April 3 marks what would have been the 48th birthday of one of the most popular and beloved pop singers of South Asia.
Virtually unknown in the west, Nazia Hassan skyrocketed into the stratosphere of fame in the 1970s and1980s with such pop hits as "Aap Jaisa Koi," which appeared in the Indian movie “Qurbaani” and became one of the biggest hits in Bollywood history.
Following the huge success of "Aap Jaisa Koi" (when she was only 15), Nazia became the first female playback singer in Pakistan to release her own album, “Disco Deewana,” which her brother, Zohaib, also collaborated on.
Between 1982 and 1992, she released four albums, including "Young Tarang" in 1984, which led to the first music video ever in Pakistan.
Born in Karachi to a well-to-do family in 1965, Nazia’s singing talents and extraordinary beauty made her "Pakistan’s Princess" -- she is credited with single-handedly creating the pop music market in Pakistan during a time when President Zia al-Haq instituted harsh Shariah law in the country.
“Yes, some people don’t even consider [my songs] music; well, it’s the kind of the music we dig, take it or leave it,” she told Herald magazine in 1980.
“They say classical music is the only real music. Whenever I’m attending a classical music recital, I feel like I’m attending a funeral. You have to sit grim and still -- no coughing, no talking, lest people think you are being impolite.”
Despite the disapproving eye of many religious figures in the country toward Western forms of art and culture in her native Pakistan, Nazia nonetheless sold more than 60 million records worldwide.
Nazia tragically died of lung cancer in London in August 2000 at the age of 35.
Following her death, her obituary in the Guardian newspaper said that Nazia “was independent and was never afraid to speak her mind. A lot of her money was given to charity; she also set up an organization to help the poor and even at the peak of her popularity made special appearances on television shows for children. She spent a lot of time with young people, educating them about the dangers of drugs.”
Nazia spent most of her short adult life in Britain but frequently returned home to Pakistan.
“Hassan is mourned today with a vengeance that is far greater than the music she made,” a remembrance in Dawn, the English-language Pakistani daily, stated.
“The reason is simple -- Nazia Hassan had a quality that went beyond talent. She was a star in the true sense of the overused and misunderstood word… Her contribution to breaking the shackles of musical orthodoxy cannot be forgotten. Perhaps unwittingly, she was much more than just a singer. And that is why the tragically short life of Hassan is so important.”
Last year, her brother Zohaib spoke to the Pakistan Tribune newspaper about the devastating loss of his sister.
“I always told her that she should not be a singer,” he said. “She had no airs about herself. But she believed she could reach the hearts of millions through music and singing, and could do good humanitarian work.”
He added: “She died an unhappy person and she died in pain. This was a devastating reality for us to know. To see your loved one die in pain is the most frightening experience.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.