Do albums still matter in the Pakistani music scene?

Earlier this year, the American musician Kanye West released his album The Life of Pablo (TLOP). The album had made headlines even before its release for having been continuously delayed, for having its name and track listing changed several times, and for showing off other examples of its creator struggling to make a final call.

Intriguingly, that flux didn’t end when the album was officially released.

At least several times, Kanye decided to make changes to the official version. The reason he could do so was that albums are rarely physical entities now, but instead exist in the digital space. Which means that making changes doesn’t mean publishing a new run of CDs or cassettes, but changing some files online.

Kanye’s experimentation was hailed by some critics as a contemporary response to the music album in the age of digital. During a time when singles and iPods and streaming rule the market, albums are often seen as an unnecessary commitment.

Apart from music nerds, who exactly is meant to care for the album any more? There is an argument to be made that audiences still react differently to an album, and perhaps engage with it in a more sustained way than with singles.

The Guardian wrote how Kanye’s release showcased how “…we have lived with definitive stereophonic versions of songs and albums for a long time now, but the artistic scope that is available in making new and exciting work that is constantly transformed either by whim, committee or algorithm is huge.”

In all fairness, the debate seems a bit irrelevant at first. Apart from music nerds, who exactly is meant to care for the album any more, even with the new possibilities at stake? However, there is an argument to be made that audiences still react differently to an album, and perhaps engage with it in a more sustained way than with singles.

I began thinking of this just a few days ago when local artist Mooroo released his first album, Pehli. Mooroo has been one of the most recognised acts in the Pakistani underground scene, and he is one of its most multitalented members. Apart from an impressive singing range, Mooroo has also distinguished himself for a number of fantastic videos, including one which won the LSA for the best music video this year. He’s also released a number of singles over the years, all of which have been quite popular.

However, Pehli exists as a sort of departure from his previous work. While it builds on the versatility of Mooroo’s talents, it eschews the lighthearted adolescence of his previous work to focus on a very personal album, featuring far more adult worries and concerns in its lyrics. It immediately comes across not as a collection of his releases but a definitive body of work. It represents what an album should, which is a set of creative ideas that come together as greater than their sum.

But at the same time, can one release a conventional album, or even song, in this day and age? Especially in Pakistan?

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Allow me to explain what I mean by that. There has been a concern for some time that in order for your music to reach contemporary Pakistan, you need a gimmick. That can either come in the form of being part of a corporate show that handles all the publicity and comes with its own expectations of what music to make. Or it can come in the form of virality, leading to many people encountering the song.

The problem with virality is that the only songs that go viral have some appeal that exists outside the music. So you can either have Taher Shah go viral, which depends on the cult appeal of the singer himself. Or you can have something like ‘Waderay Ka Beta’, which is as much stand-up as it is a song.

There has been a concern for some time that in order for your music to reach contemporary Pakistan, you need a gimmick. But at the same time. I’d argue that virality is not a goal to pursue at all. Songs that have gone viral have rarely done anything for the musician. Once the hype disappears, there isn’t much to work with. But an album offers different possibilities.

But it’s rare for an original song that doesn’t have any such hook to go ‘viral’. Even the most popular Coke Studio song this year, ‘Afreen Afreen’, benefited from the sudden popularity of one of its singers, Momina Mustehsan.

In this context, Mooroo’s album becomes even more admirable given that he himself has had plenty of success making his own sketch videos online. It would have been quite simple to combine that into his music, but on Pehli he avoids it.

And perhaps that isn’t as bad a mistake as one might think. Granted, the lack of gimmickry kills off any chances of the music going viral and gaining widespread exposure. But at the same time. I’d argue that virality is not a goal to pursue at all.

Songs that have gone viral have rarely done anything for the musician. Once the hype disappears, there isn’t much to work with. But an album offers different possibilities. The best example of this can be found with Noori.

After a decade in which they sporadically made music, Noori came back strongly in the past twelve months, and tried a bit of everything. They released an album, Begum Gul Bakaoli Sarfarosh (BGBS); they released a couple of collabarative singles; and they appeared on both Coke Studio and Cornetto Pop Rock. They followed both the traditional approach as well as the modern, PR-driven one.

