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4 those is INSTEP's take on who is pakistan's best LIVE acts. SEE IF YOUR FAVORITE IS IN THE LIST!!

Once, live performances were the forte of Abida Parveen, Mehdi Hasan, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and other 'serious' artists. Pop artists usually came with nameless backing musicians, or more usually, with a DAT cassette to sing over. That was until Junoon came around and changed the rules.

Now that a whole new generation of musicians has arrived and the older ones are still going strong, live performance is fast becoming a criteria for commercial success.

Instep looks at the stars who rule the stage today.

Abrar ul Haq

He does not play any instruments but that is not what he is about. Abrar's shows are about fun and bhangra. He does not jump up and down and around: everyone else at his concerts does that. His appeal lies in the much loved songs of his and I posit that Abrar may not even need to be there. If one puts his cassettes on over the PA the audiences which come to see him will still go insane. That is not to say that he is not essential to the experience: Abrar by now a veteran of countless shows really knows now how to play with crowd. All in all, Abrar is a consummate professional and possibly the greatest entertainer in the bhangra world.

Atif Aslam & Gohar Mumtaz's Jal

There are a lot of mixed opinions about the two musicians/bands. A lot of people hate Atif's performances (mostly Gohar fans) and many think Gohar's Jal is a tad off live, but one found both to be quite competent live. Two of the most energetic performances this scribe has seen have shockingly been by Atif Aslam. The one at Kinnaird College recently was insane, with easily the most energetic crowd ever. Ultimately, for Atif it mostly comes down to whether you like his voice or him. He is always good for a good performance even if he does remain a tad wooden on stage.

Gohar Mumtaz and Company have gotten great too. Even Farhan comes into his own live. Shaazi on bass is possibly the most impressive. Live they are more masters of their instruments and the fact that Gohar plays the songs live which Atif only sings, makes one like Gohar's performance a bit more

Ali Zafar

Ali Zafar is fast approaching Abrar–like popularity. In urban appeal he might even outdo Abrar. The two are true crowdpleasers. Ali Zafar however is coy with his performance. He is more about looking good and performing well. Downsides are that Ali performs off of DAT much too often. And he needs to do something beyond the shy yet impish act that he puts on. What you saw in the 'Channo' and 'Chal Dil Meray' videos is what you see on stage. Predictability works with rock performances, but pop needs an extra zing. Justin Timberlake cannot get away with what Pearl Jam can.


Only Fuzon can possibly give the Mekaal Hassan Band a run for their money live but for the fact that they are more interested in pop and popularity rather than improvisations on stage. In fact they are a bit of a mixed bad: Fuzon has played one of the best performances I have heard (Alhamra Open Air) and well as one of the worst (Alhamra Hall 2, the Mall). If the mood strikes them, they as in the former performance will take their performance to the crowd (with Shafqat even doing laps through the audience all over the auditorium). However, if the sound is not too good or if they are not in the mood they may well flounder. That makes them quite compelling but a pain when they are not on. Perhaps they are at times jaded because of their session musicians background, but Shallum, Shafqat and Imu are masters of their instruments and with a rotating cast of drummers, there is no reason why they cannot be consistently be brilliant and perform like the stars they truly are.


Hadiqa is the only female singer who can belt a song live and get a crowd going. One has to hand it to her, being a female pop star is not easy in Pakistan. The audience at most concerts here exists of testosterone driven males and they can get quite rowdy, rude and lewd. Hadiqa, in her super smart trousers and blazers can get them going. She has a way of losing herself when she is singing and has become a seasoned stage performer, swaying with an easy rhythm. Her best performance yet was at the SAF Games closing ceremony earlier this year when she paced through the crowds belting an English tune in the tradition of any Western diva. Hadiqa Kiani's limitations are those of Pakistani women, but we give her a two thumbs up for pushing the envelope.

Mekaal Hassan Band

Mekaal and his fellow musicians deservedly have the greatest reputation live. They are a crack professional unit (best sound in business) and possibly the only band in Pakistan, which improvises live on stage. Javed Bashir the singer is slowly but surely finding his feet. Mekaal has the hair, the whip and takes the lead but the true under appreciated stars of the band are Pappu with his lyrical lines on the flute and the explosive Fahd Khan on drums. The band is a marvel on most nights. On others, they tend to be relatively boring. Two recent concerts have had exactly the same setlists and a fair bit of predictability has crept into Mekaal's soloing (a dozen notes a second to climax most solos). Nevertheless for cultured, sophisticated fusion music, they are possibly the only choice in Pakistan.

Sajjad Ali

Sajjad Ali is that rare breed of pop musician, which is difficult to define. With the ability to strike the right notes at the right time, it is a pleasure to hear Sajjad sing. His voice is enough to send the crowd in a frenzy when he starts belting out 'Chief Saab' and to keep them glued to their seats with his haunting rendition of 'Teri Yaad'. He has an easy chemistry with the audience and many of them refer to him as Sajjad Bhai, a title they don't really use for other musicians. He is superlative as a live singer and the band he has put together is quite a tight unit. Sajjad doesn't need histrionics and going by his acapella renditions, he doesn't really need a band either. His singing is enough to keep one enthralled.


A band that is mostly pleasant on record is similarly so live. Their performance is as pleasant and non–threatening as their songs. There are little or no fireworks to them and the band is good for a family night out. Since neither of them really play any instruments (Bilal is often doubled by others on guitar live) there is less of a performance aspect to them.
Having said that, they mostly sing in key, which is still saying something. It might be a good idea for Strings to take the immensely talented musicians they play with into the fold of the band. A cross between rock and pop, they need to fill out their sound. After all, Nazia and Zoheb they are not.

other names included: rahim shah, junoon, EP, karavan, noori, najam sheraz, jawad ahmed, faakhir, haroon, and ahmed jahanzeb!

Posted 21 Nov 2004

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