Every time I listen to Nazia Hassan I can’t help but think: how did my parents listen to this? Amma and Baba, who both listen to ghazals and qawwali, sometimes ask me to put some Nazia on in the car. The thought of them growing up with Disco Deewane as their college anthem is a little baffling. But then, so was Nazia Hassan.
She brought disco, and pop music generally, into Pakistani society during a period of religious and cultural conservatism ushered in by Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s military coup in 1977.
The thought of my parents growing up with Disco Deewane as their college anthem is a little baffling. But then, so was Nazia Hassan.
Of course, as is so often the case, it was precisely during this time of artistic repression that a new counterculture emerged. While punk was beginning to spread in America and the United Kingdom, rock and pop emerged in Pakistan and the sub-continent. But before Vital Signs took over in 1986, and Alamgir’s career took off, it was Nazia Hassan and her brother, Zoheb, who were subverting the very foundations of ul-Haq’s Nizam-e-Mustafa.
She wore dungarees. She danced on English television. She sang about discos.
This New Wave pakpop, which was essentially a mix of 70s disco and 80s synth pop, borrowed heavily from Western music at the time – you can just hear the influence of Saturday Night Fever – but also took certain elements from ‘filmi-pop’. Ko Ko Korina became a kind of template for the sort of call-and-response instrumentation found on many of the songs on Young Tarang.
Nevertheless, the most successful songs on this fantastic album are the ones that stick closely to a classic disco structure. The album begins in a particularly 80’s melodramatic way with a booming narration before segueing into Aag, which starts the album on a surprisingly solemn note: aag dede aag leley. How else would you start an album that follows off the back of two of the best selling Pakistani albums of all time? But as she launches into the chorus, Hassan fully embraces her own image as Pakistan’s biggest pop star, with the self-aware affirmation ‘aai hoon main geet sunane ko’. No hesitations here.
Dum Dee Dee Dum, is dumb, silly and endearing, borrowing elements of bubblegum pop. Chehra is perhaps the weakest song on the album, along with Pyaar ka Jadoo. Although Zoheb is a capable singer, he certainly doesn’t have the pop star quality that Nazia had, and the slow ballad march of his tracks just end up feeling boring, like they could be heard in any English curry house as perfectly inoffensive backing track while you crack popadoms. Even Nazia herself almost succumbs to this on Sunn. Biddu, the great Indian producer, thankfully limits these slower ballads and lets the disco and synth pop carry most of the album.
The standout track here is Aankhen Milaney Waaley. It’s that rare great pop song, with strong melody, nostalgia and a distinct young love charm.
With Young Tarang, Hassan cemented her place as the queen of Pakistani pop.
There hasn’t been anyone quite like her since.