I have been aiming for at least the past month to finish a post about singers from Sindh. This is because of various things that I’ve encountered – videos that I’ve seen, a book that I read, etc. – that brought me back to that incredibly musical province in Pakistan. But the post was becoming pretty elaborate, and I realized that it would take much longer to finish than I first thought. Then I thought, maybe I will do a few different posts on singers from Sindh. I had in mind, maybe one post on a Sufi/spiritual singer, another on a Sindhi folk singer, etc. And then I was reminded that there was another singer who’d been born in Sindh who had a birth anniversary right at that moment (having been born on April 3, 1965). But rather than being a singer focused on these very traditional genres, her great musical talents went in the opposite direction, because she was a pioneer in terms of putting Pakistan on the map in the world of contemporary dance music and pop. (By the way, I don’t know if she ever sang in Sindhi, but she certainly sang plenty in Hindi/Urdu, as well as English.) She also spent a lot of her life in the UK and some of the latter part of her life (which unfortunately was cut far too short) in the U.S. But she was born in Sindh’s capital city, Karachi, and she never forgot her attachment to that town. So, for my current post, I have decided to put my thoughts about other Sindhi singers off a little in order to pay a special tribute to Nazia Hasaan.
Here are a few favorite clips of Nazia (seven songs, as I usually like to do), along with a few words about her great repertoire and legacy.
Most Hindi film fans were introduced to Naizia’s most famous song, “Aap Jaisa Koi” when it was picturized on Zeenat Aman in Qurbani (1981) . But there are also quite a few videos of Nazia, herself, performing it live. Maybe the best circulated version is this delightful one recorded in the early ‘80s at the BBC.
There are a number of other Nazia Hasaan hits very much of the “disco era” that are well worth recommending. such as “Disco Deewane” the title song to her first album. (And by the way, I actually posted an English version of this song video in a very brief Nazia Hassan birthday post that I did way back in 2008.)
Even better – and more significant, in my opinion – is the very bouncy disco song called “Boom Boom.” Many Hindi film fans probably know that one from from the version that appeared in the 1982 film Star (where she did playback singing for Rati Agnihotri). But once again, for the video that I want to feature in this post, I would like to show a charming live clip of Nazia, herself:
And by the way, there were also remixes of “Boom Boom” that showed up a few years later, courtesy of Biddu, the producer responsible for most of Nazia Hassan’s hits, who also composed the music for many of those songs. (Although I don’t think he had much of a part in the lyrics… Going by the song credits, I can see that she wrote many of the lyrics, herself, or co-wrote them with her brother Zoheb Hassan.) But I think it’s really always Nazia’s voice that carries these songs. On YouTube, you can find a 1995 remix of “Boom Boom” with some interesting reggae dancehall-style toasting/rapping (which I am assuming was done by Biddu, himself), but the high point of the song, by far, is still Nazia’s voice. And even though Zoheb Hassan was an inseparable partner for her all throughout her musical career, I think I can safely say – having heard some duets that he did with her as well as songs that he sang by himself – that his vocals had nothing close to the appeal of his sister’s.
Some of Nazia Hassan’s best songs also had a major Caribbean influence (maybe because that is where Biddu wanted to go too). One example from as early as 1981 (also on the album Disco Deewane – and broadcast on that early ’80s BBC show) is this quite catchy number, “Aao Na Pyar Karain”:
Several years later, she did this nice number that had a heavy reggae beat, which also conveyed other influences in a fairly sophisticated mix. This song, “Kariye Pyar Diyan Galan,” was on her last album, Camera Camera, which came out in 1992.
And somewhere in between, she sang the song, “Kabhi Zindagani Jaisa,“ which I would say has a more Calypso kind of flavor. The performance below aired on PTV in 1989. I would like to add that it is really nice to look at her in this performance, too. (A lot of people talk about how she was a great beauty, but I don’t see it that much in her early ‘80s videos, when she was still a teenager (although you might say that she was kind of a cutie in those). But in her later performances – yes, indeed.)
It’s clear from some of her later songs that Nazia Hassan’s voice worked just as well on a mellower plane as it did with the heavy disco beats. Another example of that, very far afield from her disco hits, is this beautiful folk-rock kind of ballad, “Dil Ki Lagi.” I don’t know that much about it, but when I found it on YouTube, I was stunned; you can really hear the pure quality of her voice in this. The guitar is very pretty, too; it actually sounds a bit classical sometimes. The whole number sounds kind of cinematic. I guess this was never used as a film number, but it should have been – though, of course, in a very different setting from what we saw in the films that featured her early hits.
But this is not to say that I exclusively prefer the mellower/subtler songs that she did. I like all the kinds of songs that she did. There is one song that I’ll end this post with which has been a standard on my own personal playlist for a few years. This song is by Saffron, a group that Nazia formed with Meera Syal (a well-known Indian-British actress, comedian, writer, etc.) and Rita Wolf (who became quite famous as an actress in the 1985 British film My Beautiful Laundrette). This cover of the Crystals’ classic girl group pop number, “Then He Kissed Me,” is a real cutting-edge new wave dance track – actually a fine example of electronic modern-day Bhangra; one might even say it was a bit ahead of its time. (You can bet that Biddu had something to do with that, too, but Nazia’s voice once again just works so well in this number, as it does in all of her other songs – and the two actresses sound pretty good here, too, I have to say.)
The mid-’80s were actually mid-career for Nazia, because she really didn’t sing for all that long. She ended her own music career several years before she died. In 1992, per Wikipedia, she said that she wanted to devote more time to her personal life. Unfortunately, her personal life turned out to be something of a disaster, as she ended up contending with a very troubled arranged marriage, with a husband who she said cheated on her lots of times. (Isn’t it ironic how often the world’s most beautiful and talented women end up in doomed marriages during which their husbands go off to have affairs?) But Nazia’s life at this time was hardly limited to her troubled domestic situation. She also earned a law degree and ended up working for the United Nations Security Council, as well as being an activist for UNICEF. In addition, she did a lot of social work and activism to benefit the poor people back in Karachi (which is why I mentioned before that she never forgot about the city where she came from).
So Nazia Hassan had established a whole new kind of life for herself years before her tragic death from cancer (on August 13, 2000 – at the terribly young age of 35). But I somehow suspect that if she had lived longer, she would have entered the world of music again at some point. I understand that even without her participation, there actually has been a revival of interest in her music within the past decade or so. (Again per Wikipedia, I see that her music was used in a 2012 film called Miss Lovely, and there was a Google Doodle put up in her honor a few years later, in 2018.) A real Nazia Hassan comeback would have been something, and I can’t help but wonder what direction she would have taken today. Ultimately, she was so eclectic… Would she have delved back into the area of cutting-edge electronic dance music (working again with Biddu or someone like him – as well as Zoheb, maybe?), or would she have gone completely in that acoustic/folk rock direction now? She could have done so much more had she not died so young. I think a lot of people realize that and that’s one reason why, when you see a Nazia Hassan clip on YouTube, you’ll often find people in comments talking about how they burst into tears.
I’m sure many people would like to imagine Nazia Hassan living and responding to the world as it exists today, and it would have been great to see her celebrating her 57th birthday right now.
Happy birthday, Nazia. Rest in peace – and power too.