Karakoram first broke out on to the music scene in 2018 with a thundering roar with their debut song Toofaan — a hard-hitting, gritty, classic rock anthem that harkens back to the days when rock and metal dominated the underground and mainstream music scene alike. The band continues to solidify its place as one of the greatest contemporary rock music acts to emerge from Pakistan. Last weekend, they dropped a major, if not completely surprising, collaboration on us.

Titled Kyun [Why?], this dark, grungy number is the band’s collaboration with none other than Hasan Raheem, one of Pakistani music’s hottest (in terms of overall activity and response) artists of the year. How does this collaboration even make sense? Hasan Raheem’s music is mostly electronic and very light and pop-ish. Karakoram’s music is dark, gritty, grungy and moody, with a singular focus on ensuring that most of the sound is produced by humans playing instruments and not programmed via sound-making machines or software.

The lead singer of Karakoram, Sheheryar Khattak, also one of its songwriters, is known to focus on writing beautiful, angst-filled, poetry as well. So the quest on one’s mind before hitting play on Kyun is: does Karakoram adapt to Hasan Raheem’s lighter, brighter style of making music or do they bring him to the dark side where Karakoram lurks?

The haunting sound of an eternal wind blowing. Somewhere in that storm, we hear what sounds like a howl, an endless echo, created by distorting chords on the keyboard. It’s faint at first but it builds up to the sound of an actual human voice (Sheheryar Khattak?) that’s muffled, so you can’t make out the words, but it’s mournfully vocalising.

Karakoram and Hasan Raheem form an unlikely alliance in 'Kyun' — an old school rock-meets-electropop gritty anthem that just works

Sheheryar Khattak then kicks off the song with the opening verses: Kyun/ Bewajah iss zidd mein rahein, kyun/ Oonchi yeh deewarein ghairein, kyun?/ Khud se barri jung larrein, kyun?

[Why?/ We stay in this contumacy without reason, why?/ These high walls surround us, why?/ Fighting battles bigger than ourselves, why?]

The endless existential questioning reaches this angsty crescendo: Sab paa ke kya mila? Koi apna na raha/ Beyjaan jeetay rahay. [What do I have after getting everything?/ No one’s truly my own/ I kept living a lifeless existence.]

The guitar playing, the roaring ‘noise’ crashing down like a wave, a signature of Karakoram’s sound is kept uncharacteris-tically restrained. This is because in Kyun there’s a storm that’s still brewing.

Hasan Raheem’s section enters seamlessly into the song. He’s adapted himself to Karakoram’s dark, angsty sound. Channelling his inner rock star, he croons: I see the light shining/ Can’t seem to make up my mind x2 / Umeed ki khoj mein rahoon [I keep searching for hope]/ Yeh bojh le ke apne sar kaunsa idhar phiron? [Where do I go with this weight I carry in my head?]/ Hum shant hee sahi, na thi koi kami [We were at peace, we had everything]/ Afsaano se hi roshni milli [We got light from our stories]/ Inn deewaron ko ab girrana hoga [We have to tear down these walls]/ Mouqa yeh na gawana hoga [We can’t let go of this opportunity]/ Iss sukoon ka dil thikana hoga [We will find peace in our hearts].

He joins Sheheryar Khattak in the main chorus, most of which is crooning a deeply extended ‘Kyun?’ into a mournful high-pitched howl. When singing in a higher pitch, I feel, both Sheheryar and Hasan Raheem have surpassed Bilal Maqsood (formerly of Strings, now solo and independent) and have reached a level I wasn’t aware male vocals were able to go.

Kyun? is written by Sheheryar Khattak, Hasan Raheem and Bilawal Lahooti. It’s a solid, old school, rock number (courtesy Sheheryar Khattak and Bilawal Lahooti) with a twist of the modern and new (courtesy Hasan Raheem). This is a collaboration that surprisingly works very well.

Published in Dawn, ICON, May 29th, 2022

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