HIVE CULTURE #04 - The growing role of diversity, inclusion and cultural history is contributing to the power of Youth Culture in South East Asia

HIVE CULTURE #04 - The growing role of diversity, inclusion and cultural history is contributing to the power of Youth Culture in South East Asia

By Akriti

In the digital age, culture has undergone a profound transformation, with musicians leveraging social media platforms and other tools to connect with audiences globally, giving rise to vital cultural scenes that evolve into a shared global culture. A notable instance of this paradigm shift is the emergence of Punjabi music as one of the upcoming scenes in India and around the subcontinent. A major pop culture moment last year was when Diljit Dosanjh was the first Punjabi artist to perform at Coachella and his viral video in which the singer is seen saying, “Punjabi aa gaye Coachella oye!” (The Punjabis have arrived at Coachella!) was trending across social media platforms. Another example is Indian diaspora star AP Dhillon’s hit single ‘Without You’ which consistently topped Spotify Charts in Pakistan, India, UAE and on Apple Music - UAE and India were top markets for AP. With two of his previous singles ‘Brown Munde’ and ‘Majhail’ already topping Billboard charts, he sure seems to be on his way to global fame. In Fact, in Apple Music’s Top 100 Songs of 2023 list, we find Punjabi music reigns supreme, signalling a major shift towards local talent, possibly driving the genre to be the next big thing and is one of the reasons for Apple Music’s focus for 2024.

Digital Resonance, Global Recognition and Breakout Stars Redefining Cultural Landscapes

In the last year alone, we’ve seen massive breakout stars from South Africa, and it's safe to say that through the power of digital connectivity, lesser-known genres such as Desi Hip Hop, J-Pop, Punjabi, etc., have the opportunity to follow scenes like Amapiano. Other genres have transcended geographical boundaries, reaching listeners across continents. Social media, streaming platforms, and digital collaborations with iconic fashion labels have played pivotal roles in propelling these genres into a global culture, showcasing the ability of musicians to shape and redefine cultural landscapes in the interconnected digital realm. 

When you look at the African market, from a dedicated Billboard charts list in association with Afro Nation, a whole new category of Best African Music Performance at the 66th Annual Grammy Awards, to viral TikTok and Instagram Reel dance challenges, the local scenes have proven to be loved and adored the world over.

The fusion of traditional African sounds with Electronic music has resonated with the diaspora and a diverse international audience. In a 2023 interview with Al Jazeera, Spotify’s chief executive for sub-Saharan Africa, Jocelyne Muhutu-Remy, spoke about the growth of genres such as Afrobeats. Since 2017, listenership has grown by 550%, with streams from all over the world. We’ve seen huge collaborations between Afrobeats stars and international artists like Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran and Selena Gomez, to name a few. 

The digital revolution has dismantled traditional barriers, allowing musicians from diverse backgrounds to showcase their talents on a broader scale, even outside Africa. For instance, in Pakistan, the success of breakout star Hasan Raheem is a testament to the transformative power of streaming platforms. If you haven’t heard Hasan’s “Peeche Hutt” hit song Peeche Hutt, you're probably living under a rock. With twenty-three million views and an official dance video in collaboration with Quickstyle on Youtube, Raheem has carved his own path in the Independent music scene, even way before he collaborated, with Coke Studio Pakistan with songs like “Aisey Kaise”, which was a viral hit in India when it released in 2020 and “Joona” which also has over 7 million views on Youtube. Most of his streams come from Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Jaipur, apart from Pakistan and UAE, which are top streamers for the artist. It shouldn’t be long before we see a possible collaboration with Indian artists and a tour. However, it is not possible with the Pakistan ban in India. Still, I'm keeping my fingers crossed. More on that below.

India and Pakistan share a deep cultural connection and legacy, especially in

India and Pakistan, despite political and historical differences, share a deep cultural connection and legacy, especially in music. This connection is vividly expressed in collaborative musical endeavours. Legendary artists like A.R. Rahman and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan exemplify this fusion, blending Indian Classical and Sufi music seamlessly. The Indian film industry has always collaborated and brought on board artists, and Bollywood movies and music have largely influenced musicians from Pakistan and Pakistan’s culture. Right from the 80s when Nazia Hassan became such an important voice of the entire Bolly Disco movement, till now, with artists such as Atif Aslam, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and many more.

Despite the cultural affinity, government policies can pose barriers to artistic exchange. For example, the ban on Pakistani artists in India is a glaring example of policies restricting the free flow of creativity. Renowned playback singer Shafqat Amanat Ali told IANS in 2019 that he missed performing in India and it is high time to lift the ban. These bans affect artists' and musicians' livelihoods the most because they don’t have the power to fight with the state. 

Such restrictions not only limit artistic expression but also hinder the potential for cultural dialogue and understanding by using censorship as a tool to dehumanise entire races based on an impertinent mix of propaganda and veiled opportunism. For almost seven years, there has been a ban on Pakistani artists working in India. Still, in October 2023, the Bombay High Court lifted the ban on Pakistani artists performing in India, which was observed to be a backward step in promoting cultural harmony, unity, and peace. This verdict changes everything. As a staunch music lover & DJ myself, the first thought that came to me was finally! The people love the music that comes out of Pakistan - whether it’s Bollywood or independent. Artists like Faris Shafi, Talal Qureshi, Ali Sethi, etc., are all extremely popular in India and within the global Indian & Pakistani diaspora. 

