KARACHI: The world of Pakistani music is strange. Women might not have always led the line, but it’s not like they were never allowed in. Yes, we might not be able to point towards any female instrumentalists or producers or composers, but what about the likes of Noor Jehan, Roshan Ara Begum, Iqbal Bano, Reshma, Abida Parveen, Malika Pukhraj, Farida Khanum and Nayyara Noor who changed the landscape of Pakistani music. However, have the aforementioned not always been typecast?
In an interview, Hasan Jahangir once said Alamgir was a brilliant performer and Muhammad Ali Shayki was a brilliant singer. “I got famous because I was both,” I recall him as saying. With no hard feelings, let us take Hasan Jahangir out of the equation and apply it to the context of women singers. It will not take long before Nazia Hassan’s name comes up but who else other than her?
The list of Sohail Rana’s protégés is lengthy but not many have been able to do what Hadiqa Kiani did. Today, Hadiqa is 42 and has a boy old enough to tell the world how cool his mom really is. Her first album had come out almost 20 years ago and she is still going strong as our only true female pop star that has stood the test of times.
And it’s not just the brand that Hadiqa has become. When we talk of those who can yodel as comfortably as they can sing a qawwali or a manqabat, how many Pakistani singers can you name?
Not many would know but a lot of Hadiqa’s success came because she was accompanied by a brother who deliberately stayed in her shadow, letting his sister take the limelight. Himself a musician, producer and one of the chief architects of Indus Music, Irfan Kiani has been by her side all along. Back when Hadiqa broke in, sibling acts were quite celebrated. Nazia and Zoheb, Benjamin Sisters are examples anyone can think of from the top of their head. Even Bilal Maqsood had debuted alongside his sister. Hadiqa and Irfan too have a sister who could be seen accompanying Hadiqa from some of her earlier performances. But then Hadiqa chose to go solo while her siblings helped with the music and her mother helped with the lyrics. What’s worth pondering over is the simple fact that Hadiqa was never credited with changing the game for female singers, for owning pop music and also stepping into devotional music with so much grace. If you ask the Meesha Shafis and the Quratulain Balouchs of today, they will not exactly cite Hadiqa as their inspiration. Yet, at the back of it all has been her, for a good 20, 25 years.
With five studio albums, including one featuring English tracks that she did alongside Amir Zaki, countless OSTs and film numbers to her credit, Hadiqa has defined for an entire generation what being a pop star really means. Her knack for experimenting made her videos a joy to watch. Her charming looks and vocal tone made fanboying explainable. From Manne Di Mauj to Wo Kaun Hai, from Boohe Bariyan to Dupatta and from Inteha-e-Shauq to Rung and Jaanan, she has given more hits than most of our A-listers.
Hadiqa recently came out with a Pashto and Urdu manqabat, Mushkil Aasaana, written by her late father Mehmud Akhtar Kiani and Rafiq Shinwari. In a time of instrumental noise, keeping things simple yet absorbing has become a real challenge. Back when she was releasing Raaz and Roshni, her first two albums, the milieu was very different. Today, every release is compared to Coke Studio. It’s like an eclipse that has controlled the sources of light. Mushkil Aasaana is almost like a goner coming back home; a pop icon maturing and a star still shining at its brightest. Giving it a listen might force one to think along the lines of what we have attempted to articulate.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 10th, 2016.