Instep Today

Looking back, looking forward

Instep Today
By Maheen Sabeeh
Sun, 06, 22

2022 will be remembered as the year when things started getting back to normal

Faris Shafi and Meesha Shafi collaborated for the song ‘Muaziz Saarif’ earlier this year. Photo: Instep
Faris Shafi and Meesha Shafi collaborated for the song ‘Muaziz Saarif’ earlier this year. Photo: Instep

June is not over, and we haven’t crossed the half-year rubicon just yet, but it’s on the horizon. The last two years swept everybody up in terms of business of any kind due to the emergence of Covid-19. Some fashion designers had to shut down outlets as did certain stylists. Some musician(s) moved abroad. Many suffered because concerts became impossible during the height of Covid-19, which meant little to no earning. Musical activities were restricted to the online world where intimate gigs and conversations among peers and fans was the route chosen.

However, 2022 will be remembered as the year when things started getting back to normal (following SOPs of course). From corporate-backed shows to independent releases and emerging online labels, it all started up as the music scene rose once again like a phoenix from the ashes. Instep breaks it down…

Let’s face facts. The music industry is growing in such an audacious style and frequency that try as we might, it is near impossible to add each and every artist. Taste also comes into determining what to keep and what to drop. Looking through numbers also plays a role. With that in mind, as the first half of 2022 is almost over, Instep deciphers what songs, albums and shows made the year musically exciting. Here’s one small effort…

Corporate-backed Music

Coke Studio, in its 14th year, went for a complete makeover from its audio to visual per song, how the season was curated and finalized the artists it would feature. Beginning in January and ending in March 2022, the show gave Pakistani music fans a lot of music to looked forward to and dare I say it, I, for one, was completely hooked to it. To cut the story short, some of the most fascinating collaborations popped up this year and several worthy artists made their debut. Among its many highlights, we saw the first ever collaboration between sister-brother (and artists, respectively) Meesha Shafi and Faris Shafi; the latter also joined Talha Anjum and Karakoram on the song ‘Yeh Dunya’ and featured in the cricket-themed track, ‘Cricket Khidaiye’ with Atif Aslam and Talal Qureshi. Reclusive he may be, but, with those performances, Faris Shafi showed us that whether it’s his own tracks like ‘Jawaab De’, ‘Nazar’, ‘Lafz’ or a show as big as Coke Studio, he will always bring his true artistic self to the process.

Abdullah Siddiqui made his debut - not only by playing a major role behind the scenes as associate music producer among other things, his song ‘Go’ with Atif Aslam was very curious. ‘Pasoori’ featuring Ali Sethi, Shae Gill and Sheema Kermani picked up 100 million views in approximately three months, a new feat for Coke Studio while ‘Peechay Hutt’ ft. Hasan Raheem, Justin Bibis and Talal Qureshi from the music series found space in Disney’s Marvel universe. The series also brought Faisal Kapadia back to the singing spotlight who had called it a day after Strings. The experience left Faisal far more interested in staying within the music scene and he is now singing for an upcoming Shoaib Mansoor film, going with the flow. Coke Studio 14 had so many hits and fascinating collaborations that shows like Bisconni Music and Kashmir Beats just couldn’t compete and looked like shadows of Coke Studio’s illustrious past. Many contemporary (and deserving) artists were given a chance and we think Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan, better known as Xulfi, will probably return as executive producer. The idea to create a think tank and curate songs and not produce all of them as well as shortening the season worked, and for the first time in years, Coke Studio 14 got most of it right. The folk element was lacking but we hope the upcoming season will include it to make it a perfect show.

In comparison, in a show like Bisconni Music, the saving grace was a collaboration between Kashmir and Mai Dhai called ‘Yaaden’. In terms of numbers and with the presence of artists such as Asim Azhar, it collected millions of views, though. Bisconni at least featured musicians but the same cannot be said for Kashmir Beats where actors were singing and it made you wonder whether they could sing at all or was there some form of autotune in use. It makes you wonder why the show didn’t feature exciting musical names since the music scene is growing every year.

With shows like Coke Studio, Kashmir Beats, Bisconni Music, Pepsi’s Why Not with hits from Young Stunners and Rap Demon as well as the space owned by independent platforms, releasing full-length albums remained a rarity while singles dropped like hot potatoes. Even as some artists did release records, the focus for a majority of musicians was on singles.

