A lot has happened in terms of releases, both audio and video, in just the first month of the new year. Here’s why 2023 could be an uplifting moment in pop cultural context.
023 has arrived and music industry leaders, younger artists, innovators, pioneers, and OGs have hit the ground running. Think of it this way: the local music scene is like Die Hard’s detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) with just one very important trait in common: a refusal to give in with or without resources. Since 1988, McClane’s adversaries have been played by icons like (the late) Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons but he never gave in. To make this odd metaphor current and meme-friendly, the music industry is like Mission: Impossible’s relentless spy, Ethan Hunt.
You can try and give credence to other pop culture names (like anyone from Marvel Cinematic Universe) but the artists of and from Pakistan share a peculiarity with Ethan Hunt, odd as it sounds and no, it doesn’t mean flinging themselves off planes, trains or buildings. While Ethan’s goals often include the very things mentioned above, you can find a common thread between Hunt and the music industry, as both work by not giving up and finding new ways to survive.
And in the aftermath of the initial lockdown, technology became our go-to for everything including educational or celebrity-fueled platforms, quality and quantity in content and a reliance to even talk to loved ones by embracing tech.
It is also true that we rely heavily on this form of art to provide escapism because of the nature of the times we continue to live in. The more you learn, the more horrific visuals your brain instantly conjures.
What this means, in a pop cultural context, is that 2023 has started on a horrifying, violent note. And so, in addition to acknowledging what is becoming of this country, we also need to find joyous moments whenever we can to not become more unhinged than we thought was possible.
In these dark times, we may not have a smash hit like ‘Pasoori’ but hoping for another is not the priority. Such a song only happens once in a while, if not after an entire lifetime. So, beyond our collective, long-term relationship to the Ali Sethi-Shae Gill song from 2022, we want to, in some way find other silver linings to erase, reduce the intensity of the wretchedness we feel, ponder about the pain of those who have lost someone and the shared powerlessness of it all.
“Chiseled their names in stone/Heavy the load you tow/And the red horse is always close/ And the fire don’t burn below.” – ‘The Bandit’ by Kings of Leon
Academics, music theory, musicians or your own research will tell you that in the right frequency and pure beauty and authenticity, music has the therapeutic power to remind us that not falling in the abyss is possible even as you’re struggling to forgive and forget.
Perhaps due to this reason, the story should begin with not the most prominent name but ones you weren’t expecting.
In 2023, Mr. Faris Shafi will release music. In fact, he already has. His star power grew tremendously between making his Coke Studio debut in 2022 as well as starring in the all-star The Legend of Maula Jatt. He also dropped independent tracks last year and that habit hasn’t gone away. Collaborating with Abdullah Siddiqui as music producer and Awais Gohar as music video director, Faris has dropped a completely different rap song called ‘With Love’. As Faris is wondering about missing friends, his loneliness stands in sharp relief by the quiet snow-draped mountains. Rapping in Urdu, English and Punjabi, Faris takes us on a journey where he makes you question. Between pondering on social justice, it is also a study in personal struggles and emotions. We expect more from Faris as the year goes on. Mentioning him is important because even as rap music grows, Faris Shafi is the innovator and leader (no matter what numbers say).
Abdullah Siddiqui is the young producer in the Faris Shafi song; in addition to being a great artist, he’s also a gifted music producer and he’s captured the spirit of the song beautifully. Another case in point is the new Ali Sethi track where Abdullah has collaborated with the ‘Pasoori’ star. Sethi has taken a Mehdi Hasan original and created something that sounds almost like a new take in audio-visual depts. A collaboration between Abdullah and Ali has also resulted in a song that doesn’t sound like an imitation of the famous song. The video is again a chance to see how diverse Ali Sethi’s vision is as an artist. And, it has to be said, that these collaborative Abdullah Siddiqui songs with mainstream artists also point to how popular the wonder kid has become. How long can he keep up the standard that he has set for himself as a producer is something only known to him. For now, we’re just astonished with what he can do as an artist, songwriter, lyricist and music producer.
A mission, possible: You can find a common thread between Ethan Hunt and Pakistan’s music industry; both work by not giving up and finding new ways to survive.
Talal Qureshi, a musician with multiple skills, and one of the industry’s most underrated stars, is working towards his big moment. He has been a part of commercial projects - such as ‘Cricket Khidaiye’, Coke Studio 14 and Next11 in 2022 – for Pakistan Junior League’s Official Anthem – but Talal is also dropping new music by collaborating with other artists. A case in point is his 2023 release: ‘Jadu’, a collaboration between Talal Qureshi and Towers. The song isn’t talking about social issues but a personal relationship between two people; complicated, with its own burdens, demands, disappointments. What elevates the track is the music video, black and white with multiple frames within one shot and a non-linear form of storytelling. It supports the song with its flavour of R&B mixed with an electro structure. Talal will not stop; this is just the beginning of the year so we’re expecting a great deal from him.
