RS Essentials: Revisiting Nazia Hassan’s 10 Best Hits
Her signature style has always exuded sophistication and it is one that captivated the masses
Some stars are made while others are born. Nazia Hassan was born a talent, destined to be a star. She may have realized it only after the astounding success of “Aap Jaisa Koi” from the film Qurbani (1980). The song led the teenage rookie singer to win the Filmfare Award (Best Female Playback) in 1981, making her the youngest and first Pakistani to do so. That was her breakthrough moment, and the rest, as they say, is history. She flourished as one of Pakistan’s most popular artists, who redefined pop music over a career spanning 15 years.
Nazia and her brother, Zoheb Hassan, have given us songs that sold millions of records worldwide. Hers is a distinctive voice; the atypical nasal tone that distinguished her from contemporaries continues to delight us. She knew where the strength of her voice lay and never lost sight of it. Her authenticity is likely the reason why she’s not just the “Nightingale of Pakistan,” but also known as the “Queen of Pop” in all of South Asia.
As far as I’m concerned, my love and admiration for the singer-songwriter, lawyer, and social activist only gets stronger. I reckon that her ascension was most remarkable, in the sense that she brought a breath of fresh air to the ’80s music scene while also shattering norms – an idol in the truest sense of the term. There are times when happiness rises to a state of elation, and this is one such moment for me as I write this piece outlining Hassan’s 10 most cherished songs.
The title song of her debut album, Disco Deewane (1981), composed by Indian-British music director Biddu, ushered in the era of independent Pakistani and Indian pop music. At a time when Bollywood film songs were the be-all and end-all in the South Asian music business, this song consolidated the non-film soundtrack as a genre and became a record-breaking success. A reprise English cover version, “Dreamer Deewane,” was released in 1983, and it became the first single by a Pakistani female singer to hit the UK singles chart. A revamped cover version was also used in Karan Johar’s 2012 film, Student of the Year. Dubbed “The Disco Song,” it featured Alia Bhatt, Siddharth Malhotra, Varun Dhawan, and Kajol.
“Tere Qadmo Ko”
If Nazia revolutionized pop music, Zoheb redefined it. Their frequencies matched seamlessly and were replicated in their duets. I fell in love with “Tere Qadmo Ko” the first time I heard it, and when I watched the music video, I knew I had to add it to my playlist. It’s such a bright, free-flowing composition with lovely lyrics by Nigar Sebhai and music by Biddu. Their combination resulted in a timeless melody. The emotions that the song conveys and stimulates in the listener establish its character. It sounds joyous, but there’s also sadness in it. Follow the lyrics to get a sense of the underlying pathos – “Hazaro duriya meri/ Kayi majburiya meri/ Yeh bandhan tod lene de mujhe/ Tu paas paas aane de.”
A young Nazia’s newly found identity received love that transcended borders. Her musical style combined elements of pop and disco with her distinct individuality. A majority of the songs on Disco Deewane, her maiden album, became superhits, including “Aao Na,” a seductive tune that stole millions of hearts. Lyrically, the song is a call to the beloved to abandon routine life and embrace moments of love and togetherness. I suppose the song’s musicality helped it survive the disco craze and become one of Nazia’s most memorable songs.
The Hassan siblings performed another great arrangement by Biddu. This song was yet another departure from the stereotypical songs of the 1980s. The sound design is quite distinct. Even after decades, hearing it brings a sense of freshness. Among all of Nazia and Zoheb’s other duets, this one stands out. I’d like to describe it as a not-so-quintessential love song with not-so-quintessential vocals that made it a remarkable exercise in pop music at the time.
Disco Deewane was followed up with the next album Boom Boom (1982). Its title track was used in the Bollywood movie Star and also included the peppy “Ooee Ooee” by Zoheb Hassan. However, “Boom Boom,” with Nazia’s vocals and a fusion of Eastern and Western music, landed a “surefire hit,” as was stated by composer Biddu. The song was defined as an ‘epic synthesizer track’ by Wired and Rolling Stone critic Geeta Dayal in 2010. The album was re-released in 1984 and once again in 2004.
Film Director and producer Ahmed Haseeb made a documentary on the legendary pop icon called A Music Fairy winning accolades at Kara Film Festival in 2007. She was a music fairy indeed with an angelic voice that still resonates. Her confessions of feelings to a lover found expression in the song “Koi Nahi,” which was also a part of the album Boom Boom. Biddu produced a remix album of Boom Boom and dropped it in 1995 which topped the Indian charts and garnered record sales within a short span of time.
“Dum Dum Dee Dee”
Young Tarang, the third studio album, was released in Pakistan in 1983, with an international release the following year. The record debuted to immediate success, as usual. It’s worth noting that this was the first South Asian album to produce music videos. The song “Dum Dum Dee Dee,” among others, was incorporated into the acclaimed 2012 film Miss Lovely that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Ashim Ahluwalia, the film’s director preserved the song’s originality, due to its excellent reflection of the ’80s, and the lyrics that were in line with the tonality of the film.
“Aankhein Milane Wale”
“Ankhein Milane Wale” is a song that appeals to a wider audience but might be defined as ‘youth-oriented.’ Nazia Hassan’s one-of-a-kind love ballad, delivered in her exceptional voice. This was one of the Young Tarang songs that had a music video produced. These videos involved John King, the renowned set designer, and director who designed the sets for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Hassan’s artistry was not confined to her unique singing skills but also exhibited her foresight. Her interpretations of human emotions such as love, sadness, and friendship touched a nerve with the listeners leaving a lasting impression. She was a popular figure among teens and this drew criticism from a group of radicals who despised youth music and culture at the time. This occurred when Hassan and her brother performed some of the most popular songs from her fourth studio album Hotline (1987) at the famed pop music stage show Music 89. One of the songs under question was “Telephone Pyar” which resulted in a ban on the duo. However, the influence of their music paved the way for a slew of Pakistani bands and singers to emerge.
The successful run of four LPs came to an end with Hotline. As already mentioned, despite the album being a resounding hit some of its songs also stirred outrage. “Aan Han,” perhaps the most popular song on the album, was amongst them, as well as one of her most requested songs when she performed live on stage. Nazia’s voice and captivating stage presence complimented her performances. Her signature style has always emanated refinement and sophistication while simultaneously captivating the masses.
After the release of Camera Camera, the fifth studio album (1992), Nazia shifted her attention to family life and was diagnosed with cancer. It’s worth mentioning that Biddu composed the mega-hit song “Made in India” for Nazia. The unwillingness of the latter resulted in Alisha Chinai singing the song. Hassan, who was known for having a ‘heart of gold’ used her abilities to advocate for different humanitarian issues. Ironically, her own cause was something she couldn’t control. The artist died on August 13th, 2000, at the age of 35, torn between a rough married life and a terminal illness. Hassan’s spectacular rise, like her career and personal life, was fleeting. But for as long as she lived, she left her imprint on everything she touched.