13/06/2016 1:04 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST

6 Fresh Pakistani Indie Tracks To Add To Your Playlist

Cork, Ireland
Wavebreakmedia Ltd via Getty Images
Cork, Ireland

The Pakistani music streaming website Patari recently released a compilation album titled Patari Aslis Vol. 1 that featured original compositions by six promising local musical acts. The artists were funded by the website, and were given free rein to do so as they pleased, "without any creative dictation." The results are interesting, and point towards the existence of local talent that needs to be nurtured and supported.

Musically, most of these curated tracks initially seemed to me to be local distillations of "indie" music as it came to be understood within the wider popular consciousness post-2010. While the definitions of indie music remain contested (and are by no means restrictive), this particular variant highlighted the usage of acoustic guitars, ukuleles, sing-along/harmonized vocals and choirs.

Upon listening to the tunes a fair number of times, I now realize that I was somewhat mistaken, and I will not make the error of offering such a reductive explanation. These songs have evidently drawn inspiration from a variety of sources, employed different music production techniques and in turn, have produced something which is indigenous and unique (all of them are sung in Urdu, for instance).

The compilation album comes with brilliant cover art by the visual artist/designer Shehzil Malik, in which she skillfully blends contemporary pop and Mughal themes.

The following is my personal account of what you are likely to hear when you play the album.

"Do Hi Rastay Hain", Mehdi Maloof

Mehdi Maloof's youthful voice is unassuming at first, but eventually gels in with the song when it begins to unveil its lush production. The tune itself is yet another testament to the incomparable power of an effective, groovy bassline which makes all the difference here, especially when heard in conjunction with the minimal guitar licks in the latter half. Maloof's lyrics offer the typical narrative of the misunderstood youth seeking escape and making sense of the self in a hostile and binary 'us/them' world that might be redeemed through love.

"Tor Phor", The Tamashbeens

The Tamashbeens are a quartet from Lahore, and have been making a brand of music that has proven to be quite popular with contemporary urban youth in Pakistan that keeps track of "indie" music. Apart from popularizing a certain kind of sound, their distinct lyrical content and decision to sing in Urdu cannot be disregarded as crucial factors that have contributed to their success. "Tor Phor" is in many ways akin to the group's earlier singles; it exhibits a radio-friendly agreeableness that also ensures that it is a "fun" song to play live for a mass audience.

"Intezaar", Abdullah Qureshi feat. Sarmad Ghafoor

Sonically, this tune stands out from the rest in the compilation for being of a different ilk. Qureshi's composition can perhaps best be described as a ballad, that tried-and-tested Pakistani pop music staple. The keys and orchestration are perfectly in line with the conventions/tropes of the genre. Guitarist and producer Sarmad Ghafoor makes a guest appearance with a calculated "Nadia"-esque guitar solo. In retrospect, one can't help discern a faint Rungg vibe that runs throughout the song (Rungg was Sarmad Ghafoor's former band that also specialized in the aforementioned Pakistani pop ballad).

"Choti Si Khwahish", Hawai Jahaaz

This tune marks Hawai Jahaaz's debut, and it's very pleasant indeed (and for me, totally unexpected). Upon listening to it for the first few times, I was immediately reminded of a less experimental and a mellower version of the British alternative band Stereolab. The undulating vocals are provided by Nescafe Basement alumnus Sameen Qasim, whereas Syed Misbah's (Keeray Makoray) guitars are wonderfully spacious and atmospheric.

"Panadol", Shajie

"Panadol" continues in the tradition of Shajie's awkward, reverb-laden monosyllabic poetic musings that paint an absurd and surreal world, albeit with the introduction of an electronic beat halfway through the song that complements the ambience generated by that point.

"Shehri", Sikandar ka Mandar

Veterans Sikandar ka Mandar (SKM) return with a new tune that relies heavily on vocal harmonies and well thought-out percussive and acoustic elements. Starting off with inscrutable lyrics in the first verse, they shift the mood in the last part of the second half, exhibiting an urge to experiment while still retaining a characteristic SKM identity.

Taking a cue from the 'Vol. 1' in the title of the compilation, I hope that Patari continues this endeavor by highlighting more local musicians and artists. Ventures such as these are a positive development in an environment where independent musicians have struggled to make music and to exhibit it. Of course, this symbiotic system of patronage/exposure is to be welcomed as long as there isn't any artistic restriction imposed from above. I'm also curious to see how Patari continues its content curation in future releases, given that it has to strike a balance between a minimum level of popular marketability (in order to create what it calls "the superstars of tomorrow") versus its adopted role of exposing obscure musicians to a wider audience (many of whom make music that is difficult to digest).

Only time will tell.

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