Can music videos revive Pakistani music?

There’s something so beautifully nostalgic about the recent surge in Pakistani music video releases. Back in the day when you’d know a band is releasing a new music video, the first instinct would be to turn on the TV and wait for it. Simple. Yet, that excitement and adrenaline running through your body just for 2-3 minutes of visuals on your favourite songs is unmatched. Vital Signs, Junoon, Awaaz, Noori, Entity Paradigm, Rushk , to name a few, all provided a broad spectrum of music back in the day, but one thing they all had in common was the importance of music videos and how visual representation becomes significant in helping these bands grow. But are music videos playing that role in Pakistani music today?

In the 90s up till mid-noughties, most music videos had a story, a theme, a way for fans to connect with the music of their favourite musicians. Today, we have directors working with indie bands to release new videos regularly, but now it’s a different atmosphere for creative expression altogether. In the past, certain filmmakers were known as esteemed music video directors, the way filmmakers are known for Pakistani movies today. But we don’t see much of that anymore.

Uns Mufti is one such music video director, also known for his role as co-writer of music and rhythm guitarist in the band Rushk. While Uns has always been a musician of sorts, he started directing music videos in 2005/2006. In 2007, he was nominated for best music video director at Lux Style Awards for Co-VEN’s song ‘sailing fast’ and in 2008, for their song ‘boundaries broken’.

Visual representation was significant in helping the bands of the 90s grow. But are music videos playing that role in Pakistani music today?

“Music is very close to my heart,” says Uns. “So music videos on a professional level seemed like the right thing to do”. When Uns’ partner Vasi Hasan moved to London and filmmaker/bassist Ali Jafri entered the frame, Uns decided to give advertising a rest and point his camera towards something more “fun and liberating”.

When it comes to music, visuals are not all that significant according to Uns, but they hold importance for the filmmaking community.

“The music should evoke sights and smells, when played, in the mind of the listener without any external stimuli,” he says. “They are however important to filmmakers because they have four minutes and a piece of music to carve a narrative out of.”

Poor Rich Boy, Ali Suhail, E Sharp, Janoobi Khargosh, Sikandar Ka Mandar and Gentle Robot – to name a few – recently put out music videos for some of their songs. These videos have managed to put Pakistan back on the map of hey-look-our-music-matters. But when it comes to streaming and listening to music, Patari did that more than a year ago. And if music channels don’t exist anymore, why are Pakistani musicians still trying to connect their songs with visuals?

Last month, Ali Suhail shared the music video for his song ‘Awaazen’ from his new album Pursuit of Irrelevance. The video was made by the same duo Aymen Rizwan and Shams Pasha, who made Poor Rich Boy’s latest music video ‘Cereal Killer’ as well.

Ali didn’t have anything to do with the video directly, but he personally liked it because it stands as a piece of art on its own and works interdependently with ‘Awaazen’.

 

“I like music videos as an art form,” says Ali. “Like the video for ‘just’ by Radiohead. I don’t think the song would mean half as much as it does had it not been for the video. But honestly, in the internet age, people need a visual to go with the audio, even if it’s a picture. It makes a difference. People need to be engaged and grabbed by all of their senses so I think in that sense it’s pretty important.”

Listening to music itself is a form of art, according to Waleed Ahmed, the front man of Janoobi Khargosh. The band also shared a video on their Facebook page in April 2017 for their song ‘super cat’ from the upcoming album Hum Saaray Computer Hain!

Waleed believes that listening to music is an experience that allows one to visualize things you can’t in real life, which is why he has never been a big fan of music videos.

“I don’t want to ruin that experience for the listener. It is a really nice feeling when someone who listens to your music tells you a story that you never really intended to use or even thought of, for that matter,” says Waleed. “But for this album I wanted to give people an initial layout of what it could be about, so whatever story they come up with, there’s a visual reference running in the background.”

The music video for ‘super cat’ shows a specific era and texture that Waleed wants his listeners to keep in mind while listening to the album. Waleed shared his ideas for visuals with Misbah from Lahore-based band Keeray Makoray who did the rest, putting together a montage of vintage visuals from old PTV transmissions that would take any Pakistani on a nostalgia trip.

According to Waleed, artists have their own philosophy on ways in which they want to connect with their audience. Some may use visuals while some use words and sounds, but at the end of the day it is all based on the type of experience the artist wants to give his or her listeners.

“Most people nowadays use music videos as a medium to reach a greater audience, which 90 per cent of the time they succeed in doing,” says Waleed. “I personally never understood why an artist would want to impose something on it’s art just to reach a greater number of people or to get ‘more views’ to put it as naked as possible *laughs*. But who knows, I might do it too in the future.”

“My philosophy is that everything should connect and make sense and have a greater purpose. You’re going to die anyway, views aren’t going to do anything, but the feelings and emotions you channelize through your art could live forever.”

Where there is video production, there are budget and distribution problems that are faced by many musicians and filmmakers today. When you spend hours and days on a song, it’s only natural that one would like to pursue video production that is sub par. But financially that isn’t always the case. In April, E Sharp released a music video for the title song from their new album 600 Saal. According to the band’s front man Ahmed Zawar, getting a team together to shoot a music video is a challenging process. 600 Saal is a concept album about three time-travelers from 600 years in the past who come to present-day Karachi to find lost love. Narrating that story through visuals proved to be troublesome for the band.

“We are indie musicians, don’t have any sort of budgets, although we did try our best to get a professionally made, top-notch video for the song,” says Ahmed. “The end result was pretty much what we had wanted…we love the video and the abundance of indie vibes it throws.”

Ahmed believes that the music video culture in the country suffered greatly because the YouTube ban in Pakistan took place at a time when the platform took over music worldwide. That coupled with the fact that audiences’ attention spans have shrunk and prefer memes and ten-second videos on Facebook.

“I really don’t think music videos are making a comeback in Pakistan like the old times,” shares Ahmed. “In the old days, we would desperately wait for a new video to air on TV and they used to come out in huge numbers, top 10 charts and what not. Now, not really.”

Audiences’ attention spans have shrunk and prefer memes and ten-second videos on Facebook…But I don’t want to believe the passion of listeners has faded away.

For Ahmed, music videos are a crucial part of the music scene, as we can see in the case of music in other parts of the world where videos have more than a billion views on Youtube. But Pakistan isn’t quite near that. He believes that if musicians pledge to keep releasing new music, the past where we saw music videos galore can perhaps make a comeback.

“We’re so behind,” says Ahmed. “I don’t want to believe the passion of listeners has faded away.”

TV channels in Pakistan slowly stopped prioritizing music videos because they generate no advertising revenue. If a channel was to give airtime to music videos today, it would have to be purely for the love of music.

At the end of the day, despite the creation of this gap where music videos aren’t made in Pakistan as much as they were in the past, Uns feels they are still appreciated; just not made enough because they don’t make sense commercially.

So is the recent rise in music videos on social media helping Pakistan’s music scene?

“The only way music and music videos help this country or any other for that matter is in the expansion of our sonic and visual identity,” says Uns. “It can expand your mind, if you let it.”