Karachi Music Scene
Compiled By Nurjehan Mawaz-Khan
- All parties, discos, weddings had live music with senior musicians. Musicians were mainly from the Christian community: Goans, Banagalorians, Madrassis- Anglo-Indians. The best schools and hospitals were run by the Christians- Lady Dufferin Hospital, Seven Day Family and The Holy Adventist. Hospitals and Railways were Anglo-run- the colonials left it as such. Minorities had elevated status in society- they did well economically also and thus moved into the public sphere. Parsees had been mayors of Karachi and at one time the head of the Passport Office was a Goan.
- Initially all musicians were purely note-reading jazz musicians. The night clubs were exclusive to foreigners, the musicians were locals and meant to play popular music via sheets provided by the foreigners. Musicians were multi-talented- played various instruments. Piano, saxophone, drums, double-bass guitar…no electric guitar. Dominic, music director at Radio Pakistan, for example, played the saxophpone, violin and piano. Music was not static or played technically in tune and breadth- it was treated as a dialogue- there were times when each chorus was different yet in tune.
- Legends like Quincy Jones, Duke Ellington, Count Bassey and The Beatles had played at venues like the Metropole, Beach Luxury and Palace Hotels. The Who played at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul- after the performance they sold their equipment and someone brought it to Pakistan. Afghanistan used to be a weekend retreat for people in Rawalpindi/ Islamabad back then. There was a lot of driving across borders from Europe: through Lahore into Nepal, and stopping in Karachi on the way to Goa, India.
The Talisman Set played in Singapore via a Chinese agent they came across at the time- the first band to play abroad.
- Going rate for first contract for The Moon-Glows at the Taj Hotel was Rs. 250/ month- Rs. 1000/ month for a band of 4- playing 6 nights a week. Pay went up to Rs. 3000/ month. This was excellent pay considering the average pay of a white-collar foreigner was Rs. 150/ month.
- The only gramophone manufacturing company in undivided India was in Karachi- Haydn & Coy. with a shop front on Elphinstone Street. They sold tambourines, music sheets, flutes, drum-sticks etc.
A man sat on Elphinstone Street who would “Cut you a 45”: implying he would record musicians playing non- stop for 45 minutes in a tiny improvised dark room, at the cost of Rs. 10.
Uncle Schwartz (who apparently looked like Einstein) repaired amplifiers at Regal- considered a technical genius by the musicians- for free for those who couldn’t afford to pay.
Bashir Baloch of The Forethoughts gave his guitar to his young admiring neighbours who after a few years created the band Ivan’s Aces.
Ronnie Khan, son of schools peon was put through school by the Parsee principal who married a Muslim. Later she sold her jewelry to buy him an organ and amplifier.
- The sleaze factor came into play and nightclubs like the Excelsior, Lido and Roma Shabana had house bands and introduced dancing girls. At one time the ‘Yellow Birds’ were imported from the Philippines for a risque show. Earlier there had also been a short-lived Cabaret scene (1940s?)
- Karachi was the capital upto the early 70s and there were fully licensed bars to cater to the diplomats. Cosmopolitan nature of cities and consequently bands. The colonial influence remained long after their departure. There was a huge social scene and both slow and fast dance music including Tango, Ramba Samba and traditional slow European dances.
[Green and red trams connected Saddar, Cantt and Keamari. Saddar was washed every day. There were no safety issues, Christians went midnight caroling. Very pluristic society- Muslims, Parsees, Hindus, Christians of different sects and varying income brackets lived together- much more tolerant society. There was no noise pollution- it was so quiet that one could hear the ships’ siren from the Karachi Port. Shops opened and closed at set times, and have no garbage outside, they would be fined otherwise. There was no littering and hardly any violence if at all. The firing of one bullet would be known by the whole city. Policemen carried batons.]
- There were two dance institutes in Karachi (ballroom dancing as well as whichever dance was the new craze in the UK) and in the 1950s there were dance competitions, most famously at the Railway Club.
