A new stream­ing ser­vice for Pak­istan

Stream­ing ser­vice Patari is bring­ing Pak­istan’s mori­bund mu­sic scene back to life through the pro­mo­tion of new songs, an im­pres­sive ar­chive and artist roy­al­ties, writes Zahra Salahud­din

The National - News - The Review - - Front Page - Zahra Salahud­din is a jour­nal­ist based in Karachi who writes on mu­sic and art.

About a year ago, a se­lect group of mu­sic lovers across Pak­istan be­gan hear­ing about a new, in­vite-only stream­ing ser­vice.

It was called Patari. Not only would it re­lease al­bums and pro­mote live events, but also while Spo­tify is not avail­able and un­like lo­cal com­peti­tors such as Taazi, Patari would be the first dig­i­tal plat­form to pay roy­al­ties to artists who signed with it.

Pak­istan’s fraught se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion, mori­bund live mu­sic scene, a ban on YouTube (only re­cently lifted) and the lack of la­bels re­leas­ing new al­bums made a pro­ject like this even more chal­leng­ing.

Af­ter the in­vites were sent out, Patari (Urdu for a snake charmer’s box) went vi­ral on so­cial me­dia. It amassed an ex­ten­sive li­brary of songs from al­most ev­ery era and now has up to 25,000 from about 600 artists, mak­ing it the largest stream­ing plat­form in Pak­istan. Its in­ter­face and smart­phone app are also user-friendly.

“We have no­ticed that in­creas­ingly, Pak­istani mu­sic is again be­ing recog­nised as a cul­tural force to be reck­oned with,” says Patari co-founder Khalid Ba­jwa.

“The one thing we ini­tially ob­served ... was the per­cep­tion that Pak­istani mu­sic wasn’t ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ enough or that peo­ple don’t lis­ten to it any­more.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ba­jwa, nei­ther ra­dio nor TV played it. The main fo­cus was al­ways on In­dian/Bol­ly­wood mu­sic or western mu­sic. Home­grown mu­sic just wasn’t get­ting the plat­form it de­served.

The ser­vice be­came avail­able to the gen­eral pub­lic a few months ago and Patari says it has 60,000 monthly ac­tive users. But can a stream­ing site sin­gle-hand­edly re­vive a coun­try’s mu­sic scene?

E Sharp, a Karachi-based rock band, were the first to re­lease an al­bum through Patari. Ba­hadur Yaar Jung was re­leased when Patari was still in its in­vite-only stage. While the band’s fol­low­ing was mainly in Karachi, re­leas­ing their de­but through the site helped them to gain a di­verse fan base across Pak­istan.

“We have been in all of their top playlists and the re­sponse to our mu­sic has been great from Patari users, which has now en­cour­aged us to come up with newer mu­sic,” says Ahmed Zawar, the band’s lead vo­cal­ist.

“The whole idea of this sense of own­er­ship for Pak­istani mu­sic is so fresh and cool.” Ali Suhail, an­other Karachi- based mu­si­cian, has re­leased al­bums in­de­pen­dently as well as two EPs with Patari. “A lot more peo­ple were made aware of the EPs be­cause of Patari, as op­posed to how it would’ve been re­ceived had I put it on Band­camp or Sound­Cloud,” he says.

“I don’t know if Patari is a game changer or not but it’s def­i­nitely made ex­pe­ri­enc­ing lo­cal mu­sic and dis­cov­er­ing new mu­sic slightly eas­ier.”

When Patari launched, one of its most in­ter­est­ing claims was that it would pay the artists that sign with it – some­thing not un­heard of in Pak­istan but very rare. While cheques have started go­ing out, some mu­si­cians have still not been paid. Ac­cord­ing to Ba­jwa, the process was slow be­cause of tax is­sues and the col­lec­tion of the artists’ fi­nan­cial de­tails.

“We have ini­ti­ated the process and in the next few weeks we aim to send out all the cheques.”

E Sharp re­cently re­solved pay­ment is­sues with Patari, and Zawar claims the ser­vice will roll out more cheques soon.

