What a really strange week has passed, and looks likely to continue, so we’ve chosen to cocoon ourselves a little with music. And like a proper old person who is also a teacher of English, I listen to the lyrics of the songs my children like and then loudly and pointedly comment on them—I’m looking at you, Justin Bieber. How can you sing about making the same mistakes “a couple of hundred times” and then in the next verse ask “is it too late to say sorry”? Yes, it is too late, go away and stop giving thousands of adolescents an idiotic song to dedicate to their estranged “special friends” on the radio, or try to excuse cheating.

Musically, Pakistanis are placed in a unique position. We listen to a lot of music, and all kinds—from twangy American pop to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, from rock to ghazals to the Sachal orchestra jazzing up the Pink Panther tune. We listen to Bollywood item numbers and Lata Mangeshkar from the olden days. Our playlists are probably an eclectic mix of this and that as we are at the very least bi-lingual, if not tri, and music tastes veer across language anyway. How lucky! What fun! One minute you’re singing gibberish to replace the Farsi in Zeb and Haniya songs and feeling whimsical, the next you’re singing the guitar solo from Bohemian Rhapsody and feeling gloriously mental and then you’re singing “Ranjish hi Sahi” with Ali Sethi and your heart quivers with delicious melancholy.

The human ear is tuned to music—and poetry. It’s why we love our ghazals, which are poems set to music. The Muslim practice of azaan, the call to prayer, was originally meant to sound like music, five times a day. If any people of my generation know poetry it’s because people have been singing it, even if it was Junoon singing Iqbal, or your parents listening to Farida Khanum singing Faiz. It’s a truly glorious way to learn civilization. Which is why I loathe a lot of new music because the poetry has vanished. Now popular music is mostly all about droppin’ it and workin’ it and breathy singing and ridiculous gyrations because now everyone only wants to look sexy, not make music. Where are the Leonard Cohens, poets before they were singers? Where is the Queen, the Joan Jetts, the Bowies, rebels and punks? The lyrics you remembered your entire life, be it gorgeous “Ye nayan daray daray” or “Suzanne”—because nobody really cares about lyrics that tell you to forget about your special friend and meet in a hotel room, even if you remember them.

It’s probably because this is the age of self-consciousness in the worst way. The selfies, the makeup tutorials, the tagging your designer clothes, taking pictures of your food. Music should be a way to let loose, to dive into your inner self and pull out parts of it you didn’t have the words for, but a lyricist, a composer, a musician did. And like most things, if you’re more concerned with the look of them more than substance, it’s not going to last. That’s why I am so happy with our music scene. I’m no expert, but feels like we’re more evolved as audiences. We’d gladly pay to hear an overweight qawwal sing, we are fairly egalitarian in our tastes (we all have a favourite Bollywood song, don’t deny it) and we seem to be able to emotionally access a pretty broad range of music. Coke Studio is a great example of it—folk songs, pop, ghazals, silly English bits thrown in; singers stylishly dressed and singing on a set a far, far cry from the nostalgic ugliness of PTV sets. How great to be winning at one thing at least!


The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.