Pak­istan’s mu­sic in­dus­try is chaotic, but its stars stun with their tal­ent. In­dian au­di­ences can’t be grate­ful enough.

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It’s a happy co­in­ci­dence that just be­fore writ­ing this piece, I was talk­ing to the ghazal leg­end Us­tad Ghu­lam Ali on the phone. We were chat­ting about mu­sic, and I asked him how and where I would have the hon­our of per­form­ing with him. He laughed and said that we could jam right then over the phone. Such is the ca­ma­raderie I share with one of the great­est liv­ing Pak­istani singers.

My in­tro­duc­tion to Pak­istani mu­sic was when I was study­ing in Class X. Rajani, the daugh­ter of my guru T. Bala­mani, asked me to lis­ten to Ali sa­hab’s ghaz­als. Ini­tially, I was scep­ti­cal of a form of mu­sic I wasn’t re­ally keen on ex­plor­ing. But when I got home and heard his most fa­mous ro­man­tic ghazal— Chupke chupke raat din, penned by poet Maulana Has­rat Mo­hani— it stunned me. I was bowled over by the lyrics and by his im­pec­ca­ble voice, and played the song over and over again. It’s been a while since then, and we have seen many more tal­ented singers and mu­si­cians from that land. When I per­formed at a concert with clas­si­cal vo­cal­ist Shafqat Amanat Ali, I was ex­posed to an­other tal­ented singer. Jam­ming and ex­chang­ing mu­si­cal notes with him and Ra­hat Fateh Ali Khan was an ex­pe­ri­ence of a life­time. Over the years, I’ve earned a few good friends from across the bor­der.

I be­lieve mu­sic has proved to be a strong and cre­ative medium to bring about peace and sta­bil­ity be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan. Since mu­sic is flex­i­ble and sur­passes all bor­ders, it has played a piv­otal role in heal­ing the frayed re­la­tion­ship. This is ex­actly why we have so many fans in In­dia fol­low­ing the melo­di­ous tal­ent that has come from across the bor­der.

How­ever, I have ob­served that the Pak­istani mu­sic in­dus­try is a bit un­or­gan­ised when com­pared to ours. Our film mu­sic is a multi- mil­lion dol­lar busi­ness, thanks to its foun­da­tion in the world’s big­gest film in­dus­try. In In­dia, a mu­si­cian be­comes pop­u­lar when he/ she lends his/ her voice to the su­per­star of that era. So you have pop­u­lar singer- ac­tor duos like Raj Kapoor and Mukesh, Ra­jesh Khanna and Kishore Ku­mar, Amitabh Bachchan and Sudesh Bhon­sle, and Shah Rukh Khan and Udit Narayan. As Pak­istan’s film in­dus­try is not that or­gan­ised, rather, doesn’t have the funds to make movies like ours, mu­sic there is a sin­gu­lar medium in it­self. Mu­si­cians have their own iden­tity, and they have a vast amount of tal­ent in dif­fer­ent gen­res, from the Sufi ghaz­als of Abida Parveen and Mehdi Has­san, to pop bands like Strings and Junoon. While this is good, the lack of money is mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to flour­ish.

I have had the priv­i­lege of work­ing with a few young Pak­istani mu­si­cians and singers like Ali Za­far, on his de­but Bol­ly­wood film Tere Bin Laden. He is a rare com­bi­na­tion of good voice and charm, a real pow­er­house of tal­ent. I’ve also recorded a song with an­other up­com­ing tal­ent Javed Bashir, who I met while per­form­ing at the MTV Coke Stu­dio Sea­son II. We in In­dia are al­ready fa­mil­iar with his haunt­ingly melo­di­ous voice in his Bol­ly­wood de­but, Piya tu kaahe rootha re from Ka­haani.

Fi­nally, I be­lieve both coun­tries are on the right track when it comes to mu­sic. We have an or­gan­ised in­dus­try which is hun­gry for tal­ent. When singers from across the bor­der come here with their skills, a syn­ergy is cre­ated by blend­ing it with the vast pool of In­dian mu­si­cians. Pak­istan has a lot to of­fer, but to flour­ish and cre­ate its own strong iden­tity, mu­si­cians need to be or­gan­ised. A more open mind­set as a so­ci­ety will also help in putting it on the pedestal that our in­dus­try oc­cu­pies to­day.

( As told to Prachi Rege)



Shankar The writer is one of Bol­ly­wood’s finest play­back singers

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