The Music of Pakistan (Urdu: پاکستانی موسیقی, lit.'pákistáni mosíqi') 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 music has emerged.[1]

EMI Pakistan is the country's biggest record label, as of 2015 holding the licenses of some 60,000 Pakistani artists and around 70% of the total music of the country,[2] while streaming service Patari has the largest independent digital collection, with some 3,000 artists and 50,000 songs.[3]

Traditional music

The classical music of Pakistan is based on the traditional music that was patronized by various empires that ruled the region and gave birth to several genres of classic music including the Klasik. 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 (Shafqat 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 Poonchwaley 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.


Main article: Ghazal

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 gazelle 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 that 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]


Main article: Qawwali

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

Pakistani Sufi Saieen Zahoor.


Main article: Hamd

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 Muhammad.


Main article: Naat


Main article: Nasheeds

Regional music

Main article: Pakistani folk music

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

Main article: Balochi 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, Sindhi, Dari and Saraiki.

Balti music

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.[4] 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.[5] 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

Main article: Punjabi Music

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.

Sindhi music

Main article: Sindhi music

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

Shina music

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

See also: Saraiki literature and Saraiki culture

Saraiki language is spoken by 26 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

Main article: Pashto music

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

Pashto music is commonly found in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in Pakistan's major urban centres such as Karachi, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Music genres include Tappa, Charbeta, Neemkai, Loba, Shaan and Badala.

Modern music

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

Pop music

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

Main article: Pakistani pop music

Pop music really started in the South Asian region with the famous playback singer Ahmed Rushdi's song ‘Ko Ko Korina’ in 1966.[6] 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. Veterans like Runa Laila and Alamgir started the pop industry in Pakistan. Paired with Bengali singers Runa Laila and Alamgir, 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 Atif Aslam, Ali Zafar, Hadiqa Kiani, Goher Mumtaz and Farhan Saeed 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.[7][8][9] 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

Main articles: Pakistani rock and Sufi rock

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, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, and AC/DC. Western-influenced rock music began to feature in underground concerts all across the country. In the 1980s, rock bands Vital Signs and Strings rose in defiance of the authoritarian regime and gained immense popularity amongst the youth. Vital Signs is widely regarded as Pakistan's first and most successful pop rock band. Their single "Dil Dil Pakistan" was voted the third most popular song of all time in a BBC World poll in 2003.[10] Despite being active since the late 80s, Strings achieved widespread popularity after the release of their second album in 1992. The band went on to sell over 25 million albums worldwide. Junoon, Aaroh, and Noori followed suit in the 1990s.

Junoon pioneered the genre of Sufi rock, combining the poetry of famous Sufi poets such as Rumi, Hafez, and Bulleh Shah with the hard rock brand of Led Zeppelin and Santana and South Asian percussion such as the tabla. Junoon is one of Pakistan's and South Asia's most successful bands with over 30 million albums sold worldwide; the New York Times called Junoon "the U2 of Pakistan" and Q magazine dubbed them as "One of the biggest bands in the world".[11] Junoon became the first rock band to perform at the United Nations General Assembly Hall and only the second Pakistani act to perform at a Nobel Peace Prize Concert.[12][13]

The early 2000s saw the arrival of progressive metal, progressive rock, and psychedelic rock with bands such as Entity Paradigm and Mizraab. Mekaal Hasan Band, Call, Karavan, Jal, Roxen, Mizmaar, and Qayaas also exploded onto the music scene with different brands of rock including alternative and soft rock. The television series Pepsi Battle of the Bands was instrumental in launching Entity Paradigm, Aaroh, and the Mekaal Hasan Band, all of whom competed in the inaugural edition of the show in 2002.

The resumption of the Pepsi Battle of the Bands in 2017 after almost 15 years, heralded the resurgence of Pakistani rock with the rise of Kashmir, Bayaan, and Badnaam.[14]

Although the heavy metal genre began to rise in popularity after the 1997 general elections, Pakistani heavy metal music can be traced back to the new wave of British heavy metal of the 1980s and 1990s with bands such as Black Warrant (band), Final Cut, and Barbarians. In recent years, numerous heavy and black metal bands including Overload, Saturn, Saakin, Karakoram, Burq - The Band, Taarma, The Nuke, and Aag have amassed followings in this niche rock music in Pakistan.

