The story so far
Since appearing on the horizon for the first time in 2015, Patari, Pakistan’s largest audio streaming platform, has done more for original music than any other existing entity though they make no such claims. That is my observation, backed by evidence. This year alone, the start-up managed many unparalleled feats.
2017 opened with Patari Tabeer, which is described by the start-up as “the culmination of six dreams,” and provided unheard voices and raw talent from different regions of Pakistan a chance to take centre stage; it paired them with music producers and the result: six beautiful songs, each with its own unique narrative. A sweeper from Islamabad, a rapper from Lyari, a peon from Sukkur, a tea-seller from Sibbi, a young girl from Peshawar and nomadic singers from inner Sindh were introduced to and produced by names such as SomeWhatSuper, Abbas Ali Khan, Dynoman, Farhan Zameer, The Sketches and Danish Khwaja.
Though all six songs have their own charm, Abid Brohi in particular became the breakout star and went on to perform at the Lux Style Awards, held earlier this year. From Mahira Khan to Atif Aslam to music fans and industry insiders, every one took note of Brohi’s fierce talent.
Patari Tabeer, however, was not a fluke. A great deal of thought went into it. While introducing it, Ahmer Naqvi, director of content at Patari noted in a statement: “It was a big risk for us, as a music startup started by privileged Pakistanis to reach out and look to enter the lives and dreams of much less privileged compatriots. We wanted to make sure that we do what was best for them, and let them truly express their creative selves.”
The idea was not to create one-hit wonders but as Naqvi noted, Patari would help each artist in Tabeer to connect with other musicians and platforms in order to help them build a career out of their opportunity. And while the start-up continued to release music throughout the year with artists as diverse, for example, as Hadiqa Kiyani (Wajd) and Ali Suhail (Pursuit of Irrelevance) as well as build its repertoire, they followed up Tabeer, with Fanoos. Created and produced by Zohaib Kazi in partnership with Patari, it featured six artists (Riaz Qadri from Lahore, Punjab, Islam Habib from Hunza, Gilgit–Baltistan, Mai Dhai from Umerkot, Sindh, Akhtar Channal Zahri from Kalat, Balochistan, Zarsanga from Nowshera, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the students of the Bulbulik Heritage Centre, Gojal Valley, Gulmit-Baltistan) singing in a number of languages in their own spaces. The sonic architecture of all these songs was very urban with electronic undertones while the record is meant to be celebration of the heritage of the artists as our own.
The present days
The year is not over and Patari has a lot more in store, beginning with the return of Patari Aslis volume II. While the first volume, released as an EP, featured six “of the most talented and exciting young musical acts in Pakistan” such as The Tamashbeens, Abdullah Qureshi, Shajie, Sikandar Ka Mandar, Mehdi Maloof and Hawaii Jahaz (Sameen Qasim and Misbauhddin), the second volume contains music videos as well as new songs. And this is where our story begins.
“What we’re most interested in ensuring is that every two to three weeks a new song will come out. The idea is to also break out of working with just indie acts and mix it up with familiar, more mainstream names,” says Ahmer Naqvi, as we discuss the upcoming volume of Aslis. “Every release is a learning process,” says Naqvi. “The challenge is you’re up against all sort of content and activity that are taking up people’s time. And they have huge range of options. When you’re dealing with social media, you have to advertise and promote across various mediums. And if too many things are releasing at the same time, it can end up confusing the audience. I don’t think there’s any way of knowing that this is the perfect thing because it’s evolving and you have to constantly keep updating your strategy.”
The first single/video from Lyari Underground is releasing tomorrow as part of Aslis while other artists to feature in the second run include Abid Brohi, Sikandar Nawaz and Rutaba Yaqub (lead vocalist of music group Roots doing a solo track written prior to Pepsi Battle of the Bands).
It’s important to note here that of the four songs ready for release, at least two are artists who also featured on Tabeer, which means that the start-up is keeping up the commitment it made when it introduced the project in the beginning of 2017.
