Article: The Year In Music – An Overview
OVER VIEW: The Year In Music
By Asfandyar Khan
This year brought us a lot of big name releases; Jal, Atif Aslam, Ali Azmat, Strings. All of them were built up immensely, and none delivered. The year then largely belonged to the underdog. Zeb & Haniya came out with a stunning album that, along with Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s Charkha, were the only realistic rivals to Klashinfolk
There was definitely a bug floating around in 2008, one that seemed to latch on to Jal and Strings. After having Sajni grasp onto our brains and not let go with its infectiousness, Boondh showed us that lovely Pakistani trait called disappointment. The album wasn’t infectious, and it was marred by some poor songwriting that traded in hooks and a working formula for a cheap distortion pedal. Some called it experimentation, but don’t let them fool you. Interestingly, the tracks pumped up with overdrive resemble Call — despite the man behind the helm in the studio being Mekaal Hasan as opposed to Xulfi. Still, Sajni was probably one of the catchiest tracks of the year.
Artiste/Band: Atif Aslam
Album: Meri Kahani
There was always one thing you could bet your house on — Atif would perform vocally. Whether whimsical Bollywood songs or reincarnations of Jalpari, it didn’t matter. Unfortunately, Meri Kahani brought an end to that. Atif’s attempts on Meri Kahani to come across as a gratuitous rocker (Hungami Haalat, Yaaro) failed considerably.
It was after Doorie that we kept on hearing about Atif’s next album, Meri Kahani, which failed on two fronts; it was a poor album and it was hardly a rock album. Good songs and good moments were rare on it, if there at all. Perhaps unrestrained by a sense of victimisation, the decision to go down this route was folly. Maybe next time we’ll see a less brazen Atif Aslam playing to his strengths and coming up with a good pop album.
Artiste/Band: Zeb & Haniya
Amongst musicians and critics alike, this was perhaps the most anticipated (realistic) release of the year. They’re both immensely gifted artistes; Zeb has a mesmerising voice that is very understated and Haniya’s guitars are equally restrained and perfectly compliment Zeb’s voice. It’s not an easy thing to mould a sense of lounge jazz, singer-songwriter and blues while simultaneously making sure there’s a slight element of pop music to it (to make it memorable, of course).
Under the tutelage of Mekaal Hasan, both Zeb and Haniya managed to create a wonderful debut album that displayed their control over that oft-under looked aspect of music — dynamics (Rona Chorr Diya had to be one of the best things I’ve heard this year). Like seasoned acts Ali Azmat and MHB, Zeb and Haniya have managed to become the precocious upstarts who’ve created their own distinct sound with their debut album no less.
Artiste/Band: Shehzad Roy
Album: Qismet Apnay Haath Mein
Qismet Apnay Haath Mein was a bit of a belter, if not for the music then definitely for the lyrical content. Roy took aim at just about everything happening in the political landscape, and echoed the sentiments of many a Pakistani as he spat out quips and little sarcastic ditties left, right and centre. At the same time, sonically, the album retained his distinct sound — lots of guitars drowned in funk and sweet corn syrup with percussion straight out of a bhangra album.
Though the album brought upon itself a lot of controversy, Qismet Apnay Haath Mein was ultimately better off with it than without. Shehzad Roy was never expected to break musical barriers and created an album that was genre-bending (or genre-defining), but he nevertheless garnered a lot of respect for an album rooted in socio-political commentary.
Artiste/Band: Ahmed Jehanzeb
Album: Laut Aao
lt’s been a bit of a wait for Jehanzeb’s second album, Laut Aao. Unfortunately, the wait didn’t quite result in an album akin to his first — which essentially set him on his way towards achieving mass recognition of his talents.
Laut Aao seemed contrived; there were tracks transparently set up in the hope that Bollywood would come calling for them, yet there seemed to be some urgency about staying true to his roots and what made him a household name in the first place. As a result, listeners were treated to all sorts of mutations (Bol Mahiya Ve, Jab Tumhari Yaad, Tere Bina Jeena), and this contributed immensly towards rendering the album a disappointment.
Ahmed Jehanzeb would do himself a favour if he’d sit down and have a talk with himself to decide which direction he wants to go in exactly.
Artiste/Band: Ali Azmat
For starters, Ali Azmat duped us — and not in a good way. After having our appetites whetted with statements of how Klashinfolk would be “different”, and the magic of Gallan seemingly providing backing to that statement, the album itself was disappointing. It wasn’t what it was advertised as, but that didn’t stop it from being one firework of an album.
Refining the formula found on Social Circus, we got an album that didn’t seem to possess a single weak track (except perhaps the English track You Are). From cascading guitars to Ali Azmat’s lilting vocal melodies, the album displayed a musician confident in his ability and possessing the right amount of arrogance. It also told us that this man is a fair distance away from his zenith. The best album of the year? You bet.
