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WTF.

Darling readers, I apologize for the lack of consistent blogging on my end (though twice a week is still pretty good, I say!). I am in the process of launching my start-up company this Fall, so life has been a little manic. I do still read the news and opine to self about things that piss me off. Which is a lot. But because snorting and laughing snarkily to self is lonely (and not as self-indulgent as self would like), I give you yet another WTF list – this time the WTF CRAP (i.e., WTF is wrong with people?!) and WTF YAH (i.e., WTF this is awesome! Yay! Puppies!). Because there are always happy things to WTF about too:

 THE WTF CRAP LIST:

WTF-C #1: The ISI arrested five Pakistani informants who fed information to the CIA in the months leading up to the Osama bin Laden raid, reported the NY Times this week. So…they…um…arrested the guys who helped in the capture of OBL? Somewhere out there (hopefully not on a compound in the Islamabad suburb known as Abutababa), new Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is cackling gleefully. #FacePalm.

WTF-C #2: SPEAKING OF MILITANTS LIVING IN ISLAMABAD’S SUBURBS (Curse you Wolf Blitzer! You haz tainted ma city’s suburbz 4 life!), AFP (via Dawn) reports that Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil, the head of Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen (HUM), is sitting pretty in a “suburb” of Islamabad, Golra Sharif. Given that many of these militants also sit pretty all over the country (hey, Bravo, new reality show deal?), this is massively disturbing but not surprising. Dawn reported, “The Pakistani senior government official who spoke with AP said Khalil has been arrested twice but each time was released on orders from Pakistan’s intelligence agency.” WTF.

WTF-C #3: Pakistan seems to top every freaking list these days (even the #1 Nation in Sexy Web Searches, you can’t make this stuff up). A recent Thompson Reuters Foundation survey ranked Pakistan as the third most dangerous place in the world for women. Granted, this was a poll about perceptions, but the fact that 90% of women in Pakistan experience domestic violence in their lifetime is a very depressing statistic indeed.

WTF-C #4: In some non-related Pakistan news, Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned from office today after being tangled in a “lewd” sexting scandal. According to news agencies, Weiner engaged in “‘inappropriate conversations’ with six women over the last three years, including on Facebook, e-mail, Twitter and on the phone with one of the women.” During his resignation speech, in which Weiner “apologized for the mistakes he had made,” reporters cheered, they heckled, and one dude even yelled, “Are you bigger than seven inches?!” Oh dear. Why.

THE WTF YAH LIST (Because some news is fun!):

WTF-Y #1: Speaking of resignations (or things related), Jane Perlez reported this week in the NY Times that COAS Gen. Kayani “is fighting to save his position in the face of seething anger from top generals and junior officers” following the OBL raid. Perlez noted, “The Pakistani Army is essentially run by consensus among 11 top commanders, known as the Corps Commanders, and almost all of them, if not all, were demanding that General Kayani get much tougher with the Americans.” So an inter-military coup? Who knows. But until then, we can thoroughly enjoy the hilarity of “What Kayani Whispered,” an assortment of awesome photos with even more awesome captions:

Via What Kayani Whispered

WTF-Y #2: I would make a terrible rapper. This is because I sound like a Dr. Seuss rhyme when I try. (And then I wore a hat/Shaped like a cat/Where’s my bat?/Boiii) This is why I massively respect people who can rap extremely ridiculously well. Like Adil Omar. I first interviewed the rapper from Islamabad two years ago, (when he was just 17 years old), and he recently released a new music video featuring Xzibit (Yes. THAT Xzibit) and directed by Matt Alonzo (who did “Like a G6″) called, “Off the Handle.” Watch the video below and download the song here:

WTF-Y #3: The Unreasonable Institute, an accelerator program for high-potential social entrepreneurs, launched its new summer of fellows a few days ago. Saba Gul, the co-founder and executive director of BLISS (Business & Life Skills School) is at this year’s Institute, representing her amazing social enterprise, which empowers adolescent girls in rural Pakistan through education and entrepreneurship. BLISS was also just featured on NBC Nightly News, see here. Congrats and good luck at Unreasonable, Saba!

