Music of Pakistan

Music of Pakistan
Music of Pakistan
Overload Dhol Player.jpg
Specific forms
Religious music
Ethnic music
Traditional music
Media and performance
Music awards Lux Style Awards
MTV Awards
Music festivals All Pakistan Music Conference
Coke Studio
Music media
National anthem Qaumi Tarana
Regional music
Local forms
  • Brahui
  • Hindko
  • Khowar
  • Shina
  • Siraiki
Related areas

The music of Pakistan includes diverse elements ranging from music from various parts of South Asia as well as Central Asian, Persian, Turkish, Arabic and modern day Western popular music influences. With these multiple influences, a distinctive Pakistani sound has been formed.



In poetry, the ghazal (Persian: غزل; Turkish: gazel) is a poetic form consisting of couplets which share a rhyme and a refrain. Each line must share the same meter. Etymologically, the word literally refers to "the mortal cry of a gazelle". The animal is called Ghizaal, from which the English word gazelles stems, or Kastori haran (where haran refers to deer) in Urdu. Ghazals are traditionally expressions of love, separation and loneliness, for which the gazelle is an appropriate image. A ghazal can thus be understood as a poetic expression of both the pain of loss or separation of the lover and the beauty of love in spite of that pain. The form is ancient, originating in 10th century Persian verse. It is derived from the Persian qasida. The structural requirements of the ghazal are more stringent than those of most poetic forms traditionally written in English. In its style and content it is a genre which has proved capable of an extraordinary variety of expression around its central theme of love and separation. It is considered by many to be one of the principal poetic forms the Persian civilization offered to the eastern Islamic world.

The ghazals can be sung both for men and women, as an expression of love/beauty.

The ghazal spread into South Asia in the 12th century under the influence of the new Islamic Sultanate courts and Sufi mystics. Exotic to the region, as is indicated by the very sounds of the name itself when properly pronounced as ġazal. Although the ghazal is most prominently a form of Urdu poetry, today, it has influenced the poetry of many languages. Most Ghazal singers are trained in classical music and sing in either Khyal or Thumri.

Famous classical composers and performers


Sufi- Qawwali artist Abida Parveen in concert.

Qawwali (Urdu: قوٌالی) is the devotional music of the Chishti Sufis. Qawwali is a vibrant musical tradition that stretches back more than 700 years. Originally performed mainly at Sufi shrines throughout the subcontinent, it has also gained mainstream popularity. Qawwali music received international exposure through the work of the late Aziz Mian, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and sabri brothers, largely due to several releases on the Real World label, followed by live appearances at WOMAD festivals. Listeners, and often artists themselves are transported to a state of wajad, a trance-like state where they feel at one with God, generally considered to be the height of spiritual ecstasy in Sufism. The roots of Qawwali can be traced back to 8th century Persia, however, Qawwali in the form we know it today was essentially created by Amir Khusrau in the late 13th century.

During the first major migration from Persia, in the 11th century, the musical tradition of Sama migrated to South Asia, Turkey and Uzbekistan. Rumi and his Mevlana order of Sufism have been the propagators of Sama in Central Asia. Amir Khusrau of the Chisti order of Sufis is credited with fusing the Persian and South Asian musical traditions, to create Qawwali as well as the classical music tradition. The word "Sama" is used (or is the preferred name) in Central Asia and Turkey, for forms very similar to Qawwali while in Pakistan, the formal name used for a session of Qawwali is "Mehfil-e-Sama".



Faiz Ali Faiz, a qawwali artist live in concert

A group of qawwali musicians, called Humnawa in Urdu, typically consists of eight or nine men — women are usually excluded from traditional Muslim music as respectable women are traditionally prohibited from singing in public gatherings. although these traditions are changing (due to strong western media influence)— including a lead singer, one or two side singers, one or two harmoniums (which may be played by lead singer, side singer or someone else), and percussion. If there is only one percussionist, he plays the tabla and dholak, usually the tabla with the left hand and the dholak with the right. Often there will be two percussionists, in which case one might play the tabla and the other the dholak. There is also a chorus of four or five men who repeat key verses, and who aid and abet percussion by hand-clapping. The performers sit in two rows — the lead singer, side singers and harmonium players in the front row, and the chorus and percussionists in the back row.

