Hadiqa returns with an experimental, trendy and catchy new record, Aasmaan that picks up from where she left off. Instep lends an ear…
By Maheen Sabeeh
Artist : Hadiqa Kiani
Album : Aasmaan
Where did you go?
Hadiqa Kiani has been away for six years. It is a big break for a mainstream artist like Hadiqa. And now she has returned. But one wonders, did Hadiqa really ever leave? And the answer is no. This is no ordinary artist. She is the ultimate female diva to the classes and the masses. And Hadiqa never truly disappeared from our psyche.
Amidst the three studio records – Raaz, Roshni and Rung – Hadiqa went on a different tangent altogether and teamed up with one of the most reclusive, elusive yet brilliant musicians Pakistan has produced Aamir Zaki on a full-fledged album, Rough Cut. It was a far more restrained, mature and powerful record Zaki had done than his debut Signature. Hadiqa let go of her reservations and joined him on the musical quest even though she is a star of the masses and English remains a niche market. She knew it, even then. Whether fans digested Hadiqa in English or not is irrelevant at this point. For one thing, she is a big enough name to experiment at such a degree. And secondly she never really went away. The singles from Hadiqa Kiani were continuous. From ‘Iss Bar Milo’ with Aamir Zaki to ‘Yeh Hum Nahin’ with Shuja Haider, ‘Zindagi’, ‘Mehr Ma’ with Khiza, Hadiqa kept giving us a glimpse that she was still out there.
She didn’t stop making music. She went around the world, toured and in between listened to the sound stemming out of new places, trends that have shaped the new musical order, at least on the chart-thumping world charts.
In between, her personal life went through a colossal change. She got married, became a mother, got divorced and for the last three years – Khawar Kiani, Hadiqa’s mother, whose name always finds a place on most of her albums – was diagnosed with paralysis. That and the country changed too. We became labeled ‘the most dangerous nation on earth’ and that was just the tip of the iceberg.
But none of those reflections come through on Aasmaan. It is a record that celebrates love, life, music, sounds and the producers – Irfan Kiani, Hadiqa’s brother/manager/musician, Hadiqa herself and JKD, a British-based producer – have fun on the record. The refuse to budge with the bounciness of the record and at the same time, celebrate the genres that have blazed charts around the world. To add more punch, those trends of R ‘n’ B that have turned names like Rihanna into icons, have been mixed with other sounds, influences that range from local Punjabi bhangra to Arabic and Persian music. Collectively, it is a well-rounded even if slightly patchy album.
Nothing dampened Hadiqa’s spirit because when you listen to Aasmaan, you can’t end up but smile at what Hadiqa has attempted and gotten away with: a groovy, R’n’B record that is slick in production, fun in wordplay and hip in music.
Reaching for the skies above
This record is team work. From its protagonist that is Hadiqa Kiani to Irfan Kiani who plays producer to this album to the plethora of names that write lyrics, musical arrangements – the list is pretty long.
But it comes together well – the direction of this album is clear – it is dance and R ‘n’ b but there is also an underlying current that makes this record inherently Eastern.
It is because of songs like ‘Az Chashme Saqi’ – a poem penned by Allama Iqbal – where Hadiqa not only sings but also speaks in haunting tones via the English translation, making it so smoky and hazy that it makes our patient wait for Hadiqa worthwhile. She can blend East and West with individuality and a signature that is truly her own and one that has developed over the last decade
There are other gems to prove her mettle as a singer: ‘Sajna Sajna’ which moves and swells slowly and is merrily atmospheric. The lyrics are nothing extraordinary (“Mein Sajna Sajna Tera Naal/Pyar Tu Hai/Iqrar Tu Hai/Mera Dil Ka Ek Taar Tu Hai) but it’s the authority with which Hadiqa delivers the words that makes it unique and a raging hit in waiting.
Hadiqa admits that she pulled all the stunts she could. “This is the best we could do. We’ve been at it for six years,” she had said to Instep at the press launch of the record.
It is palpable in the lead single, ‘Sohnya’ featuring Nas-T, a percussion heavy number where Hadiqa croons for her beloved and in the next vein, capturing the ‘I-will-do-anything-for-love’ emotion well, caters to a generation of youngsters that will relate to these lines. Nas-T rapping in the mix takes the song to another funky level and Hadiqa sweeps in again with meticulous timing.
