KARACHI: As someone born in an Urdu-speaking family in Quetta, it took me days to absorb Abrar Ul Haq’s Billo when it first came out.
First of all, the song was in Punjabi and the language and its speakers were sadly looked down upon in the city. Although it is closer to my mother tongue, we would still never own it as we would own Pashto, Brahvi or Balochi.
Billo was an unusually upbeat number with one of the strangest lines I’d ever heard: “Tikka tikka tao, lan banao”. I figured out the “lan banao” bit after listening to it a couple of times on TV and was considered a genius by my friends who were still trying to wrap their heads around it. These friends were mostly non-Punjabi and since we were all unable to comprehend and understand the song beyond a few lines, we had labelled it pointless, or to put it in colloquial terms, a “liwanaye song”. Although we never bought the cassette, we didn’t stop listening to it.
One day, while returning home from school, our van driver shouted, “Kinay kinay jaran Billo de ghar” and we all started laughing because we knew the song. That is when a Punjabi actually explained to us that the song had nothing to do with Chicken Tikka. He admired our curiosity and we his knowledge. Next evening, Harrison Masih, or Honey as we used to call him, ended up on our side. Billo became the girl-next-door or the name of the “new girl in the neighbourhood”. It indeed took us time to understand the 1996 phenomenon and now that she is back in the game, expect no less.
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The world may have become more complicated and political but Billo walks through the chaos with the same charm and simplicity. In Abrar’s latest album, she makes a comeback after 20 years, still single, elegant and now available on Whatsapp.
Abrar knows the common Pakistani better than most other artists and the number of hits the new record has seen on music streaming platform Taazi is testimony to that.
Abrar can make you both blush and cringe at the futility of asking out a girl after a ‘one-way affair’ and make a pick-up line as crude and direct as “Come sit on my bicycle” sound cute. This suspension of disbelief is what made Abrar, who was once the most sought-after live performer, and Billo archetypes on their own.
However, his second date with Billo is not as romantic. Simplicity was the name of the game and too many tricks, with both emotions and music, have ruined that.
Abrar sings in Arabic and tries to incorporate a wide range of harmonies all of which distract you away from his tongue-in-cheek poetry. In fact, Abrar’s music has always been about clever lyrics coupled with music that makes you want to shake a leg and that still comes through with the Billo reboot.
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Having seen Aaja Ne Baija Cycle Te turn into La De Ne Mohra Cycle Te for Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid’s election campaign and Imran Khan De Jalse Te Nachne, one can trust Abrar’s political allegiances as much as one can trust Komal Rizvi’s wardrobe choices. However, unlike Komal, he is still very smart.
“Pehlay si pakeeza aur pehlay si tabinda hai, Aaj bhi Billo zinda hai” is just one of the many hilarious lines in the new version. He may be pulling no punches here but still he is clearly asking for a few, very cleverly. At the same time, the phrase completely suits the mood of the song that revolves around the return of our quintessential heroine. Whether or no Abrar has managed to push the ‘Try me’ button, which might be the intent behind the naughty verses, we will only find out once he is out with its video. One thing is for sure. A new generation will be introduced to Billo, even if her resurrection has not been as effectively communicated as her genesis was.
Will Billo still be as big of a cultural force as it once was? Maybe not. She may not be able to melt hearts the way she did with those kids in Quetta. She may even get associated to a political party. Perhaps, the average guy on the street didn’t even need Billo to return in the time of Princess Shawnas and Angelina Dolls. Whatever the case may be, the increasing number of plays of the song suggests one thing: Abrar and his audience have not moved on and they don’t even need to.
Courtesy : Express Tribune