The entire exercise can be seen as a striving to raise national morale among the people buffeted by economic stress and political turbulence
Pakistan is re-composing its national anthem, to be re-released in time for the 75th Independence Day that falls on August 14.
The wordings remain the same, but singers from across the country, more women than those who figure in the original, have lent their voices, striving to reflect the original spirit, but with modern-day sound and voice.
“The re-recording promises to use the original wording to create a sound that resonates with all Pakistanis,” the Dawn newspaper reported.
The composition, going by press reports, is a team job of civilian artists and technicians and the military. Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb attended a review meeting with Major General Babar Awan, Director General, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).
The selection of musicians is from the classical, folk and the hip-hop performers. They include Abid Brohi, an award-winning hip-hop artist from Balochistan well-known for his ‘Sibbi Song’.
Internationally renowned Punjabi folk singer Arif Lohar, famous for his ‘Alif Allah (Jugni)’, is on the list. Sindhi folk singer Taj Mastani has infused the anthem with her folk musical instruments.
Modern folk singer Sehar Gul Khan is from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and is known for her ‘Bol Kaffara’.
Hailing from Gilgit Baltistan is Sidra Kanwal, a classical music student who has serenaded many in international competitions.
Other artists include Fakhir Mehmood, Fariha Pervez, Bilal Saeed, RJ Jia Nauman and Zohaib Zaman.
Carved out after the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, Pakistan took seven years to ready its national anthem.
The "Qaumī Tarānāh", which means "national anthem", is also known as "Pāk Sarzamīn" (the Sacred Land"). It was written by Hafeez Jalandhari in 1952 and the music was produced by Ahmad Ghulam Ali Chagla in 1949, preceding the lyrics.
Work had begun in 1948, months after independence. Chagla, a Karachi-born and trained scholar of eastern and western music, was appointed a member of the National Anthem Committee (NAC) of Pakistan.
He had by then, through the 1920s-1940s, toured several Asian and European countries and spent some years in Bombay. Studying eastern and western systems of music under the famous art critic James Cousins, he was focussed on points of contact between the two systems.
Chagla was asked to prepare a national anthem, with or without the lyrics. The impending state visit to Pakistan by the Shah of Iran in 1950 appeared to create an impetus.
The NAC examined several different tunes and selected a tune presented by Chagla which was submitted for formal approval. Chagla then produced the musical composition in collaboration with other committee members, including Radio Pakistan's first Director General Zulfiqar Ali Bukhari and musician Nihal Abdullah and was assisted by the Pakistan Navy band.
Recording the original anthem were major singers of the day including Ahmad Rushdi, Kaukab Jahan, Rasheeda Begum, Najam Ara, Naseema Shaheen, Zawar Hussain, Akhtar Abbas, Ghulam Dastagir, Anwar Zaheer and Akhtar Wasi Ali. It featured a limited number of voices and was recorded with the facilities available at the time.
The renewed anthem is the result of a national competition held by a committee formed in July last year. The winning candidate has not been announced.
The ‘new’ national song would be aired on the national broadcast from August 11 to 14. With it, Pakistan’s embassies across the world will also hold ceremonies to mark the nation’s 75th birth anniversary.
“The diamond jubilee celebrations would be made a memorable occasion to promote national solidarity, unity and cohesiveness. The country’s all cultures and federating colours would be part the festivities,” the Dawn report says.
Anthem amid gloom
For good measure, to highlight the Kashmir angle on which it has had a dispute with India ever since the Partition, Pakistan has readied and put out a version. It is already viral on social media and Whatsapp after Facebook page Culture de Kashmir posted it on their page. It is played on the santoor and rabab by two Kashmiri boys, Umar Majeed, 18, and Zubair Ahmad, 22.
The punch line in the report is that “it can give anyone a run for their money”. There is no elaboration on who it is aimed at.
The anthem has also gone pop with Aag, a group led by Usman Sheikh and Haroon Sheikh that has produced an acapella (singing unaccompanied by instruments) version.
The video ends with an important message regarding the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which caused many events and festivities to be either postponed or cancelled. That lends it a contemporary, universal touch.
The entire exercise can be seen as a striving to raise national morale among the people buffeted by economic stress and political turbulence. Like any other country, Pakistan is seeking to rejuvenate itself through a peppy song, and infuse a renewed sense of national pride in a nation that has not had much occasion to celebrate lately. On the 75th anniversary of their nationhood, a harried people are entitled to some musical relief.
(The author is a veteran Indian journalist and South Asia watcher. Views are personal)