We previously discussed how public policy and funding are crucial in allowing authentic and local music scenes to thrive in emerging markets. While labels and distributors may be limited by their business objectives, public programs and grants are conceptually positioned to preserve and promote diverse traditions and cultures within each society, fostering sustainable ecosystems for artists. This got me thinking: why aren’t more public grants & foreign investments poured into the Global South addressing the challenges of artists who cannot build and engage with a physical community? For example, a lot of artists would tour Dubai as a means to engage with their Indian fans and vice versa due to the socio-political obstacles between India and Pakistan. Ali Sethi and Shae Gill, the Pakistani singers behind the viral song Pasoori, were among the first headliners announced in 2022 for the first Coke Studio Live in Dubai. This has led to the boom of live events and concerts in Dubai and also shows true fans and artists cannot be kept from each other, and rightfully so. 

All the Technological tools we see today are being designed for creators in the USA, UK and Canada markets and are not catered to creators from the subcontinent, especially since they can’t afford it and can't be in the studio physically to record their music. This is a great opportunity for Tech companies like Splice, Ableton and Pioneer DJ to test out emerging markets but also a chance for local and underground artists to express, create and share music with creators despite political and social challenges by making fair use of technology that could help artists exchange artistic ideas and styles of making music while also giving them due credit for their work and pricing these tools according to the market. 

The Enduring Legacy of Musical Collaborations between India and Pakistan remains one of the most legendary songs ever in the country.

Some Iconic India-Pakistan Collaborations that created generational, cultural moments in the Indian subcontinent:

  • Despite hurdles, there have been noteworthy collaborations between artists from India and Pakistan from the '60s - '70s, mostly film playback songs like Ko Ko Korina by Ahmed Rushdi. The song was absolutely massive and, to this day, remains one of the most legendary songs ever in the country. It is still played and sung at every Pakistani wedding. 
  • The 80s gave us the biggest pop star in Pakistan's history, Nazia Hassan. At the age of 15, Nazia sang a song called “Aap Jaisa Koi" for a Bollywood film, and it became a smash hit in both countries. She did all her work in collaboration with her brother Zohaib as part of the “Nazia and Zohaib'' duo. She became the youngest person ever to win a Filmfare award and kickstarted her career through it. Her debut album, Disco Deewane, spawned her most successful single of the same name, which remains commonly remixed at music festivals worldwide to this day. 

The timeless collaboration between Lata Mangeshkar and Noor Jehan, or more contemporary ventures like the Coke Studio Pakistan sessions, exemplifies the power of music to transcend borders. One of the easiest ways to know public opinion is through the comments section on YouTube’s Coke Studio Pakistan sessions, most of them cheering for these artists and professing their love and adoration for their culture and talent. 

Interestingly, to my surprise, I found that new age producers like Talal Qureshi’s highest number of listeners on Spotify aren’t from Lahore or Karachi but from Delhi and Mumbai.

With one of Qureshi’s more recent collaborations with renowned Pakistani rapper Faris Shafi and Desi Hip-hop artists Seedhe Maut, released on Azadi Records, Talal seems to be a massive hit with the urban Indian music scene. Therefore, collaborations, exchanges and a mutual appreciation for diverse musical forms have sustained this interdependence, showcasing the profound ability of music to bridge gaps and foster cultural unity.

Even on Talal Qureshi’s recent album, he featured Mitika Kanwar, a Punjabi Folk and Classical singer and Yashraj, an Indian rapper.

Musical Unity in the strangest places

The intense cricketing rivalry between India and Pakistan extends beyond the pitch. Fans from both nations unite through their shared love for music, as seen in the past in viral videos of fans spontaneously singing the chart-topping tune ‘Pasoori’ ‘Pasoori’ during the 2022 T20 World Cup Match in Melbourne, Australia. This shows the genuine connection between the people that music fosters, irrespective of political tensions and geographical boundaries. In conclusion, the evolving landscape of emerging markets in the digital age brings forth several key points to consider: 

1. Global Rise of Local Talent/Scenes which Evolve into a Shared Culture: This is something to look forward to since the Punjabi music scene is growing to be the next big “thing”, it’s quite evident that authentic musicians from diverse backgrounds and communities have more chances of transforming into a shared culture globally.

2. Digital Resonance, Global Recognition and Redefining Cultural Landscapes: Afrobeats and Amapiano have transcended geographical boundaries, propelled by social media, streaming platforms, and digital collaborations. The genre's exponential growth, diverse international audience, and collaborations with global icons highlight the power of digital connectivity in reshaping cultural landscapes. 

3. Impact of Public Policies: While cultural connections between India and Pakistan persist, governmental policies can either make or break an artist. The recent lifting of the ban on Pakistani artists in India emphasises on the importance of fostering cultural harmony and unity through music, challenging censorship as a tool for promoting understanding, and using music as a tool for social & political change. 

4. Role of Public Programs and Foreign Investments: Public policies and funding play a crucial role in allowing authentic music scenes to thrive, especially in emerging markets. There's a massive gap in public grants and foreign investments in the Global South, which is interesting because we have seen so much importance and funding going towards superficial development in the last few years.

5. Technology and Inclusive Creativity: The current technological tools are designed primarily for Western markets, creating an opportunity for tech companies to explore and cater to the needs of creators in emerging markets. Fair use of technology can help artists overcome political and social challenges, allowing artistic expression and collaboration to thrive in today’s world, which is very much needed.

6. History Plays an Important Role in Music: Despite historical and political differences, musical collaborations between India and Pakistan have created generational cultural moments, and that is the power of music. It’s important to know the history and roots of the music that consumers and artists listen to and create.

7. Musical Unity in Unlikely Places: The shared love for music unites people across the intense cricketing rivalry between India and Pakistan. This proves the genuine connection music fosters, irrespective of political tensions and geographical boundaries. In navigating the complex landscape of emerging markets, embracing digital connectivity, fostering cultural exchange, and overcoming policy barriers will be crucial for a thriving global music ecosystem.