Singles + Albums

Like every year, 2022 (so far) has been witness to great music from all corners of the country. Though albums didn’t release in the same frequency as singles, it must be remembered that we’re still talking about the first half of the year, more or less, which means there is room for more albums.

However, in 2022, artists who did impress with full-length albums include The D/A Method who released their third and final album titled Sanctuary. In reflective and creative elements, many others released decent to good albums. As labels like Rearts Records and A for Aleph emerged and Spotify also made Pakistan a priority in its global roster, music albums didn’t die entirely. Irfan Ali Taj released an album called Mahal. Rushk also dropped its second album Naqis with a much more extensive line-up and 7 songs.

Abdullah Siddiqui, the prodigious music master, did promise to drop a new album in 2022 but while he does that, he was involved with the catchy song ‘The Afterglow’ in collaboration with fashion label Outfitters earlier this year.

Among underrated artists, Rovalio dropped a song called ‘Bikhra’ ft. Abdul Hannan and Surkhwaab gave us the song ‘Boli’.

Bilal Maqsood released his first single after 33 years of Strings (having called it a day as a band) with ‘Naya Naya’, a pop tune, reminding us what an accomplished musician he is to this date. But Bilal wasn’t the only one.

While neo-rock music outfit Karakoram - after releasing their full-length album in 2021 - collaborated with Hasan Raheem for the electrifying song ‘Kyun’, the latter also delivered a number of good songs in 2022 such as ‘Sun Le Na’ (ft. Abdullah Kasumbi), and ‘Weli Ho’ x with rapper Talha Yunus and longtime collaborator Abdullah Kasumbi. Speaking of Talha Yunus, some of the most notable songs came from the hip-hop community in the year so far. Young Stunners ft. Talha Yunus and Talha Anjum released ‘Why‘ [produced by Jokhay), ‘Gumnaam’ as well as ‘Aazma Le‘ ft. Kashmir’s Bilal Ali. Osama Karamat Ali, who also goes by the stage name OCL, released a batch of songs including

‘Pull Up’, ‘Options’ ft. Maria Unera and dotxb, ‘Whack Scene’ ft. dotxb and ‘Main Chick’ (feat. @GVL KHAN & dotxb).

Sunny Khan Durrani dropped a melancholic beauty called ‘Pinjra’ with a strong music video while Talal Qureshi, collaborating with Towers, Maanu, and Mujju, released ‘Shaam’.

On the subject of Maanu, he, too, had us hooked to his songs; he was featured on a terrific Turhan James song, ‘Saaye’ and released ‘Friends’, ‘Pyar Hai Asli’ ft. Hasan Raheem and Talal Qureshi, ‘Kehti Sahi’ ft. Towers, and ‘ez’ (feat. Salor) from an album called Sakuna Matata.

Never far behind, Kashmir, one of the winners of Pepsi Battle of the Bands, unveiled their first song from an upcoming second album (Zindagi) with the vibrant ‘Chal Hutt’ and these are just some of the tracks we can place within this space. Another single that caught our attention came from Surkhwaab. After releasing their debut track ‘Sanval’ years ago, they’ve returned with a new track called ‘Boli’.

Women take centerstage

It is not appropriate to describe female musicians with their gender and not by their music. But there is a reason for it.

If the last couple of years has taught us anything, it’s that a female musician can do all the tasks their male peers can including music production, sound design, editing and so on.

To that end, Zahra Paracha - who released some beautiful solo songs in 2021 - played the role of sound designer and editor for Wooly and the Uke’s exquisite 2022 release ‘How’. An audio-visual artist whose original name is Jannat Sohail Aziz, a round of applause goes to her for the song and its music video (ft. Sarmad Khoosat and others) which she directed under name. The song is off her upcoming album, Rebirth: These Days from which she has also released the audio of another gorgeous song called ‘These Days’ ft. Glitch Bird.

The iconic Hadiqa Kiani released an EP called Vasl to introduce the younger generation to some of her prominent songs from years gone by and has dropped a number of singles from the EP. Natasha Baig gave us her second album in 2022 called Khirad while Natasha Noorani joined Talal Qureshi on Takatak’s ‘Flash Your Bones’.

Celebrating women in all their glory, Meesha Shafi dropped the anthemic ‘Rajkumari’ after her Coke Studio 14 appearance on International Women’s Day. From English verses to Urdu, the song is popping and shows the direction Meesha Shafi is taking in her solo career, something also apparent in ‘Rajkumari’s preceding hit, ‘Hot Mango Chutney Sauce’.