Looking at the numbers of their releases on Patari however, a clear pattern emerges. Almost every song from BGBS remains in the most listened charts even a year after its release. In contrast, their singles (particularly from the corporate shows) have largely fallen away despite the massive PR undertaken by the corporate patrons. What that suggests is that audiences are reacting differently to their music, and that engaging with an album rather than a single still produces a more dedicated audience.

Of course, it can be argued that a band like Noori is an exception to the current rule. However, given all the obstacles and difficulties faced by musicians of any type in Pakistan, my hunch is that doing a little extra and making a full album will yield much better long-term results than a bunch of singles. Perhaps the problem is that we have become too blinded by the bright flashes of viral songs to realise that there is still a lot of room for longform commitment to music.

Patari Charts

As always, lets end off the column with a look at the top 20 songs in Pakistan over the last fortnight.

Despite being released in the last few days of the period covering this charts, Mooroo has four songs in the top 20 from his album. His highest rated song is sandwiched by two different Noori releases, neither of them from BGBShowever.

Predictably, Coke Studio has all the rest of the slots locked up, but keep an eye out for Muniba Mazari. Her cover of Noor Jehan’s ‘Silsilay Torr Gaya’ has been extremely popular since its release, and has hovered in the top 10 for a few weeks now.

Govt ponders over ways to sustain gas price freeze

ISLAMABAD: Amid continuing consultations on ways to avoid gas price hike, the government on Tuesday decided to provide at least 358 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd) of natural gas to the industrial sector in winter without affecting residential consumers in Punjab.

In a meeting, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi exchanged views on at least three proposals that could ensure no increase in gas prices as desired by the prime minister.

Assisted by federal secretaries and senior officials of the two ministries, the two ministers agreed that more homework was needed to be done to crystallise a workable solution to continue with gas price freeze without negatively impacting the gas companies, informed sources told Dawn.

Industrial sector to get 358mmcfd of natural gas in winter

The sources said the government was finding it politically challenging to raise gas prices ahead of peak winter when it would be struggling to meet gas demand. “Higher price of gas along with shortages is unaffordable,” said an official.

Therefore, the gas regulator would be persuaded to linger on with the gas price for a couple of days to enable the two ministries to finalise a way out well before the next date of hearing at the Islamabad High Court.

It was during these discussions that the petroleum ministry told Mr Dar that about 358mmcfd of gas would be made available to the priority industrial sector without curtailing supplies and gas pressure to residential consumers at pre-determined times.

It was informed that about 158mmcfd of fresh supplies from newly developed gas fields was being inducted into the system that would be dedicated to priority industrial units along with 200mmcfd of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Mr Abbasi said the prime minister had disallowed the gas price increase at all costs. He said the revenue requirement for the gas companies determined on the basis of lower gas allowance in gas rates by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) had now reached a stage where even zero loss would have no impact on the gas companies because they were not able to meet those revenue requirements.

He said there was no gas shortage problem in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The only problem was in Punjab where demand in residential sector alone was about 950 mmcfd against a net gas availability of about 650mmcfd. He said the gap would be partially met through gas pressure profiling and partly through diverting LNG to the domestic sector.

Responding to a question, the minister said the total LNG supply would reach 600 mmcfd in January from normal supplies of 400mmcfd. Of this, about 150 mmcfd would be diverted to the residential consumers in January and 100mmcfd in February to minimise gas shortfall in Punjab to domestic consumers.

These quantities would be later withdrawn from the domestic sector in the subsequent months.

The overall gas shortfall even in Punjab would not be as severe as before. Although some localised complaints would remain there, it would not be a massive issue as it used to be in the past.

The finance minister shared with the petroleum minister the comparison of oil prices in the South Asia, particularly oil importers India and Bangladesh, and said Pakistan had maintained the lowest prices of petroleum products, said an official statement.

