Total Posts: 1287
United Kingdom, United Kingdom
The year in rewind
To every thing, turn, turn, turn
There is a season, turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
To everything, turn, turn, turn
-The Byrds, Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)
In this world, nothing is forever except death, and maybe income tax. The above-mentioned stanza from the Byrd's classic Turn! Turn! Turn!, arguably one of the sweetest tunes to come out of the mid-Sixties, best describes feelings at this point. The Byrds' honeyed harmonies, Roger McGuinn's shimmering 12-string guitar and those unmatched lyrics, adapted by senior American folk singer Pete Seeger from the Bible's Book of Ecclesiastes, were the summation of a mood that accepted change with a pragmatic nod of the head that seemed to say, 'keep movin' on and don't look back'.
In close to five years as a music journalist in Pakistan, I have seen both amazing highs and deplorable lows, referring specifically to the local scene. I have been privileged to meet Aamir Zaki, an undisputed musical genius in my book and a neglected national treasure. I thoroughly enjoyed the spiritual rapture that best describes hearing Abida Parveen live, another national asset, as she weaved her way through a tricky path, sometimes paved with smooth cobblestones of ecstasy; at others strewn with uneven boulders of anguish.
I was delighted with Sampooran, the Mekaal Hasan Band's debut record. It was a pure thrill listening to such well-played, passionate music that brought back memories of Weather Report, old-school Santana, John McLaughlin and his Mahavishnu Orchestra, yet fused these modern western masters with the centuries-old musical traditions of the East. And what made the taste even sweeter was that something like this had come out of Pakistan. Having heard a few rough mixes from Mekaal's upcoming record, I can only say that more good things are in store.
Rushk, Uns Mufti and Ziyyad Gulzar's project (can't call it a group because they hardly act like one) was a definite breath of fresh air. It's just a pity more people weren't exposed to this incredible music. If ever these guys deliver a follow-up - anything is possible with this duo - one is sure it'll be just as experimental as Sawal 57:34 (I hope I got the timing right), their debut was. And in spite of everything, I quite enjoyed Karavan's Gardish, even forgetting the fact that the title track was a chhapa of Kashmir, Led Zeppelin's magnum opus from 1975's double-album Physical Graffiti. They had the potential to rule the national rock roost, as they had been playing solid, three chord rock'n'roll since back in the day (the kids of today who think that Pakistani rock music started with Noori, EP and Indus Music, take a listen to the group's stellar '97 debut, Rakh Aas, if you can find it).
Then there were the not-so-good moments, times where pop-star egos reared their ugly heads. But one must not dwell in ugliness and greed. Looking towards the future, things don't actually look that bad. Well ... they do, but there are a couple of rays signifying light at the end of this tunnel.
Speaking of FM stations, their rapid growth is a harbinger of better times ahead. Sadly, the level of on-air personalities has dipped to unimaginable lows. Cutting off songs midway is the new norm. Musical acumen is actually a liability and if you shoot your mouth off too much about how much you know, chances are it won't get you anywhere. But out of all the new jocks (there are respectable names in the crop of senior jocks, many of whom have left the mic), there is really only one chap who actually plays a lot of killer music and doesn't make a total ass of himself on the microphone: Barry on FM 96. But if he continues in this vein, his days are numbered. My advice to him: play plenty of Pappi Chulo and act like the mic is your personal plaything to vent all sorts of emotional details. That'll ensure you have a long, healthy radio shelf-life in Pakistan. In all seriousness, that great Groundskeeper Willy-esque Scottish accent coupled with some genuinely good tunes makes for good radio. A couple more like him and there is hope for radio.
Getting back to musicians, undoubtedly the most refreshing thing I heard all year was a cut from two cats out of Peshawar. Sajid Ghafoor and Zeeshan Parwez have put the NWFP's first city on the map for less sinister reasons. Their song, King of Self, is a beautiful slice of organic house music, with a driving 'boom-thwack-boom' beat and minimalist acoustic guitars to boot. They're getting plenty of airplay on City FM89, and the video is also on the music channels. Bravo. More of this sort of stuff and perhaps we can pump some life back into the Pakistani alternative music.
I'm sure quite a few of you read up on 'Dimebag' Darrell Abbot's grisly murder on December 8. For those who might not have heard, Dime was shot up in a Columbus, Ohio club, by lunatic Nathan Gale, who pumped two slugs into the guitarist's head. Apparently, the 'fan' was angered by the fact that Pantera, of which Dime was a founder-member, had been allegedly broken up by the guitarist. Regardless of who broke what, it seems we slip deeper into the depths of madness with every coming day. The irony in this is that Pantera, despite their considerable talent, often wrote extremely hateful songs targeted at minorities and those who didn't share the band's zealous beliefs. Well, live by the sword, die by the sword. The following lyrics from Pantera's Cemetery Gates best sum up Dimebag's departure from the mortal plane:
Is this a conspiracy?
Crucified for no sins
No revenge... beneath me.
Lost within my plans for life,
It all seems so unreal.
I'm a man cut in half in this world,
Left in my misery
All is not lost. Despite all the (numerous) negatives that plague the music business in Pakistan, one has to admit that it is one of the few flourishing trades in the country, and beyond a doubt music, in presentation if not in content, has grow by leaps and bounds over the last decade or so. So much so that it is a bankable commodity, with Pakistani artists scoring for Indian movies (Rahat Ali Khan and Ali Azmat for Paap), along with Strings getting their tune on the subcontinent's Spider-Man 2 showboat.
But pretending everything is green grass and sunshine would be fooling ourselves. The truth is, this country definitely has the talent and the potential, musically, to establish itself and stake its claim internationally. The foremost thing that needs to be done is the establishment of proper record labels to oversee the development, growth and management of new artists, as well as giving senior musicians the opportunity to earn what is rightfully theirs: respect, royalties and market presence. If labels concentrate on financing artists and encouraging them creatively, one is sure the current scenario will improve drastically and everyone - labels, artists, fans, - will reap the benefits. Unlike most of today's labels, which are more distribution companies - and mostly crooked at that - we need labels which will invest in the artists and whose raison d'etre will be to sell music, not soda pop, chalia, bubble gum or after-dinner mints or to promote a deadly brew of supari and kotha culture.
Secondly, we need a slash and burn policy to wipe out piracy. We happily walk off with Rs75 CDs, but in the long run the quality of recording proves to be inferior to licensed copies, along with the fact that you almost never get the original artwork, a must for sticklers for detail