Pop music is rapidly taking over the Pakistani music scene, despite the moral brigade and diktats of the clergy. “Pop, along with soft rock, is growing in popularity. It has developed in a very short span of time and shows more promise than even Indian pop music,” claims Saadia, 19, a student of business studies. Most of the songs are in Urdu set to western music. There is a lot of talent coming here. Music experts say there are about 15 established music bands and a dozen pop music stars in Pakistan today.
A far cry, all agree, from the early 1980s, when during President Zia-ul-Haq’s regime, listening to or creating pop music was aggressively discouraged. However, after the Music ’89 show, aired on the government-owned Pakistan Television (PTV), who was also the official sponsors, things appeared to change. At the show, 30-somethings danced to the music of the then pop idols – Nazia and Zoheb Hassan, Ali Azmat and bands like the Vital Signs.more
Soon after, bands like Junoon (which now enjoys cult status in Pakistan), Jupiters and Noori were born. More music concerts followed with youngsters preferring to listen to western music instead of folk or classical music.
But again, in 1997, the then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, condemned the “jeans, jacket and pop culture” of the Vital Signs team: “Looking at them singing `Dil Dil Pakistan’, I feel like calling a barber and having their hair shaved off.” Pop singers and bands kept facing the purge. Most could not air their music on the national network, and several were not given the required no objection certificate to perform in concerts.
However, in the last five years, they have returned, and with vengeance. And this time, they not only have a huge fan following across Pakistan and are a growing industry, but also have the General, Pervez Musharraf, as their big fan.
Already, one private channel – Indus Music – is solely devoted to playing pop music 24 hours a day. Another one, by the name of Aag, is slated to be launched on August 14, 2005, on Pakistan’s Independence Day.
There are over 80 FM channels spread all across Pakistan and several of these channels now broadcast music from bands such as Jal, Awaz, Noori, Faakhir, Fuzon and Strings.
Pop singers talk unabashedly of love, jealousies and merry-making in their music. Sometimes their verses have political undertones, like Sajjad Ali’s `Chief Saab’ (some say it refers to Altaf Hussain – Muttahida Quami Movement’s chief, as a hooligan cashing in on street power) or Awaz’s `Mr Fraudiay’ (of a corrupt person – presumably Asif Zardari, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s husband) and Junoon’s `Ehtesaab’ (which means accountability).
According to Abdullah Qasim Moini, a music critic, “Most bands belong to Karachi and Lahore but the ones emerging from Islamabad and Peshawar hold a lot of promise.” The band members and musicians are from different social groups, mostly influenced by western culture and education. And most manage to make a lot of money in concerts in UAE and India.
Junoon reportedly charges $15,000 per gig abroad and $850 at home. Rumour has it that Ali Zafar, the best-looking male pop icon makes a neat $3 million a month. Abrar-ul-Haq, a history teacher-turned bhangra performer, who hit the waves in 1995 with his `Billo de Ghar’ album, can sell between 400,000 to 500,000 albums in a year.
Although the musicians are reprimanded now and then by the conservative groups for “corrupting the youngsters”, no serious threats have been issued to any group or singer.
Neha Mankani, 19, says, “It’s true that more and more young people aspire to be like the singers. They see this as a more attainable goal as well as something that gets respect these days.”
Big MNCs now hire the pop stars for brand promotion: the musicians are selling ice-creams, colas, mints, chewing gum, fast food and cellphones.
Of course, their popularity is linked to the growing number of youngsters smitten by the new consumer culture – a culture obsessed with looking good, using brands, and smoking the sheesha (hookah or water pipe) in parties. Several of these young lovers of pop music don’t speak a word of Urdu!
However, when is comes to women pop singers, Pakistan has a long way to go. The sole star is Hadiqa Kiyani who, in her long sherwani-cut dresses is a favourite with many.