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History of Pakistani pop music

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Title: History of Pakistani pop music  
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Subject: Music of Pakistan, Vital Signs (band), Rohail Hyatt, Ali Zafar, List of Pakistani pop singers
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History of Pakistani pop music

Pakistani pop music refers to popular music forms in Pakistan. Pakistani pop is a mixture of traditional Pakistani classical music and western influences of jazz, rock and roll, hip-hop and disco sung in various languages of Pakistan, including Urdu. The popularity of music is based on the individual sales of a single, viewership of its music video or the singer's album chart positions. Apart from within Pakistan, Pakistani pop music has also achieved an influential following and popularity in neighboring countries and is listened by members of the Pakistani diaspora, especially in the Middle East, Europe and North America.

Pakistani pop music is attributed to have given birth to the genre in the South Asian region with Ahmed Rushdi's song ‘Ko Ko Korina’ in 1966.[1]

Veterans like Runa Laila started the pop industry in Pakistan while the fifteen-years old pop sensation Nazia with her brother Zohaib Hassan ushered the birth of pop music all over South Asia tailing on the success of her British endeavours.[2][3]

From Rushdi's pop hits to songs sung by the Hassan siblings, to bands including Junoon, Vital Signs, Jal and Strings, the Pakistani pop industry has steadily spread throughout South Asia and today is the most popular genre in Pakistan and the neighbouring South Asian countries.[4] Songs sung by Pakistani pop artists are a regular feature on soundtracks of most of the Bollywood movies.[5]

The genre has always been accepted in the mainstream youth culture but hindrances came in the form of changing governments, cultural conservatism, foreign influences and a stiff competition from neighbouring countries.[1] Still, pop music thrived and survived with a steady growth. In was not until recent times that Pakistani pop music was to be admired throughout South Asia[4] and the rest of the world.


1960–70: Rise and fall of playback singing

The Master of Stage: Ahmed Rushdi

After the partition of India, the most popular form of entertainment in the newly created Pakistan was the medium of film. Cinemas sprouted up in various corners of the nation, especially in Lahore, Karachi and Dacca in East Pakistan and playback singing became popular. People that tended to move into the genre had to be trained in classical music, usually trained by ustads who mastered its various forms and styles. In 1966, a talented young playback singer Ahmed Rushdi (now considered as one of the greatest singers of South Asia) sang the first South Asian pop song “Ko-Ko-Korina” for the film Armaan. Composed by Sohail Rana, the song was a blend of 60s bubblegum pop, rock and roll twist music and Pakistani film music. This genre would later be termed as ‘filmi pop’.[1] Paired with Runa Laila, the singer is considered the pioneering father of pop music, mostly hip-hop and disco, in South Asia.

Following Rushdi's success, Christian bands specialising in jazz started performing at various night clubs and hotel lobbies[1] in Karachi, Hyderabad and Lahore. They would usually sing either famous American jazz hits or cover Rushdi's songs. Rushdi sang playback hits along with Laila until the Bangladesh Liberation War when East Pakistan was declared an independent state. Laila, being a Bengali, decided to leave for the new-found Bangladesh.[1]

The 1970s saw a nose-dive in the progress of cinema in Pakistan as the nation was left in the state of turmoil over the changes in the government administration and Pakistani cinema lost its Dhaka leg. Number of cinemas decreased rapidly and people preferred watching television over going to a cinema.[6] Playback singing that once was popular now struggled to exist and the singers needed a new medium to start afresh.

New era and revival: King of Pakistan Pop Alamgir (1972-1989)

Main articles: Anwar Maqsood, Shoaib Mansoor, Alamgir (pop singer), Muhammad Ali Shahki and Nazia Hassan

While the cinema in Pakistan was declining, the neighbouring India was gaining in strength in film content and quality. People began admiring the Indian playback counterparts. And when it seemed that music in Pakistan had no hopes of surviving this foreign influence, Anwar Maqsood and Shoaib Mansoor launched the career of Nerissa, Beena and Shabana Benjamin (collectively known as the Benjamin Sisters) in 1972. The sisters filled television screens with their melodious charms and tabloids started calling it the Benjamin Sisters Phenomenon.[7]

A few years later came Alamgir. Like all people from his generation, Alamgir was raised listening to songs by bands like ABBA and Boney M. He would do renditions of popular New Wave songs in Urdu. In 1973, influenced by disco and funk, Alamgir sang Albela Rahi, an Urdu song literally translated from a famous Cuban hit originally in Spanish. Alamgir brought a new form of music to Pakistan, one that blended the classical forms with a tint of modern Western music. Hit after another, he proved to be the most successful singer and musician of his time. Alongside Alamgir, Muhammad Ali Shehki also rose to fame with his renditions of the Hindustani classical forms with mediums like jazz and rock. Patriotic songs sung by the singer are still the nation's favourites. Pop music was growing a snail's pace until the appearance of the most unlikely entrant in the music scene.

