As we say farewell to the year 2020, here are 10 songs that found a balance between artistic edginess and commercial success.
Artist: Meesha Shafi
Platform: Velo Sound Station
‘Amrit’, an original song by Meesha Shafi that was showcased on the first edition of Velo Sound Station (the new digital series by Bilal Maqsood) has her staunchest critics enchanted. The visuals accompanying the song – a blind folded Shafi depicting what can be construed as blind justice - provide interpretations that are endless and yet do justice to the audio.
As for the song, this is where Meesha Shafi shows why she is ahead of the curve in the music scene. The verses depict Shafi’s internal narrative. What began with ‘Speaker Phaar’ has now reached the epitome of musical epiphany, reflective in each release. It’s the kind of transition an artist doesn’t often make in Pakistani music, where too many artists are still stuck in the 2000s. This song may not have the numbers of a ‘Boom Boom’ but it’s so compelling that you can’t help but listen and once you do, it will unconsciously find a corner in the crevices of your mind for good.
Song: ‘Boom Boom’
Artist: Meesha Shafi
Original by Nazia Hassan
Platform: Velo Sound Station
If ‘Amrit’ is the original that puts Meesha Shafi as the game-changer of the music ecosystem, ‘Boom Boom’ is the club-banger that (a) pays wonderful tribute to the late Nazia Hassan, (b) shows what an energetic performer Shafi is and what putting up a performance means and (c) is the most uplifting, electro-dance throwback to the eighties music we have come across. The visuals for ‘Boom Boom’ include two beating hearts among the many terrific graphics and original English lyrics, which elevate the track to a slicker space that made our hearts go boom boom.
Song: ‘Na Tutteya Ve’
Artists: Meesha Shafi, Fariha Pervez, Sehar Gul Khan, Sanam Marvi, Wajiha Naqvi, and Zara Madani.
Platform: Coke Studio 2020
‘Na Tutteya Ve’ was an original, all-female artists-led anthem that opened Coke Studio 2020. However, while the message was powerful, it was the the rap (composed by Meesha Shafi with lyrics by Asim Raza) that elevated it to next level. Appreciated by the likes of Bally Sagoo and Bohemia as well as the Pakistani audience, the thunderous rap that arrives at the end of ‘Na Tutteya Ve’ – sung by Meesha Shafi, who was coached by brother and rapper Faris Shafi – is basically the track’s greatest strength.
Artist: Ali Noor
Ali Noor has been on a roll, appearing on Coke Studio 2020; playing the CokeFest2020 and releasing singles with Rearts Records releasing the effort. While Ali Noor has stayed away from the drum-bass-guitar mixture of Noori, Ali Noor has never released such an uplifting and psychedelic trip. Drenched in electro-rock, this is Ali Noor admitting inner experiences while having a lot of fun, particularly when he is dancing in the music video at one point. It’s the most fun song off the Pagal record and one that is clearly straying away from Noori ideas, which is a good thing. Though sung in Punjabi, it isn’t hard to understand and that’s why it’s so bloody good.
Artist: Shamoon Ismail
Album: Rung EP
Master of releasing EPs, Shamoon Ismail has quite a few to his name. The title track from Rung though is probably his strongest release in the year. There are no limits and Shamoon – while singing in a mixture of multiple languages – is easy to understand and one of the strongest writers, irrespective of your interpretation of his songs. The groove on this one is electrifying and has concert-hit written all over it.
Song: ‘Mela Loot Liya’
Artist: Ali Zafar
Label: Lightingale Records
Several editions of Pakistan Super League have come and gone and with each past year, we forget most of the team anthems because of how inane most of them are. However, if there is one artist who can connect cricket and music like nobody’s business, it is Ali Zafar. His unofficial release, ‘Mela Loot Liya’ that mixed music and cricket together, dropped this year and had people dancing around the world. What Zafar has described as his most organic and inexpensive music video in terms of spending (it was recorded as a composition of fan testimonials) signifies what mass appeal he holds and how sharp he can be when making songs with his fans as his muse.
Artist: Ali Sethi
Producer: Noah Georgeson
In a time when the poetry of Siraj Aurangabadi could easily be lost to generations, Ali Sethi has taken it and given it form and shape of a song. While Sethi has composed the song, it is produced by Noah Georgeson and brings back that old-world charm while using instruments that give the song the flavour it needed to sound different than others who have sung it before Ali Sethi. The song also shows the growth of Sethi who has gone from pure vocalist to composer and an original artist.
Artist: Asim Azhar
He is among the most popular younger musicians of our times, having millions of hits on each release. But of all the releases in 2020, the song that has us impressed is ‘Soneya’. Released in the summer season, the song has appealed to a huge audience. And not just because Asim has that reach but also because as “breakup anthems” go, this one is unusually slick both visually and sonically where Asim brings his A-game as a singer and composer.
Artist: Faris Shafi
Pakistan’s fiercest Urdu rapper released his solo music video of ‘Nazar’. In snowcapped mountains, a singular Faris Shafi showcased his vulnerable side for the first time while still asking questions about the myopic society we have become and what hope, if any, is there. As far as rap music goes, Faris Shafi on the heels of a strong performance at Lahore Music Meet 2020 released this single and since then has been collecting good numbers for an independent release.
Song: ‘Pindi Aye’
Artist: Hashim Nawaz, Khawar Malik, Fadi, Osama Com Laude, Hamzee, Shuja & Zeeru
Osama Com Laude released two solid EPs this year but it was his collaboration with a slew of young rappers in ‘Pindi Aye’ that crossed the Rubicon with critics and public alike. Featuring several languages and produced by Ghauri, the song had a mission behind it and that was to uplift the rap scene in Rawalpindi. “I had this idea back in November and brought my friend, Khawar Malik, on the song,” OCL told Instep. “He’s a singer, not a rapper. He’s the only singer on the track. He played a song for me from Shuja Shah. He’s a younger rapper. They’re younger rappers so I was like, tell him not to release it now and let’s do it on a bigger scale with all of us and I’m very sure, it’s going to be huge.”
OCL got that right. Trading hooks, beats and languages, the song is a reminder that rappers dwell in all parts of Pakistan and we need to pay more attention to this burgeoning music genre.