Famous composers and performers


There is a large number of hamd and nasheed singers in Pakistan. This is a type of Islamic religious music where poetical verses of the love for God (Allah) is expressed. Some of the most famous artists include: Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, along with his nephew Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, the Sabri Brothers, Hafiz Marghoub Ahmad Hamdani, Qari Waheed Zafar and Alhaj Muhammad Owais Raza Qadri.


'Hamd' is also used extensively in Christian religious music from Pakistan and all over the world where people from this region are found.'Hamd' is not the exclusive domain of any religion. As pointed out - it denotes praise to God, it is more extensively used in the Muslim world. It is usually used in conjunction with the Sanna and referred to as 'Hamd - o - Sanna'.


The dafli, also popularly known as daf, dappler or tambourine, is a must for weddings. Made of wooden ring with a double row of bells and a playing surface with a 10" diameter, our dafli is a perfect accompaniment to the dholki. The pleasant sound of the dafli will elevate the tempo and mood of all celebrations. Easy to play with no beforehand practice required - with these daflis anyone can add to the music played in weddings and other celebrations.


A sitar workshop in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Classical music of Pakistan is based on Hindustani classical music, tracing its roots to India before Partition. It has two main principles, ‘sur’ (musical note) and ‘lai’ (rhythm). The systematic organization of musical notes into a scale is known as a raag. The arrangement of rhythm (lai) in a cycle is known as taal. Improvisation plays a major role during a performance.

The major genres of classical music in Pakistan are dhrupad and khayal. Dhrupad is approaching extinction in Pakistan despite vocalists like Ustad Hafeez Khan and Ustad Afzal Khan have managed to keep this art form alive. Khayal is the most popular genre of classical music in North India and Pakistan.

Tari Khan is a classical tabla player from Pakistan. Talib Hussain was one of the last remaining pakhawaj players of Pakistan and was a recognized practioner of the Punjab style.


A trio of Pakistani folk singers performing at a local gathering

Pakistani folk music deals with subjects surrounding daily life in less grandiose terms than the love and emotion usually contained in its traditional and classical counterpart. In Pakistan, each province has its own variation of popular folk music.

Pakistan has created many famous singers in this discipline such as the late Alam Lohar, who was very influential in the period of 1940 until 1979: he created the concept of "jugni" and this has been a folk song ever since, and he sang heer, sufiana kalaams, mirza, sassi and many more famous folk stories. Other famous folk singers include Sain Zahoor and Alam Lohar from Punjab and Allan Fakir and Mai Bhaghi from Sindh, Akhtar Chanal Zahri from Baluchistan and Zarsanga from North-West Frontier Province who is considered the queen of Pashto folk music.


The music of Balochistan province is very rich and full of varieties due to the many different types of languages which are spoken in the province, including Balochi, Pashto, Brahui, Persian and Saraiki. Balochi music stems basically from Persian Music due to the close proximity of Iran. Although Balochi singers have still not made a mark on the Pakistani music scene, there are many Balochi singers and these include; Ali Reza Askani, Aref Baloch, Asim Baloch.


A Punjabi dhol band, performing at a wedding in Multan

Music from the Punjab province includes many different varieties. The traditional music utilizes instruments like the dhol, flute, dholak, and tumbi. The most commonly recognized form of Punjabi music, bhangra, is based on drum rhythms of the dhol. Its modern popularity has led to the use of new instruments and electronic sound sampling. Bhangra is a Punjabi folk dance that has become popular all over Pakistan. Bhangra and Panjabi folk songs have been an integral part of the fertile provinces cultural history and many themes are related to harvest and cultivation. Others still draw on the poetic history of the province which transcend ethnic and religious boundaries.


potohari has a rich tradition of poetry recital accompanied by SITAR, GHARA, TABLA, HARMONIUM and DHOLAK, these poems are called [POTOHARI SHER][1] and are often highly lyrical and somewhat humorous and secular in nature, although there are plenty of religious sher..


Music from Sindh province is sung in Sindhi, and is generally performed in either the "Baits" or "Waee" styles. The Baits style is vocal music in Sanhoon (low voice) or Graham (high voice). Waee instrumental music is performed in a variety of ways using a string instrument. Waee, also known as Kafi, is found in the surrounding areas of Balochistan, Punjab, and Rajasthan. Common instruments used in Sindhi regional music include the Yaktaro, Narr, and Naghara.


