Pop Sitars

Noorzadeh Raja has this great mellow-afternoon soft-rock song that we featured in Haftanama 18:

It caught our imagination:


The song has many great things about it, but it’s the texture of the song – made by Rakae Jamil’s sitar – that sets it apart.

The sitar has lagged behind desi percussion and the harmonium for uptake in Pakistani pop, which is strange considering it was one of the first Indian instruments to make it to Western pop. The biggest Western coup for the sitar being late Beatles music (prominent songs: Norwegian Wood, Love You To, Within You Without You).

The sitar’s travels to the West also gave us piece of magic:

The closest thing we have to this is psychedelic work from film composers Sohail Rana & Nisar Bazmi:

And perhaps the most prominent public presence of the sitar today is at Nafees Ahmad’s accompaniment at Zia Mohyeddin’s new year’s eve show at Lahore’s Ali Auditorium. Nafees Ahmad also played in this year’s Coke Studio:

Western pop’s infractions towards the east have mostly looked at North Indian Classical Music, where the sitar is often prominent. On the other hand, recent Pakistani pop’s explorations into South Asian musical traditions has largely centered around Sufi music. Junoon, of course, led this effort, and many others have taken it up in their stead. Which has meant that qawwali is the primary genre that pop has interacted with, and qawwali will often have only a harmonium and some percussion. Both of which have seen more successful forays into pop.

The sitar really found it’s voice in Pakistani pop when Rakae played with cousins Noori on Coke Studio 2:

Coke Studio has tried a handful of sitar pieces since, most of which are rooted in classical composition. Pop’s sitar players are few and far between – Rakae Jamil may be the only prominent one.

And if nothing else, I appreciate the effort to broaden the horizons of both pop and the use of the sitar in contemporary music. Why? Because unlike many other things in life, in music new-ness is almost always good. Because new means different, and difference allows art to do what it’s meant to: shake things up. The great thing about art, music especially, as opposed to other creative production like software is that art never goes out of date. Which means that even if a style isn’t fashionable in the moment, it may become so later. It is this permanence that leads us now into Sohail Rana’s work from many decades ago, which was perhaps ahead of its time in terms of fashion.

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