Arts and Entertainment

Remembering Nazia Hassan

Nazia Hassan, the legendary Pakistani musician and activist, passed away 23 years ago today.
<a href="" target="_self">Eiman Mir</a>

Eiman Mir

August 13, 2023

For her worldwide fans, she was the queen of pop music. Nazia Hassan was adored for her melodious voice and for being a trailblazer in Pakistan’s contemporary music scene. From her hit album “Disco Deewane” to “Camera Camera.” Throughout her career, Hassan witnessed her music climb the charts around the world. Between syncopated basslines, rhythmic guitar tunes, and memorable lyrics, a young girl dressed in dungarees and dark braided hair stole the hearts of millions. 

Hassan’s career took her from being a young prodigy, to an adored musician, to a woman afflicted by a painful marriage and terminal lung cancer. At only 35 years old, Hassan was buried at the Hendon Cemetery in London on Aug.13, 2000.

Hassan’s music had a great influence on the pop scene within the subcontinent. Because of her childhood in the United Kingdom, she was exposed to a diverse range of pop and rock music that would seamlessly shape her style of music. During her childhood, she made a few minor appearances on TV including her role in the 1980 film “Qurbani” as the lead singer of the disco-esque pop song “Aap Jaisa Koi.” At the time, both India and Pakistan were developing an interest in all things disco. Some might say that the blinking lights, kaleidoscopic colors, and Western attire were symbolic of cultural change that forged common ground between two nations shattered by their once intertwined, yet distraught, history. Hassan was awarded the Filmfare award for her performance, making her the youngest and first Pakistani recipient.

Hassan went on to release music both on her own and with her brother, Zoheb Hassan. Her most famous songs include “Boom Boom”, “Aankhein Milane Waale”, and “Dil Mera.” Hassan’s music was distinct for it’s effortless blend of traditional Pakistani instruments with Western beats and lyrics. For example, the opening part of “Disco Deewane” includes the sound of a synthesizer, which is soon joined by a catchy western style riff played on a sitar. Throughout the song, the sounds of traditional instruments are intertwined with the upbeat rhythm.

Not everyone appreciated this intimate intermingling of Western and Pakistani music. Playing music while the country was lead by Zia-ul-Haq was challenging. For both Nazia and Zoheb, this meant that many of their songs were banned from being played under the national television channel, PTV.

In addition to her music career, Hassan was also an highly educated philanthropist. She studied Business Administration at Richmond American University and received a law degree from London University. She served for the Department of Political and Security Council Affairs at the United Nations in New York, worked with UNICEF, became a member of Voice of Women and National Youth Organization, and established the Battle Against Narcotics (BAN). Hassan’s philanthropy efforts also seeped into her music, with her last album “Camera Camera” including many songs about the dangers of drugs. 

Around this time, Hassan married the businessman, Mirza Ishtiaq Baig, and gave birth to their first child Arez Hassan in 1997. Their marriage was filled with difficulties, and Hassan ultimately sought a divorce. Simultaneously, Hassan was fighting lung cancer and passed away three months after her divorce was settled at the age of 35 on August 13, 2000.

Despite her hardships, Hassan’s impact on Pakistan is worth remembering. Both her music and philanthropic work touched millions of people and inspired the next generation of young artists to pursue their dreams and break down cultural barriers.

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