The predominant language found in Pakistan's Northern Areas has an extensive oral history which dates back several thousand years. With the increase in tourism to Pakistan's Northern Areas and increased domestic as well as international awareness of the local folk music, the Shinha folk traditions have managed to stay alive and vibrant. A dardic language with considerable Persian influence is found in Pakistan's Chitral region in the North West of the country. Khowar folk music had considerable patronage particularly during the rule of the Mehtars in the last century. Folk music in this region has remained relatively pure and unscathed by modern influences due to the relative isolation of this district. The arrival of many refugees from the adjacent Nuristan province of Afghanistan and the subsequent increase in commercial activity in Chitrali bazaars allowed this local form of music to flourish in the past few decades.


Siraiki is spoken by 13.9 million people in southern Punjab and northern Sindh. Atta Ullah Essa Khelvi Khan is one of the most famous Siraiki singers in Pakistan, hailing from Mianwali. Siraiki media has significantly developed and has brought more talent onto the national level, such as Kook TV and Rohi Tv. The Siraiki language is often considered the sweetest of all Pakistani languages, hence the popularity of Siraki music is nationwide. The great late Pathanay Khan also did considerable work in the field of Siraiki music. His songs such as Mera Ishq Vi Tu and Charakay De are still loved by masses and equally appreciated by non-Siraiki speakers. Another star of this language is world renowned folk singer Reshma. She has rendered some beautiful songs in Saraiki along with Urdu and Punjabi for which she gained fame across Pakistan and internationally. A new voice from Mianwali is also attracting people Ali Imran Awan.


The predominant language found in Gilgit in Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan has an extensive oral history which dates back several thousand years. With the increase in tourism to Pakistan's Northern Areas and increased domestic as well as international awareness of the local folk music, the Shinha folk traditions have managed to stay alive and vibrant.Wakhi and Brushaski also lie in this type of music. Dadang (drum made with the skin of goat) and Damal (a pair of drums also made with the same skin but it sounds different) are the most prominent instrument played in this type of music. Flute is also a part of it. The wakhi music was started by Pir Nasir-e-Khisrow in Sixteenth century. It included Rubab and Daf. The history and heritage of every type of music are similar in every language of this region so this type of music is used for each language i.e. (shina, wakhi, brushaski, khuwar and balti).


A dardic language with considerable Persian influence is found in Pakistan's Chitral region in the North West of the country. Khowar folk music had considerable patronage particularly during the rule of the Mehtars in the last century. Folk music in this region has remained relatively pure and unscathed by modern influences due to the relative isolation of this district. The arrival of many refugees from the adjacent Nuristan province of Afghanistan and the subsequent increase in commercial activity in Chitrali bazaars allowed this local form of music to flourish in the past few decades.


The Khattak Dance, a swift martial arts sword-dance performed by Pashtuns in Pakistan's Northern Areas

Pashto music is commonly found in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in Pakistan's major urban centres such as Karachi, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Sialkot and Multan, genres include Tappa, Charbeta, Neemkai, Loba, Shaan and Badala. The Tappa is believed to be one of the oldest forms of Pashto poetry; it comprises two unequal meters, with the second longer than the first. Charbetta is the most popular form of poetry, and epic poem which focuses on heroic figures. The music is sung at a fast tempo by two or more singers. Neemakai is composed by Pashto women, expressing a range of issues from daily life. Loba is another form of Pashto folk song composed as a dramatic dialogue, often to tell romantic tales. Shaan is a celebratory song performed at occasions such as marriage and child birth. Although Badala is a type of Pashto folk music, it is normally sung by professional musicians. It is an epic poem set to composed music which is performed with instruments such harmonium, drums and tabla. The Rubab, a kind of lute is an essential part of Pasthtu folk music. This music is uncommon as the ruling MMA has restricted the use of music in the province. In recent years, the Pashto music industry has been given official patronage through television and increased support by Pakistani listeners who have begun to appreciate classic and traditional Pashto poetry.

