Home-grown streaming app helps musicians find voice

For years, violence kept most of Pakistan’s aspiring young musicians from following their dreams, whether the threat of attacks or gang wars in the crowded southern port city of Karachi.
Now, as law enforcement crackdowns slowly improve the security situation across the nation, some musicians are getting help from two-year-old Pakistani start-up Patari, a music streaming and production company.
Both the startup and the musicians’ efforts are helping to carve out a new creative space for young people in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where those below 30 make up 60 per cent of a population of almost 200 million.
Karachi rap ensemble Lyari Underground was once afraid of putting its music on Facebook, deterred by episodes of bloody gang war in the precinct of the same name that Pakistanis consider the most dangerous in their largest city.
But the same violence has inspired many of the group’s songs, taking cues from the music of US rapper Tupac Shakur, said its founder, who uses the name AnXiously.
“In a ghetto, rap exists naturally,” he added. “If there is no rap, then it is not a ghetto. Rap is a product of this reality and these surroundings.”
Band members said when they first heard the music of Tupac, although half a world away, it reminded them of their own experiences living with violence and poverty.
Lyari remains one of Karachi’s poorest areas and financial limitations often force its young people to forego creative pursuits.
Launched in February 2015, Patari now boasts a library of 40,000 Pakistani songs and podcasts, and subscribers exceed half a million, said Chief Executive Khalid Bajwa.
Nearly 30 million of Pakistan’s people use the Internet, mainly on mobile telephones, says digital rights organisation Bytes for All.
Bajwa declined to discuss revenue, apart from saying the company was “self-sustaining”, mostly by producing events for established firms such as drinks company Pepsi, consumer goods giant Unilever and Pakistani clothing brand Khaadi.
The company’s latest initiative, Tabeer, or ‘Dream Come True’, pairs established artists with unknown musicians to produce six songs and music videos, completed on a budget of $15,000, and features on its app.
Patari exploited the fact that Pakistan’s tiny pop music scene comprised a couple of “corporate branded shows” featuring the same artists every year, but excluded amateur musicians.