Moving on, one of our favourite artists, Natasha Noorani has an upcoming neo-soul EP, Ronaq slated to release in 2023 and if you’re not as excited as we are, you should listen to her previous EP, Munaasib which dropped in 2018.
“Two hundred miles to clear/Chasin’ a sound I hear/When the call brings them all to tears/And the hopes they all turn to fears.” - ‘The Bandit’ by Kings of Leon
Bilal Maqsood, who dropped three songs as well as a children’s nursery rhymes album and played myriad of shows, is not planning to drop a lengthy album. But he confirmed that he will continue to release as many singles as possible and play shows. “I’m enjoying concerts. But the project that’s closest to me is something that I’ve been working on for the last nine months.”
Now entering final stage, this unannounced project will revolve around music and songs. Bilal can’t give us details, he confessed but did admit that “it is something I’m doing for the younger audience.”
Following their lauded debut album, Khwab, Kashmir is looking to drop their second album, Zindagi, later this year. They’ve already released six songs with plans to finish the rest by this month. They also plan to hopefully embark on international tours, in addition to playing shows in the country.
Poor Rich Boy’s music producer, Zain Ahsan confirmed the group will release two Urdu songs this month, accompanied by music videos. Zain further stated, “We will release No Honour Among Thieves [in 2023].”
Zain told Instep that while their upcoming English album will drop this year, the rollout plan for its release is under consideration and there is a reason why he had been sitting on the album for a year. “There were a lot of things I needed to learn to make it sound the way I wanted it to (or I want it to). I got obsessed with the strings section and I’m trying to incorporate that into the album.”
Another artist worth highlighting is Jannat Sohail, who is known by the stage name Wooly and the Uke.
After a number of just beautiful songs that were dropped last year, the ethereal artist (who can play multiple instruments in addition to singing, songwriting and directing), confirmed to Instep that a new single called ‘Take it a Little Easy’ is scheduled to release in 2023 and she’s also working on an album called Bluelight Moonlight, which could release this year. There is also a collaboration with the Indian artist Aditi Veena aka Ditty for a song to be released.
In fact, the woman-musicians are giving us a lot to be thankful for, such as one Haniya Aslam, also known for her previous act, Zeb and Haniya. Since going solo, Haniya has accomplished a great deal. Back in Pakistan for good, Haniya is also promising to release her solo EP and a lot more in 2023.
She has produced Jimmy Khan’s upcoming EP, Shukar from which the first song ‘Ghar’ was released at the time we spoke to Haniya. In addition to producing Jimmy Khan’s EP, Haniya is also releasing her upcoming EP from which she first released the single ‘Ayi Re’ in 2020. “‘Ayi Re’ will be a part of it, and the other songs are in a similar feel. Each song has its own energy and palette but I’m still very much in the world/ folk groove. I can’t wait to share [it] with the world.”
As for a tentative release date, Haniya revealed, “I hope to release this summer.”
Among underrated artists such as Sunny Khan Durrani and Quaid Ahmed, both confirmed to Instep that they plan to release new material. Quaid is working on a couple of music videos, a few collaborations in 2023 hoping to work with the likes of SomeWhatSuper with others in mind such as Talal Qureshi, Abdullah Siddiqui and so on. Quaid is also looking to create more songs and make videos for them – apart from music videos for his second album that released in November 2022. He is also working on curating live shows for the corporate industry, making them traditional and experimental. He is also working on curating entertaining gigs in 2023 which will include tribute shows for South Asian legends such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, A.R. Rahman with the road open for not only musicians but cultural icons, including film stars. “There are other music related web content ideas in collaboration with corporates that I am trying to line-up,” summed up Quaid Ahmed.
Sunny noted that he will be releasing a new album in 2023 while Quaid, who has released two EPs in addition to his years with Sound of Kolachi (before leaving the group), has ambitious plans for 2023 as mentioned above.
Though it is true that we can’t promise this to be the ultimate list for music, some artists do have great plans for 2023. A master in the league of musicians, Mekaal Hasan, who has had a lot to do with released mainstream albums in the past, ranging from Ali Azmat to Noori to Zeb and Haniya to MHB’s three albums, is launching Rivayat Music Series. In an exclusive with Instep, he spoke about the ethos of the program.
“Rivayat is a traditional, live music program which features outstanding artists from the local Pakistani scene. It is created to give acknowledgment, and coverage to the music that is being made by artists who are largely unknown and who deserve their work to be recognized. The series also features a selection of international collaborators who feature along with the traditional artists.”
Meesha Shafi is making a comeback to acting with the high-profile Moustache with an all-star cast, and several artists and promoters are building an electronic music scene. But more on that later.
It may seem as if electronic dance music will be the dominating factor for the year ahead but since music in Pakistan offers variety, we will not be spending all of our time in the universe of EDM alone but also with the likes of Daniel Panjwaneey, Natasha Humera Ejaz, Sana Nasir, and their collective effort to add variety to the scene including a redefinition of the hues within electronica.