Persian/Afghan refugees

Persian is spoken mainly in the North West of Pakistan but there are also considerable Persian speaking inhabitants in Pakistan's major urban centres of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. During and after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and subsequent arrival of millions of Afghan refugees to Pakistan, much of the Afghan (Dari/Persian) music industry was kept alive by performances and recordings made in Pakistan. After more than 20 years, Persian folk music has made considerable and often subtle contributions the overall Pakistani music industry. singers from Afghanistan regularly perform throughout Pakistan particularly at weddings and other formal functions. Singers such as Mehdi Hassan, Iqbal Bano, Farida Khanum and Abida Parveen have sung ghazals in Persian such as those of Amir Khosraw.



Pakistani music in the 21st century revitalized itself to become a popular sound throughout the region and world. Pakistan music today has a rich blend of classical and Pakistani folk music with western sounds leading the music industry to rebuild and re-establish itself. The industry began to pick up in late 2003, when media laws in Pakistan became more relaxed, and resulted in a mass explosion of private Pakistani television channels.


Ahmed Rushdi's picture during live performance in 1958

Pakistani pop music is attributed to have given birth to the genre in the South Asian region with Ahmed Rushdi's song ‘Ko-Ko-Korina’ in 1966 Composed by Music Mestro Sohail Rana and has since then been adopted in Bangladesh, India and lately Nepal as a pioneering influence in their respective pop cultures. Veterans like Runa Laila started the pop industry in Bangladesh while the fifteen-years old pop sensation Nazia Hassan with her brother Zohaib Hassan ushered the birth of pop music in South Asia tailing on the success of her British endeavours.

From Rushdi's pop hits to songs sung by the Hassan siblings, to bands including Junoon, Vital Signs, Hadiqa Kiyani, Jal and Strings, Abrar-ul-Haq to Shehzad Roy the Pakistani pop industry has steadily spread throughout South Asia and today is the most popular genre in Pakistan. “Dil Dil Pakistan” sung by Vital Signs was voted the third most popular song in the world by a BBC poll. In 1998 Channel V declared the "Best International Group Award" to Junoon among Aqua, Boyzone, The Prodigy and Back Street Boys.

Some overseas Pakistanis have also entered into Pakistani pop music scene from abroad, such as UK based Adnan Sami Khan, UK based hip-hop artist 21 Perspective, Dubai based Shahzaman, New York based DJ Aphlatoon and Netherlands based Imran Khan.


Shallum Asher Xavier from Pakistani rock band, Fuzon, performing live at a concert

Rock music in Pakistan has become very popular in Pakistan. A landmark event occurred in 2003 when the Pakistani group Strings's song, Najane Kyun became a featured single on the Urdu Soundtrack for Spider-Man 2. Rock music has developed so much in Pakistan, that it already has two sub-genres. The Pakistani band Junoon popularised a genre of music called Sufi rock (influenced from legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) that blended traditional Pakistani folk and Sufi music with western rock. Also bands like Jal,Call,Mauj and Roxen has done great job over the years.Jal and Call had a decent fan following in India as well while Roxen`s soundtrack from Indian film Awarapan made everyone felt their presence on both sides of borders as well. Also Arif Lohar made a huge success with a rock folk album in 2006 called 21st century Jugni: this album was successful worldwide, and in India won 3 awards at the Alpha Punjabi Awards ceremony for best International Punjabi vocalist and best remixed and best folk rock album. The Pakistan rock industry has been getting large over the years, New bands are coming in and bringing their own style on the mainstream. The Pakistani rock industry can be sub-divided in various genres of rock such as progressive rock, metal, hard rock etc. More recently bands suck as Takatak, Odyssey and Dementia have brought on a metal revolution in Punjab, specially Lahore, greatly spreading heavy metal music in the region. It ha spread outside of Pakistan through the diaspora too: most notably, Brit-Asian 21 Perspective's song entitled 'Rahila' was an excellent fusion of British and sub-Continental styles.