While Suhail is also await­ing pay­ment, he added that the ser­vice has spon­sored live gigs and paid artists to per­form, “which is pretty cool for a mu­sic stream­ing ser­vice”. Main­stream bands such as Noori have also re­leased new mu­sic through Patari, and they have helped them by hold­ing launch events in Karachi, La­hore and Is­lam­abad.

Patari is also re­leas­ing a se­ries of al­bums fea­tur­ing lo­cal artists called Patari As­lis.

So on the sur­face, Patari has brought some new op­por­tu­ni­ties for lo­cal mu­si­cians. Pak­istan has no real mu­sic in­fra­struc­ture. The rea­son for this is be­cause there was lit­tle in­vest­ment and mu­si­cians could not keep the scene thriv­ing from their own pock­ets.

An in­crease in religious ex­trem­ism and political un­rest in the coun­try re­sulted in in­ter­est shift­ing away from mu­sic and im­prov­ing the coun­try’s mu­sic in­fra­struc­ture was not on peo­ple’s minds. So to be able to have a plat­form where their mu­sic can be streamed and to earn money through it is a step for­ward.

Mean­while, lo­cal in­die mu­si­cians con­tin­ued to cre­ate mu­sic and make EPs which re­sulted in a small but fam­ily-like cult fol­low­ing of fans. But to what ex­tent is this help­ing the new wave of in­die mu­si­cians that Patari has been at­tract­ing?

In con­ver­sa­tions with a few in­die artists, the frus­trat­ing part has been a lack of up­dates re­gard­ing pay­ments. While Patari claims it is pay­ing artists, how many is it? The mu­si­cians, who do not wish to be named, feel that there could be more trans­parency on Patari’s part. De­spite be­ing sent guide­lines by Patari on how artists can be paid, some feel it is nei­ther clear nor con­ve­nient.

A so­lu­tion to this could be an au­to­mated sys­tem for mu­si­cians to sort out their fi­nances, like Band­camp and Sound­Cloud. An­other con­cern from some artists is that the most pop­u­lar songs are given pri­or­ity on Patari, which re­sults in the same songs get­ting more and more at­ten­tion.

This ar­guably dis­cour­ages the dis­cov­ery of new artists and is a con­flict of in­ter­est be­tween what artists want and what gen­er­ates more traf­fic. For ex­am­ple, songs for the Patari As­lis (Patari orig­i­nal) se­ries will be se­lected on how well they are per­form­ing on the site.

A third is­sue with EMI Pak­istan over mu­sic rights de­vel­oped af­ter Patari was of­fi­cially launched. But ac­cord­ing to Ba­jwa the in­ci­dent was blown out of pro­por­tion. “We had a dis­pute with them over the rights of some of the mu­sic they said be­longed to them. We took down the stuff they iden­ti­fied, then ne­go­ti­ated with them, and came to mu­tu­ally-agree­able terms and that was that.”

Patari is free to use but there are plans to in­tro­duce sub­scrip­tions in the months ahead.

“There is a long, long road to go be­fore we can claim that the [mu­sic] ecosys­tem is alive again, and most def­i­nitely we are not ar­ro­gant enough to be­lieve that when it hap­pens it will be en­tirely our do­ing,” says Ba­jwa.

“Patari has def­i­nitely been a trig­ger for the re­vived in­ter­est [in Pak­istani mu­sic] that, I think, I can humbly claim, and we will con­tinue to do our part.”

It is too early to claim that be­cause of Patari there has been a no­tice­able rise in live shows and new re­leases, but it is pro­mot­ing events and new mu­sic – some­thing which was not hap­pen­ing in Pak­istan for many years.

Cour­tesy Maryam Reza

Me­hdi Maloof of Is­lam­abad per­forms at a con­cert in La­hore to cel­e­brate the launch of Patari As­lis, an al­bum spon­sored by the Pak­istani mu­sic stream­ing ser­vice, Patari.

Cour­tesy She­hzil Malik / Patari

Patari As­lis Vol­ume 1, an EP of orig­i­nal mu­sic pro­duced by Patari, with cover art by She­hzil Malik.

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