Hassan Jahangir (اردو:حسن جہانگیر) (born 1962) is a Pakistani Pop singer.[1][2] He gained fame in the 80's with hit singles such as "Hawa Hawa", "Hato Bacho", and "Shadi Na Karna Yaron".[3] He released his first single "Imran Khan is a Superman" in 1982 and went on to release his one and only internationally famous album Hawa Hawa. It sold approximately 15 million copies in India. His music was acclaimed in South Asia, most notably Pakistan and India.[4]

New wave of music and New genres (1980-2000s)

The Queen of Disco Pop: Nazia Hassan

In 1980, Nazia Hassan, a fifteen-years old Pakistani girl residing in the United Kingdom was approached by Indian actor and director Feroz Khan along with Biddu Appaiah, an Indian music producer who asked her to sing the song Aap Jaisa Koi for the film Qurbani.[8] She was selected for the nasal quality of the song's delivery. The song became an instant hit in the UK and the Indian sub-continent. Influenced primarily by disco beats and hip-hop, Nazia along with her brother Zohaib Hassan produced successive hits. Their songs Disco Deewane and Tere Qadmon Ko became the rage all over Asia to the extent that their very first album was declared the best selling album of the time in Asia.

The hype did not last for long as with Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq's regime came drastic decisions to Islamicise the nation. Almost all music videos were banned to air on local television.[8] The religious leaders found the two Hassan siblings dancing together on the stage most un-Islamic. When shown the videos would feature Nazia waist-up to hide her dancing feet.[8] Hence, this came as another blow to the music industry.

Rock music and Zia years (1980-1989)

Despite Zia's tough rhetoric against the Western music, the 1980s era is the widely regarded times of birth and rise of Pakistan's homegrown and ingenious rock music. Immediately following the military installation of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq as President, measures were taken to put in place to limit the distribution of music and the only source of entertainment was the government-owned television network Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV).[9] A state of union speech to the public in 1979, President Zia denounced the Western culture and Western music and banned all the music videos in the country.[9]

Despite the hardship and problems faced by the music industry, the siblings, Nazia and her younger brother Zohaib Hassan, teamed up to produce more pop albums, but in the turmoil that Pakistan was headed through, the duo lost viewership and sales in their own country. They managed to reach UK Top 40 with the English version of their song "Disco Deewane" titled "Dreamer Deewane". The album sold over 14 million records, not only in Asia, but as far as South America, South Africa and Soviet Union. For a short time of period, the Indian pop music industry, formed out of the void that the Pakistani industry had left, dominated pop music of Pakistan. It is reported that the song "Made in India" was initially written and composed by Biddu for Nazia but was later given out to Alisha to perform

The Indian pop music dominated the Pakistani pop music for a very short time, until the new genre of music, the rock music, began to rise during the regime of President Zia-ul-Haq. Throughout the 1980s, there was a popular wave of cultural change and the 80's fashion hair styles and clothing was beginning to be notice by the public.[10] The homegrown rock music bands, out of ordinary to the culture, came to be perceived by many Pakistani fans and country's cultural observers as a "promising new era of cultural revival".[10] Their enormous popularity significantly opened a new wave of music and a modern chapter in the history of Pakistan.[10] The public generally welcomed the new hair styles and fashion wear (popular among university female and male students).[10]

During the peak and end times of Zia's conservative regime, there was a popular wave of cultural change, and the Western fashion style and music stormed the country.

The success of Vital Signs helped others to follow their suit, and the rock music in the country skyrocketed for the first time in the history of the country. In a time when there was no hope for the industry to survive, rock music bands notably and much quickly filled the gap that pop music industry had left.[12] According to the Western observers and cultural critics, the rock music bands in the country brought the significant shift of country's transformation into modernism during 1990s.[13] With the rise of Vital Signs and later, Junoon and others, the rock music, exploded in 1980s and 1990s, became a vehicle for expressing patriotic nationalist spirit in Pakistan.[12]

In 1987, the first privately owned television station, the Network Television Marketing (NTM) opened up introducing shows aimed at the younger generation. In 1989, Shoaib Mansoor produced a show for PTV called Music '89 and took the Hassan siblings as the show's host. This show is responsible for single-handedly creating legends out of bands like Vital Signs, Junoon, Ali Haider, Sajjad Ali and Jupiters also including underground alternative rock bands like Final Cut and The Barbarians.[14] According to the editorial written in The Express Tribune in 2011, the "Vital Signs and Pakistan's ingenious rock music was the only "arsenal" the country had against India's encroaching entertainment industry."[15] It was during the midst of Zia times, when Dil Dil Pakistan was released on television and on a short time period, it became a huge success in the country.

Music Channel Charts: 1990-1994

With the success of Vital Signs and other bands, rock music significantly helped listing the pop music as well. The primetime reception on NTM in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad and the STN (STN) which co-broadcast a show titled Music Channel Charts. The rock music continued to be appreciated by the public and an hour-length show that showcased music videos for various artists in a countdown format. When people started getting acquainted to the show's format, amateur bands and singers taped their own videos and sent them to be aired. With competition rising and only a few minutes dedicated to a single video, pop and rock musicians from all over the country were being recognised for their work.

