#BringingPopBack Pakistani artists take initiative to revive the Goldern Era of ‘POP’

By: | Muhammad Ali Azlan |



The years between 1987 till the early 2000’s constitute the golden age of Pakistani pop and rock music.

In these 14 years more pop/rock artistes emerged, albums were recorded and released, and concerts were held than in any other period of the country’s embattled history.

The young melodic powerhouse Abbas Ali Khan has taken the onus on his shoulders to start an online initiative to urge the superstars of yesteryear who have been lost in the shuffle or the up and comers and the present third waver-s who are busy in seeking “commercially viable” options rather than giving in to their inner artist.

#bringingpopback Attention! I Challenge You!

Posted by Sahibzada Abbas Ali Khan on Friday, April 6, 2018

As the old adage goes, “You only know the worth of something when it’s gone”, fits perfectly with the situation, with our precious neighbors imposing a ban on everything ‘Pakistani’ even, arts. The Pakistani musician is currently surviving on what they are earning in their own country and their foreign tours which are minimal compared to the amount of work and money offered across border, truth be told.

That though is no excuse for the dearth of new and original music that came out of Pakistan, the music I grew up listening, humming and dancing to.

Abbas’s message is a simple and straightforward one in essence, ‘Make Original Music’.

The Pepsi Battle of The Bands (encore), and reality shows based around music are a positive sign but they are not the ingredients that would make Pakistani music come back to the forefront of the distinct ‘Pakistani Sound’.

A sound that was raw, unique, simple, impassioned, original and from the heart rather than constant regurgitation of old folk-lore and Indian/Western covers.

Pakistani Pop put the music scene on the map and once again the musicians of Pakistan seem determined to take it back to the glory days and start a revival of something we excelled at.

Every time a composer would mould a song (for a film) that bore heavy western pop dynamics and influences, he would usually invite Ahmad Rushdi or Runa Laila to sing it.

Rushdi had been singing up-beat songs for Pakistani films since the 1960s, but he became a pop specialist among composers in the 1970s. Runa Laila, a young trendy vocalist, became Rushdi’s female contemporary.

Before he managed to sing his first song for films (in 1974), Alamgir a 21-year-old fresh-faced young and strapping lad burst on the scenes with an acoustic guitar in tow, who could often be seen singing songs and playing his old guitar at Karachi’s Hill Park. Sometimes he would do it for cup of tea, sometimes for a cigarette and sometimes for food (when he remembered that he had to eat too to survive).

Runa, Ahmed and Alamgir became pop aficionados in the film industry.

Alamgir’s success in this regard inspired a number of young aspirants to bypass the film industry and write, record and release their own songs. For example, Mohammed Ali Sheikhi, though first appearing in 1978 on PTV, recorded an album of his own Urdu pop songs without banking on the film industry’s influence and muscle.

Sheikhi, who eventually did go on to sing a few songs for films, was soon followed by pop vocalists such as Khalid Waleed and Tehseen Javed.

Nazia and Zoheb had exploded onto the scene with the country’s first ever Urdu disco album, ‘Disco Dewane,’ (1980). Recorded by the teenaged sister and brother duo in London under the supervision of famous producer, Biddu, the album was studded with classic late ‘70s disco beats and dynamics fused with Pakistani/Indian film sensibilities and lyricism.

Actress-turned-director, Saira Kazmi, pitched a unique concept to PTV. She wanted to record and direct a video featuring pop star, Muhammad Ali Shehki, and legendary Sindhi Sufi folk singer, Allan Faqeer.

This was one of the first examples of a modern Pakistan fusion music genre that would become ‘Sufi Rock’ in the 1990s.

Viewers were suddenly treated to a song and video that would trigger the first big wave of urban pop music in the country.

The song was, ‘Dil, Dil Pakistan,’ but played and sung by the very western-attired group of middle-class youngsters called the Vital Signs.

Change was in the air. Tensions were running high and something had to give. This was the underlining feeling among the time’s youth. They could not pin-point exactly what or how this change would happen.

In early 1989, the Signs recorded its debut album (for EMI-Pakistan) and also appeared in a teleplay on PTV written and directed by Shoaib Mansoor. The album was an immediate hit.

But what really got the pop wave going was another Shaoaib Manoor gem. He directed an indoor concert (at PTV’s studios in Rawalpindi) that not only included performances from the Vital Signs and a number of new pop acts but also by Nazia and Zoheb Hassan.

After PTV aired the concert (calling the show ‘Music ‘89’), a PR firm in Karachi got the idea of holding what would become the country’s first ever open-air music festival.

The festival was held in February 1989 at Karachi’s widespread Funland amusement park and was attended by over ten thousand young Karachiites. Famous philanthropist, Abdul Sattar Edhi, was invited as a guest and he made a rip-roaring speech against the mullahs.

The bands playing at the festival were the hard-rocking Final Cut and the Barbarians and a very young and still unknown, Ali Haider.

Benazir regime had green-lighted the launch of a semi-private TV channel, Shalimar Television Network (STN).

Programming (between 5 pm and 12 am) on this channel was outsourced to National Television Marketing (NTM), a private content-generating company formed by advertising tycoon, Tahir Khan.

