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What separates pop from other music is how easy it is to understand. Snobs will denigrate pop for this reason, romanticizing the delayed gratification and work that is needed to consume what they feel to be more ‘serious’ forms of music. This separation is of course, not limited to music. But is repeated in all forms of life where something easy to get into is considered somehow beneath the standards of dignified humans. (See the valorization of Test cricket over T20, of reading long books over blog posts).
For me, the ease with which pop is understood and consumed is a feature, not a bug. Because as an artist finding something interesting is only one part of the job, figuring out how to convey why it is interesting is doubly hard. What separates the great artists from the others, is that they do not compromise on saying something complex in the service of making it understandable. Great art is both inherently interesting and legible.
Mughal-e-Funk’s first album and singles were not pop, in a sense. The instrumental sitar, keyboard, drum and bass sound was novel and polished, but perhaps inaccessible for casual listeners. Their latest release, Sakal Ban, takes all the good parts of their earlier work and combines it with the familiar structure of a well known kalam and adds a compelling vocal by Meesha Shafi. Together, the poetry, the vocal and an evolved tightness in the instrumentation have turned Mughal-e-Funk’s music from interesting instrumentation into a new brand of sitar rock. Meesha’s performance in the video combined with the Sway Dance Project make the whole project even more captivating.
All four of the band’s members: Kami Paul, Rufus Shahzad, Rakae Jamil and Farhan Ali have collaborated extensively with other acts (think Noori, Meesha Shafi, Coke Studio). Mughal-e-Funk is the culmination of what seems like a passion project bringing together Western instrumentalists extremely capable of hopping genres, tied together with the Rakae Jamil’s sitar, which is the flag-bearer of bringing Pakistani sitar playing into a new age.
Many creative processes seem to work in a two step tick-tock fashion. Like Mughal-e-Funk’s journey, it takes one push to architecturally define something interesting and another to give it enough polish to make it legible to other people. It is hard not to see a parallel between Mughal-e-Funk and Overload. Overload’s first album was also instrumental, and Meesha’s presence in the second made it accessible to a large audience just as it’s done here.