The Year in Pakistani Alternative Music: Top 20 Tracks

By Mosiki Team

December 31, 2017

There were a ton of fantastic singles released this year. But every year has those special tracks that you have to share with your friends, that constantly pop up in your playlists. Here’s 20 of them, spanning genres from synth pop, to qawwali, to dance, to ambient, to pop. Click on the name of the track to listen to it on Patari, or wherever. SO, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER…


1. Saj Raha Hai – E Sharp

It’s currently shaadi season and so this beautiful qawwali track from E Sharp might be particularly relevant. Especially if you are single and going to other people’s weddings and trying not to cry. The Karachi band pick up a bittersweet melody on the harmonium and craft the song around it, layering with rich instrumentation. Occasionally, lead singer Ahmed Zawar’s vocal stretches into a long anguished cry that’s filled with pain. It’s a breathtaking moment. Although their album ‘600 Saal’ might have been a little hit-and-miss, this track is one of the sparkling standouts.


2. Buckle – Ali Suhail

Earlier this year Ali Suhail released his fantastic fifth album ‘Pursuit of Irrelevance’ and it was difficult to pick a favourite from it. Awaazen is the perhaps the poppiest and most accessible cut on the album, but we chose Buckle because of how much it showcases Suhail’s evolution as a producer. Buckle is a mad, crazy trip down the rabbit hole. The track is constantly shifting and mutating, sampling traffic horns and street side vendors. The ‘white rabbit’ in this sonic wonderland is the brilliantly simple bassline that beats throughout, the true heart of the song. It’s a real treat to listen to, and it’ll leave you bewildered and confused, but desperate for more.


3. Mountains in Love – Dynoman

Image Credit – Border Movement

Although it’s been a quiet year for Dynoman, the electronic artist released the single ‘Mountains in Love’ off his upcoming album ‘Travels to Janaicah: Songs For Lana’. It’s an incredibly chill house track that shows off Dynoman’s obsessive attention to detail – the multiple permutations of the beat make this one essential for repeat listenings.


4. Track 02 – Khan Solo

If you’re looking for bittersweet nostalgia then Khan Solo’s beat tape ‘Stargirl’ is for you. Track 02 was one of my favourites off an exceptional album. Featuring a sample from Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, this song takes a melodious acoustic guitar and an infectious bass line, and creates something magical and melancholy.


5. Motorcycle – Shajie

Produced by Ali Suhail, Shajie’s new track indicates a new direction for the artist, one that moves away from the simplicity of the acoustic guitar towards a more experimental dimension. There are electronic programmed drums and synthetic beeps here, but under it all is Shajie’s inimitable voice and knack for writing beautiful and emotional songs in the most simple way. It’s the best the artist has ever sounded. If another album ever comes, I hope it’s filled with tracks that are just as creatively crafted as this one.


6. Sinister Heart – MU

Synthpop hasn’t really caught on in Pakistan. That 80’s throwback sound is yet to really permeate our shores, but you might hear it floating out under the door of MU’s bedroom. Sinister Heart is pure bubblegum synth pop, painted in bright primary colours, wearing it’s syntheticness like a badge. It’s an ecstatic summer jam, and one that needs to be blasted out of speakers to be really appreciated.


7. The Sibbi Song – SomeWhatSuper ft. Abid Brohi

If there’s one song that really defined the year, that sunk it’s hooks into our collective brains, it would be the banger that is The Sibbi Song. The track is the definition of lightning in a bottle, mixing SomeWhatSuper’s uncanny ability at crafting contagious melodies and Abid Brohi’s infectious energy. It’s easily the anthem of the year, and has perhaps even ushered in a new age of electronic music in Pakistan.


8. Gehri Neend – Sikandar Ka Mandar

Confidence is a weird thing to highlight in a track, but it’s one of the things that struck me about Gehri Neend. There’s a sense that Sikandar Ka Mandar knows exactly what they are doing and that you’re in safe hands. The lyrics are abstract and absurd, but Nadir Shahzad sings them with absolute sureness. When the chorus repeats 4(!) times midway through the song, there’s a moment of confusion, like you might be stuck in a time loop. But then the change-up happens and you realise you’ve been lured into the trap. It’s a brilliantly produced bit of music.


9. Frank – Smax (ft. Winston Bloom)

Smax’s standout track ‘Frank’ from his album ‘Tome’ is like sinking into a bed of static noise. Everything here is incredibly textured and layered and seems scrutinised under a microscope. Occasionally this can come off as impersonal, but in the case of ‘Frank’, it lures you deeper, wrapping you in a thick fog of sound. Smax’s production style certainly isn’t for everyone, but there’s something oddly beautiful about his glitchy, fragmented, underwater electronica that is hypnotising to listen to.


