When you think Pakistani music – what do you picture? A pop-rock band with a lead singer, two guitarists, and a drummer? For some, it might be a Qawwals. While we have seen some legends in these genres, electropop hasn’t really been our forte. That void has been filled by the largely UK based Punjabi artist or Bollywood songs. However, there are few up-and-coming Pakistani singers who are making their presence felt with catchy tunes and impactful lyrics.
Singer and Songwriter Uzair has been one of the leading Electropop artists in Pakistan. His recently released “Not Another Love Song” has been very well received by music lovers, especially on digital platforms. We sat down for a session with Uzair and talked about his songwriting process, the future of electropop music in Pakistan and a lot more.
Oyeyeah: Tell us a little bit about your music?
Uzair: I started off two years ago as a singer-songwriter. I became part of the local circuit, did some open mikes, and played cover songs at different venues. Then I realized that I want to make some original music. Generally, I make Electropop songs. Globally this is a huge genre. You look at the Billboard 100 artists, Electropop and EDM are really popular these days. So, last year I released a song called CityDreaming and during the COVID lockdown period, Not Another Love Song came out.
OY: Whose music inspired you and made you want to be a musician yourself?
Uzair: I was always a radio fanatic. So, I got to hear a lot of billboard artists. I remember going out on drives with my parents and we used to have cassettes. So, I always had this exposure to international music. During my college years and thereafter, I followed a lot of Electropop artists. In recent times, you could say guitar, synth or piano-based Electropop artists have made an impression on me. Artists like John Mayer and more recently, Charlie Puth and Dua Lipa, they are doing some incredible work. They offer good vibes with music and meaningful lyrics. In my view, they are artists of the world.
OY: How do you look at the local music scene in terms of Electropop music?
Uzair: Things have changed with the introduction of online streaming platforms. Earlier, someone needed to introduce you to a particular song. Now with Spotify and Youtube, there is a ready audience. I see a lot of great music being made in Pakistan. English songs are no longer a small niche. Take the relatively recent example of Despacito, it was a hit across Pakistan.
OY: So coming back to your own songs, how has been the response to Not Another Love Song? And this is quite a unique name. What’s the story behind it?
Uzair: It’s been great. Over the past two weeks, the feedback has been really fantastic. I am really happy with it. As far as the song title is concerned, well it’s to do with what the song is trying to say. I listen to a lot of local music. 90% of which are love songs. The formula of a guy, falling in love with a girl and then describing her looks. It felt like there was room to talk about other things, really. You know there is a lot more to life than just romantic feeling towards a girl. So, that was my starting point. If you listen to the song, you will notice that it talk about a different aspect of life. So during my writing process, I ended up calling it Not Another Love Song.
OY: The video also looks really interesting. What was that process like?
Uzair: This was my 1st experience of making a video. CityDreaming had a lyric video. This was a great experience. I loved the creative process of actually sitting down and discussing the concept, selecting locations, talents, outfits etc. We hired a very talented dancer, Zahshanne. She did an amazing job in the video.
But at the same time, it was challenging due to the lockdown. We couldn’t have a large crew and put up a big set. So, we had a very limited skeleton crew and we went into different areas of Karachi and shot the video. Then we did put in a lot of work in the studio, with editing and colouring etc. To be able to align the video according to the song is a big ask. I am completely satisfied with the end result and whenever I see the video, I see energy and colour. I couldn’t have asked for more.
OY: We saw some very interesting locations in the video. How did you guys select the locations?
Uzair: We had to get creative with the locations because recording studios were shut due to COVID. So my director (Abdullah) and I, just drove around the city to look for locations. We wanted to select places which reflected the nature of the city. We came across a vintage car junkyard…that was really interesting. This was really a guerrilla shoot. There wasn’t a great structure to it. We had to work within our limitations but I really enjoyed it.
OY: Tell us a little bit about CityDreaming?
Uzair: CityDreaming was the 1st song I had ever written, so obviously it is really special for me. It was basically about Karachi. Globally, artists do write songs about their cities, so I wanted to write one about my city. At times, Karachi seems entirely chaotic…at times, it seems lovely and calm. I kinda have this love-hate relationship with Karachi but at the end of the day, it is my city, my home. So, I wrote about some quintessential Karachi things, like traffic jams and the beach etc.
Originally it was a guitar-based song. But then I thought there are quite a few guitar-based artists in Pakistan. But in Electronic music, there aren’t many big names. There are Punjabi bhangra songs or Bollywood style songs but apart from that there isn’t much going on. So I thought an Electronic song was the way to go. It was very well received especially across local radio stations.
OY: So is English your comfort zone or will we hear some Urdu or Punjabi songs in the future?
Uzair: My music started during College. There I sang in Urdu songs. A lot of local bands were making great music at the time. But then as you would know, that died down a bit. I then started listening to international music. I really enjoyed the arrangements and the diversity of work in western music. So, in that phase, I got comfortable with English songs and I felt that I wanted to fill that gap in the local market as an English songwriter-singer.
OY: You mentioned the golden phase of Pakistan’s music industry. Do you think with the security situation improving, we could go back to a time where we will have massive concerts and new artists coming through regularly?
Uzair: There are a couple of things to look at. One is talent. I have no doubt that there is a lot of talent in our youth. They are passionate about music. But we lack an infrastructure to promote that talent. To make a career in music is still quite a challenge. Lack of record labels makes it really difficult. Yes, some brands are providing platforms to a few musicians and singers. But there is a limitation to it. Brands will push the music which aligns with their image. We need record labels to have new music coming through. The reach to the audience can come through record labels. You need to have connections in the industry to push your music, no matter the quality of the song. There are a couple of platforms which are working to promote new artists but still in the larger picture, it is really tough to be able to make it as a musician in Pakistan.
The way out perhaps is Youtube and Spotify. If you can make songs which appeal to an international audience, then you can succeed.
OY: What’s next for you?
Uzair: The plan is to release a complete album by the end of 2020 on Spotify and YouTube. In the long run, I will continue to write songs about things that appeal to me.