It is evident that a music industry is only as big as its stars. When it comes to rock music in Pakistan, the biggest name is undisputedly that of Ali Azmat — a musician who has stayed true to his rock star persona by experimenting with his singing and personal style (from the long tresses to the bald head) and collected a fan base in and out of Pakistan.
For admirers who gathered at Port Grand on Saturday, Ali delivered a performance that will surely be remembered. As the singer made his way from the gate of the venue to the stage, he was flanked by security guards who kept excited fans at bay. From burqa-clad women and teenagers in fashionable clothes to ladies dressed like they were at an Eid party, all his fans pushed ahead to catch a glimpse of their favourite singer, but were repeatedly pushed away by burly uniformed men.
What followed were nearly two hours of highly charged music and brilliant vocals. As young men in the crowd head-banged to “Dosti” and the girls sang along to his songs from Jism 2, the aunties and uncles in the crowd swayed to “Mera Mahi” — even young couples who had brought their children joined in the fun and carried their babies on their shoulders as they tapped their feet. Ali Azmat is surely one the most entertaining live performers and the audience loved every minute. From classics such as “Neend Aati Nahin”, “Yaar Bina” and “Khudi” to the newer, more upbeat “Na Re Na”, “Pappu Yaar”, “Garaj Baras” and “Bum Phatta”, Ali’s playlist was fantastic. One wished that he had performed favourites such as “Sajna” and “Ne Heeray”, but possibly owing to time constraints, those tracks were skipped.
Credit must also be given to Omran Shafique (Momo), Mannu and drummer Waqar Khan for making the concert memorable.
The number of underground bands that warmed up before the legend could take over, was surely surprising. It was heartening to see that a vibrant underground music scene thrives in Karachi, despite the infrequent concerts and security situation. Amongst the various underground acts, “Overdose” was one band that made an impression, speaking volumes about how much they had jammed before the event. Their rock version of Abida Parveen’s “Ghadoli” was a perfect way to start a show that went on to welcome a rock star. One artist who should have been excluded from this line-up was Hassan Hussain; not only did he ruin a classic like “Purani Jeans” by playing it badly on an acoustic guitar, he tried hard to mimic Ali Azmat’s vocals — so much so that people who were on their way inside the venue though that Ali himself had come on stage. While Hussain’s voice is good, his performance did failed to impress and the crowd was all set to boo him off stage before the organisers pulled him back.
An Ali Azmat concert without gaffes or political references would be unfulfilling. In this spirit, the singer lived up to expectations and another performer (unintentionally) had the audience in fits.
The night’s first performer, introduced as “senior citizen” Commander Azad, raised more than a few eyebrows as he settled himself at the keyboard. He started off by singing “Woh Humsafar Tha” and ended his stint with “Maula Mere Maula”— a performance that earned quite a few laughs since the singer was a relatively older, bearded man. Regardless of the crowd’s response, it must be said that the gentleman gave the act his very best.
Next came Ali Azmat, who paused before he sang “Bum Phatta”, just to switch over to the Zaid Hamid-mode. “Other countries are conspiring against us to trigger a civil war,” he told the audience, as they screamed and clapped at his message. He continued, with patriotism: “We are a peace-loving country… the true Pakistan which has gathered here is banging heads to music not bombs. That’s who we really are!”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 4th, 2012.