Music of Pakistan

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Music of Pakistan
Overload Dhol Player.jpg
Specific forms
Religious music
Ethnic music
Other music
Media and performance
Music awardsHum Awards
Lux Style Awards
Nigar Awards
Pakistan Media Awards
ARY Film Awards
Music chartsPatari Haftanama
Music festivalsAll Pakistan Music Conference
Lahore Music Meet
Lok Virsa Mela
Music mediaMagazines



Nationalistic and patriotic songs
National anthemQaumi Taranah
Regional music
  • Azad Jammu & Kashmir
  • Balochistan
  • Tribal Areas
  • Gilgit-Baltistan
  • Islamabad Capital Territory
  • Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
  • Punjab
  • Sindh

The Music of Pakistan (Urdu: پاکستان کی موسیقی‎) includes diverse elements ranging from music from various parts of South Asia as well as Central Asian, Middle Eastern, and modern-day Western popular music influences. With these multiple influences, a distinctive Pakistani sound has emerged.[1]

Traditional music[edit]

Classical music of Pakistan is based on the traditional music of South Asia which was patronized by various empires that ruled the region and gave birth to several genres of classic music including the Klasik and Hindustani classical music. The classical music of Pakistan 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.

There are many families from gharanas of classical music who inherited the music from their forefathers and are still performing. Some famous gharanas are: Qwaal Bacha gharana (Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan belong to this gharana), and Patiala Gharana (Shafaqat Amanat Ali Khan belongs to this gharana).Ustad Ghulam Farid Nizami a prominent sitar player and a Sufi singer belongs to the Senia Gharana. Number of other gharanas are present in Pakistan which serve classical music. Some classical musicians like Ustad Badar uz Zaman do not belong to any famous gharana but has served classical music enormously. The legendary sitar player Mohammad Sharif Khan Poonchhwaley belongs to Poonch gharana of sitar. Ustad Rais Khan is another prominent sitar player of Pakistan.

Shaukat Hussain, Tari Khan and Tafo Khan have been exponents of classical tabla playing from Pakistan. Talib Hussain was one of the last remaining pakhawaj players of Pakistan and was a recognized practitioner of the Punjab gharana style of drum-type instruments.


In poetry, the ghazal 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 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 studied variety of expression around its central theme of love and separation between lovers.[citation needed] The ghazals can be written by male poets for women as well as by female poets for men, as an expression of one's feelings about mutual love and whatever comes in that package- accompanying joys, frustrations, disappointments, fulfillment and satisfactions. 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.[citation needed]


The Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah was one of the most important patrons of Qawwali and is widely credited for its cultural advancement.

Qawwali (Urdu: قوٌالی‎) is the devotional music of the Chishti Sufis. Qawwali is a vibrant musical tradition that goes back more than 700 years in South Asia . Although most Qawwali singers are found in Pakistan and they performed mainly at Sufi shrines throughout South Asia, it has also gained mainstream popularity. Qawwali music received international exposure through the work of the Sabri Brothers in 1975, late Bakhshi Salamat, Aziz Mian and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, 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 'one with God', generally considered to be the height of spiritual ecstasy in Sufism. Qawwali was essentially created by Amir Khusrau in the late 13th century in the Mughul Empire. During the first major migration in the 11th century, the musical tradition of Sama migrated to South Asia from Turkey. 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 Turkish, Persian, Arabic, 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". Instruments used in qawwali include:

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 mixed-gender public gatherings. Traditionally over the centuries, this has been the practice per the general interpretation of Islamic Law by the religious scholars. Although women are encouraged to hold their own 'Women Only' gatherings for reciting religious 'Naats' and holding live dance and music parties with musical instruments on 'Just- Before- Weddings-Mehndi' celebrations. This again, has to be a 'Women Only' event per the long practiced tradition where Islam generally discourages mixed-gender gatherings among unmarried women and unmarried men. Although in the 20th century, the so-called modern era, actual practice among Islamic societies, has been that one will see a lot of female musicians and female singers holding public concerts for both men and women. For evidence, one can just read the musician name lists on this page to spot a lot of female names on those lists now.

Religious music[edit]

Pakistani Sufi Saieen Zahoor.


There is a large number of hamd and naat 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. There are Sabri Brothers Qawwal, Qawwal Bahauddin Khan from Karachi. '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 (praise) and referred to as 'Hamd – o – Sanna'. 'Naat' denotes praise to the prophet Muhammad.



Regional music[edit]

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 from 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 Abida Parveen, Allan Fakir and Mai Bhaghi from Sindh, Akhtar Chanal Zahri from Baluchistan and Zarsanga from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, who is considered the queen of Pashto folk music.

