Down Memory (and Technology) Lane: Runa Laila

1970s poster child Runa Laila

1970s poster child
Runa Laila

Between the late 1960s and early 1980s, Runa Laila was one of the most popular voices in Pakistan. A Bengali by birth like so many other great Pakistani film and pop stars, she is claimed by both countries and loved in many more. Runa sang film songs often as the female half of a duo with the iconic Ahmed Rushdi, but also sang ghazals and even folk music.

As this tape demonstrates, a playback singer, though much maligned in some people’s minds, has to be very talented. Runa is able to voice the playful naughtiness of a dancing girl, the broken heart of ‘every girl’ and the raw rural brilliance of the village cowherdess. And do so convincingly.

I picked up this tape only a few weeks ago, believe it or not. I was in Karachi and in the hotel book-shop there were several cassettes. I bought most of them and for the most part they are in good working order. A bit less pleasant is that many of them are ‘jhankar’ tapes. This is a musical genre that came into vogue in the late-80s and really dominated the tape industry in the early 90s.

Thoroughly modern and gorgeous.

Thoroughly modern and gorgeous.

Jhankar is an Urdu term meaning ‘clang, ping, twang’. With the advent of access to electronic keyboards and mixing boards many small studios began remixing film songs, ghazals, qawwali and virtually any sort of music (bar classical) they could get their hands on and overlay it with electronic beats. In my opinion it was unnecessary tinkering and clearly a marketing strategy to make money off of dusty back catalogues. On the other hand, if you ever have taken a 12 hour bus trip across the plains of Pakistan you quickly appreciate the music. In the case of jhankar it was the only sort of music you could hear about the rattle and clatter of a poorly made bus on a bumpy road.

I commend this tape to you, despite its being jhankarized, because Runa is always good to listen to and for the most part the IT boffin that added the pings and clangs to this was pretty restrained. The stand out tracks are #1, #3 and #8 but for a trip down memory lane (both culturally and technologically) all the tracks are worth owning.


Runa Laila Vol 45. Part 1 (Special Jhankar)

Track Listing:

01 Dil Dharkey Main Tum Se

02 Mian Ji ke Bannon Se

03 Dinwa Dinwa Main Ginoon

04 Naina Taras ke Rah Gai

05 Na Jane Kis Liye Hum Par

06 Takalluf Ber Taraf Hum To

07 Sathi Sath Nibhana Rey

08 Meri Marzi Main Gaaoongi

09 Aap Farmain Kya Khareedain

10 Champa Chambeli Yeh Kaliyan

11 Aap Dil ki Anjuman Main

12 Mera Babu Chall Chabila

Runa Baby

9 thoughts on “Down Memory (and Technology) Lane: Runa Laila

  1. I remember her “Siliara(?) bina chatni kaise bani”, which at that time was hugely popular in Bihar where I was. People read all kinds of meaning in this song and obviously vulgar ones predominated!

  2. Nobody does the “village cowherdess” better than Runa Laila. And her pre electronic dubs, which I only discovered after all that electronic noise, is fantastic.

    Thanks for this. I can’t wait to give it a listen.

  3. Just downloaded, but when I saw the 64 bitrate, I didn’t even bother and just tossed it in the trash. But thanks anyway.

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