- In the music of the 1960s there was a lot of rebellion, generally instigated by popular current issues met first- hand by graduates returning from abroad, especially in the UK and the US: consequence of the Vietnam War, minorities’ suppression, the Civil Rights’ Movement and anger at the Kennedy assassination- all of which culminated in Woodstock Festival, New York and subsequent creation of the ‘hippie’ culture, sexual liberation, discovery of the Pill. “Change in social consciousness and new political freedom.” Coffee house culture where these issues were discussed by intellectuals and journalists.
- Edgar Saville was the first musician to break from note-reading, John Saville followed soon after. HE couldn’t read or write, though he came from a classical music background.
The radio played a major role in moving the music scene forward. There were two radio shows in English one of which was a request program in the afternoon, the other was a man called Edward Carapiet and later Max Nazareth who were the first English disc jockeys to play and discuss Pakistani music in the 60s. Soon musicians began taping music and copying lyrics off the radio.
- The crews of foreign airlines such as SwissAir and Lufthansa would stay at the Inter-Continental Hotel (PC) providing further business to discotheques. The Nasreen Room at the IC was one of the most happening places. Foreign musicians were hired for a period of six months to play at the clubs. Played a month and took a month off or play 6 weeks and rest 6 weeks. Europeans favoured pop and and Americans preferred rock music. Crew of visiting American ships’ and air force would also be in the mix of people.
“People would live In Karachi and work in Dubai; now people live in Dubai and work in Karachi.”
- Every event had dancing and music, all music was played live, there was no concept of recorded music and no original music. The pre-dominant genre was of course Western music. Bands copied with disco- people enjoyed a variety of music. The music in demand was covers of popular music- they had perfected that to the extent where one couldn’t make the difference out. The better one could copy, the better their musical career would fare. Some discos kept their prices exceptionally high so as to maintain a clearly affluent clientele. Samar was notorious for brawls.
- Ivan’s Aces were invited to play at Bhutto’s inaugural bash in Larkana, January 1972 by Murtaza Bhutto, a loyal fan. They went on a booked special train. The band played the National Anthem requested by Mumtaz Bhutto, the then Governor of Sind, a tune they had never played before.
- With Zia-ul-Haqs reign came the shutting down of discos and bars. Most people lost their jobs. There was no music and the musicians became misfits. Their culture didn’t change so much- the culture around them changed entirely. There is a continued effort to erase the past- at least the British past.
- America had a migration policy where new immigrants were accepted provided they were willing to work as farmhands. Most of the young men enrolled in this program as there was no music left here. There has been a mass migration- most of them ended up in Miami, US.
- Today the overcrowding of people, cars and buildings is unstoppable. Population has gone from 1 million to 14 million. “The war in Afghanistan brought the KK and heroin culture- tolerance went up in smoke.”
- An exceptional band of the time was The Bugs who conjured up energy and excitement not found in the traditional bands- they didn’t play dance music and instead played The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The band consisted of 4 brothers (Fateh brothers). True hippies, very good musicians, very long hair, no shoes, torn jeans, bassist Farooq Fateh made his own guitar. Mansur wore a kurta and dhoti everywhere, even to the Intercontinental.
- Tariq Mirza of the 21st century states: “And here’s my 2 cents about the overall Pakistan Pop music scene from the mid 60’s to say ’72 because I left after that. And I’m not gonna include the 21st Century, what I feel is The Bugs really jump started the 60’s, (they were done by the time 21st Century or the Incrowds came on the scene) they were a stylish band and from what I remember, the Bugs sang and played their instruments very well, and they covered and did justice to the British Invasion stuff. As far as I’m concerned they were pioneers for bringing rock n roll of that level to Pakistan with their enthusiasm. The Incrowds no doubt had the best musicians of that time, all of them were masters of their instruments especially Ivan and Edgar, and they sang and played very well together.There are two more bands (amongst many others) I’d like to mention, The Fore Thoughts were an excellent instrumental band and then there were the Thunders. I was a kid still wanting to play music when the first Pop Music concert in Karachi happened, which was at the very new Fleet Club. The Bugs, The Thunders, The Mods, I think the Fore Thoughts were there too and a couple of more bands.”
- Egan ‘Iggy’ Fernandes was a musician extraordinaire, said to be the 25 years ahead of his time and everyone else. Killed himself- jumped off the 4th floor. He is unanimously considered the best Pakistani musician of the time by the musicians themselves.