Balochi music[edit]

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, Dari and Saraiki.

Balti music[edit]

According to Balti folklore, Mughal princess Gul Khatoon (known in Baltistan as Mindoq Gialmo—Flower Queen) brought musicians and artisans with her into the region and they propagated Mughal music and art under her patronage.[2] Musical instruments such as the surnai, karnai, dhol and chang were introduced into Baltistan. Classical and other dances are classified as sword dances, broqchhos and Yakkha and ghazal dances.[3] Chhogho Prasul commemorates a victory by the Maqpon rajas. As a mark of respect, the musician who plays the drum (dang) plays for a long time. A Maqpon princess would occasionally dance to this tune. Gasho-Pa, also known as Ghbus-La-Khorba, is a sword dance associated with the Gasho Dynasty of Purik (Kargil). Sneopa, the marriage-procession dance by pachones (twelve wazirs who accompany the bride), is performed at the marriage of a raja.

Punjabi music[edit]

A Punjabi dhol band, performing at a wedding in Multan

Music from the Punjab province includes many different varieties. One can read the 'main article' link directly above for details.

Potohari music[edit]

Potohari has a rich tradition of poetry recital accompanied by sitar, ghara, tabla, harmonium and dholak. These poems (potohari sher) are often highly lyrical and somewhat humorous and secular in nature, though religious sher are also recited.

Sindhi music[edit]

Music from Sindh province is sung in Sindhi, and is generally performed in either the "Baits" or "Waee" styles.

Kashmiri music[edit]

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 Shina folk traditions have managed to stay alive and vibrant. Folk music in this region has remained relatively pure and unscathed by modern influences due to the relative isolation of this area. 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.[citation needed]

Saraiki music[edit]

Saraiki language is spoken by 13.9 million people in southern Punjab and northern Sindh. Atta Ullah Essa Khelvi Khan is one of the most famous Saraiki singers in Pakistan, hailing from Mianwali.

Pashto music[edit]

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, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Sialkot and Multan. Music genres include Tappa, Charbeta, Neemkai, Loba, Shaan and Badala.

Hindko music[edit]

Music from Hazara Division is sung in Hindko dialect, and is generally performed in either the Mahiyay or Shaer styles.

Modern music[edit]

Pakistani music in the 21st century revitalized itself and has many segments as follows:

Pop music[edit]

Ahmed Rushdi, the father of pop, also known as the first regular pop singer of south Asia

Pop music really started in the South Asian region with the famous playback singer Ahmed Rushdi's song ‘Ko Ko Korina’ in 1966. Composed by Sohail Rana, the song was a blend of 1960s bubblegum pop, rock and roll twist music and Pakistani film music. This genre would later be termed as filmi pop. Paired with Runa Laila, the singer is considered the pioneering father of pop music, mostly hip-hop and disco, in Pakistan.

Following Rushdi's success, Christian bands specialising in jazz started performing at various night clubs and hotel lobbies in Karachi, Hyderabad and Lahore. They would usually sing either famous American jazz hits or cover Rushdi's songs. Rushdi sang playback hits along with Laila until the Bangladesh Liberation War when East Pakistan was declared an independent state. Laila, being a Bengali, decided to leave for the newly independent Bangladesh.

Nazia Hassan, the sister of another pop singer Zohaib Hassan and the member of the pop group Nazia and Zoheb, in 1981, became the first playback singer to release a pop music album. Her first album was "Disco Deewane" and second was "Aap Jaisa Koi". Both the albums broke sales records in Pakistan and India and even topped the charts in the West Indies, Latin America and Russia. Hassan won several awards for her songs, including the Filmfare Award for Best Female Playback Singer for the later and received the Pakistan's highest civilian award, Pride of Performance for her contributions in the music field.

Modern pop singers such as Ali Zafar, Hadiqa Kiani, and Atif Aslam have made international waves as well, winning numerous awards and performing in some of the world's most prestigious arenas. In 2013 Atif Aslam became the first Pakistani pop singer to perform at The O2 Arena London twice and has sung several songs for Hollywood and Bollywood. Aslam is also the youngest recipient of Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, one of Pakistan's highest civilian honours, for his work in the music industry.[4][5][6] He was also named in 2012 among top performers of Dubai alongside Pitbull, Enrique Iglesias, Il Divo, Gotye, Evanescence and Swedish House Mafia.