WTF-Y #4: Nothing makes me happier (or yell WTF-Yah!) than Coke Studio, which just premiered its fourth season in Pakistan. The immensely popular show, which “embodies a musical fusion of exciting elements and diverse influences, ranging from traditional eastern, modern western and regionally inspired music,” already has a number of memorable songs and collaborations, including Kangna. But while I will always love Coke Studio, I have also been loving another initiative, Levi’s Original songs, particularly this gem by The Strings & Zoe Viccaji:

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The Musical Reverberation of Arooj Aftab

Source: Berklee.edu

Lahore-born and raised Arooj Aftab is an emerging musician whose music is influenced by an array of artists – from traditional Pakistani singers to contemporary sounds from the likes of  Erykah Badu. A self-taught guitarist, Arooj was one of four recipients of Berklee Music’s first merit-based scholarship, allowing this innovative musician to receive a formal music education at the acclaimed college.  Today, she lives in Brooklyn, and has plans to tour Pakistan and the region next year with a unique blend of artistry that encompasses a true spectrum of global sounds. Below, she answers a few questions for CHUP:

Q: You are a self-taught guitarist from Pakistan who received a scholarship to study at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. What was the transition like? Did you have formal training prior to your time at Berklee?

I actually received a percentage of my tuition as scholarship from Berklee on voice merit, and managed the rest through college loans in true struggling musician fashion! I continued to study voice as my instrument, and music production/engineering as my major at Berklee College of Music. I was teaching myself guitar through my A Levels, performing a bit underground and releasing cover songs on the internet. Right out of Lahore Grammar School (LGS), I won the Steve Vai Berklee Online school scholarship, which gave me a year to study Western music theory prior to actually attending the college.

The transition was pretty smooth- I was very hungry to learn as much as I could about music from everyone around me.Aside from the organized Western classical music and jazz theory I was introduced to, the college also had a large percentage of international students — so it really was incredible to be exposed to instruments, rhythms, sounds and messages from all over the world as well. However, I was the only Pakistani, and with no classical training I spent much time reading and listening to our own music – solidifying and familiarizing myself to old recordings, learning the root by ear so that I could reproduce, replicate and represent Pakistani music in the West.

Q: How have traditional Pakistani music and sounds influenced your music and growth as an artist? What other artists and genres influence you as an artist?

I think it is essential to know the root, and own it with whatever art form you chose to embody. I have always looked to our ancestors and the endless army of great musicians from all over the diaspora for guidance through my years of pursuing music. I would say that a lot of my vocal technique and phrasings come from repetitively and incessantly listening to recordings of Abida Parveen, Begum Akhtar, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali, Bismillah Khan, Nusrat, Ustad Barkat Ali Khan, and so forth. Brazilian fado and flamenco styles also inspire me, as do other types of music.

Q: In Pakistan, there isn’t much importance placed on musical training among youth, despite the popularity of Pakistani pop stars. However, shows like Coke Studio have become popular because of their fusion of traditional and mainstream sounds. Do you think these trends are changing society’s sentiment towards music in Pakistan? How important do you think it is to give youth access to such training?

Classical training is not easy. It requires years of solid dedication and being both physically and mentally present.

The skill is so intricate, intense and intimate that the relationship between teacher and apprentice is sacred. Everything has its own pace, knowledge is imparted in stages, hard work is noted and rewarded for – all together, it’s a very serious process.

I think it’s hard for people to wrap their heads around such an intense dedication to music-  and it is something that is not given much social or monetary value in Pakistan right now. Initiatives like Coke Studio are creating a new found appreciation and fresh direction for music listeners, but young people will not feel confident making solid commitments [to pursue music] unless attitudes towards musicianship itself change.

Q: What do you hope to achieve through your music? Has there been a difference in people’s response to you in the West versus in our part of the world?

Well to be honest, I have yet to perform properly in Pakistan– it has been almost five years since I moved to the U.S. for my degree and have been performing throughout this country, representing Pakistan, while learning, experimenting and developing my sound. Appreciation will always be warm and ample in the U.S., people approach music with a great deal of etiquette and respect. Even when the audience is unfamiliar with the language, they have always been keen on taking in whatever they can get via instrumentation, energy and vibe of the pieces. I am excited to book our debut Pakistan tour soon! Next year we plan to fly through all the main cities with the full band– and also possibly do a few cities in India [my guitar player and co-composer Bhrigu Sahni is from Pune]. I want each concert to be like a big shaadi, as if we are wedding all the cities together. It is a really romantic peace healing concept.

Q: What role can music play in bridging divides? Do you hope to play a role in such forms of public diplomacy?

