Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The princess of desi funk

Published 09 Oct, 2015 11:47am
In conversation with Sara Taher Khan, CEO, Radio 1 FM91.

(This profile was first published in the November-December 2006 issue of Aurora.)

‘Funk’ is not a word that comes to mind when one first sees Sara Taher Khan; more appropriate adjectives would be unpretentious and soft spoken. Upon a closer look you’ll realise she does indeed sport a rather ‘funky’ (maybe even punky) brow ring. Talk to her a little while and you’ll realise that she possesses a quiet strength and determination to prove herself, and a passion for radio and music.

She has had a childhood filled with ad film shoots; she has a Bachelor’s degree in film from one of the world’s best art schools, Rhode Island School of Design, which then led her to the Big Apple, where she piled on experience to her inherited talent for advertising by interning at DDBO (where she worked on for a commercial for VISA).

Sara also has Pakistani advertising’s first couple, Seema and Taher Khan, for parents, from whom she suspects she inherited her creative genes and PR skills, along with bad eating and sleeping habits. In the light of her parentage there was never any doubt that Sara would at some point in time enter the world of advertising, even though she harboured childhood dreams of becoming a fashion or interior designer. (She specifically points out that her parents have never forced her to do anything.)

In 2003, however, her parents did manage to convince her to return from New York to Karachi to be with her ailing grandmother and also to join the family business. As production manager at Interflow, she put her education to good use working on campaigns like Nestlé Cerelac, Nido, and Ufone.

However, she confesses that for the first three to four months she was, “so New York-ed out that I couldn’t fit in,” and didn’t do very much.

In 2006, far away from the bright lights of New York, as the young CEO of Radio 1 FM 91, Sara has a refreshingly strong sense of patriotism and not only feels strongly about Pakistan, but also about promoting a “proud-to-be-Pakistani” sentiment through Radio1, which she joined after only one year at Interflow.

As for this jump from advertising and into the unknown airwaves of radio, Sara cites several motivators; the first being that she was becoming bored with advertising.

Aware of the fact that people expect too much from the progeny of “dynamite parents”, Sara also wanted to move away from her parents’ sphere and “do her own thing.”

It’s not that she doesn’t appreciate or admire their work; it’s just that she wants to prove herself.

“Before a lot of people wouldn’t even acknowledge my presence; now I feel they are growing to respect me. They feel that maybe she’s not just a brat, maybe she has something; and that’s a good change.”

Although Seema Taher was less than excited about her daughter’s shift from advertising to radio, her father encouraged and supported the decision. This was about the time Radio1 was in its test-transmission stage and was receiving negative feedback and criticism about not being up to par.

Her sense of achievement stimulated by the challenge, Sara enthusiastically jumped into radio and says she pretty much “winged it”; things took off from there but not, she says without the help of her team, and of course the creatives at Interflow.

With Sara at the helm, and a crew consisting of mostly young people, Radio 1 has slowly but surely carved itself a niche, a loyal audience and a personality that is similar to its CEO’s; young, unpretentious and definitely proud-to-be-Pakistani.

Keenly aware of the boredom and frustration often experienced by the twenty-somethings of Pakistan, Sara’s vision for Radio 1 is to develop it into a platform that the youth can connect with, where they can express themselves and vent their frustrations. She says,

“Those are the people we want to entertain, and provide with information…”

But not only does Sara want to provide fun and music, she feels radio is a powerful medium and she wants to use it to provide people with information about intellectual pursuits like books, culture and the arts.

And then there’s the whole concept of ‘desi funk’ which urges of sense of patriotism in a modern, light-hearted, and youthful manner.

“Initially people gave us a lot of bad rep, they didn’t understand what desi funk was…”

Honestly neither did I; so Sara elaborated,

“Desi funk is an ideology (a Radio 1 original), it says that whatever is desi is cool and it’s not bad. And on Radio 1, we promote Pakistani. We promote the good parts of our culture.”

Sara is determined that Radio 1 should be a music station for all Pakistani youth, “we don’t do the bridge and tunnel thing,” she says alluding to the social differentiation of her once adopted hometown. Music for Sara is a democratic art form that connects people, and she wants Radio 1 to use music to bring people together and blur the disparities.

Music is a very important part of Sara’s life; apart from Radio 1 she is involved with BMN Records (a sister concern of Radio 1), which has released up-and-coming Pakistani bands like Call and Overload among others.

Although she has a quiet determination to achieve her goals, Sara rarely seems to let emotions overtake her; however when she talks about Pakistani music one can hear the passion rising in her voice as she explains that Radio 1 initially received a lot of what she calls, “bad rep” for playing too much Urdu music.

“But we are living in Pakistan, how can we not play Urdu music and how can you not know your own bands…?”

— Sara Taher Khan.

When asked what her favourite genre of music she loyally answers, “All the bands I have released are my favourite.”

Although she might at some point in the future move back to her field of film, Sara first wants to firmly fix Radio 1 on the airwaves.

For right now though, she passionately confesses, “Radio has my heart.”

Sara Taher Khan was in conversation with Leila Mahfooz. For feedback, email

(This profile was first published in the November-December 2006 issue of Aurora.)