2019: The year in music

December 8, 2019

Looking back at the year that was, well, almost…

Paanch cover photo by Amna Zuberi; Paanch cover design by Babar Sheikh.

‘This fire burns, I
realize that nothing’s as it seems’

Though 2019 isn’t over yet, it certainly is in its final innings. And like every year, it is time to reflect on the year that is going by and what trends, if any, emerged. There are always unknowns, wild cards that could release by the year’s end. But that’s few and far in between.

2018 was a big year for albums with records coming from Adil Omar (Transcendence), super-groups such as Chand Tara Orchestra (Volume 1), and Mughal-e-Funk (Sultanat), as well as several songs from Tees (30) by Strings, which they wrapped up this year with the slick ‘Raat Shabnami’ with a phenomenal, futuristic music video by Yasir Jaswal. The video came minus corporate investment or a record label backing them and that reassured us that Strings are not going anywhere.

In 2019, however, fewer albums were released overall, with the trend of singles and more people opting for singles and music videos than artists investing in full length albums. The year was also about beautiful soundtracks, live music, an increase in corporate investment and festivals.

Singles + Albums
‘Hey Mister
Tambourine Man, play a song for me’

The year is packed with so many songs that it’s hard to put them all in one story. But let’s see what did made a significant mark. Independent musicians were hard to deny the most, again this year.

Ali Sethi collaborated with Noah Georgeson (the Grammy Award winning producer) on several songs such as ‘Chandni Raat’, ‘Dil Ki Khair’, ‘Ishq’ – each accompanied by a strong music video – with plans to do more songs as Sethi confirmed to Instep. Adil Omar released two songs from Mastery, his second full length album including the title track, ‘Mastery’ and a song called ‘Mission’. He plans to release the full-length album in 2020 with more singles and music videos in the offing.

Abdullah Siddiqui dropped his first (fantastic by the way) full length album Metannoya; Shamoon Ismail made a splash with two EPs (Magic; Brown Sugar) and Talal Qureshi dropped an EP as Neon Yousaf and released a 2019 compilation album as well.

A still from the music video of Saakin’s first song ‘Sik Mitraan’ from Zindagi Tamasha’s original motion picture soundtrack.

After dropping Cpt. Space in 2018, Janoobi Khargosh moved onto their next album, Survivors. The release date is tentative at this point but we should hear something from it in 2020.

Among singles, Slowspin released the ethereal ‘Piya’; Natasha Noorani made an appearance on True Brew TV and also made it to Goethe Talents 2019 in Berlin. In addition, she featured on the soundtrack of Saqib Malik’s Baaji. Biryani Brothers ft. Natasha Noorani and SKM’s Zahra Paracha released ‘Sab Theek Ho Jaye Ga’; Gentle Robot released ‘Breathe’ (after the breakthrough ‘Slow’) with a music video and plans to unveil the EP by early next year with the release of one more song on the cards (probably).
Other brilliant singles include Mehdi Maloof x Talal Qureshi’s ‘Peero’ – a song Maloof performed live before but finally recorded this year. His body of work is slowly building up with songs like ‘Do Hi Raste Hain’, the iconic ‘Gandi Si Building’ and this year’s ‘Peero.’ An equal round of applause must go to Talal Qureshi who made ‘Peero’ sound the way it is given his production capabilities.

FDVM released the ‘Edit Tribute of Disco Deewane’ by Nazia Hassan, which had crowds both fired up at concerts and nostalgic in almost equal measure - on SoundCloud. Faris Shafi also emerged this year on Abdullah Siddiqui’s ‘Prosaic’; Poor Rich Boy released two Urdu songs including the self-written and beautiful ‘Kaghazi’ even as work continues on their third record, Almost Tuesday, which will feature some of the coolest independent musicians in the country.