10. Sambhal Sambhal – Verna OST

`Perhaps stretching the ‘alternative’ tag here, but this is such a good pop song that it’s worth stretching. Zeb Bangash and Haroon Shahid’s voices play off each other perfectly and the composition by Shoaib Mansoor bounces and sparkles in exactly the way a rose-tinted pop song should. A must on every summer playlist.

11. Fiction – Abdullah Siddiqui

As soon as you hear the distant horns drenched in reverb, shrouded in the back of the mix in Abdullah Siddiqui’s ‘Fiction’, you know you’re in for something special. Siddiqui has an ear for melody, and his voice sounds more comfortable and confident in this more bombastic setting and there are lots of nice little production touches that keep you coming back to the track. ‘There’s no friction any more’, sings Siddiqui, and you can believe it as the song ascends into a beaming brassy climax.


12. Kamzor – Cheeems

With ‘Kamzor’, Cheeems crafts one of those sly pop songs that creeps up on you, where you’ll find yourself humming the melody a week after you heard it. There’s no show-stopping moment on ‘Kamzor’, just muted drums, a softly strummed guitar and a diverse vocal performance. But it’s the whole package, along with the strength of the songwriting, that carries the song. It’ll embed itself into your unconscious, guaranteed.


13. Patience – Dosti Music Project

We usually hear Slowspin in the context of an acoustic guitar or harmonium, and over washes of synthesised sound, often resulting in something that’s ethereal and misty. On ‘Patience’, a Dosti Music Project initiative, the introduction of South Asian classical instruments such as the Sarod, and duetting with Debasmita Bhattacharya gives the track a more concrete essence that’s a delight to listen to. It mixes classical and electronic elements beautifully, and is a testament to the talents of all the musicians involved.


14. Big Mouth – Zulfi

There’s the spirit of Patti Smith in Zulfi’s ‘Big Mouth’ that feels fresh and modern and exciting. The piano sounds like it’s being bashed, the drums crashed, and Zulfi’s vocals are half-sung, half-shouted, half-spoken word. It all culminates in  something that’s refreshingly direct, like you’re hearing it straight from the horse’s big mouth.


15. Jee Aao – Zohaib Kazi and Akhtar Chanal

Listening to ‘Jee Aao’ from Patari’s ‘Fanoos’ series, you can almost see the open road stretch out ahead of you. Akhtar Chanal’s distinctive voice combined with that guitar riffs makes this one of the most immediately arresting songs to come out of 2017, just bursting with attitude. Towards the end, Zohaib Kazi spins the track back to the 80’s, with electronic synths replacing the guitars. It’s totally bizarre and fun, painting Balochistan in neon hues.

16. Circus – Wooly and the Uke

This track makes the ukulele sound horribly ominous. That’s a feat in and of itself. Wooly and the Uke, along with Jamal Rahman’s production, creates a theatrical, melodramatic canvas which is painted with paranoia and existential doubt. I listened to it once at 2am alone and it was an honestly terrifying experience.


17. Dus Rupay Glass – Saulat Qadri

Using a repeated sample of a juice vendor in Karachi broadcasting ‘dus rupay glass’ through a loudspeaker, Saulat Qadri creates a wonderfully experimental composition. It takes its time – the track is 9 minutes long – but it has a hypnotising quality. Samples worm their way in, all phased in and out of each other over the course of the track. There’s never the sense of any rigid structure here, just a pure curiosity that oozes through, making it one of the most satisfying experimental cuts from 2017.


18. The Epic – Keeray Makoray

One of Keeray Makoray’s more ambitious tracks, ‘The Epic’ justifies its name with 7 minutes of inventiveness, shifting effortlessly between genres and moods. Then there’s the saxophone that swoons into the mix. It’s a challenging, but ultimately incredibly rewarding listening experience.


19. The Desert Journey – The D/A Method

The use of South Asian classical instruments melded with progressive rock makes ‘The Desert Journey’ one of the standout tracks of the year, with the sound perfectly encapsulating the eerie, mysterious environment of the desert. ‘In this desert land, nothing can be known’, sings the band, and by the time the track ends, you’ll want to dig your head in the sand and uncover more secrets.


20. Gol Gappay – Sikandar Nawaz Rajput

Sikandar Nawaz Rajput’s latest track ‘Gol Gappay’ arrives at the perfect time as we’re about to close the door on 2017. For many, 2017 has been a terrible year politically, environmentally, socially, whatever. But even despite the negativity, ‘Gol Gappay’ provides a soft moment of perspective. It’s a gentle nudge of encouragement: keep your chin up, it’ll all be ok in the end.


That’s our list! We missed out loads of amazing tracks that came out, so let us know what we overlooked! Here’s to an even better 2018.  

Coming soon will be our Top 10 Albums and Top 5 Music Videos, so keep an eye out for those.