A common lament on great Pakistani indie music is that it deserves wider appreciation if not millions of views and likes. No song has evoked this feeling for me more than Rutaba Yaqub, Shamsher Rana and Daud Ramay's Daira-e-ufaq. Some context on the trio, all previously associated with Roots, is necessary.
I was originally drawn to Roots as the evolution of Wisdom Salad, an underground Lahori band which my friend and indie-scene interpreter, Zain Peerzada (of Takatak), would hype in the strongest words going so far as to say once that we were lucky to be witnessing its collective talent. Rutaba, who I spoke to about this piece, tells me Wisdom Salad plays "math rock" and loves experimenting with odd time signatures. In April 2017, the band played at True Brew Records and while I remain the complete novice to musical theory I was back then, the gig was sensory overload. Visually, here were four boys, hardly in their twenties, who could do all manner of things on their laptops and instruments from elaborate drum solos to guitar tapping, and sonically, the band played intricate structures that tested the limits of music and symphony—yet never broke order so as to be behangam.
So, when Rutaba (who was my colleague at Patari for a while) mentioned that she was featuring alongside Wisdom Salad on Pepsi's Battle of the Bands as Roots, I was ecstatic. In the show, despite finishing third, the band garnered a cult following and was lauded for bringing a new sound to Pakistan. Roots also presented somewhat of a tough one for the judges. To their performance of Peera Ho, they quipped that complexity was not always the answer in music failing to realize that for Roots, complexity, outdoing itself and, as a result, pushing the envelope of Pakistani music, was a feature—and a natural expression of the band's prodigious talent—not a bug.
Unfortunately, this single likely marks the end of the road for the band but even as individuals, Rutaba, Daud and Shamsher are leaving significant marks on Pakistan's music industry. Daud is arguably among the best drummers in the country and already boasts an expansive list of collaborations and credits, Shamsher produced Faris Shafi's Nazar and has had Shoaib Akhtar take a video of his setup so needs no other introduction, and outside of Rutaba's music, she's played a role in bringing Spotify to Pakistan which will surely open new avenues.
In parting, I find the nod to existential dread and absurdism in Daira-e-ufaq particularly heartening. My apologies in advance for the Urdu-English translation—I tried.
چراغوں میں بند روحیں ہیں ہم
Chiraghon mein band roohain hain hum
We are spirits, confined in lamps
بےنور غاروں میں پھر رہے ہیں ہم
Bainoor ghaaron mein, bhatak rahay hain hum
We wander in lightless caves
گھونسلوں میں بیٹھے، آسماں کو گھوریں
Ghonslon mein bethay aasman ko ghoorain
We stare at the sky from our nests
ہم ہی مجبور ہیں
Hum hi majboor hain, hum hi majboor hain
We are helpless
دائرہ افق سے اب نکل
Daira-e-ufaq, se ab nikal
Escape the confines of your imagination
ہم کون ہیں، یہ سب ہے بےسبب
Hum kon hain, ye sub hai besabab
All this is meaningless; who are we?
ہواؤں کے سنگ اڑ جانا ہے ہمیں
Hawaon k sung urr jana hai hamain
We want to fly with the wind
پر کھول کے دکھلانا ہے ہمیں
Pur khol k dikhlana hai hamain
Spread our wings and show the world
ہو گا یہ سب بے سبب
Hoga ye sab besabab
All this will be meaningless