Shorbanoor, Ibrahim Akram (Ibba), Saif Rizwan and Ali Suhail joined forces for a killer song called ‘Big ol’ Deities’. Other big hitters include Hassaan Bin Shaheen’s ‘Quami Coup’, Ali Gul Pir’s ‘Karle Jo Karna Hai’ and the stunning audio-visual experience The Sketches have conjured with ‘Ishq Laga, Mann Jaga’. ‘Ishq Laga, Mann Jaga’ is a song off their upcoming third Sketches album, which will release by next year, making 2020 an album-heavy year once again.

Hussain Dossa during Saltbox – Hunza Creative Residency, circa 2019. – Picture courtesy of Salt Arts.

Moving on, Jimmy Khan did not release Tich Button EP this year but acted in Asim Raza’s Parey Hut Love instead and sang what is, in my opinion, the film’s breakout single, the catchy ‘Haaye Dil Bechara’. It’s a song he could incorporate in his sets that could go as big as Ho Mann Jahaan’sBaarish’ – that now has an electro version as well - even though Jimmy did not produce ‘Haaye Dil Bechara’. It also doesn’t mean Jimmy Khan has quit music though, as he confirmed to Instep, but it was just something he wanted to try having never acted in a film before.

We may see more album releases next year with Ali Suhail also working on his fifth solo album – in addition – to joining Takatak as co-vocalist. Takatak was in Karachi this year and spent two weeks at Aleph - Umair Dar’s state-of-the-art (beautiful) recording facility - to record their album. Malang Party also recorded their album at Aleph this year with some technical details left when we last checked with them some months ago. Malang Party chief Zeeshan Mansoor also founded Surkhwaab this year, another band, which would sing Urdu/Balochi songs. A glimpse of their beautiful music was seen at Creative Karachi Festival 2019.
Umair Dar’s own band, The D/A Method, recorded its third album, Sanctuary, which is scheduled to release soon.

Live music, new launches
‘In your head, in your head, they are fighting’

Even as Tich Button EP remains on hold, Jimmy Khan’s music projects include Paanch – The Mixtape. Spearheaded by Wajiha Ather Naqvi, Babar Sheikh and Ahsan Bari, Paanch was launched in late November 2019 in collaboration with Karachi Community Radio (KCR).

Paanch, a mix-tape compiled by Naqvi, Bari, and Sheikh comprises unreleased material, new songs from five acts: Chand Tara Orchestra (CTO), Sounds of Kolachi (SoK), Natasha Baig, Jimmy Khan and Mughal-e-Funk. The launch event was broken down in three parts.

During the listening session, each track on the mixtape was paired with an individual visual artist, “each employing a special technique to visualize the song and produce something especially for this launch show”.

The second portion of the evening focused on a live music component with Paanch orchestrating a 40-minute symphony, curated exclusively for the launch event. “Titled, Journey/Safar, the piece articulated the 5 stages of human existence through a sonic amalgamation of ideas, genre and song from creation to nothingness.”

The third and final component of the launch event featured a live DJ set featuring Ahsan Bari (SoK), Wajiha Naqvi (former Coke Studio house band), Omran Shafique (Mauj/Coke Studio/Junoon/CTO), Babar Sheikh (Chand Tara Orchestra), Quaid Ahmed (SoK), Nimra Rafique (SoK, Coke Studio), Sherry Raza (Chand Tara Orchestra), Aziz Kazi (Coke Studio), Saif Abbas (SoK), Gul Khan (SoK) with collaborators Abdullah Kasumbi (Film), Rahema Zaheer Alam /15sec.mp4 (Resolume), Fidel AI (AI Generated Visuals) and Minelle V (Movement/Motion Detection).

Beyond the launch event, Paanch is a multi-disciplinary collective launched in 2018 working to publish and curate content through collaborations in art, music and culture. Two songs from Paanch have been released so far including Mughal-e-Funk’s ‘Jehangir’ and Jimmy Khan’s addictive ‘Naa Jaa Aajaa’ with three songs slated to release in the coming weeks.

