In the post-streaming digital age of music, one often hears about how rock music is dead or dying and diluted by the presence of other genres; some might even argue that electronic music (and its many variations) has taken over the space that once belonged to gods of rock. It also doesn’t help when contemporary pop music superstars like Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and One Direction are considered music royalty. And the legacy of pioneering giants like Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd, though intact, is not what it used to be.
The good news here is that this bizarre fact doesn’t apply to Pakistan, at least not completely. While mainstream music, released in the past few months is familiar and playing it safe, there are many artists who have managed to create music that is lasting and soaring.
One such find is Sibti, a singer-songwriter currently operating out of Lahore whose rock-fuelled album Book of Sibt went unnoticed at first but is now back in the spotlight after earning a spot on the coveted ‘Album of the Year’ category in the upcoming edition of the Lux Style Awards.
Released in 2016, the album contains eight original songs, all written and composed by Sibti while production credits are shared by a series of exciting industry experts such as Mekaal Hasan, Zain Ahsan, Jasir Abro and Jamal Rahman. Available on Patari, it is exquisite rock ‘n’ roll that is unabashedly unapologetic about its identity. Mixed with a kind of playfulness that is now synonymous with Sibti’s mischievous ways, it’s an album that commands attention and as listeners, noticing it is simply the first step. An album like this will only make sense if you give it some time and hear it without rushing through or multi-tasking that is the order of the modern age.
‘Jhumra Ft. Rachel Viccaji and Duck’ is a song that is outrageous and bouncy while the lyrics really do keep you guessing. Split between Urdu and English verses merged with cheeky guitars, dazzling distortion that makes you play an air-guitar almost unconsciously and it is a song that you laugh along with.
Doubling down on a kind of lyrical combination that is amusing and unique, ‘Chicken Karahi’ is a rock opera on which Sibti sings about a woman who loves her brother but it isn’t that simple because the context keeps spinning out of control, which is perhaps by design. Poetically, what Sibti is alluding to keeps changing upon every listen which makes this album a kind of musical puzzle and the pieces keep appearing as you go back and forth between the songs.
Similarly in ‘Marghalla Margaiyyo’, a tipsy, imaginary universe unfolds where Sibti sings about teeth falling and other equally surprising things. Though the song is short, it still has all the hallmarks of becoming an anthem. Sibti is playing songs that fall under the title Sex Punk and he knows it too.
The thing about this album that makes it so special is that it makes you want to see Sibti live singing these outrageous lyrics that say one thing but mean something else. There’s a bravado here that is unmistaken and mostly unfamiliar. In a universe where context is king, here is a songwriter who is willing to break tradition and rebel in a world where patriotism rules the day; he is infusing music with his own philosophy that is at times inexplicable and sometimes very peculiar. The restless commitment and drive to produce a record that is above all authentic may have been Sibti’s mission and it is one that he has achieved with grace.
On the surface, you may not be able to find the hidden meaning of the songs but over time there is a reflection that becomes clear. The themes explored in the record, therefore, include a variety of subjects ranging from drug addiction, anti-establishment ideas to the dangerous and all-consuming obsession of wealth, status and the mighty dollar that can turn people into heartless monsters plus unrequited love and the horrifying trend of cousin marriages that is so prevalent and acceptable in Pakistani society.
Imaginative, brave and on point, Book of Sibti is not your average rock album and that statistical fact alone should motivate you to lend this album a hear or ten. If that doesn’t work, then remember that Book of Sibti features industry superheroes like Kami Paul, Shehzad Noor Butt, Rachel Viccaji, Mekaal Hasan, Danish Khawaja, Duck, Sameer Ahmed, Jasir Abro, Zain Ahsan and Seeret Jafri. Enough said.
All songs written and composed by Sibti.
All songs produced by Mekaal Hasan except ‘Hayyiah’ and ‘Peshawar ka Larki’ produced by Zain Ahsan, ‘Anay De’ produced by Jamal Rehman and ‘Marghalla Margayyio’ produced by Jasir Abro.