The Pakistani cinema saw its downfall during the infamous reign of General Zia, but that’s a story we all already know. The much more interesting, perhaps because less discussed, is the story of the decline of Pakistani music.
It is the story of an industry so resilient that it even flourished during the dark times of Zia; during those years Pakistani music industry received an influx of western influence. It was this age that planted the seeds for the Pakistani pop. Artists such as Nazia Hassan were on the forefront of the musical stage, influencing fashion and crafting a popular culture for the country for the very first time.
All was going great and then in the 2000s came the internet, a great thing for a lot of people but not for the music industry. With no regulation of copyright content, records labels couldn’t really make a profit with producing music; people were simply pirating music from the internet. Record labels around the world adapted, instead of charging music highly, they started making money off of tours and concerts.
Sadly, Pakistani music industry couldn’t really do that. The 2000s were the most deadly era of Pakistani history, everything deemed un-Islamic by the Taliban was attacked and suppressed. Many cinema houses around the country had to close down after being targeted for promoting un-Islamic values. Concerts were out of the question. Record labels had no other choice but to leave, and Pakistani musicians were left without any hope.
It’s rather funny how our involvement in one war essentially cost us both industries.
Well its very well on its way, or some may even say it’s already here. This time it comes not from the movie industry or from record labels, but from the independent artists.
This is witnessed in the rising scene of Pakistani indie music, with artists such as Sikandar Ka Mander, E-Sharp, Mehdi Maloof and Ali Sohail. With these artists is a small but dedicated following consisting of urban youth. A testament to this rising culture is the revival of music festivals in Pakistan, may that be Lahore’s signature Lahore Music Meet or or the earthy Sindhi Lahooti Melo.
No record labels really exist in Pakistan anymore, and artists work independently, so where is the money?
The money now lies in online streaming of music on platforms such as patari, which filled a basic but much needed vacuum in the Pakistani music industry. Thankfully, the Taliban aren’t as big a threat now as they were in the 2000s, so concerts are a thing again. But most interestingly, a lot of these indie musicians are also professionals with different careers. E.g the indie star Mehdi Maloof, who works as a CSS officer (and has really funny insta stories).
So this might not be the answer to all the woes of Pakistani music, but it’s a start; the start of a sustainable revival.