Here is our list of the top 20 Pakistani songs of 2020. Enjoy.
It’s almost 2020, and that means it’s time to look back to the wealth of great music that 2019 brought us. As always, our list doesn’t contain any branded music. Not because we’re throwing shade, but just to let independent, alternative music have a bit of space in the culture. And even though there weren’t many albums released this year, there were some brilliant singles that deserve your ears. We try to include as many different genres as possible, and so the list varies from bombastic pop music to ambient drone. This list is in no particular order. Hope you enjoy.
Khwab Sajaye -- I.F.R.A
Khwab Sajaye is an improvisational live performance but it doesn’t sound like it. The talent oozes from this sibling duo -- the vocal performance is sublime, and the guitar work is silky smooth. The track starts with a simple a capella melody and then the duo build the foundations around it, adding pieces and removing on the fly. What results is a stunning melody and immediately moving piece of music. I couldn’t get enough of it.
Hum Kal Mein -- Janoobi Khargosh
Janoobi Khargosh returned with a stunning sophomore album that takes so many references from 80’s music that it only makes sense to have a lyric like ‘hum kal mein, jaa rahe hain’. But Waleed Ahmed manages to ensure that the track never sounds like empty nostalgia. The synths don’t come across as a parody of 80’s music, but instead as something fresh and modern. Even though he may be looking in the rear view mirror, Janoobi Khargosh’s track is still stubbornly moving forwards.
Kaminey -- Elina Shaukat
Elina Shaukat’s Kaminey is completely still on the surface. Her voice remains measured and composed throughout, even as she sings ‘na marte na jeete, saaray ke saaray, hain ye kaminey’. It bubbles under the surface with restrained rage; you can almost feel the track shaking in contained aggression. It’s a brilliant vocal performance, and the production backs her up -- never going overboard, but just tiptoeing to the edge. It’s a song that begs for a huge insane breakdown, but never gets there, and I think that’s for the best. It leaves you somewhat unfulfilled, like a fist clenched, a punch not thrown.
Mad Calls -- Talal Qureshi feat. Rehma
With Mad Calls, Talal Qureshi again proves his place as one of the most exciting and inventive producers on the scene right now. He’s completely willing to be tongue-in-cheek and melodramatic in a way that’s so refreshing to hear. The sonics here are innovative and dynamic and, paired with Rehma’s crisp vocals, it’s another certified banger from Talal Qureshi. He makes it look easy, but it’s not.
Diamond and Dynamite -- Abdullah Siddiqui
We’ve said this before, but Abdullah Siddiqui always sounds best when he’s making gleaming pop music. Diamond and Dynamite is another one to add to his list -- it features a typical synthpop, bouncing electronic beat and breathy vocals laid on top of it. Although there are maybe more experimental, interesting songs on his debut album ‘Metannoya’, we chose this track because that melody is so damn earwormy-y, and Siddiqui grows as an artist with every track he releases.
Choohay Ke Shaadi -- Laqeer Ke Faqeer
Last year, when Laqeer Ke Faqeer released Mithu Donda, we wrote about how SomeWhatSuper had given their electronic touch to the band’s composition, moving away from the rock influence that sounds a bit dated these days. But on Choohay Ke Shaadi, LKF completely embrace their rock roots, not worried about adding any electronic elements to update the sound. The good thing is that the track is so full of energy and bristling with sinister vibes that it works perfectly. The nursery rhyme lyrics, along with punky rock guitars, makes for a winning partnership, and the husband-wife duo pull off the vocals with ease.
Hard Truths -- Natasha Shields
‘Simmer down my darling’, sings Natasha Shields on her single Hard Truths. After the melodrama of her brilliant track Cold July, Shield simmers it down to acoustic guitars and a tinkering piano. Her melody is far more meandering here than it was on Cold July, and it works brilliantly when it segues into a gorgeously dreamy instrumental sequence -- it sounds exactly like what Shields sings about: a memory slipping away.
Ja Ba Ja -- Teeen
Teeen finally returned on January 1st with their first single in what felt like forever after their beautiful debut EP. And they’re still the same -- that blues-pop sounds just as good as it always did. Sara Haider’s voice is impeccable, and Imam Hamdani’s guitar’s sound gorgeous and clean. It’s a great jam that we played all summer long.
Kaghazi -- Poor Rich Boy
On the subject of summer jams, Poor Rich Boy’s Kaghazi is probably going to become a staple of summer playlists to come. The band take an unexpected foray into a more poppy sound, and it works brilliantly. Zain Ahsan’s production chops ensures the track never strays into superficiality -- there are layers and embellishments that keep you interested and coming back for repeat listens. And Umer Khan’s lyrics are wonderfully simple, evocative and carefree. ‘Kaghaz ki pattion se phool bantay nahi’ he sings, before shrugging; ‘‘to aisi Bhi kya baat hai? Hum bana len gay’.
Dancing Regressively into the Next Civil Regime -- 6LA8
While this didn’t technically come out this year, I’m putting it into the list because the music video came out Jan 1st. 6LA8’s ambient track, intriguingly titled Dancing Regressively into the Next Civil Regime, is the soundtrack for a foreboding and totally inevitable future. There’s a plodding melancholy to the Karachi band’s music, and that’s more than apparent here. What makes it special is all the little details: the disembodied vocals, the occasional sarangi samples, the slow and ominous build. It’s a brilliantly executed ambient track that’s full of emotion.
