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10-11-2008, 11:43 AM #1
Pakistan : A crescendo of protest?
RUNNING ABOUT the streets of Lahore with a guitar in his hands, Shahzad Roy finds a lawyer trying clumsily to set a tyre on fire, a disaster rescue-volunteer pinching a mobile phone from a victim’s pocket, and an American agent lurking in alleys muttering sinister things into a walkie-talkie. Pakistan’s most recent protest song video, Laga Reh (Keep At It), is a dizzying frenzy of lying politicians, silly TV reporters and Asif Ali Zardari look-a-likes. It’s a song about almost everything Pakistan has come to symbolise, everything the common Pakistani is weary of.
A pop star for a decade in Pakistan, Roy, who is travelling to Mumbai soon and hopes to perform in India, never noticed such scenes before and, even if he did, he still sang about a saali who rejected his advances (Saali Tu Maani Nahin) and a pretty face he couldn’t get out of his head (Teri Soorat). “I wanted to sing about everyday things,” he says. But soon he realised that the anxiety of a jilted lover may not be Pakistan’s everyday thing.
“When I was 10 years old,” says Roy, “I heard a news anchor say that Pakistan was going through a sensitive time. I’m 31 now, and a news anchor again said the same thing. When are things going to change?” In the music video, a balding gentleman looks up from a newspaper, shaking his head in rhetorical resignation: how is this country going to handle things? Singing stops, percussions freeze, and Roy winks at the camera: “I really hope not like it’s been handling them so far!” He’s frazzled when a mob attacks a lone man, but his balding friend advises him to look heavenwards, and leave all the tensions of the mulk to Allah. Roy throws up his hands, “Kuch na kar tu / Sab kuch Allah pe chod de / Allah hi tera hafiz hai” (Sit around, leave it all for Allah to fix).
The video is blasphemous, sarcastic and finds a punchline in everything. Especially when a Zardari lookalike chuckles slimily at the sleeping masses: “Inko jagana math, yeh kisi zaroori kaam se so rahen hain” (Don’t wake them, they’re very busy sleeping). Not surprisingly, the video just missed being banned. However, Roy confesses his video sponsor pulled out at the last minute, when he refused to remove some potentially explosive lines. “If I took out the Allah and American agent scenes, what would be left?”
A hot potato for any Pakistani music channel, Laga Reh is more alive on the Internet, the preferred lair of a host of protest bands today. “It is nearly impossible to censor material on the Internet,” says Taimur Rehman, a political science teacher in Lahore who created the band Laal with his student Shahram Azhar. For seven years, they sang their anthem, Maine Usse Yeh Kaha (This is what I told him), to small working-class gatherings, and when Pervez Musharraf imposed the Emergency in 2007, they uploaded a video on YouTube. A stirring rendition of writer Habib Jalib’s poem, Masheer (Advisor), the song is a satirical statement on the advisors that surround military dictators. Azhar points out that Habib Jalib might have written it in the 1960s, against the then dictator Ayub Khan, “but every word seemed relevant 40 years later, during Musharraf and the 2007 Emergency”. The video uses footage of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, shocked and angry young boys setting cars on fire, and the long overdue general elections on February 18, 2008.
“Most bands perform an occasional political song,” says composer and guitarist Rehman, “but we have yet to decide whether we want to play an occasional love song.” A self-confessed Marxist, music for Rehman is another vehicle by which to convey progressive, democratic and socialist ideas. He would often take his guitar to class in the Lahore University of Management Studies, and found that one of his students, Azhar, had “the most trained voice I’d heard in a long time.” Azhar, who signs off his emails “Comradely yours”, fumes feverishly about the past 60 years of people being flogged on roads, robbed of their basic rights. A line in the song goes: “Apne kharch par hain kaid log is samaaj me” (loosely translated: People are paying for their own imprisonment). It’s an attempt to revitalise revolutionary poetry, the instigations for which are, unfortunately, still around. Their new album has three songs on Indo-Pak relations, and lyrics from a more contemporary poet — Aitzaz Ahsan, who played a key role in bringing down Musharraf’s military government through the lawyers’ movement.