The show made upcoming artists such as rapper Fakhre Alam, Danish Rahi, Fringe Benefit (the debut album Tanhai was recorded and mixed by Tahir Gul Hasan at his recording studios in Karachi), Strings, Aamir Zaki, and Haroon Rashid and Faakhir Mehmood from Awaz household names. The show lasted for a few more years but was later overshadowed by quality content and newer television channels being broadcast from India. After the 1990 general elections, Nawaz Sharif's policies made an effort to garner closer relations with India and with the advent of MTV India and Channel V in early 990s, the Indian music industry started to blossom[16] and overshadow every effort the Pakistani counterpart would make to highlight the talents within. Music industry in Pakistan lingered on as India gained in strength.

India's music industry maintained its edge until 1993 general elections which resulted in Benazir Bhutto's comeback. Benazir Bhutto immediately disbanded the Indian channels and focused on new cultural policy. It was during this time that recording companies like EMI Pakistan, Pepsi Pakistan Inc. and Sound Master started taking note of the new and rising stars. They started signing contracts with bands including Strings, Vital Signs, Junoon, Benjamin Sister, and Awaz who would later become iconic pop-rock bands. At this time, various rock bands earned a lot of recognition abroad after Vital Signs made its debut international concert in the United States in 1993.

Filling the void (1994-1998)

Main articles: Hadiqa Kiyani, Abrar-ul-Haq, Sufi Rock, Qawwali, Ghazal and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

During Benazir Bhutto's period, the Pakistan film industry made its comeback after many of film artists, including Reema, Shaan, Meera, Moammar Rana, Shafqat Cheema, and many others, acted in various Urdu films that earned a lot of public appraisal. Benazir Bhutto's cultural policies projected extreme level of national spirit and proponents of nationalism was supported at high government level. At the PTV Lahore centre in 1994, host of the children's musical show Sohail Rana's Angan Angan Taray, pop singer Hadiqa Kiyani sang in Adnan Sami's musical Sargam. She would continue to host the show for three years after taking a break out to pursue her career as a solo pop artist. She would later be crowned as the second most popular pop singer after Nazia. She was followed by Komal Rizvi who won much appraisal for her work.

In the very last years before its closure, MCC introduced a Punjabi pop song "Billo De Ghar", sang by Abrar-ul-Haq, in its line-up which instantly became a hit. The chart-topping success was most unexpected for the singer, a Pakistan Studies teacher at the esteemed Aitchison College. Abrar-ul-Haq became a celebrity overnight and decided to leave his teaching career to enter show business in 1997. His Punjabi pop songs with bhangra beats introduced ‘Punjabi pop’ to the masses later followed by Indian singer Daler Mehndi.

The rock music continue to dominate the pop music when the band Junoon had established a name as the pioneers of Sufi rock in Europe and the Americas, although people believe the genre started with Alamgir's “Jugni”. Vital Sings continue its highly acclaimed work, and officially released five rock music albums. In an effort to revive the Qawwali/Ghazal genre, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was invited to join music directors in India and produced the first ever Qawwali/Ghazal pop song “Afreen Afreen”, with Javed Akhtar.

Cross-border rift (1999-2002)

In 1999, following the Kargil War, all Indian channel broadcasts were limited or banned in Pakistan and after Pervaiz Musharraf's coup d'état, the media was privatised. To cater to the needs of thousands who watched the Indian channels with regularity, programmes were broadcast to match the Indian content. Seeing this as an opportunity, bands returned on the music scene and started producing videos with a much richer content. In 2001, Ghazanfar Ali, producer and CEO of the Indus Media Group started his very first venture into the music industry with Indus Music, a channel dedicated to music following the formats used by MTV India, Channel V and B4U Music. The channel started as a part of the Indus Vision channel and was later started as separate channel in 2003.[14] With nothing much to watch than a few Pakistani channels, the youngsters in the country would settle in for Indus Music and would become interested in music once again.

Once the ban was fully lifted in 2002, the music industry in Pakistan had fully recovered and with local concerts in full swing, Pakistan music had taken the country by storm yet again. Websites opened up discussing, distributing and satirising music. Perhaps, the only reason music began so popular in so short a span of time can be attributed to piracy. Instead of fighting against piracy, musicians embraced it and released their musical content not through a record label but through the Internet on their own website and personally collaborating with fans.

Recent times

While the rock music continue to be gather more popularity in the country, the Pakistani pop music in the 21st century continues to also grow in popularity as more singers enter the genre. The Pakistani music industry is still dominated by Pakistani rock music and pop singers and their popularity has spilled over into neighbouring countries such as India, Russia, Afghanistan, Iran, Nepal and other countries in South Asia and Central Asia. Atif Aslam, Adnan Sami Khan, Hadiqa Kiyani, Abrar-ul-Haq, Shehzad Roy and bands including Strings and the Mekaal Hasan Band are some of the recent popular Pakistani acts.

Filmi Pop

Main article: Filmi pop

Coke Studio, a popular Pakistani music television series, became Pakistan's first official venture into the collaboration of Pakistani pop music artists.

List of artists

Following is a list of some notable pop acts in Pakistan.

See also

bilal saeed


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