Six-wicket Abbott fires South Africa to series win

Replacement paceman Kyle Abbott took 6-77 as South Africa completed an innings and 80-run humiliation of Australia in Hobart on Tuesday to seal the three-match series with a game to spare.

Handed a rare opportunity with Dale Steyn injured, the 29-year-old Man of the Match grabbed four wickets in the morning at Bellerive Oval as Australia lost eight wickets for 40 runs and were dismissed for 161 before lunch on day four.

Resurgent South Africa, who won the series-opener in Perth by 177 runs, will head into their first day-night test match in Adelaide next week confident they can sweep their demoralised opponents.

“All our bowlers were exceptional,” said Faf du Plessis, triumphant as stand-in captain for the injured AB De Villiers.

“But I’m so happy for Abbo, he’s a guy that most of the time sits on the side because of the great bowlers we have but every single time he gets an opportunity he puts his hand up.

“To come here and do it 2-0, is special for us as a team … I’m just really proud of the way the team is moving forward.”

It was South Africa’s third straight test series win in Australia after their 2008 and 2012 successes.

Australia face another bout of soul-searching, having slipped to a fifth consecutive test defeat after losing the first match of the home summer for the first time in 28 years in Perth.

Following a 10-86 collapse in Perth and the 85 all out in the first innings in Hobart, Australia’s batting was again culpable despite the quality bowling and the tricky conditions on an overcast day.

“We’ve got to find a way to be a bit more resilient and spend some time out in the middle,” said Australia captain Steve Smith, who was out nicking behind for 31.

“It wasn’t the way we planned it, credit to South Africa I thought they bowled beautifully again this morning.”

Abbott, who dismissed both Australia’s openers on day three, triggered the collapse by coaxing Usman Khawaja (64) into chasing a wider delivery, which the batsman nicked to wicket keeper Quinton de Kock.

That ended a 50-run partnership with Smith and brought Adam Voges to the crease on a pair of ducks for an innings that many thought would save or end his test career.

The number five batsman was out for two, in two minds facing an Abbott delivery which he parried to the slips with an ugly, aborted pull-shot.

From there, the wickets tumbled, as Kagiso Rabada (4-34) joined the feast.

Debutant number six Callum Ferguson, who ran himself out for three in the first innings, managed one run before trying to duck a Rabada delivery only for the ball to stay low and ping off his glove to Dean Elgar at third slip.

The 21-year-old seamer then had Peter Nevill caught behind for six with a ball that reared up on the wicketkeeper and trapped Joe Mennie lbw for a duck before dismissing captain Smith.

De Kock, who scored a decisive century in South Africa’s first innings 326, took his fourth catch of the second innings when Abbott returned to remove Mitchell Starc for a duck.

The buoyant paceman wrapped up the innings when Nathan Lyon (4) spooned a simple catch to Vernon Philander at mid-on, sparking celebrations from his team mates and leaving the small home crowd stunned.

62 Afghans held in Khuzdar

KHUZDAR: Security forces arrested 62 Afghan nationals, including women and children, on Tuesday.

They were travelling from Quetta to Karachi without legal documents.

“Families of Afghan refugees aboard a passenger coach travelling from Quetta to Karachi were taken into custody in Khuzdar as they failed to prove their legal status,” police officer Abdul Qadir Sheikh told Dawn.

Sources said that security personnel intercepted the coach after receiving information about the illegal travel.

The detained people were taken to a police station and a case was registered against them under the Foreigners Act.

Ayaz asks PTI to review its boycott move

LAHORE: National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq has said the PTI should attend the joint session of parliament to be addressed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“We should end our differences and welcome the Turkish guest,” he told reporters here on Tuesday.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan declared on Tuesday his party would stick to its boycott stand.

The speaker said the parliament should be respected by all of us. He also expressed gratitude to Turkey and China for supporting Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. He said India was committing atrocities in Kashmir and could not suppress the freedom struggle of the Kashmiris.

Mr Sadiq said the PM’s adviser on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz had the status of a federal minister.

“Under the Constitution, the prime minister can appoint five advisers.”

Talking about the Panama issue, Sadiq said the matter was in the Supreme Court and let it do its work.