Sajid & Zeeshan

One of my rules is to be wary of anything that describes itself as Pakistan’s first. More often than not these claims are held up by poor research and self-aggrandizement. In reality the title often belongs to those that don’t lay claim to it.

Sajid & Zeeshan is one such act. Their music is genre-bending. Driven by Sajid’s expansive song-writing and rhythmic guitar work, and decorated by an electronic spine from Zeeshan. Over time they have amassed a small but deeply loyal following.

Individually, Sajid Ghafoor and Zeeshan Parwez have made substantial contributions to Pakistan’s music scene. Sajid is an important player in a Peshawar-based underground scene, forming a band called Still (which also included his brother Sarmad, who was part of Rungg, then Qayaas, and most recently is Atif Aslam’s guitarist and producer). Zeeshan is a prominent video producer behind legendary music show On the Fringe and Coke Studio. He’s also played synth with other acts (and was part of what is in my opinion Noori’s best lineup, which toured the US and then recorded a live album). This is of course an incomplete CV for both Sajid & Zeeshan. I mention these noteworthy contributions as a way to place the two in the broader Pakistani pop scene for those previously unfamiliar with them.

Together, Sajid & Zeeshan’s songs are a display of how a love of craft can trump the blind chase of eyeballs. Their videos use the aesthetic imperfections of past mediums as art. I think this speaks to their broader avoidance of self-exhibitionism.

A lot of writing about music from Pakistan, especially music from the northwest, is presented with a reductive narrative of musicians standing up to extremists. I love what Sajid & Zeeshan wrote about Peshawar in an archive of their website:

Sajid Ghafoor and Zeeshan Parwez both reside in Peshawar, a city which has a lot to offer...though some of it is illegal but hey what the hell. A lot of stuff has been and is being said about Peshawar being a place out of the medieval times. It is surprizing to note that most of the individuals who say stuff like this have never ever been here before. But yes, things have deteriorated because of various factors; both external and internal. It would be wise to say that there are a lot of talented people in the NWFP who didnt get exposure in their journey towards fulfilling their goals. Some forget and pass on to do something which they dreaded 6 years back.

Their songs do not overtly address these themes, because why would they? Instead they answer with silent, loud competence.

After a few years of hiatus, they recently put out their latest single Lighten Up. It starts with a rock-riff and a prominent electronic bass drum. Some 80s synth appears soon after. By the end the song becomes a modern remix of itself.