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The Blue Raag

By Madeeha Syed



They emerged as a promising new rock band after attaining victory in the Pespi Battle of the Bands in 2001. Their first video, Sawal, skyrocketed them into commercial success and henceforth began the anticipation regarding the release of their debut album.

It seemed everything was going in the right direction for them — their songs were doing well on the charts, their fans were growing in numbers by the day and a major sponsor was backing their first album. What more could anyone ask for? More so, why would anyone want to mess that up?

Aaroh, the band in question, takes its name from an eastern classical term, aarohi, which in simple words means “ascending a scale”. The initial success Aaroh experienced also made them more susceptible to enticing offers from here and across the border. A person who found one of the offers tempting was Nabeel Chisti (the then lead guitarist of the band) who, along with Kamran Khan (keyboard player) hopped across the border and signed music deals with industry individuals in India allegedly using the band’s name without the prior consent of the other two founding members of Aaroh, Farooq Ahmed (vocalist) and Khalid Khan (bassist).

A tug of war between the two groups ensued over who rightfully owned the band’s name and songs in the first album. A court case later decided the issue for them: everything by Aaroh legally belonged to Farooq and Khalid. With popular hits like Jalan, Sawal, Jeay and Na Kaho, Aaroh’s debut album Sawal, although marred by controversy, attained a relatively good level of success. One question, however, remained unanswered: how much of its success could be attributed to the contribution made by Nabeel?

Nabeel’s exit marked the entry of Haider Hashimi into the band, then a relatively unknown figure in the industry. He not only had to learn and adapt his own formula to what Nabeel had left behind, but also had to ‘prove’ himself in order to come out of Nabeel’s shadow. Aaroh’s current lineup consists of Farooq (vocals), Khalid (bass guitar), Haider (lead guitar) and Jason (drums).

With two videos from Aaroh’s second and upcoming album, Yaara and Pyaar Ka Jaal, both written and composed by Haider, having already done pretty well on the charts, one would say Haider has more than just redeemed his position in the band: he has quietly proved that as a musician, composer and songwriter, he is a force to reckon with.

Farooq claims that most of the songs in the new album have been written and composed by Haider. However, when confronted, Haider refused to take individual credit, saying that it was all a “group effort.”

With the launch of Aaroh’s second album, Raag Neela, just around the corner, Images decided to take a sneak preview into what the new Aaroh has to offer to its devoted fans. For their second album, Aaroh has signed up with The Musik Records as its record label.

Although initially promised to be a very ‘dark’ album, ‘Raag Neela’ continues to embody the raw emotion and intensity that initially defined Aaroh; however it does have a light funky element to it. It may finally prove to some individuals that rock is not restricted to dark, melancholy music and depressing subjects

The song Khuda begins with Farooq singing in a haunting, almost hypnotic voice tinged with emotion. The song is one of Aaroh’s softer songs and has a small guitar solo near the middle with a distinct bass line towards the end. Following Khuda in the softer, more soulful category is Woh Jo Kehday Mujhay. Heartrendingly romantic, the song talks about giving one’s self up to one’s object of affection.

Where no one can really top the queen of sufi soul, Abida Parveen, Aaroh’s rocked up version of her classic Mahi Yaar Di Gharoli is nevertheless, catchy. I personally feel that the live version is much more exciting. However, what comes as a relief is that the song, although rocked up, still maintains a certain simplicity about it; it has not been ruined by over-the-top guitar solos or vocals extending beyond reasonable-breath. The mix and the music are just right to have Aaroh ‘owning’ a classic without disrespecting it.

The title track Raag Neela came somewhat as a pleasant surprise. It pumps energy in a similar manner that the Abida Parveen cover, done by Aaroh, exudes when performed live. Farooq seems to enjoy himself while singing this particular track and one can trace an intriguing mixture of irony and amusement in the way that he has rendered this song. Backed by a strong composition, needless to say dominated by powerful guitar-music, the neela raag definitely stands out as one of the better tracks in the album and deserves to be put on the playback mode.

Although the song Pyaar Ka Jaal is now familiar to most due the heavy airplay its video received on the tube, it still manages to stand out in the album and comes across as a strong song. With lyrics dealing with the darker side of love, broken promises and anguish that accompanies heartbreak, Pyaar Ka Jaal is still very much listenable.

Where there are so many good songs in the album, there is one that failed to rise up to one’s expectations, Ek Cha, the only song in the album written by Shafqat Amanant Ali. It seems mellow compared to the raw emotion depicted in the rest of the songs in the album. Ek Cha may appeal to some listeners, but as a song, it’s a little too ‘safe’ and lacks a certain edge. Also, Jeet Lo, Daira and Jo Ankhon Mein Aanso somehow fail to stand out. Confronted with much stronger songs such as Yaara, Pyaar Ka Jaal, Khuda, Woh Jo Kehday Mujhay, Mahi Yaar Di Gharoli and Raag Neela, these songs fade in comparison and somehow just don’t cut it.

Although initially promised to be a very ‘dark’ album, Raag Neela continues to embody the raw emotion and intensity that initially defined Aaroh; however it does have a light funky element to it. It may finally prove to some individuals that rock is not restricted to dark, melancholy music and depressing subjects. Rather, it can be experimented with and be used with to express the same emotions with a lighter angle. Aaroh’s Raag Neela definitely has new flavour and is overall a good album to have.

Amongst the other bands that made it big in 2002, one of the most notable was Aaroh. Their debut on TV was as winners of the Pepsi Battle of the Bands. Some felt they took a tad too long to release their critically-acclaimed debut album, Sawal, which was officially released in 2003, which skyrocketed them into commercial success with hits such as Sawal, Jalan, Jeeay, Na Kaho etc.


Like most acts which attain fame overnight, they also experienced conflicts within the band with Nabeel Chisty and Kamran Khan (the then lead guitarist and keyboardist) running off to India and signing deals with industry individuals allegedly using the band’s name. A court case ensued, which later awarded Farooq Ahmed (vocalist) and Khalid Khan (bassist) the rights to the band’s name and their songs and marked Nabeel and Kamran’s departure from the band.

Haider Hashmi from the Lahore underground band, Mind Riot, replaced Nabeel as the lead guitar player. The reconstituted Aaroh’s hits such as Pyaar Ka Jaal, Yaara and their latest tune, the funky Raag Neela, solidified their position and proved that Aaroh still has a lot of the same substance that made them a hit in the first place. They’re one of the best live acts in the country and with the sheer number of gigs they have been performing after their album launch, it shows that they are not only very much together as a band, they’re also very much in demand.

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