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Editors Note: a wonderful use of Hamnawa Analytics to map out the popularity of diverse musical genres in Pakistani pop
In Pakistan, a treasure trove of music genres awaits discovery by many.
To unveil this diverse soundscape, a visualization was created using the aggregate number of Spotify Monthly Listeners. This visualization was done in the form of matchboxes as they are ubiquitous items in Pakistani households. In recent years their design has been elevated to an art form. I took inspiration from the matchboxes designed by Sana Nasir that are given out at the largest music festival in Pakistan, the Lahore Music Meet (LMM).
Moving on, I will dissect the popularity of each music genre to offer insights into what the numbers might signify.
Hip-hop (#3) may not be as popular as you think it is
In recent years, hip-hop has been growing in demand even amongst the mainstream audience. Especially with Coke Studio Season 14 which brought Young Stunners, Eva B, and Faris Shafi to light. Following that, the latest season of Velo Station featured rappers including Maanu and Rozeo. Even cricket anthems (starting with the 2021 PSL) and advertisements (such as Why Not Meri Jaan) have shifted their focus towards hip-hop. It would seem like hip-hop is the new wave of Pakistani music. However, after examining the amount of people who listen to each genre, it is clear that despite its growth, hip-hop may not have as large of an audience as expected.
Sample artists: Eva B, Faris Shafi, and Young Stunners
Pop (#1) is Queen
Pop is the most popular genre which has a significant difference from the rest of the genres and that can be seen from the size of the Pop-themed matchbox. It contains some of the greats such as Atif Aslam (whose listenership is equivalent to ~70% of the Modern Classical listenership) and that is why it skews so heavily. But ultimately “Pop” songs are made to be popular whereas other genres may have a niche but steadfast following. One of them being electronic music.
Sample artists: Atif Aslam, Hasan Raheem, and Natasha Noorani
Electronic music (#6) has a blooming underground scene
The potential of electronic music can be seen especially after Pakistan had its first-ever Boiler Room in 2022. These artists have been existing for a long time in an underground scene that is flourishing. The past few years have had an explosion of underground audio-visual events such as Hungami Halaat (organized by Oscillations and Karachi Community Radio) and Out of Orbit (organized by Shotbox). These events mainly occur in Karachi and Lahore which are major cities in Pakistan and perhaps have enough variability for a rave scene to thrive.
Sample artists: Abdullah Siddiqui, Rithmetic, and SomeWhatSuper
Rock (#5) is not exactly dead
While people may lament about the “golden age” of Pakistani music, I think the numbers speak for themselves. Rock music had its moment and it was glorious while it lasted. It gave birth to bands such as Jal, Noori, and Strings which will forever hold a place in our hearts and minds. This is not to say no one listens to rock now, just that the trends have changed in recent times and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Sample artists: Jal, Noori, and Strings
Modern Classical (#2) and Traditional Classical (#4) music is always relevant
Speaking of trends, classical music still thrives, whether it is in the form of Modern Classical or Traditional Classical (including qawwalis). Artists such as Ali Sethi have adapted their classical training and found their voice in a way that resonates with the younger generations too. Even qawwali continues on with young artists like Zain Zohaib. The evolution of music is a reality even if it is not readily accepted. But is a wonderful ride if one is open to it.
Sample modern artists: Ali Sethi, Arooj Aftab, and Mekaal Hassan Band
Sample traditional artists: Abida Parveen, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Zain Zohaib
In short, we have local music for everyone
We also acknowledge that some genres such as Folk music were not shown as they have a very small audience on Spotify. However, it is also because historically folk music has not been recorded as much. Efforts are being made by some organizations like Honiunhoni and Amrit Pyala. They may publish these songs on other mediums such as YouTube and these artists often have live performances. Overall, Spotify is likely to have a more urban and rich Pakistani audience, because it is a relatively new platform that has a paywall. Hence it may not be representative of the general population.
I created this infographic using data from Hamnawa Analytics, a proprietary database that is tracking 400+ Pakistani musicians across multiple platforms and has 21k+ datapoints. Numbers strengthen any claim, and I wanted to highlight that Pakistani music has so much to offer.