Jehangir Aziz Hayat and the Pashtun rock scene, finally uncovered!

Published: March 25, 2014
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PHOTO: ZEESHAN PARWEZ

A few of the bands that I grew up listening to were U2, Nirvana, Matchbox Twenty and Lifehouse, among others. The genres of these bands included rock, alternative rock, post-grunge and elements of metal in their songs. I remember attending rock fests that were held in Lahore during 2002 and 2003. They featured some rocking underground bands that were quite awesome, to say the least. Bands like EP, Aaroh and Call are some that I recall playing live at these fests, before they achieved mainstream success in Pakistan.

However, almost all the songs sung by the bands that went on to receiving commercial success were those who performed the genres in Urdu. I had wondered then if we would ever have a band or an artist who would perform in English and deliver the same level of brilliance.

I put my silent wishes to rest, considering that perhaps there isn’t an audience for what I had been searching for in Pakistan, even though the rock fests were sold out events featuring bands that did perform in English as well.

In 2004, I came across the video of Never Change by an alternative rock and metal artist on Indus Music (now MTV Pakistan). Taking the bull by its horns, as they say, this one Pakistani artist stood to put my demons of alternative rock and heavy metal to rest – that being Jehangir Aziz Hayat. His single, Never Change, received a nomination by Indus Music, making him the youngest artist to earn this honour.

I got to know Jehangir in 2005. At first glance, I found a guy who was humble and quite soft-spoken. He didn’t give me the Kurt Cobain look from anywhere. Little did I know at the time that, years later, this budding new artist would be creating waves in international music forums. Despondently, he hasn’t been given due coverage in Pakistan. This brought me down to penning a piece; an introduction for a musician who thrives to captivate his audience with his aggressive yet melodious vocals and compositions.

Jehangir hails from Peshawar. Now who would have thought that our very own version of Shaun Morgan or Phil Anselmo belongs to the land of the ‘Robert Sandal’?

One thinks of Namak Mandi and Karkhano Bazaar whenever Peshawar is mentioned. Metal and alternative rock are not on the menu of the infamous Tikka walas’ (Tikka sellers) menu yet; infusion of the unruffled elements of the Pashtun mores with Jehangir’s raw overtones makes his music standout.

He received three awards at the acclaimed Indie Music Awards in 2012. In February 2014, ReverbNation, the popular international music site, listed Jehangir as a featured artist.

And yet, there was no sign of him being recognised in Pakistan.

Photo: Zara Hafeez

Now this makes me wonder, why such terrific talent isn’t acknowledged in Pakistan.

Perhaps, it is the lack of an audience for such music or maybe we are waiting for him to be selected by some indie-film maker who will have his music featured on an Open Source Track (OST). Then we will crib about how our musicians end up getting more acclaim abroad and why we don’t appreciate them much.

Music came naturally to Jehangir, prior to finishing grade school. His family proudly calls him ‘the prodigy of the clan’.

When it comes to artistic ventures, I personally think that family support is a commodity that does not run rampant in our subtly regimented culture. Nevertheless, luckily for our grunge maestro, support has been the hallmark of the Hayat family. Sarmad Ghafoor, a prominent musician, has been Jehangir’s mentor and has mastered the two albums that he has released.

Sterling guitar riffs, coupled with his edgy yet soft vocals that are empowered with intense emotion and impeccable song-writing, are what you will find in his music.

Jehangir’s debut album, Read between the Lines (RBTL) (2009)is a mix of subliminal tones that fuse with the tranquillity of his vocals.

“The lyrical content of that album was based on the challenges and struggles faced by my father and how that, in turn, affected my perception towards life. It had a lot to do with the process of breaking the childhood bubble of serenity and security while coming to terms with the unpleasant”, he told me candidly.

Light the FuseGuardians of the GatesI Remember and the award winning song, Pretend to Be are a few of my favourites from the album.

His second album, Above the Fray (2014)is more of a silent departure from the first album.

The songs presented carve out a new path of Jehangir’s musical growth and dwell upon the influences that have sculptured his life.

Above the Fray’s content is probably the evolutionary step needed in my personal development as an individual and an artist. The music collectively doesn’t represent a concept album, as RBTL was. The tracks in the new record have to do with all the different instances in my life and how I perceived the scenario then,” Jehangir explained to me during our conversation.

Songs like What Makes Me HappySeems So SoundDoing Alright and Calling On, among others from the album, are surely on my playlist.

