The Best Musical Exchanges between India & Pakistan That Blurred Boundaries & Brought Them Closer

From ghazals to live jamming sessions, gigs and Bollywood music composing, Indian and Pakistani artists have collaborated, appreciated and thrived each others’ music across borders.

The internet has melted borders and smoothed the flow of information across cultures. There’s no limit to the quantity of music, movies, TV shows, literature and art that can be accessed from anywhere around the world. Which is why the cultural exchange between Pakistan and India in the recent decades has been such a success. Bollywood movies are a rage in Pakistan, while Pakistani TV shows are slowly finding a solid foot-holding in India.

Indian musicians teamed up with Pakistanis to create music and play gigs around the world. Unwittingly, such collaborations led to a better cultural understanding and a call for peace.

Even before the internet, Pakistan and India have had a history of collaborations.

Ghazals and Sufi music from across the border made its way into Indian households in the early 70s, with Ghulam Ali, Mehdi Hassan and Abida Parveen.

Abida Parveen and Ghulam Ali

Abida Parveen and Ghulam Ali

Source: YouTube, Wikimedia Commons

Ghulam Ali sang for a few Bollywood films in the 80s, teaming up with Asha Bhosle.

In 2010, to forge a cultural relationship between the two countries and promote peace, the Aman Ki Asha project was started by Times of India and The Jang Group in Pakistan. By then, Pakistani artists like Atif Aslam and Strings were already popular in India, while Indian TV shows and Bollywood movies had found a massive fan base in Pakistan. The project didn’t take off as well as expected, but it did begin a series of concentrated efforts to exchange music and literature in India.

Collaborations in Bollywood

Bollywood churns out more than 500 movies a year, each with its own soundtrack albums. Artists from out of India therefore have a valid testing ground for their talents when they compose music or sing songs for the Indian audience. And Pakistani musicians have always been a hit.

At the turn of the 21st century, Pakistani musicians made their way to India to record albums. But it was Rahat Fateh Ali Khan who made it to mainstream Bollywood cinema in 2003 with his soulful rendition of Mann ki Lagan in Hindi film Paap. Like his uncle, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who was a popular qawwali voice around the world and in India till his death in 1997, Rahat also rose to fame in India.

Atif Aslam, who used to be part of the band Jal, is another one of Bollywood’s biggest imports from the neighbour.

With his boyish looks and mesmerising voice, he rose to instant success with Aadat from the 2005 movie Kalyug, and has been contributing to Bollywood music ever since, appearing on concerts with Indian artists.

Strings, led by Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia, popped up into the Bollywood scene several times after their 2004 hit Yeh Hain Meri Kahaani from Zinda. The band also collaborated on Jeet Lo Dil with Euphoria in 2004 and Hariharan on Bolo Bolo.

Ali Zafar came into the limelight in India when he acted and sang his own songs in Tere Bin Laden in 2010.

Live Jamming Sessions

When Coke Studio in Pakistan began in 2008, with its focus on fusing traditional Pakistani style of music with rock and rap, it took the subcontinent by storm. Three years later, the trend caught up in India. Seeing as to how popular the Pakistan show was in India, Coke Studio’s India chapter began in 2011. It again took a while to pick up, as fans of Coke Studio Pakistan were still swooning over their music.

But the Deewarists brought together popular Indian and Pakistani musicians on screen to jam for the first time.

The travelling music project had sisters Zeb and Haniya crooning to music by Swanand Kirkire and Shantanu Moitra in Season 1. A year later in the next season, it was ex-Fuzon lead Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan who sang to the soulful acoustics of Fin Greenall, singer-songwriter from the UK. MTV Unplugged also featured an episode dedicated to Amanat Ali in season 2, while there was another for Rahat Fateh Ali Khan in season 5.

More recently, the Dosti Music Project, founded in 2014, is a residency collaboration project where fellows of Indian, Pakistani and American origin toured the US, blending their musical styles with each other. Percussionist Darbuka Siva from Chennai and Debasmita Bhattacharya, sarod player from Kolkata, were among the fellows from India.

In 2012, Ali Hamza and Ali Noor, who form the band Noori, and folktronica duo Hari and Sukhmani came together to compose a beautiful number called Yaariyan, which we can finally listen to this year after its release. Noori had been in India in 2013 to collaborate with jazz guitarist Adil and jazz singer Vasundhara for the Fox Traveller series, SoundTrek.

They also recently were the only Pakistani band to play at the recent NH7 Weekender in 2015.

Watch the Yaariyan video here on MTV Pepsi Indies.

Often, music has been used to bridge the gap in international relations that politics cannot. While top leaders negotiate touchy topics, young Indians and Pakistanis exchange music online, attend gigs, and appreciate each other’s art across borders.

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