While new musicians from Karachi and Lahore haven’t managed to bring anything fresh to the music scene, musicians from Peshawar have created a cult following of their own. Whether it is the sound of the Rabab or the words of Ghani Khan, the approach of Pashto musicians is raw and refreshing, which has made them crucial to the future of Pakistani pop music. One such act which has rapidly gained popularity is duo Ismail and Junaid (I&J).
Their Pashto song “Qarara Rasha” has made its way onto Peshawari wedding playlists and has been awarded the second best Pashto song of all time by the Pashto Cultural Board Society. The song has also been allegedly copied by the likes of Shaz Khan and Rahim Shah for their personal albums.
Talking about other singers ripping off their songs, the band’s guitarist Junaid says, “We don’t mind, as long as we are all taking Pashto music forward. We could have easily sent them a legal notice but who will do all the legwork?” he laughed.
I&J is by far the only band from Peshawar who has not only garnered the attention of traditional Pashto music lovers who enjoy the Rabab but also won the hearts of people who love contemporary music. “I am not sure how we did that because neither one of us is professionally trained and have no understanding of sur or taal,” says Junaid. “Whenever we record music, our aim is to keep the song as empty of instruments as possible. We work on traditional rhythms and that is why we were actually able to rebrand Pashto music at large.”
Although they are one of the most popular bands in Peshawar and have quite a following, none of the band members want to take up music as a career. The band says that their real goal for making music was to promote Pashto culture on a larger platform and if they get commercially involved in their projects, then the purpose of making music will be lost.
“We want to avail any opportunity that exposes Pashto music to a larger audience, even if it means being involved in ‘Uth records’ or ‘Coke Studio’,” says Junaid about the possibility of appearing on popular music television shows.
So, if they don’t plan on pursuing music as a career, why waste a deserving musician’s spot on the show who does want to go down that path? To this question, Junaid says, “I don’t think any show can make or break the career of any musician. With an appearance on such a show, your video and song gets good publicity and people get to see you on screen. Who would mind that?”
The band is all set to release their next video this summer for a song called “Pakhwa” which is based on the poetry of Amir Hamza Shinwari.“The song ‘Pakhwa’ will be totally different from ‘Qarara Rasha’ and ‘Rana’, it’s just something we wanted to do, not necessarily what people wanted to listen,” says Junaid.
Correction: An earlier version of this article had incorrectly stated the song has also been allegedly copied by the likes of Zeek Afridi instead of Shaz Khan. The correction has been made.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2012.