Jehangir has also performed in an associated act with a Pashtun Rock band called Marg. It’s rather difficult to imagine that a pure metal/punk Pashto band exists.

When I delved into the meat of the matter, it was clearly evident that Marg focuses on creating music that defines unique societal issues. Haqeeqat, a popular song of the band, features Jehangir’s vocals.

Safyan Kakakhel is the lead artist of Marg. Safyan adds his own experience on having Jehangir’s vocals in Haqeeqat by saying,

“I felt that the chorus of the song needed additional energy. Jehangir’s powerful voice was the perfect tool to give the chorus that much needed boost of energy.”

Saad Salman, the lead drummer of Jehangir’s second album, in a tête-à-tête with me, exposed what it was like creating music with Jehangir.

“Working with Jehangir was, and still is, extremely easy. For the album, he gave me complete creative freedom – which is always a good thing. He’s neither demanding, nor egoistic; either way, working with him has always been smooth sailing.”

Jehangir and Safyan. Photo: Zeeshan Parwez

Jehangir, Saad and Safyan get together often for their jam sessions. When I asked Jehangir about these sessions, he quips saying,

“It’s a whole lot of fun! Honestly, we aren’t entirely effective with translating those jams into actual recorded tracks. Invariably, we end up watching a series or a movie – with pizza. The ‘pizza’ part is very important. Did I mention the pizza? Yes, the pizza!”

So there you have it. A talented musician with incredible control on his vocals, a firm grip on those six strings and a penchant to be a stand-out songwriter. Jehangir Aziz Hayat is all that one should expect from an alternative rock and metal artist. Yet, Pakistan has refused to give him the credit he deserves.

Isn’t it a shame that unless our local artists are picked up by the international fraternity we don’t give them the time of day? Perhaps, that will change – and the day it does – we will unearth all the hidden talent Pakistan has to offer.

Till then, hear Jehangir’s tunes on SoundCloud and catch him on his official Facebook page.

Zara Hafeez

Zara Hafeez

A digital marketer, writer, a history buff, volunteer for humanitarian causes for The James Caan Foundation, UNICEF Promise for Children, among others and a tea-aholic. She tweets as @zara_hafeez (twitter.com/zara_hafeez)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Justthetruth

    whatever you do, dont become pretentious like Adil Omar, who really aint no here near as good as he thinks he is. On the other hand, Aziz Ibrahim, Now THATS a real Pakistani success story, former Stone Roses and Simply Red guitarist. Barely any Paks know of him though.Recommend

  • MJ

    Thanks for writing an article about Jehangir Aziz. I live in US and thought I knew about the music scene in Pakistan. He is impressive and after Googling him I agree that he does not get much attention in mainstream media. He reminds me of Arif Baroocha from Karachi who back in the late 70’s and early 80’s was one of the best guitarists in Asia and also toured with Deep Purple and almost nobody knows of him.Recommend

  • Sami

    Actually i could not understand one phenomenon that when someone talks about some band from Karachi or Punjab then they are a Pakistani band and no need to mention ethnicity arises. Nobody will boast Muhajir Origin Band or Punjabi origin band or whatever. People in Punjab and in Karachi of Indian Origin dont care.
    But if some band arise from Pukhtoons then he is only Pushtun and talking about Pushtun rock or whatever. Success of a Pushtun person seems to be a success for a Pushtun only and disassociation from Pakistan is the first thing i see pretty often now a days
    I am pretty sure when someone will use the Word Muhajir Rock scene or Punjabi Rock scene then they will be considered Racist just like MQM is bashed but when the same thing is done by Pushtun or a Pushtun exclusive rock then it is considered a Pride ??.Recommend

  • Xinnia

    One gets the impression from tho article that Jehangir Aziz Hayat is the only one out there where English and Pashto rock music is concerned. Please look up “Sajid and Zeeshan” who actually were on the scene before and who have produced some remarkable music. They also hail from Peshawar. Their Pashto rock song “Lambay” was banned on TV because of it’s controversial video.Recommend

  • Saf

    It’s got something to do with the fact that if the most lethal heavy weapons, F-16 fighter warplanes, Gunship attack helicopters and drones carpet bomb vast swathes of any part of Pashtun lands, it is considered totally normal, but can you imagine F-16 fighter jets dropping bombs on some part of Karachi, Lahore or anywhere else in Sindh or Punjab?
    You might need to think a little about why these two seemingly entirely different issues are so closely related, but you will, ultimately understand my point here. Cheers.Recommend

