Friday, August 19, 2005

Passion’s fruits
Strings exemplifies the superiority of Pakistani pop

The Pakistani pop/rock scene is miles ahead of our own. Sure, there is a fair amount of dross too, but going by the evidence on PTV (besides Channel V and MTV) over the last 5-6 years, one can say this with absolute conviction now – on an average, their pop/rock music is far more refreshing. Clean melodies, very little posturing.

The reason is actually quite obvious. Let’s juxtapose a few examples; the cues are all there. Think of our VJs with their ersatz accents and put-on attitudes (with a few exceptions like Cyrus, but for the most part). Consider their presenters, friendly and lively but never pseudo, never trying to be what they’re not. Think of Indian music videos – how many are without the obligatory dollops of glamour? Consider theirs – how many have the distracting glamour? Think of our average TV soap – shrill and melodramatic. Consider the average Pakistani teleplay – understated and realistic. Dammit, consider our cricket team – usually soulless and timid (written before the second India-Australia test – ed). Look at theirs – almost always passionate (despite their infamous inconsistency). No, it’s not a difference in people or culture, not intrinsically.

The difference lies in not what they have but in what they don’t have - the indigenous film influence. Pakistani film culture is not as all-encompassing as it is here. The Bollywood influence has systematically raped and devastated our mass culture, especially in the last 15 years. The utter bankruptcy of ideas in Bollywood today is something anyone with even a little intelligence can see; what is perhaps not so obvious is the sickening shallowness and the lack of genuine self-confidence it has perpetuated, particularly over the last few years. The absolute inability to break away from the tried-and-tested and the facile aping of the West are the two significant manifestations of this.This debilitating influence is very obvious in our own nascent pop scene – in both, the music and the paraphrenalia. Recently, if you saw MTV VJ Maria interviewing the duo from Strings, if you noticed the double-digit IQ questioning, the brainless interruptions, the painfully stupid lapses into unwarranted flippancy, you’d get the picture.

Strings is a well-known Pakistani band from the early nineties. Seemingly influenced by Simple Minds and U2, they had then produced one really catchy, classy track (though obviously derivative) – “Sar Kiye Yeh Pahar”. Now, older and more mature, they’ve come up with something even better. Duur is a collection of fine tunes (including a new version of “Sar Kiye…”), strengthened by passionate performances and dynamic arrangements. Most of the songs have distinctly subcontinental melodies by Bilal Maqsood; Faisal Kapadia’s classical training is not wasted in his unaffected and heartfelt vocal delivery; the arrangements, however, are very Western, with some terrific guitar work. This East-West contrast between vocal and arrangement works beautifully.

The title track is a masterpiece in subcontinental pop, an absolute gem. Another influence seems palpable in this – Lucky Ali’s; that same compassionate, sense-of-wonder feel in the vocals. The instrumentation is very different though – ringing, staccato U2-like guitars, giving the song a drive that one usually associates with Western rock. The assimillation of all these influences ultimately results in something very fresh – a triumph of integrity over fashion. There’s another version of the same song (reprise) with different arrangements (more “poppy”); though it is weaker, the intrinsic strength of the tune prevails.

However, save the title track, the songs take time to grow on you. The arrangements are perhaps a bit too in-your-face, overstated; the album is over-produced essentially, the soundscape is too busy, too much “dhinchak”. This keeps you from remembering all the tunes until you hear the album a few times and realise the inherent impact of the melodies. (This is perhaps the one thing that also keeps it a notch below Junoon’s classic album Azaadi.) Still, the tasteful gentleness of tracks like “Jaane Do” and “Kuchh To Ho Gaya”, the infectious catchiness of tracks like “Anjane”, “Khwaab” and “Aankhen” (the last reminiscent slightly of the early Bappi Lahiri nifty template tune; definitely a compliment) eventually shine through. Let’s hope we get to hear Strings Unplugged soon – no doubt, it’ll be superb.

Ultimately, there is passion and a no-bullshit honesty in the album, and it is tastefully presented. The true ingredients of top-class pop/rock, internationally. If only we in India could learn from it.

April 2001


Blogger Ankit Gupta said...

hi buddy

yup i totally agree upon u..strings are the best among amdist all the pak bands which are coming to india


1:21 PM  

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