You can never be sure about how a year in music will end. You can never be sure if artists will complete what they set out to achieve at the start of the year. In the growing age of technological advancement and rise of digital streaming websites, where digital audio content including music is available without subscription (such as Spotify), you can’t be sure of what qualifies as quality music or pulse of the nation. Can it be both or is it mutually exclusive?
Numbers don’t dictate validation in terms of talent, much like award shows. They do, however, dictate a certain level of popularity. Numbers can only tell you who has been the most popular artist but that also comes with a Catch-22 situation. For instance, your daily mix during morning exercise hours or when you’re hitting the gym, might contain a playlist of upbeat, motivational, high-tempo songs. That, however, doesn’t mean they’re the best songs to emerge from the year.
But as a listener, that’s not what you’re thinking. As a result, at the end of a year, some songs will be your most heard songs but not ones you go to for while on the mission of pure discovery. It might overlap, sure, but it might not mean this list of songs qualifies as your favorite songs that released in a given year.
When you’re procrastinating and listening to some form of music as well as cleaning your overloaded computer, and keeping an eye on a muted news channel because many of us have become addicted to news, it also doesn’t mean these songs are your favorites. It is, simply put, about context.
Where you were when you heard a song and decided if it is worthy enough for a playlist or qualifies as a song that you sit down and listen to without any distraction.
Age also plays a role. Some of us don’t have the time, not anymore, like the way we used to during listening to songs.
In my case, a Walkman, a compact CD player, an MP3 player and finally an iPod, which came out as Apple’s greatest innovations, in the days when technological savant, Steve Jobs was still alive, is how music was consumed from beginning to the present.
Since the iPod, it has become the only way to carry music in mobile manner or its follow-up, the iPhone, which allows phone calls and music (among its various other uses).
Other brands also offer music space in your phone or an app like Spotify or YouTube Music. Whatever your choice of device, understanding a musical year also comes down to population growth.
As per the last census, Pakistan has a population of 241.49 million people with an annual growth rate of 2. 55 percent, which is worrisome in itself. But in that figure, the median age leans towards a younger side. Depending on the websites you drudge through to find the answer, it is anywhere between 21-years-old and 36-years-old. This crowd, largely wants to groove. This investigation is personally an ongoing learning and experience.
Many artists have told me in confidence that sometimes they have made a record [or] planned to do make one that is for a concert circuit where the average attendee wants to be entertained by music. That idea may or may not manifest for every individual who is attending a concert but the expectation is there. And you can’t judge people because they want to dance.
That dancing is more curious with the existence of DJs or festivals but can also be restrictive due to the ticket price. The cost of living, affordability and a show where the artist also makes money, does come into play. In other cases, such club-centric events featuring local and international artists, can be a private affair. What to be done with the restlessness.
The outliers, the disenfranchised, however, do find their way to some of these events, but as we go back to the question of numbers in music, they may be useful to mathematicians but in an effort to understand the process of listenership, it is not exactly accurate. The songs not most streamed can be the ones that carry strange and beautiful moments. Shunned as they maybe by the fight that is put up by numbers and algorithms, it would be a shame to not look at as much music as we can and how it feels as the year is closing.
LPs, EPs and more
With or without music videos (since they require an added expense that not every artist can afford), LPs and EPs is where it starts.
In 2023, artists decided to drop either EPs and, in some cases, LPs (a full-length record). What prompted them to release a body of work is individual to each of them but their release filled a void, and gave people a significant pocket of music without which there would most certainly be a perplexing chasm created by its absence.
Whom should we begin with?
Talal Qureshi? Okay, then he must take a bow for his LP, Turbo. The LP is among a handful of records that shows how trends can be avoided and an artist can still make a record that is individualistic, enchanting and explosive – minus the violence connotation.
Qureshi also co-produced the excellent LP by Natasha Noorani called Ronaq. While composing is one thing, writing songs that carry your thoughts, internal world and how you see the external, is not an easy thing to do. You always learn more about the artist through their sound, melodies, compositions and lyrics as opposed to the tropes such as ‘vocalist’. Natasha, forgive this metaphor given the current climate, came out swinging with a boisterous and an intimate record, after the longing that enveloped her last EP.
She wasn’t the only one.
Slowspin (Zeerak Ahmad), who talks about her work as sound sculptures, released a marvelous LP called Talisman (which swims in the dream-folk land and is truly genre-defying). In doing so, she collaborated with the esteemed Vijay Iyer among others.
