Instep Today

The It List: the best of the best

By Maheen Sabeeh
Sun, 01, 24

2023 really put us through it, but was also the year that made us feel like there is always a way out. Some of the hope comes to us from the creative industries at home, that put out incredible work, consistently, confidently, and so methodically that we must applaud them.The year that music lived

The It List: the best of the best

If the growth of music felt stagnant during the past decades, it is no longer the case. At least, not for the last few years.

The velocity at which artists have cropped up and the digital platforms and record labels that have become available to them means everyone has a chance to become something or put out their own content. Where it goes is another matter. When combined, this part of performing arts operates like a planet of its own, one that is governed by its own set of rules.

We are exposed to content in quantitative and qualitative manners that wasn’t possible just a decade ago.

Numbers continue to play a role. However, they depict what is appealing to a majority of fans in seasonal fashion, changing often. But numbers don’t always mean genius nor do they validate talent. Those are determined by critical analysis and what will always find a permanent space in our sonic-visual and purely audio-based catalogs.

Many factors have contributed to this ever-evolving change, including how we consume music.

To that end, as we welcome 2024, and bid farewell to 2023, here’s a nod to those who built this musical planet majestic, mystical and ground-breaking.

The Superhero We All Need:

Pakistani Music

To be entirely uninformed is like being in a room and not knowing what to say when an important conversation is taking place. It is a horrible feeling and leaves you at the mercy of others. Perhaps for this reason, many of us take a quick glance at the news.

In 2023, the sense of loss quadrupled due to many reasons but none of it felt more heartbreaking than (a) 2023 Israel–Hamas war, killing and injuring dozens of Palestinians and (b) Pakistan’s own humanitarian crisis where more than 375,000 Afghans were forced out to Afghanistan.

An image of a mother weeping as she holds the hands of her 8-year-old in Palestine can bring you to tears and wonder where mankind is headed as a race. It is a cruel and intolerable world. But life has to go on. However, finding yourself in a pool of tears due to these reasons alone is not surprising, rare, or dramatic.

In this climate, Pakistani music – collectively - gave us hope, and emerged as a balm we desperately needed, on dark days and darker nights.

There is no one artist that can be named because each of us banked on artists we found most contextual to these times in our mind, heart and soul.

Song of the Year:

‘Saranjaam’ by Meesha Shafi

The It List: the best of the best

Singer, songwriter, composer and visual artist Meesha Shafi took the game away from everyone as part of Velo Sound Station II. The allegory found in ‘Saranjaam’ had many dimensions to it, whichever way you cut it. She knows and addresses how darkness lurks at every corner and offers hope by clearly stating that one must follow their chosen path, irrespective of what others think, efforts made to pull you down or just the trauma so many of us carry. We desperately needed a song like this. –Photo by Nadir Firoz Khan

Artist of the Year:

Slowspin (Zeerak Ahmed)

The It List: the best of the best

Slowspin’s debut feature length album, TALISMAN, is more than a beautiful album. It is cathartic and the culmination of her sonic journey that goes back to several years, and several EPs. Playing with languages, it swims in hope and dilemma, loss and longing and is among those unexpected albums that you carry in your heart and play every time you need or want to find your way back to love. A kaleidoscope of emotions, it has the power to unlock what you have suppressed but need to fight back at a great cost. Throughout this distress, it is a sound that reminds you about a love that is undaunted. –Photo by Alyse Nelson

Anthem of the Year:

‘Chamkeela’ by Natasha Noorani

The It List: the best of the best

The other song from Velo Sound Station II that must be mentioned is ‘Chamkeela’ because it gave us the license to dance, smile or roar with laughter without feeling guilty. It appeared like a silver lining amidst gloomy clouds, especially in 2023.

Hip-hop Act Of The Year:

Sunny Khan Durrani

The It List: the best of the best

Most people were probably expecting Young Stunners to fill this position but that, for me, would’ve been a folly. Sunny Khan Durrani has released so much music over the years that it is shocking to see how he goes unnoticed. Addressing our losses in life, trauma from any age of the most horrifying and unspeakable kind, he has the guts and the courage to address them with his music. That he does everything himself from music production to writing is a showcase of his range and grit. He has released electrifying albums and has dropped music in 2023 as well as the New Year and deserves a medal for not calling it quits. An outlier in the happening world of hip-hop, it is Sunny whose work has the true potential to speak to the disenfranchised, the restless, hopeless, anxious and those who long for peace within and without.