Khalid Bajwa, CEO of Patari as well as Naqvi, both reiterate that Aslis is not just a project anymore; it has evolved into a perennial platform where artists, emerging as well as major ones, can come and do their thing while the pressure of promotion, PR and other activity needed to push music into this mad world will be handled by Patari.
“We’re trying to take some of that friction away and Aslis is not confined to musicians who are upcoming,” states Khalid Bajwa during an extensive phone conversation. “Aslis is a platform and the mandate is to release one original song with a music video to go with it every two/three weeks for one full year. The purpose is to create a scenario where more people are willing to put their music out there and ideally bigger artists also come onboard. The sheer variety that exists in music is something we’re trying to capture through Aslis. Artists have the flexibility of exploring different genres.”
Both Bajwa and Naqvi explain that Patari has content that is complete and ready to feature on Aslis for several upcoming weeks. The streaming platform is also in talks with several big artists.
“Artists know that there’s a platform that can provide them with greater leverage and so that’s appealing to young artists and for major artists there’s an opportunity to do something that they want to do,” says Naqvi about the evolution of Aslis. “We’re not going to tell them to make say a fusion song and the idea is to encourage artists, especially major artists, to do something different rather than do something crowd pleasing.”
While music/songs will continue to release with the hope that Aslis inspires and encourages major artists to explore and expand their musical identity in any way they choose to, Patari also has at least three other upcoming projects in the pipeline as well.
Khayal, one of the three, is an exploration of the links between religion, spirituality and music. The music is recorded by Farhan Zameer while the visuals have been handled by Jami.
“Khayal is about music in its purest, rawest form that you can find. This is music that is passed from generation to generation. So Khayal is music that lives in the streets, the mountains and the villages. Khayal is what you see is what you hear,” explains Bajwa.
“The idea is that there is a strong connection between spirituality, religion and music and we wanted to have a series that explores that,” adds Naqvi.
A project like Khayal, particularly in these divisive times, holds immense value. The need for inter-faith harmony will be one by-product of Khayal and while Patari is not one to take credit, they must be applauded for taking this step. Imagine a series that connects a church choir with qawwali and with bhajans.
As Bajwa and Naqvi reveal to Instep, three episodes have been planned as part of Khayal.
Another upcoming untitled project (with a brand) is an exploration of rural traditions and artists – not in an urban setting but, like Fanoos, in their own setting. Abbas Ali Khan is attached to the project as music producer while Saif Samejo, the pioneering founder of Lahooti Live Sessions, is helping Patari find a lot of the musicians.
“Traditional music is done largely in a studio setting or in an urban setting so one of the things we picked up on Fanoos is that traveling to the musicians was something that really resonated with people,” says Naqvi. “It is about traditional music but also about that specific space and subculture and presenting an authentic narrative. The musicians, going to that area and taking the audience into that journey is something very powerful.”
Then there is Chingari (created in collaboration with Red Bull) which Naqvi explains as “a futuristic sci-fi version of Pakistan”. It pairs legendary folk artists with electronic producers such as Talal Qureshi, Block-2 and SomeWhatSuper. Think folk mixed with EDM or as Naqvi puts it, “music that truck drivers listen to in the future”. He adds: “The idea is to make good music you can dance to but also the kind that appeals to the rest of your population.”
“The aim,” says Bajwa, “is to make music that can be played at urban parties and gatherings and in cars but also by the masses, in streets. Chingari is the spark of collaboration.”
Now that we know the how and the when, the only question left is why.
“We live in a massive country and so many people are not represented,” says Naqvi, reminding us that these are difficult times where most people in the country are not counted and entire provinces are forgotten.
“The upper middle class of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad occupies all your mainstream media, your culture and your musicians are coming from these kinds of backgrounds and that leaves like a 150 million people who are not really represented.”
Adds Bajwa, “We’re not making claims that we’re going to save music. It’s not to prove a point. It’s just something we’re doing on our own and we work with everyone. The artists retain the rights to their songs because we’re not a record label. It all comes down to the fact that music is the one language that we all share. It has the power to bring us together.”