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I have realized we need to diversify our spotlights on Desi pop culture beyond just India, and more importantly, just North India.  I know, South Asia goes beyond India and Pakistan as well, so I certainly hope we can add more about, for example, Tollywood, Bangla, and despite the belief that there is not much of an artistic scene there, Afghan.  If anyone would like to contribute to the diversity of our Motley Monday segments, do not hesitate to contact us!

So, for this Motley Monday I turn your attention to Pakistani musicians that still remain the images and memories of my childhood moments of Pakistan with my cousins, as well as the songs I grew up hearing with my family to feel a concrete connection to the country and culture.

There was Vital Signs, a band formed in 1986 that listed into the mid-late 90s.  The way I remember them best is when I used to hear them on my dad’s cassette tapes and he played them repeatedly on road trips.  The most famous song from them, and the most classic is Dil Dil Pakistan.

Any Pakistani person, regardless of where they are in this world can tell you the memories of this song.  During cricket, during Pakistan Independence Day festivals (if we had them available), and just a general collective song that tends to make Pakistanis smile when they hear it (like the Land Down Under song in Australia, for example). Vital Signs was also the beginnings of a Pakistani pop scene, and the first Pakistani group (outside of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) to travel abroad for shows.

What is the word on Vital Signs?  Well, the group eventually split and lead singer Junaid Jamshed began to sing on his own, but eventually, he too stopped singing and came out with his own clothing line, which by the way has some really cute stuff for women.  However, the men’s collection, I would say, is his best.  I do not know how I feel about his casual clothing, but the wedding suits (sherwanis) are quite classy, especially this one.

I really like the design around the neck blended with the metallic navy blue, as well as the color contrasts in the headpiece.  It is quite sleek, and mixes the modern, crisp look with the Mughal style “maharaja” feel.

There was also Hadiqa Kiani, who still looks amazing and from what I have heard is going to be coming out with her 6th album sometime this summer!  She is one of the few female artists in Pakistan who has been around for a while.  Here’s an old school song of her’s I still love: Boohey Barian.  It is in Punjabi, and although I am not well versed in Punjabi her voice and her beats appeal to me!

When I went to look at where Hadiqa is now, I came across a song she came out with, including various famous pop Pakistani artists called Yeh Hum Naheen.  The other artists are: Ali Zafar (from Tere bin Laden – yay for Pakistanis entering the Bollywood realm!), Haroon, Shuja Haider, Strings, Shafaqat Amant Ali, and Ali Haider.  It is actually the poster song for an organization in Pakistan called Yeh Hum Naheen (literally translated as: “This is not us”), which is an anti-terror movement in Pakistan.  Funny how grassroots movements like these are not mentioned enough in this country to show that a good part of the Pakistan is not the typical image portrayed in foreign media.

Anyway, a topic for another day!  Another singer that always comes to mind of my childhood is Shehzad Roy.  Loved the song, Teri Soorat.  My favorite part in the song (and as corny as it may be) was the Rome/Juliet copied masquerade party.

So, what is Shehzad Roy doing now?  He started Zindagi Trust (Zindagi literally means life), a nonprofit started in 2002 to improve educational standards for underprivileged Pakistani children.  Check it out at http://www.zindagitrust.org/.  My cousin’s wife used to work for their office in Chicago, and in general, they are just known to be quite a credible grassroots organization among Pakistani Americans.

Lastly, I turn your attention to Junoon, the rock band of complete controversy, but a band with some great insights and spirit in their music.  Junoon was started by Salman Ahmad after he left Vital Signs (mentioned right at the beginning of this post).  I never understood their songs as a kid, but after taking Sufism in college and actually understanding where lyrics from their songs in their Azadi (literally meaning freedom) album came from, their songs meant so much more.  In fact, I remember my parents hated Junoon.  They did not really dig the rocker style thing, and they did not find it appropriate.  They were rebels indeed because a lot of their music was banned in Pakistan during the 90s Bhutto era and again after they spoke out against the beginning of nuclear testing under Nawaz Sharif!  Anyway, the name of the song  is Khudi (literally meaning: the self).

And trust me, I had to understand the Urdu really well because I had to translate it word for word in second-year college Urdu class!

As for what Junoon is doing now, they are not together as a band, but Salman Ahmed, the lead singer, does continue to do a few songs.  He actually came to my university back in 2007 for a concert with the Asian Studies Department (my professor was a huge fan, and made sure he made it happen).  Additionally, he is very active in a lot of campaigns, namely his campaign to fight the AIDS stigma in Pakistan.  The song for that campaign is named Alvida.  He is also very well known for his autobiography, as well as his appearance in a BBC special named “The Rock Star and the Mullah”: the story here.

Instead of becoming teary about the current conditions of Pakistan today, I must say that these songs and the general musical direction there remind me that people in Pakistan do not just live in complete hopelessness as we all want to believe.  They must laugh like everybody else despite their current troubles, and only Pakistanis can be the agents of change for their countries.  These musicians from my childhood (some still singing) have used their talents and passions to give back to the country, and it is wonderful to see the types of initiatives they have taken.

Disclaimer:  I am by no means an expert on Pakistani musical entertainment (including dramas, but I am starting to watch more of them), but I thought I would introduce our readers to some idea of it!  If you have news or things to add to any of what I have talked about please feel free to comment!