Pakistani pop music has a long and illustrious history. The history of our pop music is also intrinsically linked to our socio-political trends and movements. Nevertheless, our music has flourished and evolved, no matter what the odds.
Here’s a list of some of our favourite pop-ular music.
Akele Na Jana - Ahmed Rushdi
Inadvertently (or not) we seem to be better at making music about heartbreak than about a love fulfilled. This particular classic falls somewhere in between where Rushdi seems to be anticipating that his beloved leaving just might be inevitable. Featuring the beautiful Waheed Murad and Zeba, the song is truly one of the great Pakistani love songs.
Munda Shehar Lahore Da - Madam Noor Jahan
No conversation about Pakistani music can take place without the inimitable Madam Noor Jahan. With a prolific singing career that carried all kinds of musical gifts from naats and nohas to original soundtracks and war anthems, Noor Jahan represented a range like no other.
Munda Shehar Lahore Da is one of my favorite songs for its sheer audacity of it’s lyrics and the way it told everyone that here was a woman who was not afraid to go after what she wanted.
Yeh Ranginye Nau Bahar - Naheed Akhtar
The shimmery saris, sets and the sirens of PTV really set the tone for pop music excellence. And Naheed Akhtar, who stands out as one of Pakistan’s finest voices, represents the strong, beautiful female singers who had the nation enchanted - from Noor Jehan to the Benjamin Sisters.
The Multani song bird made her initial mark as a singer of Sufi kalam, which was so exquisitely woven into the pop music formula of the time. This particular number is based on the poetry of Amir Khusro.
Albela Rahi - Alamgir
With Alamgir, we saw the gradual Westernisation of our pop music - with lighter lyrics, some movement during the performances and of course, some clear and obvious inspiration.
Alamgir started his singing career in one of the cafes on Tariq Road in Karachi, where he was spotted by a producer at PTV. Often termed as ‘Baba e Pop,’ it would not be unfair to say that he was the one who introduced Western style pop music to the Pakistani audience.
Allah Allah Kar - Muhammad Ali Shehki and Allan Faqir
The son of an Irani diplomat, Muhammad Ali Shehki gave us our first flavour of sufi fusion music with Sindhi folk singer, Allan Faqir. The song combined easy to sing-along to lyrics and a simple beat that fused together pop and folk elements, garnering a larger audience.
I would go so far as to say that it was this very song that laid the foundation for productions such as Coke Studio. It was the one that told us that the music of our roots was just as funky fresh, if not more.
Pyar ka Jadoo -Nazia and Zohaib Hassan
With pop music formulas firmly planted in the imagination of the Pakistani audience, Nazia and Zohaib, with their producer Biddu really brought it home with dazzling synth beats, music videos produced in the UK and a kind of romance we had only dreamt of so far.
Ankhain Milane Waley - Nazia and Zohaib Hassan
Nazia and Zohaib were young, beautiful and talented. And they brought to the Pakistani audience a kind of escape that could only be found in young love - driven in part by the need to escape the growing political turmoil in the country. Nazia and Zohaib also placed Pakistan pop on the world map with Disco Deewane topping charts in Brazil and Japan.
Dilan Teer Bijan - Shabana Noshi
Political inclinations aside, Dilan Teer Bijan goes down as possibly one of those songs that just won’t give up - from the 1987 elections to weddings in 2021, the song is bound to get your shoulders popping.
Recorded in Lyari by Shabana Noshi, it is a homage not only to Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto but also the distinct disco sound of Lyari as well.
Do Pal Ka Jeevan - Vital Signs
Perhaps Pakistan’s first, and only boy band (not in the contemporary meaning of the term), Vital Signs would come to inspire generations of musicians to follow. With the lyrical genius of a producer, Shoaib Mansoor, the four handsome young men from the North captured the imagination of the nation.
Dil Dil Pakistan - Vital Signs
Their first single ‘Do Pal Ka Jeevan,’ widely considered to be an ode to the Pakistan Air Force (a few other odes would follow in the course of their career, rumoured to be link to Junaid Jamshed's pipe dreams of being a pilot ), lead Shoaib Mansoor to commission a ‘national song’ by the band for ‘Music 89’ and the rest is history.
The TV show was hosted by Nazia and Zohaib Hassan and featured musical acts that would become the mainstay of Pakistani pop in the years to come , including Jupiters, Ali Haider, Sajjad Ali and Strings.
Sar Kiye Yeh Pahar - Strings
Following closely behind the boys from the North, Strings brought the Southern charm of Karachi to the forefront. Formed in 1988 as a band of four, the quartet broke up with all of them pursuing further studies. All the while, Sar Kiye Yeh Pahar continued to make waves across the border. Bilal Maqsood’s foresightedness in producing a video, carried the song further than they could have imagined.
In 2000, Faisal Kapadia and Bilal Maqsood, gave up their day jobs to pursue music full time. They made a solid come back with ‘Duur’ and continued to dominate the music scene.
Duur - Strings
The duo released hit after hit - signing brand deals, playing packed houses at home and abroad all while remaining true to their sound.
Husn Walon - Junoon
Between Vital Signs and Strings, there was something grittier brewing in Lahore. Former Vital Signs member, Salman Ahmed brought together Ali Azmat and Brian O’Connell for what would become South Asia’s biggest rock band. With a decidedly Sufi rock sound, the band was characterized by electric live performances and lyrics touching on socio-political issues
Laal Meri Patt - Junoon
It was not long before Junoon was filling up international venues. And it certainly was not long before they were banned by the government for some years.
Watch out for Part 2 of The Best of Pakistani Pop and follow the Spotify list for more great Pakistani music.