It is apparent that Bayaan now enjoys a fair share of popularity amongst listeners, who have followed their journey on the competition
Over the last few years, platforms like Pepsi Battle of the Bands and Nescafé Basement have played a pivotal role in introducing young artists and new bands to mass audiences. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, the local bands were booming and there was great interest in the kind of music that contemporary rock bands were producing. Vital Signs, Junoon and Strings, to name a few, had cult following amongst youngsters across the country. Even with limited radio transmissions and only one national TV channel, the fame enjoyed by these bands was legendary.
However, after the mid-2000s, there was an evident decline in the bands’ popularity. There were two reasons for this trend. Many bands split up, and it took time for the musicians to re-acclimate with their listeners. Another factor was the worsening security situation in the country. With rampant suicide bombings and terrorist attacks in major cities, there were fewer concerts.
Over the last decade, a subtle revival of band culture has been under way. It picked up pace with the Pepsi platform’s reintroduction, which gave the country EP, Aaroh and the Mekaal Hasan Band in 2002. Since 2017, three new seasons of the competition have aired, introducing several contemporary bands to eager viewers. TNS spoke with the 2018 Battle of the Bands winners, Bayaan, to get an insight into the selection process, the evolution of local band culture, the economic aspect of music-making and the impact of such platforms on a band’s reception.
“Upon selection, a band must have a few covers and original songs prepared,” says Haider Abbas, Bayaan’s bassist. It is by performing original compositions that bands manage to connect with a larger demographic. Once they are on the show, visibility is guaranteed. “Recognisability has gone up,” according to Mansoor Lashari, the drummer who gained recognition with his stint on Nescafé Basement before performing in the Battle of the Bands.
Platforms funded by large corporations certainly have the resources to propel new musicians’ careers. However, their sustenance depends primarily on revenues from concerts. “We received a sizeable amount of money for winning the competition. More importantly, we received a video and album contract, but the real change that happened is the number of gigs that started coming our way,” says Muqeet Shahzad, one of Bayaan’s two guitarists.
As with any other business, the Covid-19 pandemic has deeply affected musicians and their bands. “We are experiencing erratic progress due to the pandemic. The shift from in-person concerts to digital ones has been a bizarre one for me, at least,” says Lashari. Performing for television bears little resemblance to a live concert, but it is better than digital concerts in a long shot.
Music is an organic expression of human emotion. Making it available for mass consumption through televised shows aids in a band’s image-building and puts new faces on the listeners’ radars. “It is amazing to be able to make music and know that people are listening to it,” Shahrukh Aslam, the second guitarist, says. Knowing that platforms are available to young artists to showcase their talent and be recognised for it is commendable. However, band culture continues to be mostly urban-centred. It all boils down to access to resources, exposure and infrastructural support.
“There should be greater equality of opportunity. An excellent musician from the interior regions may face many challenges when trying to get to platforms like Pepsi,” says Shahzad. Considering that Battle of the Bands and other platforms powered by major multinationals are there to promote local talent and indigenous music, the burden falls on them to invest in outreach programmes to unearth accomplished artists. The bassist, who often bears a solemn expression when performing, adds with sincerity, “music is subjective, and not everybody is going to like what we produce.” It is apparent that Bayaan now enjoys a fair share of popularity amongst listeners, who have followed its journey on the competition.
“It is uplifting to see a song we posted on YouTube or Spotify raking in the numbers,” adds Aslam. A song from their album Suno, Teri Tasveer, has garnered over 1.3 million views on YouTube, which is considerably more than any other compositions by the five-member band. Bayaan and several other bands that participated in the competition continue to impact listeners across borders. It is exciting to witness that efforts are under way to revitalise local band-culture, even during a pandemic.
Television continues to be the most widely available medium of entertainment in Pakistan. From urban centres to rural areas, a lot more people have access to cable TV. Therefore, TV producers must understand the significance of their position and the impact of their shows.
The writer is a staff member