In turn, NTM outsourced the creation of entertainment programming (teleplays, music shows, etc.) to freelance directors and producers and then offered advertising slots to multinationals on NTM.

The experiment was an immediate success. PTV was right away put under pressure by NTM’s superior entertainment programming and began to lose its monopoly over the viewers and advertisers.

Also, Nawaz’s restrictions on PTV did not apply to NTM. Apart from big-budgeted teleplays and serials, NTM also began to produce and run the country’s first ever pop shows on TV.

The two most popular among these were Pepsi Top of the Pops and Music Channel Charts (MCC).

1993 was a massive year for the local pop scene. Large multi-band festivals returned and the scene saw the release of a number of new albums.

Vital Signs released its third album, Junoon released its second, Fakhar-e-Alam his first, Strings its second, Ali Haider his second, Sajjad Ali his second …

According to EMI-Pakistan, it sold over 7 million cassettes and CDs of pop acts in 1993. By now, two more record labels had also emerged, Sonic and Sound Master. Apart from Pepsi, the makers of Pakistani soft-drink, Pakola, also entered the field, signing up Ali Haider whose second album, ‘Qarar’ had sold over a million copies within weeks!

Another big seller was the compilation albums, containing songs that had been hits on NTM’s MCC.

The success of MCC and its compilation albums gave bands like Junoon, Collage, Nadeem Abbasi, Arid Zone, Milestones, Sequencers and Fringe Benefits enough recognition to attract offers from concert organisers.

Bands like Awaz, Sequencers and Fringe Benefits took off from where the Signs had left.

Junoon arrived with the agenda to introduce the mainstream market with a fusion of riff-friendly hard-rock, Qawali and Sufi folk music, giving birth to what came to be known as ‘Sufi-Rock.’

The band also introduced an element of direct social and political commentary in their songs, even though bands like the Final Cut and the Barbarians were the first to do so back in 1989.

Yattagan/Fakhar-e-Alam introduced ‘Bhangra-Rap’ into the scene, and Jazba adopted postures and elements from politically-attuned radical hip-hop acts such as the Public Enemy.

In 1994, when the scene became larger than the market, a string of musicians who failed to break into the mainstream (because that now required corporate backing, or support of TV channels and large record labels), they formed a parallel scene.

Bands emerged in Lahore and Karachi who were largely inspired by the Grunge Rock outbreak in the US (in the early 1990s), and began to play and record their songs in basements, garages or in front of small gatherings of fans who could not relate to the dynamics and aesthetics of the mainstream scene.

The English press began to give space to bands like The Trip, Mind Riot, The Anonymous, Coven, Brain Masala, etc.

The parallel scene eventually withered away at the start of yet another wave of pop acts in 1996, this time through the new NTM show called VJ (hosted by comedians Faisal Qureshi, Ahmed Parvez, Ahsan Rahim and female pop star, Hadiqa Kiani).

The third wave unleashed by VJ turned Hadiqa into a star. Acts like Abrarul Haq, Sharique Rumi, Ali Zafar, Javad Ahmed and Dr. Aur Billa also came in.

Junoon was the only major act of the early 1990s along with Ali Haider who managed to continue recording and playing, with Junoon peaking with its 1998 album, ‘Parvaz’ before dramatically declining and eventually breaking up in 2004..

Some talented acts (such as Fuzon, Noorie, Jal, Atif Aslam, etc.) did crop up after the folding of the golden age, but unfortunately, many of them found a scene that had lost most of what kept it and its patrons intact, appreciated and going.

A majority of today’s top acts, Ali Zafar, Atif Aslam and Fuzon, have all had to look towards India to help them sustain their talent as a worthy profession.


Pioneers (1977-87)

• Mohammad Ali Sheikhi
• Nazia and Zoheb
• Tehseen Javed
• Khalid Waheed
• Benjamin Sisters
• Scratch
• Hassan Jahangir

The Golden Age | First Wave (1988-92)

Vital Signs
• Barbarians
• Final Cut
• Junoon
• Ali Haider
• Aamir Saleem
• Aamir Zaki
• Bunny
• Saleem Javed

Second Wave (1992-96)

Sajad Ali
• Komal Rizvi
• Yattagan/Fakhr-e-Alam
• Fringe Benefits
• Awaz
• Sequencers
• Arid Zone
• Nadeem Jaffary
• Collage
• Jazba
• Milestones
• Mind Riot
• The Trip
• The Anonymous
• Brain Masala
• Coven
• Midnight Madness
• Dog Tag
• The Strings
• Shahzad Roy
• Najam Shiraz
• Fareeha Rizvi
• Karavan
• Arsh

Third (and last) Wave (1996-2001)

Dr. Aur Billa
• Sharique Rumi
• Abrarul Haq
• Junaid Jamshed (former Vital Signs)
• ET
• Noorie
• Fuzon
• Jal
• Atif Aslam
• Mizraab
• Mekal Hassan Band
• Javad Ahmed
• Aarroh
• Overload
• Ali Zafar



  • https://www.dawn.com/news/1093337



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