Best of 2023 – Laila's Picks
This is the second post in a series where we are soliciting selections of our contributors’ favorite songs from 2023. Read Shahmir’s picks here.
All 6 tracks were taken from Natasha Noorani’s album RONAQ. They are in the order of the original tracklist for a sense of continuity.
Album intros typically set the mood, but seldom do so as effectively as Haan, I know. The first song is usually the forgettable part of an album, yet this track alone speaks volumes. This artist is fully realized, practically getting you ready for a trip into the Natashaverse. She skillfully uses an airline announcement to set the mood just right.
The song incorporates various elements of Pakistani culture, like the childhood game “cham cham cham” or if taken in a different context, the universal desi experience of “ammi maarengi” when you have a crush. The artist's playful personality shines through, turning you into a fellow traveler on this musical adventure.
The recontextualization of these elements sets up the scene for the album, showing that she is bringing in her background as an ethnomusicologist. By showcasing her Pakistani heritage in an experimental format, she unveils the potential future of Pakistani music.
It rightfully starts with an applause-esque background because honestly, you should clap for this performance. Nishana has lived rent-free in my head since Noorani’s debut in the first edition of Boiler Room Pakistan.
Recontextualizing is important here because this is essentially a love song and being forward when approaching a lover is taboo in Pakistan, especially for women. Simply acknowledging and expressing romantic love can evoke a sense of shame, and you can count on the desi aunties and uncles to be ready with their “taubah taubahs”. But she reclaims this phrase, embracing feminine energy in a way that is not sharmila. Natasha knows what she wants and is unapologetic about it.
And let's not forget, Nishana is also incredibly vibey and fun to dance to. You can easily picture a TikTok dance trend emerging, thanks to its playability and playful nature. Honestly, you might want to share it with a lover.
Ronaq is not just the place where you get to see multitudes of Natasha; it's where you witness a different side of Annural Khalid too. Call Me is a seamless continuation of the dark vibe in Raazi, except now it's stormy instead of seductive. At its core, this is an anthem encouraging all girls to let go of those emotionally unavailable, low-effort boys in their lives.
It’s always wonderful to hear more and more R&B songs from females in Pakistan because Lord did they eat it up with their rap-like Punjabi verses.
Imagine cruising under the moonlight on a late-night drive, and Baaz starts playing. The beat drop is smooth and reveals Abdullah Siddiqui's futuristic production expertise, with what feels like silver-coated backing vocals. This song delves into the pointless adherence to traditions which is doubly suffocating for women in Pakistan. There's a sense of weariness in the air as if Natasha is tired from having the same conversation so many times. As she has explained previously, this song is essentially telling all the uncles, “baaz aao na”.
Laiyan begins with “Assalamualaikum”, a common greeting in Pakistan when answering a call, setting the stage for a song about the distance between lovers. It might not be the easiest song to grasp on the first listen because of its experimental nature. However, the earnest tanhai transforms it into a melody that beckons you back. Especially when you watch the music video, where she uses different forms of communication, from letters sent via pigeons to telephones. These scenes evoke a modern-day Rapunzel, confined in a tower with an impossible distance separating her from her lover.
An element of playfulness persists throughout the album, evident even in moments such as when she says “Okay, pause” causing a brief pause in the song and effectively breaking the fourth wall.
If you ever wondered what pop on acid sounds like then you can listen to Frendz to satisfy that curiosity. It carries a hint of a commercial jingle, but really, it's just two friends having fun. However, even amidst this carefree atmosphere, you can hear her missing her friends. Highlighting one of the downsides of growing older: friends becoming busier with their lives. Frendz lets me fantasize about an ideal world where I can hang out with all my friends together, free from the hassle of scheduling video calls or meetups that, at best, take months to happen. As Noorani aptly puts it, “kahan ho frendz?”