Ode to Pakistani Music

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I listen to a lot of music – Dire Straits, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, U2, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Def Leppard, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Santana, Counting Crows, Lifehouse, Jason Mraz, Shakira…everything from classic rock to salsa, Celtic, Middle Eastern, West African, Native American…I have 26 Putumayo albums on my iTunes (thanks to you Urvi!), plus an illimitable collection of BBC World Music Award Winners from my days at FM91 in Lahore. I can sing along to almost all of them, in somewhat mangled Spanish, Turkish, Persian, Arabic, French, Wolof, a smattering of Mandarin.

It feels cool. It feels like you’re “a citizen of the world”. 

Yet every so often, you feel a pang in your heart; a yearning, a hunger almost, to hear the sounds of your childhood, the rippling rhythm of the tongue  your mother used to sing you to sleep, the hearty banter of shopkeepers and radio on the streets, the spirited voice of your jokes, your laughter, the stories you told each other during recess, no matter how much English they tried to hammer into you in class…

Wasn’t Dil Dil Pakistan the first song you ever knew the words to, in all its smooth-shaven, skinny-limbed, cableless-electric-guitar glory? The first crush you had Shehzad Roy – holay holay, mera dil ye dolay! – and the first concert you went to Strings or Awaz (ideally at Gaddafi Stadium, open-air!), armed with a  cushion, waterbottle and a  box of  egg sandwiches, watching thousands of yellow flames bobbing in the darkness as you sung your heart out to Sar Kiye Ye Pahar or Ae Jawan

Or the first time you danced at a mehndi, awkward pre-teen feet struggling to keep sync with hands, vowing there could be no song on the planet faster than Hawa Hawa!

How about that first time you heard qawwali, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan at Gymkhana, sitting on the carpets infront with your arms wrapped around two gow-takkias – precious booty at Gymkhana concerts – the uncles and aunties swaying in ecstacy, little black-kneed kids bouncing about on the stage, and your mouth agape at this great man’s phenomenal voice and size?

And, no matter who you were or where you lived, in the city, slum, village or mansion, or even in a 30-storey apartment building oceans away, didn’t your heart always beat a little faster, your eyes flash with an inner joy, at the chorus of Jazba Junoon?

Then, you grew older, tapes turned to CDs, and there was NooriAtif Aslam, Fuzon, Strings reborn, strumming guitars under the bamboo shade at college, crooning Manwe Re and Aadat to pieces,  “reporter” visits to Ali Noor’s house, ice cream with EP, peace concerts and an unfortettable birthday invite, setting eyes on the person you were going to marry in the backrows of a Junoon concert…

And, now? Now there’s Coke Studio.

Brainchild of ex-Vital Sign’s bandman Rohail Hyatt, the Coke Studio TV series started three years ago as a platform to bring together musicians of various genres from all over Pakistan,  creating “a musical fusion of exciting elements and diverse influences, ranging from traditional eastern, modern western and regionally-inspired music.

The result? Some absolutely incredible pieces of music, the kind of which I’ve never heard before (I’ve compiled some of my favourite performances from the past two seasons, plus the current season, on a YouTube Playlist). Most of the songs are very spiritual; in fact, Pakistani music, especially folk and classical, is inherently Sufi-istic, inspired by love and devotion and inspiring devotion in turn. For instance, Alif Allah, a collaboration between Arif Lohar, renowned Punjabi folk artist and perhaps the only person in the world who plays the chimta – tongs! – and Meesha Shafi, model-actress turned lead singer of goth-rock band Overload. Below is the original in Punjabi, with an English translation of the lyrics here.

Don’t also miss Sari Raat Jaga, JalpariPaimona…and many more great performances to come on the current season!

Mera dil nahin avail-lable koi aur khat-khat-khataa!

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10 thoughts on “Ode to Pakistani Music

    shayma said:
    June 30, 2010 at 10:49 am

    lovely write-up- made me so homesick! my husband adores this song from Coke Studio, we listen to it a lot. x shayma

    shayma said:
    June 30, 2010 at 10:51 am

    btw i have to say- one thing which makes me cringe is when they mix eastern and western music in a distasteful way. rahat fateh ali was here in Toronto and even though i love his sufi qalam, the songs which had a synthesiser and cymbals made me ill- my husband and i walked out during the intermission :(

    manalkhan responded:
    June 30, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    i know what you mean!! i was looking for good recorded versions of some of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s qawwalis, and they had done exactly the same thing!! added electronic keyboards and screeching echoes to Dam Mast Qalandar, completely destroyed it :s they’ve tried doing a qawwali in a Coke Studio session too, but i’ve come to the conclusion that you simply cannot mess with qawwali. it is perfect as it is!

    fuss said:
    June 30, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    The most memorable CS performances have been the ones in which they improve the production quality of folk songs while keeping their folk taste and melodies in tact.
    But it’s good to see that the music industry, patrons and musicians, are maturing towards their roots.

    Urvi said:
    June 30, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    And the dance sessions to Sajjad Ali’s Babiya & Gloria Estefan’s Conga which we were briefly obsessed with?

    I missed you yesterday, I was blasting Basshunter & all sorts of Eurotrash dance tracks, speeding down the 280 to Palo Alto on a gorgeously sunny day with my shades on, and the top down in my rented Mini Cooper. Needless to say, I felt incredibly cool. You would have loved every minute of it.

    And I agree, I used to be obsessed with Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, but that doesn’t hold a candle to the kind of compilations and talent on Coke Studio. One of my favourites is Dastaan-e-Ishq by Ali Zafar.

    manalkhan responded:
    July 1, 2010 at 9:49 am

    well-said, fuss! it’s about time we got to hear folk musicians in the mainstream, not just ancient PTV studio recordings.
    urvi, that sounds absolutely delicious. i need to head west or you east so we can re-create that together! :)

    Cibi said:
    July 7, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    I thought I was the only girl in the world to have a crush on Shehzad Roy! A lovely post. I wonder though, is Coke Studio the Pakistani answer to the X factor….?

    ML Awanohara said:
    July 13, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    I love the idea of listening to music that is “inherently Sufi-istic.” I will never forget seeing the whirling dervishes perform in Istanbul: hypnotic, inspiring, serene… Is this the kind of thing you mean? If so, I must check it out right away! Thanks!!!

    Ugly Shoelace said:
    August 26, 2010 at 8:37 am

    Maira dil nahi available – Koi or dar khat-khatao :P. Just a little correction.

    Nicely written :)

      manalkhan responded:
      August 31, 2010 at 12:07 pm

      haha, thanks, i always did make up half the words to the songs! :p

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