Hip hop music

Main article: Pakistani hip hop

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

Filmi music

Main articles: Cinema of Pakistan and Filmi pop

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

Notable artists





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Music journalism

Main article: Pakistani music journalism

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. Besides the newspapers, many news websites have also started giving coverage to Music in Pakistan. MangoBaaz, Musicians of Pakistan, and VeryFilmi are common examples.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Music and Dances of Pakistan, Musical Instruments of Pakistan". Government of Pakistan, National Heritage Wing website. Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage. Archived from the original on 14 April 2015. Retrieved 16 October 2020.
  2. ^ Mahmood, Rafay (12 June 2015). "Patari takes a hit as country's biggest record label threatens legal action". The Express Tribune. [...] EMI Pakistan holds licences to around 60,000 Pakistani artists and almost 70% of the total music of the country.
  3. ^ "Patari's profile".
  4. ^ "Baltistan is Beautiful Land of Mountain|Glaciar| Velleys". website. 1 January 2010. Retrieved 16 October 2020.
  5. ^ Hussainabadi, Muhammad Yousuf: Balti Zaban 1990
  6. ^ "Ahmed Rushdi remembered as a magician". The Nation. 12 April 2011. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  7. ^ "Atif Aslam Rocked the O2!". BOLLYSPICE website. 6 May 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2020.
  8. ^ a b "Atif Aslam Dhamaka London concert". 6 May 2012. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  9. ^ a b "Bollywood Showstoppers Press conference". BOLLYSPICE website. 6 April 2013. Retrieved 16 October 2020.
  10. ^ The World's Top Ten (most popular songs in 2003) BBC World Service website, Retrieved 13 October 2020
  11. ^ (Jon Pareles)In Performance: Pop; Divine and Secular Love Expressed in Rock Style New York Times, Published 8 May 2002, Retrieved 16 October 2020
  12. ^ Junoon Band's Concert in Observance of United Nations Day to be held in General Assembly Hall, 24 October 2001 United Nations website, Published 19 October 2001, Retrieved on 16 October 2020
  13. ^ Junoon band's performance for Nobel Peace Prize Concert at The Royal House of Norway website Published 17 December 2007, Retrieved 29 July 2020
  14. ^ (Turyal Azam Khan)'Pepsi Battle of the Bands' makes a powerful return Asia Times (newspaper), Published 24 July 2018, Retrieved 16 October 2020
  15. ^ Sajjad Ali, Ali Azmat draw big crowds at Lahore Music Meet Dawn newspaper, Published 12 March 2017, Retrieved 14 October 2020
  16. ^ a b "Three Generations of Songmakers". Dawn (newspaper). 4 August 2019. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  17. ^ a b Remembering the legend (Mehdi Hassan) Dawn (newspaper), Published 13 June 2012, Retrieved 15 October 2020
  18. ^ "Classical singer Amanat Ali Khan remembered". The News International (newspaper). Associated Press of Pakistan. 18 September 2018. Retrieved 17 October 2020.
  19. ^ Abida Parveen on website Retrieved 16 October 2020
  20. ^ Qawwal Amjad Sabri's obituary on The Telegraph (newspaper) Published 23 June 2016, Retrieved 15 October 2020
  21. ^ Profile of music director M. Ashraf on website Retrieved 15 October 2020
  22. ^ End of a legend: Fans pay tribute to Bangladeshi music director Robin Ghosh Dawn (newspaper), Published 13 February 2016, Retrieved 15 October 2020
  23. ^ Shades of glory: Sohail Rana Dawn (newspaper) Published 19 April 2009, Retrieved 15 October 2020
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ "Dream station productions launches Acoustic station". The Nation. 16 December 2019. Retrieved 11 August 2020.