SOUNDSCAPE: LOCK THIS DOWN

Jun 14 2020

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I’ve heard all kinds of quarantine music coming out of the Pakistani music scene this year. On the one hand, there’s Lyari-based Eva B’s angst-filled Quarantine Baji, where she’s showing off her very impressive rapping chops. And then there are the endless ‘saviour’ quarantine songs, where artists tediously and unimaginatively show a united front and try to make yet another version of We Are the World.

We Are the World, by the supergroup USA for Africa, came out in 1985. It had legends such as Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Bette Midler, Smokey Robinson and Ray Charles, among many others, collaborating on a song focused on creating awareness about and raising funds to fight the famine in Africa. It followed the format of 1984’s Do They Know It’s Christmas by another supergroup from the UK called Band Aid, composed of giants such as Bono, Phil Collins, George Micheal, Simon Le Bon, Paul Young, David Bowie and Paul McCartney. The song was made in response to reports about the 1983-1985 famine in Ethiopia.

Thirty-five to 36 years later, the Pakistani music industry is still trying to recreate that. There isn’t a single occasion that’s gone past without some attempt to “bring artists together in this difficult time” and release a track. Unfortunately, there is hardly any attention given to the actual track — the songwriting aspect especially — and the focus seems to be on just gathering people together.

The result: something completely forgettable. Several tracks like that have come out for the coronavirus pandemic as well. It’s been done to death and it’s very uninspiring. Stop, already.

With Qayamat, Islamabad-based multi-instrumentalist act Junbish has finally come up with the perfect lockdown song

But Qayamat by Islamabad-based Junbish is nothing like any of that. It’s the ultimate quarantine song. In the video, available on YouTube, the artist is sitting in a room with neon lights and outlines on his instruments, at times donning a neon outlined-mask which he swaps with a gas mask towards the end to signal the end-of-times, or so I think.

Junbish introduces Qayamat with the following message: “I have my own particular sorrows, loves, delights; and you have yours. But sorrow, gladness, yearning, hope, love, belong to all of us, in all times and in all places. Music is the only means whereby we feel these emotions in their universality.”

Qayamat starts of as a dark (mostly) electronic instrumental track with a tilt towards a more Arabic sounds-of-the-desert type sound. Halfway through, though, Junbish picks up the violin and we travel further West with Bach’s Fugue in D Minor while still keeping some of the Arabic influence. Towards the end, we hear a bit of Punjabi lyrics about being a fakir for love, going on a journey towards his beloved and finding support the closer he/she gets. All of these different geographical areas/sounds are seamlessly blended into each other.

Qayamat isn’t my personal favourite Junbish track, but it’s worth a listen.

As a solo artist Junbish (or ‘movement’) is an Islamabad-based music virtuoso and multi-instrumentalist. He’s an expert on the rabab, guitar, keyboards, all kinds of hand drums, the flute, violin and the duduk — an ancient double-reed Armenian woodwind instrument made of apricot wood. Or basically, a really old Armenian flute.

This is how Junbish explain’s the philosophy behind his work: “The only thing that is permanent is change. Junbish is the constant motion of our world, a beat in every sound and with these sounds we orchestrate melodies.”

Here’s a little bonus: while exploring Junbish’s music, do listen to Khizaan [Autumn]. It’s an instrumental track threaded through by the rabab that’s so beautiful it breaks your heart. More of this from the music industry, please.

Published in Dawn, ICON, June 14th, 2020