SEPMA & sonic highways

August 30, 2020

As the Shaan e Pakistan Music Awards (SEPMA) 2020 conclude, Instep looks at the vision behind it and how it can be refined.

Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan unveiled the SEPMA trophy, seen here with Huma Nassr of SEPMA, while Abida Parveen won the Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Lifetime Achievement Award.

The latest edition of SEPMA (Shaan-e-Pakistan Music Awards) has come to an end. Held digitally this year due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ceremony spanned over a couple of weeks and included a digital music summit, a drum circle, trophy reveal and a tarana followed by award-distribution meet ups in Lahore, Karachi and even Dubai. The person who recognized the need for acknowledging this boom in music beyond a handful of mainstream names is Shaan-e-Pakistan founder, Huma Nassr.

In a country where various music awards have come and gone and left a lot to be desired, the need for an independent award ceremony dedicated solely to music - like SEPMA - cannot be dismissed easily.

The vision

What was the vision behind the concept and creation of SEPMA? Huma Nassr, brainchild behind the event that has picked up a loyal following in two short years, explained how the birth of an award show was just the start. There were bigger plans to facilitate Pakistan’s colourful music identity.

“We will, in time, launch a music academy as well. That is what SEP(MA) will stand for: Shaan-e-Pakistan Music Academy,” she shared with Instep.

Until it got there, it was – for now – committed to acknowledging music and musicians that were making a mark. Seeing a lack of acknowledgment in the burgeoning independent and mainstream music scene, the newest edition of SEPMA featured categories that have not been introduced by other awards shows. “We have to acknowledge the efforts made by young musicians as well as veteran artists,” said Huma about the categories.

The excellent news is that there was no channel affiliation, therefore no favouritism.

“We don’t have channel affiliations,” Huma explained. “We have tied up with Geo this year but that doesn’t mean the music awards are restricted to those who may or may not have appeared in any particular drama or film. We don’t want to taint the process. The need for a music award that celebrates its many hues is ultimately the aim.”

As Huma shared, with a production team of her own and dozens of people involved, SEPMA Awards was just in its initial years but they planned to go on and build their own history.

Best Hip/Hop award went to Mooroo even though others like Osama Com Laude, Sunny Khan Durrani, Young Stunners and Adil Omar deserved to be nominated in his place. Mooroo is seen here with Fahd Nassr.

Dissecting the   categories

Though its heart was in the right place, SEPMA 2020 was by no means perfect. While its biggest success was the categories that had been introduced, the award ceremony acknowledged artists between the time period of mid-2018 to mid-2020, which was a big blunder. How can music made in two years be packed and parceled in one year? But while the timeline was off, SEPMA 2020’s saving grace and strength was some of the categories it honoured.

SEPMA 2020 recognised and acknowledged musicians in 13 genres of music with three special mention awards. 78 acts were nominated amidst those 13 categories that included Best Pop Music, Best Traditional Music, Best Hip-Hop Music, Best Indie Music, Best Child Music, Best Sufi Music, Best Lyrics, Best Rock Music, Best Jingle, Best OST, Best EDM Music, Best Individual Musician and Best Composer.

Was it heartening to see an award show dedicated solely to music, with categories that the Lux Style Awards, for instance, had been unable to expand to over the years? Definitely. Did these categories need to be refined? Absolutely.

Taking it forward, Best OST needs to be divided as Best OST (films) and Best OST (television). They are two of Pakistani music’s most favoured categories because TV beams in our homes (and now on YouTube) while streaming networks have made it possible for famous dramas to find a spot on their services as well. The film industry, on the other hand, has crossed a decade of revival. To not nominate film music in all its glory is unfair.

There is a misconception behind electronic music. EDM (Electronic Dance Music) is a subgenre of electronic music. And Pakistan is seeing a surge in electronic music for the last several years. Umer Farooq’s victory in EDM is therefore neither here nor there. Should there be an EDM category, there should, at minimum, be an electronic music category (minus dance) as well. Names like Talal Qureshi, Nawksh, Stupid Happiness Theory, Janoobi Khargosh, Rudoh, Dynoman, Biryani Brothers, Natasha Noorani, TMPST, Alien Panda Jury and several others will become eligible for the award.

Similarly, take Best Hip-Hop, one of the most exciting categories of all. Why? Because who has ever taken hip-hop artists seriously, apart from nominating them in emerging talent at best at the longstanding Lux Style Awards? Answer: no one. But SEPMA does lose points in some of its questionable Hip Hop nominations.

