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Archive for September, 2017

A new battlefront has been created in Pakistan.

This war finds its roots in the plight of the ailing music industry in Pakistan. An article by Madeeha Syed published in Dawn on February 16, 2017 talks about an overcrowded internet where artists are struggling to be heard and it suggests that a better revenue model for musicians lies in live performances.

The rebooted first season of Pepsi Battle of the Bands, therefore, presents an opportunity for hope, not just for Pakistani rock bands, but for music and its powerful ability to engage, connect and enthrall. Whereas, in the past popular rock and pop bands – Vital Signs,  Strings , Junoon and Noori – had emerged one after the other over a long period of time, in Pepsi’s battle it was uplifting to see the performance of  a larger number of fresh bands in a single season.  Each band had its individual style and there was diversity within the members of the bands, from women vocalists to minorities, many wer represented.  It was encouraging to see this vibrant and modernized face of Pakistan, which we do not get to see much of in western media.

Kashmir Band

The Band Kashmir

I’m sure it was difficult for the judges to choose a winner out of a batch in which each band was outstanding. Nonetheless, the show was becoming exciting after each episode. The competition between the finalists, Badnaam and Kashmir delivered several heights of melodic excellence.  For me, personally it was hard to judge who performed better than the other. I was more involved in discovering two diverse approaches to  music –  a Sufi musical message by Badnaam, and a more westernized (I think judge Fawad Khan called it “atmospheric”) tone by Kashmir – and realizing that both are equally popular in Pakistan.

The Sufi tradition of music started with the ancient bards who popularized the songs of their beloved saints by performing at the shrines and festive occasions. This is how this rich tradition passed from one generation to the next and reaches us through Pathanay Khan, Allan Faqir,  Nusrat Fateh Ali,  Abida Parveen and several others.  Some twenty years ago, as judged by the popularity of Sufi lyrics and music by Junoon, it became apparent that Sufi  music engages the younger audience as well.

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Badnaam

The rise of Badnaam (check out their rendition of “Khwaja ki Deewani“) as runners up confirms the continued demand for devotional and inspirational music. But more than that what might have appealed to many in the Battle of Bands was a fusion of the eastern and western traditions, something Pakistani musicians are especially good at.

For me the best specimen was Kashmir’s version of Pathanay Khan’s signature song which shows how a classic can be reinterpreted with modern instrumentation and still be as mesmerizing.  Atif Aslam deserves recognition for requesting the audience and judges to stand up for a moment in the memory of that great Pathanay Khan, who was truly an avatar of our ancient bards.

I am eager to see how this new group of musicians enriches audiences not only in Pakistan, but the world over. And may all our battles be as musical and inspirational as this one.

 

 

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