Pakistan’s music has pretty much borrowed the musical traditions from everyone around it: from India and South Asia to Central Asia to the Middle East as well as various Western styles.
And because Pakistan is in the middle of many religious hotspots (not to mention they created their country specifically as a Muslim state), it’s no wonder that religious music is a significant portion of their traditional music. One of the most widely known types of religious music is called hamd. While it’s mostly used with Islamic texts, it’s also used by Christians in Pakistan as well. Hamd is actually a type of sung poetry that is aimed at expressing the singer’s love for Allah (or God). Naat is a similar form, except that it sings praises and love to the Prophet Muhammad. Qawalli is a type of music from Chishiti Sufis used as devotional music. This music is supposed to bring people to a spiritual trance-like state, known as wajad.
In other traditional forms, one of the big ones is called ghazal. The word is related to the word “gazelle.” This musical style consists of a poetic style of rhyming couplets, even though there are many strict rules to the actual composition of it. At the heart of the ghazal, the lyrics essentially point to the idea that even though there may be a separation or loss of a lover, there’s still beauty in that love. Typically, women have been excluded from qawalli. Many women have formed their own “women-only” gatherings to perform naats in these women-only dance and music parties.
Instruments used in Pakistani vary between a number of percussion instruments, wind instruments, and both plucked and bowed string instruments. Here are a few instruments you’ll hear: tabla (a set of two drums), alghoza (a pair of 6-holed flutes, one used as a drone, the other used as the melody), sitar (a guitar like instrument with a 4-ft long neck attached to a gourd), siroze (a kind of stringed instrument), a dhol (two-headed drum), chimta (a pair of percussive fire tongs—yes, that’s right), ghara (a clay pitcher used as a percussion instrument), iktara (a one-stringed plucked instrument), rubab (plucked lute with frets on a hollow body covered in skins), sarinda (kind of similar to a rubab), sarangi (stringed instrument played with horsehair bow), and harmonium (three-octave keyboard instrument).
Folk dancing in Pakistan is often performed to celebrate the dynamics of life changing events: weddings, birth, deaths. When it comes to dances, each ethnic group has their own specialties and variations. Punjab dances include the bhangra (pretty well-known), the luddi (danced at weddings), and the giddha (uses hand-clapping). In Balochistan, you’ll find the jhumar (slower, rhythmic dance) and the chap (male palm-clapping dance done for weddings). Some Sindh dances are dhammal (done at Sufi shrines), ho jamalo (well-known at parties), and jhumro (done by town ladies to honor a good crop).
When it came to modern music, Spotify had quite a few Pakistani artists. The first one I listened to was Ahmed Rushdi. It definitely reminded me of the musical styles of India in its vocal lines and instrumentation. The song “Ko Ko Koreena” was a really big thing when it first came out. In fact, it’s often considered one of the first “pop songs” in Pakistan. Nazia Hassan was another musician/singer from this early time period. Her music has more of a Western 1970s pop sound to it.
Ali Zafar’s music has a traditional sound on top of what sounds like a quasi-modern drum beat. It has elements of electronic music, which gives it a dance feel to it. I thought it was kind of catchy. Hadiqa Kiani is as close to what I came to as pop. Her music definitely has some traditional styles and instruments used in it, but it’s clearly influenced by Western pop music. She’s got a couple of slower songs, but I’d say that most are pretty upbeat.
One of the more popular musicians is Atif Aslam. His music is clearly in the rock category, although there are songs that span a range of what rock means: from Bryan Adams-esque to Green Day-esque. He had several songs that were pretty catchy. Faraz Anwar is another rock musician, but his music leaned more toward a Yngwie Malmsteen-style merged with quasi-gothic metal rock maybe? I’m not even sure what specific genre you’d consider this. But I definitely feel like I should be wearing a black T-shirt and that this is probably way better live.
I would confidently place Junoon’s music as indie rock. Still utilizing traditional drums and even some vocalizations (with quarter tones and trills), but still strongly steeped in rock form. Noori is another band I really liked. Still in the indie rock category, but their music sticks out to me for being seemingly more Western than other bands. Perhaps not quite as high on the technical aspect of music, but good to listen to nonetheless.
I did find a hip-hop group called Bohemia. They had some good rhythms and flow; I liked what I heard. Another rapper I came across is Adil Omar. He rapped in English. Definitely based on traditional music styles, but updated and mixed. I liked this. Whatever he did is working.
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