There are some bands you think died a long time ago, but a random release now and then reminds you they’re (surprisingly) still there. That’s what happened when Jal the band’s latest release, Bhanwaray, popped up on my Patari and YouTube ‘new releases’ playlists.

One was surprised. Mostly because the other ‘known’ band members of Jal — Atif Aslam and Farhan Saeed — have moved on to pursue very successful and lucrative solo careers, one in music and the other in acting. Goher Mumtaz also has at least 12 acting credits in drama serials to his name. But as it happens with Pakistani artists who adopt another medium to ‘express’ (make a living, ahem) themselves, after a certain point, they suddenly realise they want to go back to their ‘roots’.

Which is absolutely fine of course, except that these efforts, seemingly out of the blue, seem completely disconnected from their previous work. There’s a break in their evolution and growth in this medium and they often end up sounding terribly outdated — and not in a nice ‘nostalgic’ way. For those who prefer commerce over art (we all have to survive), after a point commercialism, or attempts at it, seeps into everything they do. The result: a track that sounds very shallow and lacks authenticity.

Coming back to Bhanwaray. According to the credits posted online, it has been sung by Goher Mumtaz. It’s been written, composed and the musical arrangement has been done by Goher Mumtaz as well. The guitars, drums and bass have also been sequenced and performed by — you guessed it — Goher Mumtaz. Which begs the question: where is the rest of Jal? Or is ‘Jal’ now only Goher Mumtaz as Junoon was basically only Salman Ahmed for many years in between?

Jal’s latest song Bhanwaray not only fails to strike a chord, its glaring mediocrity is downright painful

When you use the band’s name, it sort of gives the impression that it’s more than one permanent or known member contributing to the song. The YouTube version features model Sabeeka Imam in the video only, for those getting confused with the additional credit in the title.

The song itself is quite… awful. Perhaps better production, songwriting and vocals — pretty much all of the main ingredients in a song — could’ve saved it, but this version is so underwhelming it’s depressing. In all these years since Jal’s formation, it seems like Goher has not worked on his vocals. He is still singing completely flat, and from the top of his throat vs his diaphragm. The lyrics aren’t much to write about either — they follow the same old tropes of asking the beloved to listen to the heart’s voice. It’s all so done to death and tedious to listen to.

The video has racked up 94,000 views at the time this article went to print and the comments seem to be edited to only present the most positive ones. It’s hard to verify the authenticity of these figures anyway as they can be manipulated by firms specialising in this.

Jal is a band I’ve been listening to throughout my late teens-early 20s. I know most of their songs by heart. I forgave many production blunders from their first album because their songwriting and composition was always so on point. So, it pains me to see that with Bhanwaray, this legendary band has not lived up to its own musical reputation. I hope they do better with their next release. In fact, they must.

Published in Dawn, ICON, March 15th, 2020