A glint of indie hope

January 31, 2016

Patari Aslis Vol. 1 is an excellent starter’s pack for anyone who wants to take a glimpse into the thriving and diverse indie music scene of Pakistan

A glint of indie hope

Album: Patari Aslis Vol. 1

Artists: Mehdi Maloof, The Tamashbeens, Abdullah Qureshi feat. Sarmad Ghafoor, Hawai Jahaaz, Shajie Hassan and Sikandar Ka Mandar

Pakistan has had quite a burgeoning indie scene - locally operating under the more popularly preferred nomenclature "underground music" - ever since I can remember. Growing up in Karachi in the 1990s, I had a chance to attend several jam sessions of various "underground bands," such as The Barbarians, Fuel to Fire, Overdrive, Agent Orange, et al. while hearing about similar acts in Lahore, like Trip and Co-Ven. Even though most of the songs that those bands played were Western rock covers, a few of them would also play originals at times. Most of the bands at the time indulged in rock n’ roll, time and again hovering at the precarious edge of hard rock and metal. There were, nevertheless, notable exceptions; Milestones with their soulful and jazzy-pop-rock sound and Jazba with their iconic rap-rock anthem ‘Jaago’. Even towards the late 1990s, Pakistani underground music remained synonymous with rock music, with some heavy/death metal bands also making rounds. It was towards the early/mid-2000s that the trend started to change and many new genres started to come up in the underground music scene, with bands like Jal and Noori - who were still rock but towards a more pop-rock side - releasing their independently recorded songs online.

Today, the indie music scene in Pakistan has swelled tenfold and become rather varied with many new bands coming up with original content in a myriad of genres.

One thing to note is that can be difficult to define what is exactly meant by indie music. This is because it is not one specific genre, but many different genres that are put under the same umbrella perhaps because of the similarity in how the songs sound and are produced. Indie music is usually under-produced, has a lo-fi and raw sound, and utilizes some common components and certain quintessentially "indie" instruments like the ukulele, mandolin and stressed snare drums.

Taking queue from such sounds and music, the contemporary Pakistani underground music scene has been blooming over the past few years, as many new bands and artists have come up that are continuously pushing the boundaries of what it means to be part of the Pakistani indie music scene.

To highlight a few such songs, Patari recently released a compilation album on their streaming website. This EP - called Patari Aslis Vol. 1 - has six indie artists from Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi "funded by Patari to create music that these musicians wanted to, on their own terms and without any creative dictation, straight from the heart."

The result is an eclectic mix of indie songs, all with some really compelling lyrics and a few with exceptional sound and music production.

The EP’s first track, ‘Do Hi Rastay Hain’ by Mehdi Maloof, an indie artist based in Islamabad, can instantly be recognized as an "indie song" because of the ukulele that features prominently in the composition. The song itself is quite simple with a catchy melody and powerful lyrics that are both poignant and funny at times, e.g. "Meray peechay fauji gari, ab chaho patlo jo," and "Tum burqay mein ho ya nangi, meray dil me ho to ho." A latent pain can be heard layered in the vocals - which I found notably nostalgic especially when Maloof is hitting the high notes during the chorus, reminding me of Tansheer Ahmed, originally of Arsh and then later Circle and Karavaan. ‘Do Hi Rastay Hain’ is a great opening track to this EP, instantly setting the mood for the indie playlist.

The next song is ‘Tor Phor’ by The Tamashbeens, a soft rock indie band from Lahore, and it has the accordion playing an upbeat tune, something that reminds one of a song in some old black and white Indian movie, or possibly something you might hear in the soundtrack of a French film. Still, with its bright and playful overtones, the lyrics point to something darker - maybe a break up - lurking in its depths. The juxtaposition of these conflicting characteristics captivates the listeners’ interest and makes up for a mesmerizing listening experience.

Perhaps the one song that I had the expected the most from was ‘Intezar’ by Abdullah Qureshi because it featured Sarmad Ghafoor, whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and playing with in Peshawer in the days of yore. I know that Sarmad runs a studio and I expected this song to be really impeccably produced; however, it was an utter disappointment. Even though mixed well, ‘Intezar’ is just another typical soft ballad, a flat dull "sad song" that mimics so many previous Pakistani/Indian (including Lollywood and Bollywood) songs that have been sung in the same scale. It sticks out in the EP as the most formulaic and un-indie song of the lot. Perhaps the only (slightly) saving grace is the Beckish slide guitar solo.

‘Choti Si Khwahish’ - the 4th song on the EP - is also fairly prosaic. Performed by Hawai Jahaaz - an alternative/indie band based in Lahore - the song is sung in a strange accent in a nasal voice, which is somewhat annoying. I always feel that language, enunciations and accentuations are all integral and important parts of a song and the lady in the band can be heard singing Urdu in an entirely Western-influenced accent, something that is off putting and cringe worthy to say the least. Even so, the song itself is proficiently produced and the music - especially the guitars towards the end - is adept.

I enjoyed the last two tracks of the EP the most. ‘Panadol’ by Shajie Hassan is a bleak and desolate song done brilliantly. The composition is minimalistic and the music masterful. The vocals are heavily processed, compressed, equalized and filtered to sound muffled and to disseminate a robotic, distant tone that works perfectly with the music, exteriorizing haunting electronic vibes. Combine all of this with pristine production, and you have ‘Panadol’, a dismally tuneful analgesic for the heart, mind and soul.

Finally, the last song on the EP - and my favorite song on this list - is ‘Shehri’ by Sikandar Ka Mandar, an indie folk-rock band from Karachi. It’s a remarkably dynamic song with intense societal lyrics; however, the best part about it is how the band flawlessly uses backing vocals/harmonies and drums/dhols. The song, leading up to a percussive crescendo, would make for an astounding soundtrack for a final showdown in a film. It is both sullen and exhilarating, dismal yet energetic and a befitting end to the compilation.

With its choice of songs and artists, Patari Aslis Vol. 1 is fresh and vibrant. It is a treat for the fans and is also highly recommended as an excellent starter’s pack for anyone who wants to take a glimpse into the thriving and diverse indie music scene of Pakistan.
- Omer Wahaj is an independent penman & editor, and sometimes musician & DJ. He tweets @omerwahaj

- Patari artwork by Shehzil Malik


A glint of indie hope