To the King of the North from the north of Pakistan: the Khumariyaan version

Mujeeb Ruzik
Mujeeb Ruzik

This is perhaps the most well-known cover of the Game of Thrones (GoT) soundtrack in Pakistan. Peshawar-based instrumental band Khumariyaan came out with the version sometime in 2016. It features a keyboard intro that’s eventually joined by the rabab — the instrument that forms the backbone of this cover. Halfway through, traditional northern beats via the zeer baghali, the hand drum native to Pashtun culture, played by bandmember Shiraz Khan, changes the whole tone of the cover that goes from being somewhat beautiful yet sombre to a little more celebratory — something you can tap your feet to.

The band originally released their cover some time in 2016, and it’s now become an important part of their live performances. As beautiful as the recorded version is, I prefer the live version. The live version has a whole other energy to it — it’s a little louder and far more intense.

In the studio: The Sachal Jazz Ensemble version

One year after Khumariyaan released their cover of the GoT theme song, Lahore-based Sachal Jazz Ensemble came out with their own. This version goes off on an unexpected start and provides a fuller sound what with the entire ensemble participating. Here, the flute forms the main backbone of the composition, and it strays now and then from how the original theme is structured into something that’s quintessentially South Asian. The tone throughout is quite sombre. I definitely see this version being used for the Urdu-dubbed version of the show — if there ever is one!

With the final season of Game of Thrones underway, here’s a quick look at three versions of the show’s iconic theme song — with a Pakistani twist!

Echoing in the mountains: the Mujeeb Ruzik version

Khumariyaan
Khumariyaan

Although all we have is a grainy cellphone video with Mujeeb Ruzik playing, surrounded by the majestic mountains of Gilgit Baltistan, this is perhaps my favourite version of the GoT theme song.

It came out in 2017 and the whole soundtrack just has the rabab, but Mujeeb plays it so beautifully, plucking the strings in a combination that is both beautiful and heart-breaking at the same time.

Mujeeb hails from Hunza and is a student, currently studying music at the NCA, Lahore. The 26-year-old was on a trek to the K2 basecamp when a Chinese trekker recorded that video of him playing the soundtrack on his rabab. Later, she uploaded it on her Facebook page after which it was uploaded on YouTube and went viral. Mujeeb started getting a lot of attention since that video was uploaded. But it was hard for people to reach him: on the way back, Mujeeb suffered an internal injury and was admitted, operated and confined to the GHQ hospital in Skardu. “I would get 100-200 phone calls every day,” he says, adding it was hard to access the internet to find out what the feedback was online.

He’s currently working on his own compositions — he wants to incorporate traditional folk music from Hunza with classical and more contemporary genres as well. “Music plays a very big part of our life back in Hunza,” he says. “The history of our people is preserved in our songs.” Does he plan to do any more covers? “No!” he laughs.

Published in Dawn, ICON, May 5th, 2019