Hip hop

Pakistani hip hop is a blend of traditional Pakistani musical elements with modern hip hop music and is achieved by using various Pakistani languages as well as incorporating traditional percussion like the tabla and dhol and other instrumentation like the sitar. Pakistani hip hop is perceived differently by the major branches of the Pakistani diaspora, where Pakistani Americans often adopt hip hop at an early age and make it an important aspect of their "American identity". Conversely, Pakistani Britons were first exposed to hip hop as an American export. Overseas Pakistanis have aided in the popularity and promotion of hip hop in Pakistan. In recent years, local Pakistani hip hop artists have begun to emerge in underground scenes in large cities such as Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. The lyrical expression of cultural identity and addressing Pakistan's political and social problems is vital in making hip hop a popular growing genre. It is mainly performed in English, Urdu, and Punjabi. Popular artists include Adil Omar, Riz MC, 21 Perspective and Bohemia.


Lollywood produces a number of musical albums throughout the year.

Pakistan's film industry known as "Lollywood" is based in Lahore. One of the most famous singers of the Pakistan film industry is Noor Jehan (Malika-e-Tarranum). Noor Jehan had a brief and successful acting career before devoting herself completely to music. She sang extensively for Pakistani films and also sang Ghazals, folk songs and patriotic songs (milli naghmay) for Pakistan television. The most famous male singer of Pakistan film industry is Ahmed Rushdi (Melody Prince) who is also known as Magician of voice. Rushdi is one of the most versatile singers of south asia and his songs had a great impact on Indian and Bangaladesh music industry. He ruled film industry for thirty years. Ahmed Rushdi undisputedly remains the only playback singer of Pakistan who was master of all moods and expressions. Until the 1970s Pakistani film music enjoyed a robust period of creative activity with a great number of songs acquiring popularity across the sub-continent. The major music directors of this period (with the noted exception of Khawaja Khurshid Anwar) were mostly rababis. Some of the great names were: Master Inayat Hussain, Ghulam Ahmed Chishti, Rashid Attre, Nisar Bazmi, Sohail Rana, Ustad Tasadduq, M. Ashraf, Master Abdullah, Feroz Nizami, Tufail Farooqi, Robin Ghosh and Ustad Nazar. During the early 1980s Urdu film and music quality declined as the result of various factors. The dominance of trend-setting music directors who had experience of seasoned pre-partition artists declined and they were replaced by a new and younger generation who tapped the Punjabi film market.

Music journalism

Music journalism in Pakistan has grown tremendously over the years, especially with the growth of the country's pop music industry and underground rock culture. Popular music journalism was uncommon in the country till about 1985 when Karachi's tabloid, The Star started printing reviews written by Farrukh Moriani who is also considered to be the country's first ever pop music critic. At the end of the eighties and with the coming of the Liberal government of Benazir Bhutto in 1988, the once repressed and frowned upon (by the Islamist dictatorship of General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq), Pakistani pop music emerged from the underground and started gaining mainstream popularity. With this came another pioneering Pakistani music and fashion critic Fifi Haroon who was amongst the first in the country to undertake full features on the growing local music scene. Another frontrunner in this regard was Mohammed Ali Tim, but it wasn't until the arrival of the Farjad Nabi (at The News International) and Aysha Aslam (at The Herald) and Nadeem F. Paracha that music journalism began to be taken seriously.


Music production seems to have stayed in the shadows in the Pakistan music industry. Behind the successes of some of the top talent in the country, there were almost always music producers who never got their due credit.

  • Aamir Hasan - who produced various artists including Junoon
  • Mekaal Hasan - a member of the Meekal Hasan Band and one of the most talented musicians in Pakistan who has produced great hits like "Aadat" for Jal The Band, "Sampooran" and "Andohlan" for his own band.
  • Rohail Hyatt - a member of Vital Signs who produced all the Vital Signs albums and albums for various other artists like Awaz, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Ali Azmat. He has worked with big names such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Ustaad Saami and Fareed Ayaz. He produced the background music for the hit Pakistani film Khuda Kay Liye and produced the song "Jiya Dhadak Dhadak Jaye" for the film Kalyug. He is also a producer of Coke Studio
  • Sachal Music (official site) - Izzat Majeed and Mushtaq Soofi produce artists including the popular Sachal Studio Orchestra (jazz and bossa nova), Mian Sheharyar, Hariharan, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan of Gwalior, Reshma, Mehnaz, Wazir Afzal, Qadir Shaggan, Ustad Nazar Hussain. and

See also


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