When it comes to the music scene, confusion reins supreme. Despite brilliant artists sprouting across the country consistently for the past few years, music coverage — both in broadcast and print — by and large, is stuck in a rut of sorts.

Enter Jamaat-ul-Mausiqi aka (JUM), an audio podcast hosted and curated by Ahmer Naqvi and Shaheryar Popalzai, journalists and music aficionados. 

JUM roughly translates to Musical Collective, but it’s the Urdu name that will have you laughing in irony. If you log on to their Facebook page, the mission statement of JUM is slightly amusing and curious; and it gets the job done: “Jamaat-ul-Mausiqi is the Pakistani music podcast you’ve spent the last 10 years waiting for. We dig out the underground, revel in the glorious past, and rhapsodise about the coming revolution.”

Uncovering Pakistan’s longest running music podcast

Launched in late 2014, this podcast is better than most radio shows playing on the many, many stations we have across Pakistan. Why?

Firstly, there’s the selective playlist that marks every episode. Naqvi and Popalzai don’t come across as music snobs, and cover both shimmer and solace. There’s room for Ayyan (‘making dollars’ both on and off-screen) but there’s also space for Ali Sethi.

Secondly, the focus is on artists that are connected to Pakistan, one way or another.

The format is still evolving but there are two cuts to the episodes. You can skip the discussion if you’re so inclined and listen to the playlist in its entirety or you can listen to the full episodes, filled with anecdotes, humour, life and a great love for all things musical.

The JUM playlist consists of songs from Pakistan’s rich musical heritage as well as underrated future music heroes like ambient genius Nawksh, the soul-stirring Slowspin, the glorious singers-songwriters who make up Poor Rich Boys and the fantastical dreamy-pop majesty of one Shajie Hassan. 

There are countless acts, mostly unknown to even music aficionados, who make an appearance and make you wonder why they are not more popular in Pakistan. Maybe they just need a platform and JUM does one hell of a job providing that support. 

But that’s just one half of what makes this show so good. Naqvi and Popalzai breathe life to the show by also speaking about the music on display and to the artists we routinely take for granted.

In episode three, the D/A Method is interviewed, and in episode four, Ali Sethi, the voice behind viral hits like Dil Jalaane Ki Baat and Mohabbat Karne Waley makes an appearance to talk music.

The JUM playlist consists of songs from Pakistan’s rich musical heritage as well as underrated future music heroes like ambient genius Nawksh, the soul-stirring Slowspin, the glorious singers-songwriters who make up Poor Rich Boys and the fantastical dreamy-pop majesty of one Shajie Hassan. In episode three, the D/A Method is interviewed, and in episode four, Ali Sethi.

No genre is left behind, as songs by artists like Bohemia, Chand Tara Orchestra, Janoobi Khargosh, Saad Follows, and even Ali Zafar make the cut.

As this article goes into print, five episodes have been released with more in the pipeline. 

What stands out is how much effort is put into each episode. Take the fifth episode from the show, which was recorded live in Karachi and clocks in at approximately an hour and 44 minutes.

You can hear Naqvi and Popalzai together in the studio (a first for the show) reminiscing about the old days with PTV music playing in the background; longing for the days when clubs made up the nightlife, Jinnah’s house and nostalgia for times gone by. 

“So, in order to put ourselves in a better mood,” says Mr. Naqvi, “we’re going to start with ... We’ve got, I think, like 19 songs for this episode, so the first one we’re going to start with is a song called The Man I Love by Poor Rich Boy ... ”

As hosts, they play tons of music, but there’s an intelligent discourse on display: be it the evolving sounds of PRB, the artist known as Duck, or a Lahore-based act called Xarb.

Both Ahmer Naqvi and Shaheryar Popalzai actually know what they’re talking about and have done their homework on the music, which, in this day and age, is a rarity.

Ali Sethi
Ali Sethi

In the fifth episode, there are closer to 29 songs. This also debunks the myth that good music is restricted to Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement. Those who are curious about the music scene but don’t want to spend hours looking for that elusive artist can simply follow JUM and keep up with the times.

In conversation with the JUM duo

IoS: Which one of you came up with the idea of the podcast?

JUM:  I think both of us wanted to do something like it for a while. I had pitched a show on Pakistani underground culture and music to a local radio stattion, who told me they loved it before spending a year keeping me in limbo about whether they would take it on or not. I was complaining about this to Shaheryar when I met him during a visit to Karachi (I live in Islamabad these days) and he suggested that we should work on a podcast together.

