2012 was a good year for musicians who push the boundaries of an otherwise formulaic industry. It was a year inhabited primarily by young artists, most of whom operated out of bare bones home studio setups. Over the past twelve months there was a real diversity to the songs we heard on the airwaves; an expansion music beyond the realm of pop, on a scale unheard since Coke Studio first broadened our horizons five years ago.
There were ukuleles, a mandolin, a pianist with a full orchestra, more than one mention of waterfowl, and a Pushto song that took listeners by storm, among other notable events in 2012’s music scene.
In no particular order, here are 10 acts that captivated audiences in 2012.
1. Poor Rich Boy (and The Toothless Winos)
As Poor Rich Boy slowly released the five songs that would culminate in the Old Money EP, fans took in their music with a fervor totally new to the genre. Soft spoken English lyrics, crooned over ethereal and mellowed out tunes; this isn’t the kind of stuff listeners request often. Yet throughout the year, CityFM89’s message boards were lit up by listeners eager to hear tracks like ‘Alice’, and ‘Zardarazir’ over and again.
The alternative sound they excelled in made mainstream headlines when they achieved a Lux Style Awards nomination.But despite the newfound fame the evolving lineup of musicians that make up Poor Rich Boy slogged away at producing an album that is wholly unique, and out of a simple home studio gave us something complex, and distinct from anything else out there.
2. Usman Riaz
It wasn’t enough that Usman Riaz released a concept album brilliant both in composition and in the story that unfolded through the songs (on a major record label, no less). He has spent the year traveling as a TED Fellow, a 1Beat Fellow, and has gained opportunities to play with musicians he has idolized, like Preston Reed, and A.R. Rahman (the latter of which could not be realized due to visa issues). Along the way he wrote and directed a short film, RUCKUS, and shared it with audiences all over the world, as he gained backing from internet giant Google. Of the people on this list, he has by far the most backing and elaborate studio setup of any, courtesy of EMI. But the talent that he brings to the table is all his own, and it truly undeniable. Not only is it a pleasure to listen to his music, but it is just as inspiring to hear him discuss the music he makes, and the opportunities with which he has been blessed, with an enthusiasm unblemished by the scale of his accomplishments.
3. Malang Party
Malang Party is by no means new to the underground music scene of Pakistan, but 2012 was definitely a breakout year of the Islamabadi rockers. After recording their single ‘Dil Jalay’ at True Brew Studios in Lahore, they hit the airwaves with a bang, leaving listeners impatient to hear the rest of the songs they are still preparing for release some time in 2013. Hopefully, they won’t keep us waiting too long.
4. Sikandar Ka Mandar
Between the song itself, and the free wheeling video that accompanied it, it was impossible not to fall in love with ‘Jo Bhi’. While the catchiness of the melody may have had a pop-like quality to it, there was a complexity to the music, through layering of instruments like ukulele and mandolin. And while the subject matter had depth, one can’t help but pick up a feel good vibe from the track.
Lest one believe that this incarnation of the Lussun TV collective is a one hit wonder, check out their performance on CityFM89’s City Session, where the band wows with their powerful ballad ‘Badshah’, while also providing a more soulful interpretation of ‘Jo Bhi’.
5. Omar ‘Duck’ Khan
Although Duck is actually a member of Poor Rich Boy, his Urdu track ‘Kaaghazi’ is something all his own. Nevertheless, the only version currently available features the band backing him up on a sparse performance that was recorded on the fly,as the band was taking a break from performing a City Session on Moonlight Mile. It’s a song beautiful in it’s minimalism, and is an insight into the mind of one of the band’s talented lyricists.
6. Arooj Aftab
There’s been precious little of Aftab’s work for audiences in Pakistan to enjoy since she moved to New York City. In the U.S. though, she’s had a good year touring with acts like Arif Lohar, and Noori. In between she works as composer and sound engineer on a documentary about Pakistan called ‘Without Shepherds’, that premieres on the festival circuit in early 2013.
Work also continues on her Rebuild Pakistan initiative, which aims to forge cross-cultural harmony through music, and raise funds for disaster relief in Pakistan. It is through this initiative that listeners were introduced to her version of the classic ‘Yaad Piya Ki Aaey’. It’s a performance that boasts not only Aftab’s own powerful vocal range, but an assortment of talented musicians from around the world as well, in a video that is stunning in its simplicity.
7. Naseer & Shahab
‘That Pushto song’ is what music fans enthusiastically requested countless times through the summer of 2012. It’s a distinctly pop number with an infectious energy, and while few of the people singing along actually understood a word of the lyrics, they loved the track and belted it out in their cars all the same.
The video may be basic, but it shares the song’s gregarious vibe, and has further increased the popularity of this duo that is making Pushto music a mainstream phenomena. While we couldn't find a video for 'Za Sta Pashtan Nayam" on Vimeo (alas youtube still appears blocked) we found this one instead:
8. Sajid & Zeeshan
Another duo from Pakistan’s KP region, though one that has been around longer, Sajid & Zeeshan has been consistently releasing music since their debut. Their 2012 single ‘Sanity’ tugged at the heartstrings as much as it’s environmentally themed video did. It was part of a 2012 trend of minimalism in music videos, but it managed to resonate with audiences through its mix of beautiful horizons overlapped with song lyrics. ‘Sanity’ was definitely a continuation of a specific sound that Sajid & Zeeshan specialize in, and have clearly become very good at.
Another entry from the Lussun TV collective, Shaji’s ‘Battakhen’ painted a dreamscape that the musician really did experience in his sleep. It’s just a funny word for an animal that makes a funny sound, a quacking that is indeed featured on the song. For all its eccentricity, the song defies you to resist singing along. As the guitar casually strums over the sound of running water, the music video connects the artist to his boys in Sikandar Ka Mandar, and you’re left asking yourself the question posed by the artist, ‘yeh kiss kee battakhen hein?’
10. Lussun TV
Underground acts, the indie scene, call it what you will, it’s been around Pakistan for a long time now. It has produced bands like Co-Ven, and Noori, and helped construct the line up for half a decade worth of Coke Studio. But until Lussun TV came around, there wasn’t any single consistent movement to bring such acts together with the aim of exploring ideas and concepts, without commercial backing or purpose. Lussun TV isn’t just a gathering of bands, it’s a fraternity of artists that collaborate with one another constantly, primarily through music, but in other respects as well. Jumbo Jatt, Sikandar Ka Mandar, //orangenoise, Mole, these are just a few of the names associated. And when the YouTube ban came into effect, like many Lussun TV turned to Vimeo, to continue the Lussun Sessions. It created space for performers to inspire one another, and to lend support to each other. In conversations I’ve had with members of Lussun TV, I’m told the initiative is evolving further, acquiring it’s own space, and broadening it’s reach beyond the boundaries of Karachi, giving the rest of us, who would like to hear more of their kind of music, something to look forward to.
Asad Khawaja is the host of Moonlight Mile and B-Side News on CityFM89. You can find him on Twitter, @asadmkh.