Pakistan is a country full of immense and often unknown talent, made up of independent artists who are overlooked for the lucrative mediocrity of commercially successful pop music that follows a fine blueprint set by the predecessors of musical success.
The humble beginnings of the independent music scene in Pakistan remain a new concept. From the 1990s the rise of bands like Ganda Banda and the evergreen Aunty Disco Project (ADP) to current musical acts like Biryani Brothers, Sikandar Ka Mandar (SKM) and Misbah have given us some of the best alternative anthems around. From our era. Through platforms like YouTube, Spotify, and Sound Cloud, discovering and accessing underground and indie musicians is at your fingertips.
The origins of indie music in Pakistan, however, are rooted in small-scale performances at organized events, universities and the popular haunt of the 90s at the time. Coconut Grove, a restaurant that has supported live performances by musical acts and bands, has seen Ganda Banda earn a regular place on the nighttime serenade dinner scene. Over time, the appeal and popularity of the band’s alternative approach has earned them media attention and a stable fanbase. This paved the way for ADP to take center stage from their humble beginnings in 2006 to their final performance in 2011. ADP and its former members remain identifiable even as popular personalities, provided they don’t have not been shrouded in mystery beyond the scene.
Talking about what Indie means, Rahail recalls, “in a global sense, Indie music would mean hipster music, so no one would know about them.” When asked who was the real OG of indie music in Pakistan, he answered without hesitation: “Ali Alam, the original indie musician”. Ali and Babar Shaikh connected at university and later formed Ganda Banda after which Ali moved to ADP. Ali has since performed at the first Creative Karachi Festival held to honor the memory of Sabeen Mehmood and the Indus Alumni Show in conjunction with Salt Arts under the aptly named band The Early Alarms.
SKM, meanwhile, burst onto the scene in 2010 with indie folk renditions and their own written and produced songs, including a single titled bolo For the movie Chalé Le Saath. Their latest release is the single Chand Si Bano in 2020, which featured Jajji Jee and was their take on Begum Naseem Mukhre Pe Sehra Dale, a classic from the 1960s. SKM has performed across the country at music festivals such as Lahore Music Meet and I Am Karachi and since then the band’s frontman Nadir Shehzad has been working on independent music and currently producing new songs to come out.
As for the dynamic duo that make up the Biryani Brothers, Zahra Paracha, who featured in Forbes this year and Natasha Noorani, who burst into mainstream music through her work with Velo, have risen to prominence with their songs. Sab Theek Ho Jaye Ga and Ikisvi Sadi. Their refreshing approach to melody and lyrics won them a following of fans and brought attention to their alternative approach to music.
But despite the fact that indie music can’t be exclusive to one genre or style, how one defines indie music has remained a question that haunts many. What many don’t understand is that it’s impossible to categorize self-released music that continues to evolve. Because music produced independently, mostly in bedroom studios, rarely goes through the relentless redaction that standardized music produced outside of studios is often subjected to.
Thus, many believe that indie music is “unrefined, raw-sounding, underproduced music.” But the freedom of self-publishing offers the control and artistic license to be unabashedly yourself – which may or may not be refined, depending on one’s creative choice or understanding of sound. And the digital age has not only redefined what constitutes independent music, it has also seen the rise of artists fearlessly breaking musical barriers to commit to shedding their inhibitions and sharing their art with Internet.
One such individual, Taha G, is a progressive musical talent who has over 80,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. He made a name for himself in the music industry. While Taha has become relevant with his electronic-inspired tracks, he remains one of the most underrated indie pop artists of our time. According to his YouTube page, Taha has made it his mission to “revive the music scene in Pakistan”.
Musical sensation Misbah is another artist who deserves recognition and praise for his song Darya so what Naraz featuring Fatima Khan and Zahra Paracha, which premiered on YouTube in December last year. Misbah continues to show her understanding of genres and eclectic diversity with her unique approach to mixing and instrumental lyrics.
And with such an alternative or parallel multiplicity at our disposal in the form of these artists, among so many others, it’s safe to say that independent music will always remain elusive and is meant to remain so.