A Nazia Hassan classic

I grew up in a Vital Signs household. As a toddler I am told I watched videos of the Vital Signs on VHS. And for many years, to this day really, the Vital Signs are my frame of reference for music. Of course there are the obvious things: the soft melodies, the classic suave image, but underneath it is all a framework of memories. Bits and pieces of songs that connect me to home in some way.

There were a few cassettes in our house we would play all the time. When we got a CD changer in our car my sister and I made endless mixes. Mine were largely things I’d heard on TV, or a few songs I’d found on those MP3 CDs you could buy in Lahore’s pirated CD stores that had a hundred songs on them. These collections were quite uninspired. Her’s would include Bollywood classics, and some new Bollywood, a bit of the Vital Signs, and then she’d throw in some amazing influences here and there that became the places where I learned about music. I first heard a U2 song stolen from my sister’s music library. First listened to Noori when she and her friends got into them.

On one of these mixes she had this Nazia Hassan song. And in my life few songs have had as instant, as visceral an impact as this one. Over time as I’ve read more about Nazia Hassan, it’s so easy to see that all modern Pakistani pop sources in some way to her. In a short career she accomplished everything: a framework for Urdu melodies laid on top of bare acoustics, disco and film soundtracks; TV viewership; international collaboration; diaspora reach; fame in India; and use of her stardom to meaningfully push forward philanthropic causes.

There was Pakistani pop before Nazia Hassan, but fields of work need a moment or a person that catalyzes a splayed set of directions and brings them together, to illustrate what is possible. Nazia Hassan did that for all that followed in her stead.

The Vital Signs became central to my memories. They found an early TV audience on the show that Nazia Hasan hosted. So did the Jupiters. Junoon came out of this scene. And acts that came after found their path set by these bands or ones connected to them.

This is a simplification of history certainly, and the connective tissue of the industry is denser and more complex than the last sentence portrays. But I use these popular names as reference points to identify the big dents that made it out of an intricate music scene into our worlds as audiences. We find different memories, depending on what song reaches us when. And on this stroke of luck we build what we listen to and how we see things through it. Pool all of our memories together and we get a sense of what artists moved society forward. It is not hard to see that Nazia Hassan is one of them.