  • Ali S

    Why would you seek out Pakistani music that’s sung in English? Go ahead and learn a local language if you really want to support Pakistani artists. I hate to be a pessimist, but the truth is that people who sing in English will always remain limited to the burger elite in Pakistan – they’re the only ones who enjoy this kind of pretentious music, especially when it’s sung in a funny half-baked accent. Anyone who can’t write a song in a local language has no right to call himself a ‘Pakistani’ artist. And that’s disturbingly rare among today’s generation of musicians (or shall I say ‘artist wannabes’) – I’m not sure if it’s because they grew up on a diet of Western music and hence there’s a language barrier, but almost none of them have songwriting instincts in a local language.Recommend

  • Sami

    Sometimes even sarcasm fails. It is very easy to circumvent the answer. Next time i really believe that you will claim that Pushtunwali that leads to tribal primitive thinking of so called honor and asylum is actually written by a non Pushton. Also you will provide a rationale that if some Pushton say that Weapons are his Jewelry then someone else is to blame for such notions.
    I really believe in Karma. Not so long ago Durrani and Sher Shah were chanting racist slogans while looting other lands and what goes around comes around and that is what is going on here.What goes up must comes down.
    Punjab and Sindh suffered more than you can imagine. Millions of Our people got killed during 1947 riots and peace loving people were looted before as well but now we are not whining and we will not blame anyone else for our shortcomings.Recommend

  • Abid

    What a handsome young man.Recommend

  • Danyal

    Music is a universal language. To denigrate an artist on their chosen medium of language for their skill in songwriting, acclaimed internationally and hopefully someday – nationally, is a sad line of argument. Nor is it logical to establish an absolute criteria of a musician being labeled as a ‘Pakistani artist’ to be restricted to singing in either Urdu, Pashto, Sindhi, Punjabi or Balochi. They chose to express themselves in one of the two official languages of the the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Maybe you should learn to have an open mind about the universality of music’s application and listen to your mixed tapes of Mathira.Recommend

  • Anwaar

    give it a rest bro… the guy is talented there is no doubt :) …Recommend

  • Khalid

    No offense but their pride is well deserved, as the saying goes there are men and then there are the Pashtuns.Recommend

  • A

    Music isn’t something that is confined by race, ethnicity, color, creed or language for that matter. We need to broaden out perspectives. We have progressed a lot and blaming an artist for singing in English sounds very alien in this era. I think a lil appreciation doesn’t cost a thing.Recommend

  • A

    Music isn’t something that is confined by race, ethnicity, color, creed or language for that matter. We need to broaden out perspectives. We have progressed a lot and blaming an artist for singing in English sounds very alien in this era. I think a lil appreciation doesn’t cost a thing.Recommend

  • N

    I agree everybody has a free will and the right to comment,
    but please for the love of god, do not discourage creativity. At least someone
    is an original, and has talent. Probably more talent than any one of us has
    here.

    Even if he is targeting the niche (or what somebody just labeled
    above “burger class/elite/whatsoever”), at least he is putting in an effort to demonstrate
    his creativity. We all need to broaden our perspectives and need to appreciate
    others’ talents.

    PS. Let’s get our
    facts straight. English is not mere a language spoken by the niche. It is our
    official language.

    Languages:
    Urdu (National) and English (Official)
    Reference: http://www.infopak.gov.pk/Basic_Facts.aspxRecommend

  • Music Lover

    I suggest that we see things for what they are. A rock grunge artist singing in English from the periphery is astounding; it is also a sock in the face of dominant narratives that think everything with the green on top is honky-dory. Sing on Jeh and celebrate life in the land of death.Recommend

  • AbdulB

    Feeling proud!Recommend

  • Zeb.

    Thank you ETribune and especially the writer, Zara Hafeez, for writing such a brilliant piece. This blog is informative and I heard Jehangir Aziz Hayat’s music after reading this write-up; I must say that he’s found another fan. I’ve been reading Zara Hafeez’s works from 2005, 2006, a few from 2007 and also found out that Queen Noor of Jordan aided in her humanitarian efforts for the 2010 floods in Pakistan. The writer, herself is definitely a talented young lady, whose simple art of writing that touches the heart should be greatly appreciated here. Being a devout reader of yours ETribune, I’d like to hear more stuff from Ms. Hafeez.
    Keep up the spectacular work Jehangir Aziz Hayat, heaven knows we need original talent like yours.
    And let us readers read more of what Zara Hafeez has to offer in her writings. Recommend