Iyer collaborated with the dynamic Arooj Aftab and multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, and together the trio conjured the outstanding and timeless LP, Love in Exile, which has fetched them two Grammy nods: one in the category of Best Alternative Jazz Album and another for ‘Shadow Forces’ in the category of Best Global Music Performance.
Including Arooj Aftab, all of these women used their unique vocals and allowed the music to float to a place that neither they, nor their listeners envisioned. Don’t be lost in terminology and words such as frequencies. Intuition and improvisation in music is not a bad thing and these records prove it.
Similarly, Natasha Humera Ejaz dropped her debut LP called Ordinary Miracle. But it was anything but ordinary. Collectively, these records addressed a whirlwind of emotions from grief and longing to identity to the aesthetic of each artist. It also showed us their artistic growth and timelessness that was embedded in every song. None of them veered away from exploration and intuition, which is why the records sound so well.
Many other artists showcased what they could, would and should do best. Azaan Sami Khan, the lesser known Salor and Kashmir also released new LPs.
The algorithm can be beaten. You just have to understand the basic idea upon which it is built.
Young Stunners (who release so much music that you wish they stopped and emerged with a mood that is not written out of memory muscle but an introspection after their success and collective and solo paths) dropped more music. Talha Anjum dropped an LP while the group also played shows and appeared on music series such as Velo Sound Station and just released a lot of music – in one form or another.
Other artists include Jokhay (Therapy), Hasan Raheem (Maybe, It’s Love), Abdul Hannan x Shahmeer Raza Khan (Diya), Tarbooze (Taraqiati Kaam), Jimmy Khan (Ghar) who delivered work that celebrates collaboration and inched closer to being music’s new royalty.
Ali Sethi dropped an EP with Nicolas Jaar, which is a big deal if we step away from the giant that is ‘Pasoori’.
A refined effort, it is Sethi experimenting and showcasing how songs can take shape as you create beyond what is expected from you.
However, for the first time perhaps in years, music’s biggest property, Coke Studio, didn’t come out with a season. What the reason is remains a mystery. And unless it releases post-article, there is a strong chance that it will come next year – if at all.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing, is something that can be gauged by what music did release. Its absence was, in some ways, filled by Velo Sound Station (VSS). Making a comeback after two years, with Rohail Hyatt “designing the framework” and Kamal Khan as producer/co-director and Zeeshan Parwez, roped in as co-director, apart from a strong team, the series did produce some interesting moments and good songs, particularly by Natasha Noorani, Atif Aslam, Maanu, Rozeo, and Meesha Shafi. But it didn’t beat the global success that Coke Studio 14 found in 2022 and the disappearance act it has pulled in 2023.
Beyond dozens and dozens of singles, and some rap battles, record labels have made a comeback. Sony Music Middle East now has a stake, with at least two more record labels that are promising to invest in a variety of artists.
The likes of Shamoon Ismail, the very popular Taha G, Pindi Boyz, Abdul Hannan, Shae Gill, Abdullah Siddiqui made a lot of heads turn with their respective music.
Perhaps the biggest news in music is the return of Faisal Kapadia post-Coke Studio 14. With original songs like ‘Jaadu’ and ‘Hum Na Rahay’ ft. Zoha Zuberi, Kapadia also launched his own record label.
Woman made such a strong splash in music that it is difficult to cherry-pick some names.
Here, the EQUAL Pakistan playlist by Spotify, is a great place to find names that you have heard and those whom you are completely unaware of but will most certainly be surprised by upon listening.
This is maybe the first year in years past that we are running out of space to shine a brighter light on so many other artists.
Head to different platforms from internet labels to record labels (there is a difference) to find the song that speaks to your heart, makes you run, makes uncomfortable moments pass quickly and the ones that will stay in your permanent music collection.
Yes, at the end of another year, Atif Aslam is still the most streamed artist and we don’t have a hard time believing that given his popularity across demographics. As for the rest of it, fret not and watch out for the special 2023 music centerspread coming up next week. Until then, please don’t stop the music.
Numbers can only tell you who has been most popular artist but that also comes with a Catch-22 situation. For instance, your daily mix during
morning while exercising or when you’re hitting the gym, might contain certain upbeat songs. That, however, doesn’t mean they’re the best songs to emerge from the year. But as a listener, that’s not what you’re thinking. As a result, at the end of a year, some songs will be your most heard songs but not ones you go to for pure discovery. It might overlap, sure, but it might not mean this list of songs qualifies as your favorite songs that released in a given year.