What, for instance, was Mooroo doing in a hip-hop category? By putting him in the wrong category, the space was taken away from the likes of Lyari Underground, Young Stunners, Adil Omar and Osama Com Laude, just four of the most popular acts among several others. Hip-hop/rap artists such as Sunny Khan Durrani, who dropped two EPs this year, were also nowhere to be found.

From the selected nominees, the person who deserved the award the most is Faris Shafi for his solo single, ‘Nazar’. But the award went to the most popular name in the lot, Mooroo (Taimoor Salahuddin) for ‘Sach Sabaq’. That said, artists such as Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan (Xulfi), Meesha Shafi and Atif Aslam were rightly awarded for their respective contribution to the music industry.

One of music’s breakthrough sensations, Ali Tariq won in the pop category. The award was presented to him by Mr. Omar Omari – the Pakistani politician who has been a member of the Provincial Assembly of Sindh – seen here with SEPMA founder Huma Nassr.

In the rock category, Mustafa Zahid won but he shouldn’t have been nominated in the first place. He was nominated from an online program called In the Box. By that logic, others who appeared on various shows, ranging from Acoustic Station to Big Foot Music should have been nominated as well. And what of commercial programs like Coke Studio, Nescafe Basement, Pepsi Battle of the Bands and many others that represent mainstream music as well as younger artists competing and/or learning from industry stalwarts? There should be a way to fit them in as well.

As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The intention behind SEPMA is right but conviction alone isn’t enough. There is a reason why award shows consider a year’s worth of content because even in a year, there are always shocks, snubs and surprises. This two-year period needs greater consideration.

Moving on, Best Indie Music is a giant category and needs to be subdivided such as Best indie electronic music, best indie rock and best indie instrumental/experimental artist or record and so on. A variation was needed.

Folk music needs its own category because folk is the heart and soul of Pakistan. Found in villages and cities as well as Sufi shrines and spaces (to paraphrase U2) where the streets have no names. There are multiple languages, instruments and traditions that are dying with some on their last leg. The traditional award, therefore, needs to be thought of much more carefully. The traditional contemporary award could be created so it makes much more sense when The Sketches or a Chand Tara Orchestra gets nominated or wins.

It’s also true that folk is the music of the public. It cannot be omitted or included in Traditional; the latter can include qawwali and ghazals. The victory of The Sketches, therefore, belonged in a non-existent category – Best Music Album or Best Traditional – Contemporary Album.

It’s clear that SEPMA, as a platform committed to recognizing and acknowledging music, needs work not only in terms of categories but also in having a clearer understanding of the music scene. Pop music categories cannot include rock musicians and vice versa.

Another category that should have been added is Best Music Video as more and more singles are being released with music videos. They may not have the budget of a ‘Na Re Na’ (by Ali Azmat) but some beautiful and ultimately complementary visuals have been put out by musicians between the period from which artists have been nominated. And for a lot of them, it isn’t easy because they have day jobs or are session players for others in order to feed their own band and its identity.

In the end, SEPMA 2020 got a lot of things right but, as with every award show, there is room for improvement which is fine since the show is still in nascent stages. Given that it is just in its early years, we can hope that it will improve with every passing year. But, for all of it to happen, SEPMA must stay the course and continue or it will become a memory of the past like other award ceremonies that have come and gone after one, two or three editions at best.

List of winners at SEPMA Awards 2020

Best Rock Music
Mustafa Zahid

Best Composer
Sahir Ali Bagga

Best Child Music
Syeda Hadiya Hashmi

Best Sufi Music

Best Lyrics
Bayaan for ‘Bekhabar‘

Best Pop Music
Ali Tariq for ‘Ek Raaz Ki Baat’

Best Jingle
Hadiqa Kiani for Abhi Tau Mein Jawaan Hoon jingle for CAC-1000

Best OST Music
Rahat Fateh Ali Khan for ‘Mere Pass Tum Ho’

The Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Lifetime Achievement Award

Abida Parveen

Best Traditional Music
The Sketches for ‘Ishq Da Kalma’

Best Indie Music
Shamoon Ismail for ‘Rok Le’

Best EDM Music
Umer Farooq for ‘Pari’

Best Hip-Hop Music
Mooroo for ‘Sach Sabaq’

Best Individual Musician

Special Mention Award for promoting Global Recognition of Pakistan
Atif Aslam

Special Mention Award for promoting the young talent of Pakistan
Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan (Xulfi)

Music Icon of the Generation
Meesha Shafi

SEPMA & sonic highways