Pop Idols

Posted on October 24, 2010


An article by Kamila Shamsie of Granta on pop music in Pakistan.

Watching the video of ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’ (‘Heart,Heart, Pakistan’ or ‘My Heart Beats for Pakistan’) today, I’m struck by the void that must have existed to make pretty boys singing patriotic pop appear subversive. In a bid to circumvent growing restrictions, TV producer Shoaib Mansoor had the idea of getting a pop song past the censors by wrapping it up in nationalism. Vital Signs and ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’ was the result. The video, with its guitar-strumming, denim-clad twenty-something males, premiered on Independence Day – 14 August – 1987 and millions of Pakistanis, including my fourteen-year-old self, fell over in rapture.

Our reaction clearly wasn’t to do with their dance moves. The Vital Signs boys of 1987 seem ill at ease, their gyrations arrhythmic, their posture self-conscious. This is particularly true of the lead singer, Junaid Jamshed, but still, I was in love. They were clean-cut, good-looking and, most shockingly, they were nearby. They were Pakistani after all; one day you might turn a corner and run into one of them. This scenario started to seem even more thrillingly possible the day gossip raced through the schoolyard, telling us that one of the boys at school – a boy I knew! – was Junaid Jamshed’s cousin.

The first concert I ever attended was Vital Signs playing at a swanky Karachi hotel. It’s a safe guess that some of the girls present hadn’t told their parents where they were really going that evening. Mine was a co-ed school, and while all the boys and girls were entirely at ease in each other’s company, many of the girls had restrictions placed on them by their parents about co-ed socializing outside school hours. Almost no one’s parents were classified as fundo, but many were ‘conservative’ – the latter having more to do with ideas of social acceptability and ‘reputation’ than religious strictures.

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