Where did they go?

July 2, 2023

A walk through the history of music television

Where did they go?


elevision has long been associated with the promotion of music.

Pakistani music - folk, classical, ghazal and geet, qawwali, pop, rock and contemporary - is still widely enjoyed. However, the mediums and preferences have changed. So has the experience of enjoying music.

Blending classical music with another form of music is ‘fusion.’

Over the last few years, fusion has emerged and established itself as a distinct genre. Besides Pakistani rap, which is still in its infancy, it is popular with the youth.

Fusion had its origin in the late ’60s when some artists started employing an experimental approach and deviating from the traditional forms of music.

Today, fusion is one of the few surviving ties to local music this generation can relate to.

For those who do not enjoy the twang of an electric guitar there are more palatable forms of fusion that ally music in regional languages and instruments.

Khumariyaan, a Pashto music band is well-known for its eclectic compositions and multilingual lyrics borrowed from folklore. Their song Chaap Trance brings together the soft string instruments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and electro overtones with throat singing that folk singers in Balochistan are known for.

The song was originally written as a prayer to a friend, in a Balochi dialect. The poet wishes that a beloved friend who has left them should remain safe. The lyrics express a yearning more than a supplication.

Any conversation on genres that have been historically associated with Pakistan is incomplete without the mention of sufi and folk music. Both have deep roots in the region. Amongst the first few transmissions of Pakistan Television was a folk song and a show featuring artists such as Saeen Akhtar Hussain and Tufail Niazi.

With the commencement of studio recordings in the late 1960s, Kalyon ki Malaa, a show featuring musical training for children, began airing on television and gained traction.

The transmission time of musical shows increased with the growing interest of the PTV viewers. Some classical and semi-classical music shows were also broadcast during this period.

During the wars of 1965 and 1971, many patriotic songs were recorded by the PTV at its Lahore studios.

Lok Tamasha, another programme launched in 1972 served as a platform for the television debuts of many sufi and folk singers. These artists quickly endeared themselves to the viewers. One of the singers who debuted in the show was playback singer Naheed Akhtar.

In the early ’70s, the PTV started airing Bazm-i-Laila. It was the first musical program to focus on a female artist. Playback singer Runa Laila was the star of the show.

Sunday Kay Sunday, the country’s first musical pop show, too, went on air in the same period. Many new performers were introduced in the show as the audience began appreciating pop music. Alamgir Haq, who hailed from then East Pakistan was one of them.

The ’70s proved to be an exceptional decade for the promotion of music on national television. Under the supervision of Mahrukh Zubair, Shoaib Mansoor, Rafique Waraich and Sohail Rana, many new music shows featuring folk, pop, geet, ghazal and children’s singing were presented and became popular.

Ahmad Rushdi, the playback star from the ’50s also featured in some of these shows after his family relocated to Karachi. By the ’70s he was one of the leading film musicians in the industry. He is also considered the first singer to introduce pop and hip-hop.

Through a variety of musical telecasts, the work of artists such as Fareeda Khanum, Nayyara Noor, Ahmad Rushdi, Munni Begum, Pathanay Khan, Abida Parveen, Aziz Mian Qawal and Kishwar Naheed in the ’70s and ’80s continued to entertain the audience.

Musical and cultural telecasts of the time included Sindhi, Balochi, Seraiki and Pashto folk musicians.

The culture of feature films and TV series, utilising rich background scores and music direction became common during this decade adding to the musical ensemble promoted by national television.

Tarannum produced by Najm-ul Hassan Khwaja featured Noor Jehan. Jal Tarang, Sur Bahaar and Rim Jhim, produced by Farrukh Bashir, were also some of the hit shows in the ’80s.

Sohail Rana featured in and produced many music shows for children. Out of those, Sang Sang Chalain was the most popular.

The next decade started with the back-to-back releases of Nadia and Zohaib Hassan’s exceptionally popular Asian pop albums. After Nazia’s debut song Aap Jesa Koi, the duo were a hit. Nazia later came to be known as the Queen of South Asian pop.

In the late ’80s, Nazia and Zohaib hosted Music 89, an iconic pop music show that lent a platform to many artists who enriched the relatively new genre.

Patriotic songs took the spotlight during the Zia years. In the mid-80s, Vital Signs, the pop music band, made its debut with Dil Dil Pakistan.

In the ’80s, musical parodies in satirical shows like Show Time by Bushra Ansari and Anwar Maqsood were attracting a segment of the audience.

The early ’90s began with a renewed focus on children’s musical shows. Millennials may have fleeting memories of Aangan Aangan Taray, another musical training show for children interested in learning how to sing.

More ghazal and geet programs were launched in the ’90s. Tarannum was also relaunched after a hiatus. The use of music for the innovative promotion of sports broadcasts started around the same time.

It was also the time when the media revolution was on its way in Pakistan. Over 100 private television channels catering to different tastes soon went on air. News, religion, sports, cooking, music, fashion and cinema were among the subjects these shows focused on.

Junoon, a pioneer in sufi-rock fusion, was a famous band from the late ‘90s. Their songs and videos were featured on many private channels that sprouted after the 2000 media boom.

Many video jockey shows began airing on private channels during the same time. Inspired by radio shows that played music at the request of listeners, the VJ shows followed the same format.

Television broadcasts also started featuring new musicians singing contemporary, folk, fusion, pop and rock music at the turn of the century.

With the launch of new channels and greater competition in media, the commercial advertisement market got interested in the use of music for advertising. The beginning of the 21st Century brought to the viewers of television a variety of commercial melodies by experienced music producers like Shoaib Mansoor.

Musicians who got featured on private channels through commercial or promotional advertisements of their songs included solo artists like Abra-ul Haq, Humaira Channa, Hadeeqa Kiani and Jawad Ahmad as well as bands like Strings and Overload.

Some of the private media channels also launched singing competitions and reality shows around the same time. One of the most famous ones among them was Pakistan Idol, modelled after American Idol.

Music on television was beginning to mean a lot of different things in the 2000s as the broadcasters experimented to figure out what would hit home.

Another dimension the music industry grew in was the production of original soundtracks (OSTs) for drama serials. Over the past two decades, many OSTs produced for Pakistani soaps have amassed an international following.

In 2008, the first season of Coke Studio came out in Pakistan, in the form of a music television series, featuring established as well as emerging musicians collaborating live and in recording sessions. The television series has launched 14 sessions on private TV sessions ever since.

Nescafe Basement was another music television series that received appreciation on Pakistani media channels. It focused on emerging musicians in various genres.

In 2015, the social media boom impacted the music industry in an unprecedented way. Gen Z, has shown a lot of interest in music-related applications available online. This indicates a shift from television to new ways of enjoying music. The experience has become more immersive but also more solitary.

Patari is such an app. The site provides music streaming services and is also known as the largest local music streaming platform in Pakistan.

Soundcloud, Taazi and Spotify are also online music apps used nowadays by young music enthusiasts in Pakistan. Then, there are content-sharing platforms which act as a bridge between multiple music platforms and applications.

The writer is a drama critic and a music aficionado 

Where did they go?