When it’s not scathing political comment, it’s a loud jeering of Gilani the Groper. Punk rockers Noble Drew do a nudge-nudge number called Thaleon Vi Chimro (Grind It Down) about Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s hand casually and repeatedly brushing Information Minister Sherry Rehman’s breasts quite openly at a Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) rally. Basim Usmani, lead vocalist and erstwhile sporter of a purple mohawk, explains that the song is a place to jot down a country’s frustrations, whether with repressed sexuality or with “the same landlords and thieves running for the same elections — more hair on their scalps and policies”.
Usmani was born in New York and met guitarist Shahjehan, a childhood buddy, through the Mosque Committee in Massachusetts, where both their fathers taught. They rocked in a punk band called The Kominas in New York before they decided to fly back to Lahore, learn some Punjabi, and record more homegrown songs. Noble Drew sings in Punjabi, a language they feel has been disregarded in favour of Urdu because of “classicism and snobbery.” Usmani also decided to pursue journalism as a reporter at an Urdu TV channel, to “get deeper into Lahore.”
Noble Drew drummer Mamoon Rashid admits that if the establishment catches on to the increase in protest songs, they may be shut down. But, as Laal’s Rahman says, Pakistan is perhaps in its most democratic period. “Musical dissent is so popular now that it would be difficult, dare I say impossible, to quell it.” When news channel Geo TV received word that it would go off air during the Emergency, they played Maine Usse Yeh Kaha in a promo video for several days. Azhar points out that by endorsing protest music, common Pakistanis are saying, “Enough! We’re democratic, we’re secular, and we don’t want the mullahs and the military to represent us anymore.”
Pakistan has long been fighting off the image of orthodoxy. Since 9/11, there is more suspicion in Western eyes, and sweeping generalisations of murderous intent. Yeh Hum Naheen (This is Not Us) began as an anti-terrorism campaign in late 2006, and culminated a year later in a collaborative song featuring seven contemporary musicians in Pakistan. The campaign website says it’s a message from misrepresented Muslims, who are saddened by the “hijacking of Islam by terrorists”. The video, again, closes in on faces of leaders — hated and loved. Rickshaw- pullers, officegoers, school-kids, all sing, yeh hum naheen. In these protest songs, every word has a socio-political refrain. Noble Drew members may call themselves “lafangas”, but they cannot but be affected by war and murder in their neighbourhood.
“It’s become impossible not to address what it means to be Pakistani,” says Usmani, citing how even Ali Azmat (a former member of band Junoon), who writes party music, has put Kalashnikovs on his album cover.
Laal’s Azhar lays it down simply: “The military says we shouldn’t speak up. So we pick the most blazing, rousing poetry. The mullahs say music is haraam. So we make music our medium of protest.”
Source: Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 38, Dated Sept 27, 2008
Maine Usse Yeh Kaha
Yeh Hum Naheen
Last edited by Cray; 10-11-2008 at 11:57 AM. Reason: Forum coding pattern - Tx to Hash for clarifying it!
10-12-2008, 08:55 AM #2
This way interesting. Thanks a lot for posting. I agree with most of what is said, and totally am with the protests thru songs. I listened to all 3, and its amazingly relevant to everything that was, and is going on. I love the line from Lagah Reh where it says " Mujhe yeh nahin fikar ke Pakistan kaise chalega, Mujhe yeh fikar hai ke aise hi chalta rahega". Exactly thats what we need, a change. It doesn't matter what it is, even a small change, will make everything so much better. There is never a time when something is wrong, and there finally should be a time where everything is right. As for Maine Usse Yeh Kaha, I like what its saying, its very sarcastic and is pointing fingers at all the right people who are completely wrong. Everything..that should happen and everything that is good, ends up..disappearing, or dying or whatever. The video of Yeh Hum Naheen is so touching, its really sad..and I love how all singers participated in it.
Thanks again Cray for posting this.
Truly appreciated.An Everlasting Summer Romance --- In Process
10-13-2008, 10:25 AM #3
You can't realise how much it means when someone is appreciated for a post which has been written with intent and feelings. Therefore i should be the one thanking you guyz for your appreciation and reply. Tx mates!
01-10-2009, 11:31 PM #4
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thanks for posting