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Hassan Asif writes:
We need to talk about Hasan Raheem.
When I listen to his songs I feel as if he is gesturing towards a barely audible, subsonic challenge to find a historical precedent for his music in the Pakistani pop music repertoire. We, as listeners of Pakistani pop, have been conditioned (somehow) to draw overreaching claims in musical genealogies: "oh, this one sounds like early Vital Signs [or insert a random 90's band name]"; "this one is definitely taking its groove from Nazia's prime"; or "this is part of the wave that falana, falana commenced in early 2000s" and whatnot.
Hasan Raheem's music defies the above-mentioned oft-used taxonomies because he bends the digital space-time continuum so effortlessly (at least he makes it seem so). The lyrics are layered with trans-genre beats, yes, and we can go down that route of a sound-based structural analysis. We can even go down a semiotic path and decipher meanings of those sounds and lyrics. But Raheem does so much more here, and that is what I want to gesture towards.
His music, broadly, defies the exercise of determining musical provenance. Sure, you may be able to identify foreign elements from soul, RnB and even house music in his tracks. But that sort of deconstruction can be done for almost any artist or song. Can we go beyond that?
Take, for instance, his recent collaboration "Khona Tha'' with Maanu which is born out of a unique Karachi x Lahore \[x Gilgit, where Hasan Raheem is from\] axis. Groovy, danceable, drivable - Khona Tha is a track that will test your flow with both Urdu and English if you try to sing along. The music video embodies a kitschy DIY aesthetic (like his previous videos coming out of Kasumbi Studios) but it is also an excellent mockery of music videos made with inflated budgets (usually unable to make a lasting mark on our collective listening consciousness).
We can also talk about technology and say a few words about the cell phone, in particular. In the music video, Raheem wakes up, groggy eyed, and makes a video message for Mooroo. And the best part? Mooroo receives it and responds. Mooroo's appearance - besides being an excerpt from one of his Q&A vlogs from 28 July 2018 - signals towards a collaborative network of the Pakistani YouTube ecology where past media (along with past selves, in Raheem's case) can be conjured and put in tandem with an on-going construction of a future musical self. This construction (or reconstruction, depending on how you look at it) then feeds into the always in flux Pakistani YouTube canon which can become (and has in the past) creatively incestuous with vloggers showing up in music videos or musicians starting vlogs. This sort of fluid, no boundaries, cross-referencing of YouTube media also points at a curious challenge haunting Pakistani music industry since time immemorial: when was the last time we saw a Pakistani singer send a message (of love, hate or otherwise) and be responded to in that same song? I am not talking about a jump cut where the mehbooba of the singer is shown in the next shot. That is not communication, that is longing. Pakistani pop has been tinged with this wistfulness (with Sajjad Ali wailing by the sea or Strings talking about lost time after surmounting hills). Hasan Raheem, a product of new media and the digital realm himself, shows an instant middle finger to all the archaic structures of old media and derivative musical forms.
This very song is a meme. It is making fun of redundancies in the Pakistani music industry. And Raheem does this by subverting expected tropes of a music video. Memes are trendy, short-lived, always changing. We can do a genealogical tracing of a meme, but that would take the "memetic" element away from the meme. It is like me explaining a joke before I have the person listen to (or read) the joke itself. This is why you need to listen to Raheem.
Hasan Raheem's major strength comes from his gritty, seemingly unpolished take on the "esteemed" craft of publishing artistic material. Artists are always experimenting, and the current capacities afforded by instant publishing of material online puts a previously hidden experimentation of forms, of ethics, and of ideas, right in front of us allowing us to review and critique beyond the published product/artifact itself. Hasan Raheem's music videos deserve a similar treatment because his bare bones approach to production, inverting the public-private divide (by showing intimate spaces: cell phone made videos, really 'bad' font choices for overlay in videos that hint at an in-progress ethic etc. etc.) is truly a rupture in our musical ecosystem obsessed with ideas of polished performances and maintaining the 'external' for a standard applause. To all that Hasan Raheem says: I am going to make a music video and I am going to start it by waking up in bed and not even washing my face! Does that have historical precedent in Pakistan?
Hello world, the future of Pakistani music is here.