Rock music[edit]

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

The rise of rock music in Pakistan began in the 1980s when cassettes first came into Pakistan bringing in a wave of Western rock music, particularly groups such as Pink Floyd. Since then, the nation's music industry has witnessed groups such as Junoon, Vital Signs, Jal, and Noori. The nation has also since then seen the rise of talented and internationally renowned musicians such as Faraz Anwar.

Hip hop music[edit]

Pakistani hip hop is a blend of traditional Pakistani musical elements with modern hip hop music.

Filmi music[edit]

Pakistan's film industry known as "Lollywood" is based in Lahore and Karachi.

Notable artists[edit]




  • Badar uz Zaman – Originally a Classical singer yet worked a lot in the fusion of old music with new one.
  • Mekaal Hasan – a member of the Meekal Hasan Band who has produced songs like "Aadat[16]" 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 artists like Awaz, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Ali Azmat.
  • S.T.T. Productionz – One of the leading Rap, Hip hop, Trance, House and Electronic Music production house. STT is a certified Audio Engineer qualified from Berklee College of Music and background education from Toronto Canada. His music is mostly catered to international artists based in Pakistan and/or abroad.[citation needed]
  • Shani Haider – a film composer and musician from a musical family who is known for his musical approach blending jazz and orchestral music.
  • Hassaan Arif- A film composer and an audio engineer having a strong background in north Indian music. Has produced and recorded well known artist like "Fareed Ayaz & Abu Muhammad", "Ustad Naseerudin Saami" & many more.
  • Zeeshan Parwez produces artists.
  • Kashan Admani produces music and runs a music facility Dream Station Productions.
  • Emad ur Rahman – a member of Kaya Band who produced and recorded well known artists /solo and in bands in his 'High End Studios' like "Najam Sheraz", "Junoon", Ali Azmat", "Zoheb Hassan", Hadiqa Kiyani, Shafqat Amanat Ali and many more.
  • Abbas Ali Khan -As a disciple of Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, Abbas draws his musical lineage from the Patiala Gharana. Abbas has great command on numerous eastern raagas, which he leans on when composing his musicAfter the release of his latest Sufi Fusion Album Tamaam Alam Mast, Abbas plans to take his music across the globe and spread the message of Love, Peace and Harmony.
  • Korner Hous Recordings -One of the first underground deep [17] electronic music record label, contains tech house, house and techno music. Founded by two brothers from twin cities and later on turned into a record label by minimal music producer. Carrying on the German music scene in their productions, Korner Hous is open to accept any house and techno music producer in Pakistan.

Music journalism[edit]

Music journalism in Pakistan has grown over the years and most newspapers and TV channels have their own reporters and critics on music of Pakistan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage!"., Music and Dances of Pakistan, Musical Instruments of Pakistan, Government of Pakistan, National Heritage Wing website, Retrieved 14 September 2015
  3. ^ Hussainabadi, Muhammad Yousuf: Balti Zaban 1990
  4. ^ "Atif Aslam Rocked the O2!". 6 May 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2012., Retrieved 14 September 2015
  5. ^ "Atif Aslam Dhamaka London concert". 6 May 2012. Retrieved 7 May 2012., Retrieved 14 September 2015
  6. ^ "Bollywood Showstoppers Press conference". 6 April 2013. Retrieved 29 April 2013., Retrieved 14 September 2015
  7. ^, Title of Queen of Sufi music Abida Parveen on website, Retrieved 12 August 2017
  8. ^ Arif, Aayan (29 July 2018). "Musicians Of Pakistan: Natasha Khan - Making an Impact in the World of Music". Musicians Of Pakistan. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  9. ^ "Natasha Khan Pakistani Singer". Natasha Khan Pakistani Singer. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  10. ^, Qawwal Amjad Sabri's obituary on The Telegraph newspaper, UK, Published 23 June 2016, Retrieved 21 September 2016
  11. ^, Profile of film music composer Rasheed Attre on website, Retrieved 21 September 2016
  12. ^, Dawn newspaper article on music composer Sohail Rana, Published 19 April 2009, Retrieved 21 September 2016
  13. ^, Tribute to music director Robin Ghosh after his death, Dawn newspaper, Published 13 February 2016, Retrieved 3 January 2017
  14. ^, Profile of music director M. Ashraf on website, Retrieved 3 January 2017
  15. ^, Profile of film music composer Rasheed Attre on website, Retrieved 26 July 2009
  16. ^ Arif, Aayan (19 March 2019). "Musicians Of Pakistan: Nescafe Basement Brings Aadat's Nostalgic Magic Back Leaving the Fans in Tears of Joy". Musicians Of Pakistan. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  17. ^ electronic music record label

External links[edit]