Unbeknown to the rest of the country, from being a place unknown for its pop music, Peshawar is quietly and slowly emerging with its own local music scene. There are newer and newer bands coming out in the city, which are giving their own twist to conventional forms of pop and rock music, planting the seeds for a new chapter in the pop music history of Pakistan. The work that is being done is exciting, novel and experimental and in the process of defining its own unique identity.

Here, Images on Sunday focuses on some of the most prominent acts — folk, fusion, rap and metal — that are in the process of breaking through from the northern capital of Pakistan.

Ismail and Junaid

Junaid Javed and Ismail Khan: putting Pashto on the music map – photo by the writer

From the new wave of pop music from Peshawar, Ismail and Junaid reign on top. Along with their increasing popularity, however, they perform sporadically and shy away from making too many public appearances.

They first made their debut on the media in January 2010, and have to their credit, runaway hits like Qarar (peace) and Ranra (light). Ismail Khan, who is the main singer songwriter in the band, hails from a family of a political background from Charsadda and met Junaid Javed while they were still in college. Junaid’s family settled in Peshawar after his grandfather, a businessman involved in the textile export industry, moved there. He began playing the guitar at 15 years of age and is also the backing vocalist and co-composer of the band. They first began jamming together after a dinner during their second year in college.

They’re passionate about promoting awareness of their culture and heritage; and in renewing a sense of pride among the youth when it comes to their cultural identity. As university students they’re not completely focused on their music, but having said that, they do have several projects lined up which include an Urdu song whose working title is Raat, a song based on an eminent Pashto poet, Ameer Hamza Shinwari’s (Hamza Baba) poems titled Pakhwa, and an attan that would incorporate 15 dialects of the Pashto language.


From L to R: Farhan Bogra, Shiraz Khan, Sparlay Rawail and Aamer Shafique of Khumaryaan – photo by the writer

This is perhaps one band from Peshawar that does the most live performances and not surprisingly so; their music may be completely instrumental, but has a wonderful element of fun, fusion and heritage that keeps listeners engaged and tapping their feet, whether by listening to their music through their videos on YouTube or at a concert.

Khumaryaan (People engaged in a state of intoxication) is composed of Farhan Bogra on rabab (and the frontman for the band), Aamer Shafiq on guitars, Shiraz Khan on zeer baghli (an Afghani hand drum, similar to the djembe from West Africa) and Sparley Rawail on guitars. They have recently begun featuring Hammad Baig on keyboards as well.

Some of their more popular numbers, accessible via recorded live performances hosted on YouTube, includes their most recent release, an original composition by the name of Bela. Other popular originals include Khumaar (intoxication) and Tamasha (ruckus). Their performances of Qataghani, mystic music that originates from the Heart province in Afghanistan; Sheenay (blue eyes), a composition that takes its roots from Gilgit-Baltistan and a cover of Babu Laley by one of Afghanistan’s most recognised singers, Sadiq Fitrat Habibi (popularly known as Nashanas) are also well-admired by audiences.

Yasir and Jawad

They made their debut on the mainstream media via a music-based reality TV show, Uth Records, and had the nation humming to their composition of Reidi Gul — a song whose lyrical content was based on the poetry of one of Pashto literature’s most popular contemporary poets, Khan Abdul Ghani Khan.

Founding members, Yasir Khan plays the rabab and hails from North Waziristan whereas Jawad Iqbal on the rhythm guitar is from Mardan. The third featured member of the band, Wali Aurakzai, their popular lead singer, is originally from the Orakzai Agency.

Between their appearance on Uth Records and now, Wali Aurakzai was recruited into the Pakistan Army. He managed to record several songs prior to his recruitment and continues to perform with the band whenever he can. Jawad Iqbal tries to step in for him as a vocalist whenever the band performs in his absence.

The 2 Dees

Aly Mannan and Dilawar Qazi: using music to dispel stereotypes about Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – photo by the writer

Ever heard of Pashto rap? If not then you can always look towards The 2 Dees — a rap-based outfit whose songs have lyrical content both in English and Pashto. They are Dilawar Qazi and Aly Mannan (Dr Crack) and are quite popular in Peshawar’s underground music scene.

One of their better-known tracks is Techno 69 — a number destined to become a clubhouse favourite with its feet-tapping desi beats and catchy lyrics. Their versions of Numb/Encore by Linkin Park and Ghetto by Akon, to which they add their own lyrics and musical flavour, are considered their audiences’ favourite songs for them to perform.

They have recently released a video for the song they are most famous for, We love you KPK, a narrative about the struggles and the beauty of their beloved province. The song, a version of which features Farhan Bogra on the rabab, is an attempt to decry popular stereotypes associated with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Asad and Jamshaid

Guitar virtuosos: Asad Ali Khan and Jamshaid Ali Khan – photo by the writer

They’re only 17 but the skills they display in their guitar playing are well beyond their years. A musical collaboration seemed only natural as Asad Ali Khan and Jamshaid Ali Khan are twins, but along with working together on music, they are also actively engaged in their own independent music projects.

They produce their music themselves and have set up a music recording facility at home.

As a duo they have previously performed at a musical evening in Peshawar at Fast University, Kuch Khaas in Islamabad, a music festival in Kaghan and most recently at Nishtar Hall. Asad and Jamshaid work on a diverse range of music ranging from pop, rock and electronica and sometimes fusing all three genres. They predominantly perform their own original instrumentals, along with several covers, often swapping roles when it comes to playing guitar (between playing lead or rhythm) or will play the exact same thing together.

Other music acts

It’s a healthy sign for the community when members of the youth chose to express themselves through creative mediums.

Apart from the bands mentioned above, there are others who are also contributing their share to music in Peshawar. One of these is a group that does rap music in Pashto by name of Fortitude. The band members are Shahkar Alam Khan, Shumail Alam Khan and Mustafa Kamal and they’re best known for their feel-good song, Time Paas.

Singer, songwriter, actor and film-maker Naseer Afridi recently released a song in collaboration Shahab Qamar from the band, Avid, called Rise on your broken knees. The song comes under the genre of Nu Metal which incorporates other genres such as hip hop and grunge with elements of heavy metal music.

The rock band, Avid (along with its band members Naseef Maqsood, Shahab Qamar, Imran Ahmed and Faisal Durrani) have been making waves with their song, Sarey Mil Kay, a song they’ve dedicated to the people who lost their lives in the ongoing War on Terror.