Sik Mitraan -- Saakin
Following the release of their very successful single Saqi-e-Bawafa, Saakin came out with another track for the soundtrack of the upcoming film Zindagi Tamasha. As expected, the composition is layered and filled with texture, and the kalaam is beautifully sung. There’s not much to say about this one -- it’s a spiritual experience to listen to.
Sab Theek Ho Jaye Ga -- Biryani Brothers
Biryani Brothers released the feel-good anthem for 2019 with Sab Theek Ho Jaye Ga. Yeah, I mean the world might be ending with global warming, skyrocketing levels of inequality, unrestrained capitalism, and right-wing nationalism. But it’ll all be fine in the end. And even if it’s not, at least we’ll have some bubbly synthpop to listen to as it all crumbles into ash.
Dil Lagaayein -- Ali Sethi
Out of the recent series of collaborations between Ali Sethi and Noah Georgeson, Dil Lagaayein is one of the best, not only because it’s an original song, but because the composition and melody seems to complement each other in an ideal balance. I’ve always found Sethi’s voice to be a little on the thinner side, as though it might crack at any moment. Although it is a beautiful voice, it requires a composition that doesn’t loom over it, for fear of being stamped on. Georgeson proves to be a perfect collaborator -- his production is subtle and delicate, his instrumentation as restrained as it needs to be. And Sethi, as always, has an ear for a great melody and shows it on Dil Lagaayein.
Backup Plan -- Shamoon Ismail
It’s been a hell of a year for Shamoon Ismail. One of the few artists to break into mainstream attention without corporate backing, his music has been slowly evolving and maturing. Ismail has been experimenting with different genres and styles, from a poppy sound on last years amazing Marijuana to a more trap and rnb direction on his latest EP. But our favourite track was Backup Plan, that gives off Frank Ocean vibes. It’s stripped back, intimate, and plays to Ismail’s strengths as a singer-songwriter. ‘Tu mera backup plan nahin’, he croons, sadly and softly. It feels personal yet universal.
Breathe -- Gentle Robot
Gentle Robot continues to play around with the concept of robotic music -- of sound as a conduit to understanding human emotion. He lays it on the table with the first words of Breathe: ‘there must exist a combination of words I could say, that would make everything OK’. It’s an almost algorithmic take on emotions -- sequences and combinations used to make sense of something inexplicable. But, as with previous Gentle Robot singles, the answer is never quite that simple. The second half of Breathe segues into a beautiful instrumental, with scattered percussion and a constantly shifting melody. It’s, pardon the pun, pretty breathtaking.
Dil Ki Arp -- Block 2
Dil Ki Arp features Block-2’s signature sound -- eclectic and mad, featuring a bizarre range of plundered samples. Things whizz by in the mix -- laser sounds, vocal whoops, random foley -- that pushes you off balance at every opportunity. But nonetheless, the track bangs, and the desi samples add a special touch to this weird trap concoction.
Ek Aur Ek 3 -- Danyal Zafar
LET ME EXPLAIN. Danyal Zafar has had an interesting year. Blue Butterfly was a bit of a misstep (even though I actually didn’t mind the melody at all) but at least here is a music star that’s willing to do weird shit and play around with different styles. Sure, it might occasionally be cringe but who cares. In an industry that always plays it safe, always stays within brand guidelines and advertising regulations, Danyal Zafar wants to make songs about sex and all things sex related. And so Ek Aur Ek 3 comes in. It’s unabashedly sultry and slow-jammy, with warbling guitars. The qawwali took me completely off-guard and it’s a brilliant chorus. It’s a track that takes some risks, is sometimes cringe, but generally comes off all the better for it.
Without U -- Rudoh
Without U has such a soothing yet strange beat that I fell in love with it on first listen. There’s a ukulele that plays a loop, ambling along untroubled. Karachi artist Rudoh then adds in his typical restless percussion that rattles around the track like it’s being shaken up. It’s a simultaneously beautiful yet also weird and mysterious piece of music, and one that demands repeat listens.
Sitaray -- Misbah Uddin
After last year’s Baadal, Misbah Uddin is out with another dream pop single Sitaray. While Sitaray is firmly nostaglic in style, it does what it does so well that it can be forgiven for not trying to do anything new. The Lahore musician has a knack for conjuring up a wave of nostalgic, retro sound, and when paired with a killer melody, it makes something for a really special, bittersweet ballad.
12 Bajay -- Atif Aslam
In the description on YouTube, Atif writes: “here is a song made purely out of my love for music.” Forgetting about the views and the pressure, and the Bollywood money and the corporate scrutiny, he’s made a grungy, loose pop song where, finally, we can hear what Atif really sounds like. There’s a huge hook that’s crunched by an infinitely replay-able guitar riff. The verses, though, are purposefully meandering and fluid. The drums march through and Atif’s vocal slaloms between, like he’s improvising on the spot. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, and refreshing to hear an artist like Atif experiment a bit.
And that’s our list for 2019. There were no doubt A LOT of tracks that we’ve missed. Please let us know what they were and make us feel bad about missing them. See you next year ✌️
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