Artiste/Band: Dino Ali
What happened here then? Despite possessing some decent vocal abilities, Pari was all over the place. Dino’s vocals didn’t really shine (though to be fair they are neither grating throughout the album), but the songs, to put it bluntly, were atrocious. We were introduced to everything; crappy dance tracks that seemed to have resurfaced from the late ’90s, hip-hop that frankly shouldn’t exist and harmless pop-rock. The album was marred by a ‘lets-chuck-in-every-genre-conceivable’ approach, which took away any potential cohesiveness. Some shockingly bad lyrics didn’t help either, leaving the listener with nothing to gain after having given an ear to Dino’s Pari.
Artiste/Band: Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan
Undoubtedly one of Pakistan’s premier vocalists, Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan seemed confident enough in his abilities to pen a solo album after his departure from Fuzon.
Tabeer, as a result, delved deep into pre-Fuzon Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan complete with loads of sufi, folk and classical compositions with tinges of contemporary pop (and unfortunately Bollywood). There are little remnants of his days with Fuzon, even though at certain points throughout the album he tends to veer towards a more westernised sound. It is indicative of his ability as a vocalist that despite some compositional missteps, one is too engrossed in his voice to notice the flaws. Still, we can expect a lot more in the coming years from this talented singer.
After Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan’s departure from Fuzon many thought that the group would call it a day. That they didn’t meant that they had to step out of the shadow of their previous vocalist and come full circle both as a band and as an entity.
Despite being rather disappointing, it’s a testament to Immu and Shallum that Journey still sounded distinctly like a Fuzon album. With new vocalist Rameez Mukhtar in tow, they created an album far better rounded than Saagar. Because they were unable to rely on Shafqat to take centrestage, they had to rely on upping the ante themselves. As a result we were treated to more guitar solos and synths (despite the keyboard sound coming across as very synthetic). Songs like Neend Na Aaye and Jo Dil Ne Kaha made it a fairly worthwhile album, especially if you’re a Fuzon fan.
Artiste/Band: Rahat Fateh Ali Khan
When Saiyaan kicked in, you knew you were in for something special. As it descended into a dance with trip-hop, the utter genius of Rohail Hyatt’s production work and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s voice was realised in an extraordinary fashion.
Charkha throughout flirted with superficial avant-garde (resembling a soundtrack for new-age film noir), world music, fusion and good old qawwali itself. Though at times this tended to sound a bit awkward, by and large it worked simply because of the two musicians at the helm. By incorporating varied influences, and with such a widened sonic palette, the album sounded fresh and contemporary, yet with its feet rooted firmly in sufi tradition.
With Abbas Premjee’s Elements, Charkha brings with itself a new found focus on classical music originating within the subcontinent’s rich cultural history.
Album: Koi Aanay Wala Hai
As the finale of Humsafar’s video rolled, I couldn’t help but grin at the fact that the song was represented wonderfully. Probably one of the best songs of the year, its beauty lies in its simplicity and adherence to the tried and tested Strings’ formula.
Usually, I’m not a fan of bands usually sticking to their guns, but for some who’ve carved out a niche for themselves, that’s the best (if not the only) option. Perhaps Strings were too comfortable in their cocoon and needed to break out — and perhaps that’s the very reason why Koi Aanay Wala Hai failed as an album. Full of half-baked, microwave ideas, it seemed like a meagre attempt at being different. Strings needed (to paraphrase a rather famous African-American) a scalpel, instead they went for a hatchet.
Artiste/Band: Abbas Premjee
Probably the surprise gem of the year, Elements was a treatise in Indian classical music played through distinctly western instruments. Shying away from an album heavy in vocals, Premjee crafted songs that carried with them a strong Indian classical element, yet never alienated anyone who previously isn’t already a fan of the genre. Different from MHB in so far as this is less fusion, Elements incorporated both patiently plucked acoustic guitars and trebly, wafer-thin electric guitar playing — all the while supported by a strong percussive base that moulded traditional percussive instruments (table, darbuka) with a standard drumkit. Another strong element (no pun intended) of the album was the effortless atmosphere the songs managed to create. It’s quite like being either transported back in time (though with natural anachronisms). Maybe the biggest appeal of the album.
This year brought us a lot of big name releases; Jal, Atif Aslam, Ali Azmat, Strings. All of them were built up immensely, and neither of them delivered. Even though Klashinfolk was a brilliant album, the expectations for it were perhaps unattainable. Strings were disappointing — they misjudged where they were in terms of deciding to reinvent themselves, and even then they failed to do much except perhaps get a botox injection. The year then largely belonged to the underdog. Zeb & Haniya came out with a stunning album that, along with Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s Charkha, were the only realistic rivals to Klashinfolk for that mighty year-end accolade. Premjee’s Elements was another wonderful surprise that crept out from nowhere while Azal made quite a ruckus with their rhetoric.
As for 2009, there’s a lot to be optimistic about. Mauj and MHB are slated to release their albums after a whole year of making us drool in anticipation. The year 2008 was slated to be that of Mauj, but unfortunately their stars failed to align. Sajid and Zeeshan too are supposed to be nearly done with their album. So, if nothing else, 2009 will bring us three albums from three bands that are at the forefront of Pakistani music right now. With videos being aired by both Ali Zafar and Noori, it’s pertinent to assume that these two stalwarts too have something worthwhile lined up. As it may be, 2009 has more than enough cause for excitement.