Songs for Pakistan

Zia Ahmad has sent this exclusive post for Pak Tea House. We also welcome him as an author at this blogzine. (Raza Rumi)

Some time back I was watching a local TV show with a friend in which some utterly forgettable pop band was invited to play a patriotic song. Like the band itself, the ensuing song was utterly forgettable with the frequent done to death chants of “…choollaingay aasman” (something to do with touching the skies and breaking the sound barrier). The friend wondered aloud if there was any other country that produces patriotic songs so prolifically. We shared a chuckle and switched to some other channel.

It is a fair possibility that there might be some other nation on this planet who expresses musical nationalistic fervour in such prodigious amount. I can only recall the amount of airtime that was devoted for milli naghme while I was growing up watching the only TV station in Pakistan. Other than 14th August and 23rd March holidays, patriotic songs were generously sprinkled throughout the year on TV and music albums. And it wasn’t such a bad thing for the songs actually used to be good.

As kids, it used to be comforting to know that we lived in a “Sohni Dartee” which was “Tera/Mera Sub ka Pakistan”. The patriotism transmitted through these songs was infectious and appeared to help a great deal to retain our collective self dignity. The songs I was exposed to came through the thick and thin days of Zia’s dictatorship. In retrospect, the wholesome unadulterated nature of the songs was in direct contrast to the government’s two-faced ideology. Works of resounding beauty were hijacked for propagandist ends in which Sub Ka Pakistan was turning into a sick joke.

Vital Signs’ ubiquitous Dil Dil Pakistan altered the patriotic song genre for the newer generation. Consequently, the proliferation of pop bands all around appeared to make patriotic songs more out of obligation than a sense of patriotic zeal. Virtually every album by a Pakistani band or singer had atleast one token flag waving song. One notable example is Junoon, which successfully avoided jingoistic gestures on their initial three albums but eventually gave in (and cashed in big) and delivered Jazba Junoon, a song that sounds more at home as an elaborate jingle.

More often than not, these songs did indeed sound like afterthoughts as if the artists wanted to provide a filler in their respective standard 12 song albums. Some of the lazy attempts were audaciously turned into equally banal videos. There was a music video by another utterly forgettable band in the early 90s that I don’t remember much of, for good reason. Though what I distinctly remember of the video, other than the image of four adult men running by the beach carrying a flag, is another image of the same four band members in front of a map of the world pasted on a softboard. The next shot was a close up of our part of the world on the map with four index fingers clumsily moving about and converging at the cartographical position of Pakistan.

This manner of expressing fidelity to one’s country is insulting and a gross dis-service to prescribed patriotism. Over the time countless other attempts have been made to churn out such mediocre fare in the name of patriotism. The reasons may vary from apologetically seeking imagined approval from a section of people who look down upon popular music as a western inflection, to articulating some sort of nation-wide insecurity. Harking back to the question posed at the start of this article, the constant generation of such songs might be a mechanism designed to give us some sort of validation – constantly reminding ourselves that indeed we are a nation of winners poised to reach the skies and hit a sixer to the moon. Cricket season also brings with it a deluge of jingoistic ditties.

Good patriotic songs have an innate quality to rouse its audiences. The last time a collective of such songs struck a genuine chord throughout the country was in ’65. Similar morale boosters are required today where the need to stand together against an identified black turbaned foe is paramount.

I’d like to share a song by Habib Wali Muhammad that communicates patriotism with dignity and good taste. The innocuous sensibility of the words and images in this video has achieved a bittersweet resonance over the time and proffers a suitable call for decisiveness in this time of strife.

Zia Ahmad has until now sold his soul to advertising, sitcoms, offshore call centers, and cold, heartless retail chains. Along the way he redeemed himself with an MA in Film from Kingston University. He is prejudicially fond of films, listens to music that radio stations  play late at night and has read all of Kurt Vonnegut. Zia is currently stationed in London


Filed under culture, Music, Pakistan

11 responses to “Songs for Pakistan

  1. Vijay Goel

    This article reminded me of the early 1960’s when we used to frequently hear the rich Baritone of ‘Habib Wali Mohammad’ on Radio Ceylon which was the most popular Radio Station broadcasting popular songs of India and Pakistan.His rendering of ‘Bahadur Shah Zafar’s’ ‘Lagta Nahin hai Dil Mera Ujde Dayar Me’ and Ghalib’s ‘yeh na thi hamari kismet’ were exceedingly popular and frequently broadcasted.I used to wonder where is this gentleman and why dont we hear more of Him.I was in my early 20’s then.
    I had a cousin who was born on the same day as me and we generally used to fancy the same maidens (Many of them cousins).Whenever their was a wedding or similiar function and all of us gathered we both would vie for attention.Generally the fight was even but as soon as we would gather for our amature singing and dancing sessions the rogue with his mellifulous voice steal a big March over me.His favourite was ‘Lagta Nahi hai Dil mera’.
    The poignancy of that Ghazal is unforgettable especially if one remembers the circumstances in which it was written.Especially the couplet ‘Umre Daraz se maang ke laye the Char Din, Do Arzoo me kut gaye Do Intezaar Me.’He would be remembered in Urdu literature if Zafar Sahib had not written any thing else except the above two lines.
    I am sure Raza Rumi sahib is the ‘Langotiya Yaar’ of Mr.Zia Ahmad to have written that Zia Sahib has sold his soul…..Only friends can so pull their friend’s legs.And have never known Rumi Shib to use harsh words.To me to be able to look after one self in this world and also to take care of the next the greatest achievement.

