1966-76: Pakistan: Folk and Pop Instrumentals 1966-1976

Although the 1971 Bollywood film Hare Rama Hare Krishna offered a critical depiction of the Western hippie trail that had taken young seekers and their drug-inspired visions to Asia, its moral was arguably derailed by the success of one of the film’s standout songs. “Dum Maro Dum” was a critique of pot-smoking that hooked listeners in with a killer vocal by Asha Bhosle and a typically psychedelic fusion of Eastern and Western sounds by composer R.D Burman. If druggy decadence sounded this good, who cared about traditional values?

A similar message emanates from this collection of Pakistani instrumentals that capture a decade of cross-pollination between East and West. The groups compiled here use a mixture of standard-issue Beat Invasion, Surf Rock, and Garage-Psyche instruments tweaked to local modalities and complemented by local instruments such as sitars and tablas. Where the rumbling music of The Shadows and Link Wray had gestured towards the mythical American West, here it’s taken in the other direction. There’s rumble a-plenty, surf guitar, and psychedelic swirly tunings to put your head in a spin and make you want to do the Khyber twist (to borrow a track title from film and television composer Sohail Rana, included here).

Initially, because of the novelty of this Easternized beat music, it’s hard to distinguish one group from another. But soon you notice particular attributes associated with each group, most of whom are featured two or three times on the compilation. The Panthers are one of the first to stand out, mainly because their tracks using electric sitar are exactly as good as you’d expect them to be. Even without the sitar, you get the impression these cats knew how to put on a swinging show. Album-opener “Malkaus” begins brilliantly: a wordless vocal hovering above an organ drone is rudely interrupted by the command “Take over Panthers!” and the group swagger in with rumbling guitars, beat drums, and a fantastic swirling organ riff (think Procol Harum on speed) that spends the rest of the track dueling with the lead guitar. It’s anyone’s guess who wins the shootout but my money’s on that organ. One of The Panthers’ EPs was called “East Goes West,” an indication that the hippie trail that brought so many Europeans and Americans to India, Pakistan, and Nepal was a two-way street. If the likes of George Harrison and Jimmy Page could filch instruments and sonorities from Asia, then why shouldn’t Asian musicians adopt beat music mannerisms?

There is a desperate sense of yearning underneath the light, beaming surface of The Abstracts’ “Mahiya,” a bathetic plea for attention welling up from the folds of the organ. It’s there too in the midst of the The Aay Jays’ otherwise jovial “Mirza Ki Dhun.” To a certain extent this is not a surprising response, given that the Western ear has been trained to hear sonorities of longing in Eastern modes: so far, so Orientalist, perhaps. More unexpected is the Bugs’ “Theme from ‘Do Raha,’” that Pakistani zydeco or vallenato you never knew existed but secretly always wanted to hear, with washes of what sounds like accordion (though it may well be organ) alternating with dance rhythms and seductive strings.

The Blue Birds’ “Hussami Lal Qalander” drips with electric exoticism, a sleazy repository of snake charmery that seems to want to out-Orientalize every Orientalist cliché going. It’s this quality of excess that marks the music as pop, as extravagantly performative as anything going on elsewhere in the swinging Sixties and glammy Seventies. This “inauthenticity,” if you want to call it that, was perfectly in tune with local popular music customs, however; the “filmi” music of India and Pakistan, after all, was as flamboyant as it was stylistically promiscuous.

If the music represented on this album was not — strictly speaking — “Western,” it would certainly come to be seen as “un-Islamic” following the takeover of the country by Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1977. Many of the musicians featured here — already obscure due to the concentration on filmi music rather than rock or pop music in Pakistan — drifted away from the scene, many relocating to other countries. Their rare and little-documented music lay in wait for discovery by vinyl archeologists — in this case, Stuart Ellis, the man behind previous Sublime Frequencies comp Singapore A-Go-Go.

Ellis has certainly put together an engaging collection from what does not initially promise to be thrilling material. I would have liked to know more about the groups featured here, however. The instrumental indeterminacy alluded to earlier arises partly from the liner notes, which are interesting and even voluminous by the standards of some Sublime Frequencies releases, but not really enough. SF have always seemed to want to keep a great part of their music a mystery, which is fine, but seeing as how they mention that this represents a decade’s worth of research by Ellis, a bit more information wouldn’t go amiss. I’m sure, for example, that I’m hearing a sitar on The Mods’ “Garba Dance,” but the group is described as comprising lead, rhythm, and bass guitars and drums. Same with The Bugs. What gives?

Music is not a simple mirror of the society from which it emerges, though it often articulates important aspects of that culture. And records are not simple mirrors of the musical cultures from which they emerge. When Ian Nagoski used the term “black mirror” to describe a compilation of international 78 recordings, his point was that the records reflect what we want to see or hear. Sourced from an era subsequent to Nagoski’s collection, an era of vinyl rather than shellac surfaces, this album comes to us nonetheless as an open text in which we see our desires reflected. The record exists because of a set of circumstances that have wrenched the music from its original context and re-presented it for a predominantly Anglo-American audience. Even with the curatorial guidance of Ellis and the Sublime Frequencies team, listeners will take their own meanings from these slices of history, for that is what recording allows and encourages.


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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