giving the uninitiated illusion that it’s six feet under. It isn’t. It’s very much alive and kicking.


Mainstream music: safe and sound


The biggest news of the year has been a change of guard at Coke Studio Pakistan. While the media has played a lazy and somewhat hysterical role in breaking the story, a lot has been lost in translation. The upshot of it is that Rohail Hyatt, who was at the helm of Coke Studio Pakistan for six seasons, stepped down earlier this year, citing personal reasons.

Faisal Kapadia and Bilal Maqsood of Strings will be sitting in the producer’s chair(s) for the upcoming seventh season of the music show. Strings cannot speak on matters regarding Coke Studio due to contractual obligations, so (for now) their vision for the show remains a mystery. More on this as the story develops. Here’s the fortune cookie analysis: the show, as we know it, is over.

Speaking of Strings, it looks like this may be the year of big projects. They are celebrating their 25th year anniversary as a musical outfit in 2014. It is a miraculous achievement if you think about it since all major bands have had a ‘makeup-breakup’ crisis happening at one point or another.

The Strings men are also doing the soundtrack of Jami’s upcoming film, Moor, which should release later this year. During the first quarter of this year, Strings have also managed to perform shows at home and abroad.

Another person who seems to be in the thick of it is Ali Azmat. As Coke Studio spilled into the New Year, so did Ali Azmat.

His performances on Coke Studio 6 were phenomenal (Babu Bhai and Sawal, anyone?) but as usual, Ali Azmat got attention for other reasons, such as his behavior on Pakistan Idol in which he is participating as a judge in a panel that also includes Bushra Ansari and Hadiqa Kiyani. Pakistan Idol may have given a platform to some brilliant, aspiring singers, but that is where the good news ends.

Musically speaking, Ali Azmat has been performing at both, home and abroad and he is still bloody good. As this story is being written, Ali Azmat is performing to a massive audience in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Ali Zafar, the politically correct musician, is doing well in maintaining a film career in Bollywood. Ali is popular and talented but his own music now comes in the form of songs for films he’s playing a part in. Bollywood music is mostly, in its current incarnation, situational-music-club-meets-garish-lyrics-meets-shaadi-songs.

Zeb Bangash and Haniya Aslam managed to work with A.R. Rahman on the soundtrack of Imtiaz Ali’s Highway earlier this year and they’ve still got that magic. While Haniya is pursuing a degree abroad, Zeb is pursuing music on her own. She was in Afghanistan just last month and participated as a judge on a reality show in addition to providing music for last year’s sleeper hit in Madras Café (with lyrics by Bilal Sami). However, this two-woman band is unlike any other in Pakistan, and rumours of a ‘breakup’ are simply premature since their EP as a collective is already in the works.

Saif Samejo from The Sketches is making a lot more than music. His project Lahooti Live Sessions, a platform to showcase folk musicians, is gaining momentum online and offline. The songs featured so far are mostly stunning and terribly underrated.

More crucially, it has also led to a music school called Lahooti Music Aashram in Hyderabad, Sindh. The school went into session this year and press reports are positive so far.


Sounds from the underground


Lussun TV, a DIY music show is now in its third year. It serves as a platform to showcase original songs and diverse independent artists. Chances are you won’t find them on the music channels. The online music show also spilled into the new year as participants Sikandar Ka Mandar, Shaije Hassan, Natasha Humera Ejaz, Lower Sindh Swing Orchestra and Ali Suhail played beautiful, angry, thoughtful, gorgeous, happy, trippy songs.

Lussun TV is still here unlike some corporate-produced shindig because the musicians are also actual friends and they all respect each other’s craft. So, Ali Suhail is a featured artist in one song and guitarist in another. This is also the real reason why the Khayaban-e-Lussun Tour charmed audiences. It was part of an independent music festival that took off in early 2014 and had a successful run.

True Brew Records (the brainchild of Jamal Rahman, another musical champion of the indie/alternative world) joined hands with the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop and Lussun TV and this was the creation of ‘Storm in a Teacup’ — a day long festival in Lahore where acts from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad played together in one live-music-for-public concert. The theory that a music festival is impossible is not applicable anymore. It has to do with vision.

Jimmy Khan & The Big Years, The Poor Rich Boys (and the Toothless Winos), Sikandar Ka Mandar, //orangenoise, Natasha Ejaz, Ali Suhail, Shajie Hassan, Red Bloodcat, Iman Shahid and Lower Sindh Swing Orchestra had a chance to play and they rolled with it.

Artists funded their own tickets; they took trains, they stayed with friends and friends of friends, there was no VIP treatment for anyone. This collective of artists also participated in Islamabad’s Rock Fest, hosted by the lovely folks at Kuch Khaas.


Alternatively speaking


In the alternative scene Mekaal Hasan, the mostly misunderstood producer/musician, also upped the stakes this year by forming an Indo-Pak band. Mekaal Hasan and the amazing Ahsan Papu from Pakistan have joined Sharmistha Chatterjee (vocals), Gino Banks (drummer) and bassist Sheldon D’Silva from India, hence, the Indo-Pak band.

This fiery lineup has played its first show in India to a packed audience and is also backing itself by getting together on a record called Andholan, the much-anticipated album from Mekaal Hasan. For fans in Pakistan, Mekaal Hasan has exciting plans as he aims to play live music with an all-star lineup featuring the likes of Humera Channa.

Rushk, the band that gave Pakistan a one-of-its-kind edgy, experimental album like Sawal and music videos like Behti Naar and Khuahish, made a stunning comeback this year.

Uns Mufti and Ziyyad Gulzar have added Ali Jafri, Sikandar Mufti and Tara Mahmood to the Rushk lineup and it works. The first single from the band, Tujhay Patta To Chalay, is grungy and groovy and makes a lasting impression on first hear. Produced by Omran Shafique, this song is funkier and experimental but remains in the shadows, thanks to once again, the media and the unsustainable music model.

There are far too many electronic producers to mention just a few. Forever South (FXS) is one such effort where some really exciting electronic producers from Pakistan can be heard. They are releasing new singles and mixes all the time so it’s just a matter of logging on.

Talal Qureshi, and Adil Omar, two slightly popular (and innovative) music names from Islamabad (also home to the-coolest-band-in-the-capital, Basheer and the Pied Pipers) collaborated with Ali Gul Pir and this leads us to the big one: KholoBC, an audio-visual effort that takes a stand on censorship in modern-day Pakistan where the government of Pakistan aims to save us all from grave sins by banning YouTube.

This song went viral and though, the effort is commendable, the sincerity with which this song was produced takes a nosedive if one bothers to look at the complete lyrics. At one point, Adil Omar is singing/rapping: “And how we’re blind, we face their machine with no rage/While they rape us and take us back to the stone-age.” The context is not sexual violence with regards to the usage of the word ‘rape’ but the anger that comes from a hypocritical government hoping to save our souls by simply censoring things. It is, sadly, insensitive and points to the larger problem with urban language.

The press, both foreign and local, has done a lovely job of omitting this fact from coverage either unconsciously or consciously, which is not only infuriating but also makes one wonder where we’re heading. Then again, maybe that’s just me.

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