  2. Zia Ahmad

    Vijay Sahib,
    Generally writers are asked to provide their own profile. The “soul selling” reference that you have taken an exception to is my own doing.

  3. hindu-sikh

    Last year i happened to watch a video rendition of Jana Gana Mana(Indian national anthem) directed by B haratbala and arranged by allah rakha, on you tube and i could nt hold back my tears because the song celebrated India s diversity like never before.In a way , it was a defintion of India that Hayyer 48 often says he seeks.
    I am a (indian) punjabi and believe me, 99% of punjabi students dont even understand a single line of our national anthem (which is in Bangla) {When i was standing for the elections for the school head boy one of my agendas was to distribute free translated copies of jana gana mana to every class and by jove, the issue won me the elections!!}
    vaise one thing, whenever i have read pakistani newspapers the column almost always mentions the “UNIVERSITY” from which the columnist has passed out (as in this column).I havent seen this trend in any of the ffive big indian newspapers( hindu, ie, times of india, asian age, ht)., or any american newspaper. This is condescension at its benign best.

  4. hindu-sikh

    read “when i stood… ” instead of “when i was standing…” .

  5. coldrain

    Jazba e Junoon is a jingle? Get your head fitted straight.

  6. coldrain

    This video you have posted is also great, but please do not ridicule the great music that junoon and awaz have produced. Just because you cannot relate to them doesn’t mean true for everyone.

  7. Sidra

    Coldrain – I’m sorry but Jazba Junoon sold plenty o’ coke bottles and a movie, didn’t it? I think “Elaborate jingle” is more than apposite a description.

  8. Vijay Goel

    My profound apologies to Mr.Raza Rumi.Though if he is a Bosom Pal of Zia Sahib he has full right to pull his legs and give us a good laugh.

  9. Monkey

    “Good patriotic songs have an innate quality to rouse its audiences. The last time a collective of such songs struck a genuine chord throughout the country was in ’65. Similar morale boosters are required today where the need to stand together against an identified black turbaned foe is paramount.”

    I am confused. The author starts out sounding critical of how we “jingoistically” sing out our patriotism and then he suggests that something like that is needed now. Which side is he on?

    Second, Junoon has undoubtedly made one of the best patriotic songs ever in Jazba-e-Junoon and Haroon’s “Dil Se” is another awesome patriotic song. Junoon has also promoted Pakistan in a number of international avenues, so I do not agree that the song and band does not have a soul. Jawad Ahmed has made two patriotic songs, and both are very good.

    Although I have serious doubts about the musical talents of Haroon and Jawad Ahmed otherwise but here’s the links to “Dil Se” by Haroon and “Dosti” by Jawad, two of my most favourite contemporary patriotic songs. Enjoy.

  10. koldsnap

    Which side is the writer on?
    Why make it sound so absolutist? The “side” I’m definitely not for is the same banal and superficial tokens of loyalty that are underscored by motivations mentioned in the article. What I have tried to impress upon in my article is the volley of lazy excuses for patriotism that undermine a sensibility that ideally is sacrosanct. We have a steady stock of superior patriotic songs that, in absence of newer models, are positively inspiring.

    Also I seem to have offended thin-skinned Junoonheads. I have nothing against the band as Monkey has pointed out, in fact I am pretty fond of the first three albums. Nevertheless, calling Jazba Junoon “one of the best patriotic songs ever” would be a simplistic overstatement.

    Another motivation for belting out patriotic numbers might be cold crass commercialism. A patriotic song with a bankable name and slick production, translates into a good sellable commodity. As evidenced by the two videos (Jawad Ahmad and Haroon), the songs with their sensational theatrics, play at the base sensibilities of the audience. These blockbuster songs don’t have the timelessness that is associative of previous models. But I just might be wrong. Let’s wait another twenty years to see if the same songs are as exciting as they are today.

  11. Monkey

    I may be wrong but Jazba-e-Junoon is 13 years old…long enough. And it is still very popular. The reason I call it one of the best patriotic songs ever is because it really arouses me, and as is obvious from the comments here, I am not the only one.

    Also, it is a little misplaced to compare newer singers like Junoon with Nayyara Noor or Mehdi Hassan’s style of singing. Music tastes in Pakistan have changed tremendously, like everything else. I don’t understand why we have to be so puritanical about it…old is gold, sure, but the newer ones are doing a great job too and should be given credit where it’s due. Maybe if Pepsi was in Pakistan in 1965, it would have sponsored “Sohni Dharti”. You never know.