While on the subject, Karachi Community Radio (KCR) is also coming into its own, having collaborated with Paanch as well as doing one-of-its kind of shows including Terminal 404 that featured Alien Panda Jury (Daniel Arthur Panjwaneey). We hope to see KCR grow in 2020.

Film music
‘Let’s rest for a while ‘til our souls catch
us up’

Pakistani film music is not there yet. But then where is there? Bollywood imitation? I certainly hope not. They stopped making memorable songs a while back. The problem with exceptions is where you draw the line. I’d say A.R. Rahman.

2019 saw plenty of soundtracks worth discussing such as Parey Hut Love, Laal Kabootar and Superstar with ‘Jug(art)’ and the title track from Laal Kabootar, ‘Haaye Dil’ from Parey Hut Love and ‘Bekaraan’ from Superstar topping this list. Let us tip our hats to music directors Taha Malik and Azaan Sami Khan, both of whom did a fine job for the music of Laal Kabootar, PHL and Superstar – respectively. Theirs was a sound that no one had managed to conceive in any film before, though the cinema revival is more than a decade old now and given that, it is a rather significant achievement – for both artists. The soundtrack of Baaji is also worth applauding and props to director Saqib Malik for turning to Jamal Rahman as music director and not your conventional name because Jamal is unconventional and that shows in the film’s OST. Listen carefully. One other song without which this story is incomplete is Zindagi Tamasha’s OST. Sarmad Khoosat’s film is going to release, hopefully, in 2020 but the first song from the soundtrack has been released and it is none other than Saakin, who won a Lux Style Award last year and topped every sane year end list for their 2018 release, ‘Saki-e-Bawafa’. Their song for Zindagi Tamasha, ‘Sik Mitraan’ is just as sublime. More good news is that they are producing the OST for the film.

Corporate investments in music
continued its growth

‘In the night, in the dark, things are brewing’

In addition to the usual suspects such as Coke Studio, Pepsi Battle of the Bands, Nescafe Basement, Strepsils Stereo – each with its own model – Mountain Dew presented the Solis Festival in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Though a lot of the artists were unknown and some scheduled names didn’t come, Pakistani-Canadian DJ/producer Turhan James made quite a name for himself playing at these shows while FDVM, the French electronic duo who were no strangers to Pakistan, had the crowd enchanted across cities.

In Karachi, FDVM collaborated with Ayesha Omar and played an EDM-laden English/Urdu song (with the latter from her debut album) live at the Karachi edition of Solis Festival and that was just another sign that 2019 was more about live music than anything else. The crowd ate it up and people were having #FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) moments. Mekaal Hasan Band found a Javed Bashir lookalike-soundalike singer who blew the house away with his talent at a Pepsi-sponsored show in Karachi that also featured Taamasha, E Sharp, Kashmir, and Auj. Similar events have happened in other cities, sponsored by Pepsi. They did find a great band in Auj who won the 2019 season of PBOTB.

Pepsi Black, still in premature stages it seems, held an event in Lahore featuring 7 contestants and 4 headliners – Abid Brohi, Rap Engineers, Adil Omar and Young Stunners - with each artist playing a 9 to 10 minute set. Is Pepsi Black gearing up to get in the rap music scene?

Strepsils Stereo continued its new season with Ali Noor singing ‘Manwa Re’ (Acapella version) and getting strong numbers for it while Coke Studio brought back former producer Rohail Hyatt. Pepsi also funded a series of music videos for winning bands as well as popular bands including E Sharp and Taamasha.

Salt Arts had a landmark year, crossing 75 shows and launching two initiatives: Salt Box Residency and Salt Flights. They are bringing back last year’s SuperSalt 2019, converting it into a day-long event (4 pm to midnight) with artists such as Meesha Shafi, Hamza Akram Qawwal, Ali Gul Pir, Shamoon Ismail and resident Salt Arts DJ Hussain Dossa.

2019: The year in Pakistani music