‘Tuk Tuk’ is a tongue-in-cheek, satirical tune about staring, falling in love and being annoyed by conspicuous behaviour, it seems all together. “Tuk Tuk Mujhe Dekho Na Aisa Saawariya/Dil Mein Utarti Hai Teri Yeh Nazariya” – and the music is just as bouncy, almost reminiscent to a Bollywood song. It’s a little over the top with the arrangements ranging from synthesizers to tinkering bell sounds, a pounding beat and more. But for a concert, ‘Tuk Tuk’ should be a phenomenon. It is so culturally relevant for us as a nation. We love to stare… at everyone.
Back to the record, there is ‘Chankata’ which is perhaps a bit too chaotic and holds some similar notes to ‘Sohnya’ in terms of sound. It’s average.
‘Zara Zara’ is intoxicating. It’s drenched in eclectic, wired techno beats and addresses the issues of self-control as Hadiqa sings, “Zara Zara Aayega Nasha/Dil Tau Hai Anjana/Hota Hai Deewana/Dil Ki Nadaniyon Ko/Iss Ki Batabiyon Ko…”
This is a trippy one from Hadiqa but it’s nowhere near the sphere of morbidity. It’s passionate, honest and almost questioning. An interesting tune to check out. The remix, however, is just an unnecessary addition and can be skipped.
The real power-packed numbers are ‘Wanjhli’ and ‘Jab Say Tum’.
On ‘Wanjhli’, Baqir Abbas (the flutist whose magic has been resonating out of Coke Studio this year as a guest musician) gives a silky soft, sonorous yet controlled sound with his playing. Hadiqa grooves meanwhile with “wooooo” and it works. She can pull it off. It’s her fascination with other languages – Punjabi, Persian, Turkish, Sindhi, Chinese – it’s continuous and Hadiqa tends to explore as many on her albums and live shows as possible. These factors help elevate the album.
On ‘Jab Say Tum’, Irfan Kiani sings like a broken man. It is just that sincere and Hadiqa compliments him, bringing in desperation and longing to give it such a sharp edge. Together the brother-sister duo has given ‘Jab Say Tum’ the perfect merger of man-woman duet, tackling loneliness and loss with skill and a lot of heart
The world is my oyster
Hadiqa Kiani herself confesses that Aasmaan had a lot of input from many people. Ali Mustafa, Baqir Abbas, Kashif Ijaz, JKD and a few others. But what keeps this vehicle going is Hadiqa for her vocal range that can take on Persian and Urdu with stylish command. She can flirt with a song like ‘Tuk Tuk’, be smoky on a tune like ‘Jaanan’ where every beat is intense and every guitar strum is tragically beautiful. She can yearn with loss on ‘Jab Say Tum’ and make you want to groove with ‘Sohnya’.
The timing for this album also shows courage. Musicians are afraid of releasing records for the timing never seems right. This was also a case with Hadiqa but she decided to plunge and it was perhaps for the best.
In contrast to the melancholic and beautiful Gunkali from Kaavish and punk-funk fiesta from Mauj (both records should release physically somewhere in this century), and the ongoing fusion of Coke Studio that has seen Atif sing Amir Khusro and Ali Zafar break down with Bulley Shah’s poignant words, Aasmaan is radically different and the big plus is that it is not juvenile. The album oscillates from guitars to steely eclectic synthesizers and some tormenting and beautiful vocal work.
The production is slick, crunchy and crisp. It flows through the album with perfection. For Hadiqa, this record was about taking on world trends and making them her own. She managed just fine with Irfan Kiani – who establishes himself as a fine producer on Aasmaan.
In the end, only when acts like Hadiqa Kiani continue with colourful experimentation and covering new musical territory, will a way be paved for new acts to follow. The fact that she is still standing with a dance record, is an achievement. Our music industry is still very much dominated by men and Hadiqa’s consistency will motivate and blaze a trail for other female upcoming acts. Zeb and Haniya are already here. And many more will hopefully follow. So here’s to the return of the most loved female pop singer of the country and her groovy comeback.