I had already been doing one for cricket (PaceisPaceYaar) and was desperate to have one for music too. 

But if we go further back, it is also painfully obvious that we wanted a podcast because literally none of our radio or TV channels played anything remotely Pakistani. Even the most supporting platforms did something once or twice a month.

Both of us are journalists who write and cover music and we could tell that there were tons of amazing artists who no one knew about simply because the same channels which bemoaned Indian influences and Pakistani inefficiencies were responsible for refusing to let local music breathe.

IoS: How do you curate the playing list that accompanies every podcast?

JUM: Quite simply — we start sending each other links to songs we think we should review, that list becomes extremely massive and keeps growing since we struggle to find the time to record the episode. Doing it online has also been a hassle, since we can’t quite get the feel and camaraderie going over faulty Internet connections. Then, once we record it we also take a lot of time to edit it not because we are meticulous but because we end up getting really busy.

We are looking for a way to streamline the process, as that would make us put out episodes a lot faster. 

IoS: Tell us about the interviews.

JUM: Well, we've both done interviews for a long period of time as journalists, so they are quite easy to do. Moreover, you have clearly intelligent artists who want to speak on their creative processes and even in the print world which does a slightly better job of coverage there is very little critical engagement with their work. Pakistan's music culture is also quite geeky and obsessive, but we don't see that in the mainstream at all. (In fact people just complain about religiosity or the security situation, which are increasingly smokescreens how come terrorism doesn`t stop fashion shows, plays or movies?) So the interviews look to capture that geekiness that is inherent to Pakistani music fans, and ask the questions that we know people will be discussing.

IoS: Why is the show called Jamaat-ul-Mausiqi. How did you come up with this name?

JUM: Shaheryar came up with the name and the logo was done by Ahmer. There is no story behind the name Jamaat-ul-Mausiqi really. We were discussing what to call the podcast and were going nowhere. He thought of this one and we decided to go with it. Some other names that came up were PK Music Dot Com and PK Mauseeqi.

IoS: Tell me about the process how does an episode get recorded?

JUM: Our best one was recorded over a mic in the same room, while we played songs off a laptop. We then took the audio file, edited in the HQ versions of the songs in between and some bells and whistles and put it online. For the rest of them, we record a session on Google Hangout, which records the video for you. Download that, use the audio and repeat the rest of the process.

The problem with Hangouts is that it reduces spontaneity and coherence quite often. The process right now doesn't really help us with putting out new episodes as quickly as we'd like. We don't have a software (or we haven't really found one) yet that helps us play HQ songs while we're recording the show. So recording first, editing it and then releasing it can take up to two weeks if we're busy with other things.

IoS: Is this an effort to archive or document the music scene in Pakistan?

JUM: Not archive, but definitely document. It's frankly shameful to see how so much amazing music is ignored and forgotten, and writing about it isn't the same thing since you should be able to hear music before anything else.

IoS: It's the longest running music podcast, how many episodes can we expect or is it a podcast that will continue all year long.

JUM: I don't know how long it will go, although I have noticed one thing. In the Internet Age we have seen that in most countries bloggers and later podcasters became a thing in of itself. In Pakistan, first as a blogger and then as a cricket podcaster, I've seen that for my peers, and for me these things have helped as a stepping stone into mainstream media, such as print or TV. Whether we are offered a chance to emulate our muse/ hero Ayyan and start 'making dollars' or not, I do think you will see this concept of talking about Pakistani music and not Billboard Top 40 or Item Masala or That One Token Song My Cousin Made Which I'll Overplay...

IoS: What have you learned about the music scene since starting this particular podcast?

JUM: Nothing I didn't already know, I think. There is an abundance of remarkable music coming out, which has been facilitated by the presence of computer software and Internet tutorials as well as publishing options, which have drastically reduced the entry cost of being a musician. Also that while big money is being spent on films, theatre and especially fashion, there is nothing being done in music. The industry purely exists as the marketing function of corporations, who can only pick so many musicians and hence tend to choose the most famous, and apart from two shows (Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement) have made forgettable risk-free music. And I think one huge reason for this is that the supplementary industries media coverage, radio plays, and music videos on channels exist only for foreign content.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, April 19th, 2015

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