As an activist in Boston and New York, I have found it very difficult to rally people here towards pro-Pakistan activities. The media misconceptions and general fear of what Pakistan even is, has laid a bed of silence over activist communities here. That’s why it’s important for everyone who is Pakistani and has creative, peace promoting, healing agendas– to be louder than ever before. Be present on the web even if you hate Twitter or Facebook— really get the color, the alive, the humor, the heritage and all the love out there. There is much diplomatic power in unifying and celebrating creativity throughout the diaspora.

Collaborative projects are also a great tool that we arent using enough- I have been working with a lot of incredible South Asian artists in the Brooklyn/New York scene recently, including Tamil Sri Lankan Dance/Spoken word artist YaliniDream. There are other amazing artists doing incredible work that should be celebrated, and one of my upcoming projects will be a blog that aims to showcase new South Asian/Diaspora artists each week.

To learn more about Arooj Aftab and her music, visit her website.

Arooj Aftab – Man Kunto Mola [for the initiative Rebuild Pakistan]


And for the Xmas spirit, her cover of Hallelujah:

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(Koolmuzone) Atif Aslam singing on Coke Studio

Today, the Pakistani music industry is diverse and rich, and immensely popular television shows like Coke Studio have successfully fused traditional sounds with modern influences. Below, Rafaya Sufi, an Editorial/Web assistant at Asia Society’s headquarters in New York, walks us through the country’s history of music, (this article was first featured on Asia Society’s blog on October 12):

NPR published a piece on understanding Pakistan through its pop-idols this month, staying true to the multiple contours of the complex Pakistani society and the constant struggle between identity and what is “cool.”

Pakistani music, as diverse as its multiethnic population, ranges from qawwali, a popular brand of music branched from Sufi Islam, to good ol’ fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. It includes diverse elements ranging from music from various parts of South Asia as well as Central Asian, Persian, Turkish, Arabic, and modern day Western popular music influences. With these multiple influences, a distinctive Pakistani sound has been formed. From Pakistan’s inception, music was a form of entertainment like anywhere else. But unlike Pakistan’s hardline-Islamist image today, society was a just a little bit different back then.

In the 1960s, Pakistan, a place where alcohol was still legal and couples frequented movie theatres hand-in-hand, prospered, and visits from Jackie Kennedy probably helped too. The ’70s and ’80s saw the rise of political Islam, culminating in the conservative dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq. Despite this erratic political landscape, the tradition of Pakistani music remained strong.

Today, I will take you on a tour of Pakistan’s music since gaining independence on August 14, 1947.

1940s:
Alam Lohar is a classic cult Punjabi-folk favorite. Born in 1928, Lohar began his career when he was just a teenager. Listen closely and you’ll realize why he is considered to be (metaphorically speaking, of course) the grandfather of Punjabi MC, today’s biggest bhangra music star. Using a peculiar instrument called the Chimta and an overwhelming singing stamina, Lohar wooed the crowd with the song Jugni, below:

1950s:
With a few exceptions, minorities in Pakistan appeared frequently on TV during the 1950s, singing some of the great music to come out of the entertainment industry. Sunny Benjamin John and Irene Perveen, singers belonging to Christian families, stole the hearts of young Pakistanis with their heartfelt music, their music falling into the ever popular and favorite genre of ghazals, songs of poetic expression. Also, hello color-TV:

1960s:
Ah, the golden years of Pakistan. Music in the ’60s took a turn around the world. With the Beatles in the West, Pakistan produced Ahmed Rushdi in the East – arguably, the first disco star of his generation. Ko-ko-Korina, a song that earned a Platinum Jubilee, was so popular in the region it escalated the Pakistani movie industry to great heights. Many renditions of the song appeared in the next few decades both domestically and in Pakistan’s next-door neighbor, India. Folks, put your dancing shoes on:

1970s:
The 1970s gave rise to a popular, risqué trend called the “hair dance.” Young Pakistanis who attended dance parties were no strangers to this style of dancing. To do the hair dance, one had to shed all their inhibitions, and shake it, literally. The video is pretty self-explanatory:

1980s:
To any Pakistani who grew up in the ’80s, the words “Vital Signs” were not measures of various physiological statistics, but a musical band of heartthrobs who sang Dil Dil Pakistan, literally meaning Heart Heart Pakistan. These young, leather-jacket-wearing-motorbike-riding men were patriotic, and Pakistanis realized, “You know what? It’s cool to be Pakistani.” Styled in Ray-Ban wayfarers, the band members of Vital Signs challenged General Zia-ul-Haq‘s strict regime and introduced Pakistanis to the world of pop music. Because it was a patriotic song, it remained uncensored. Earlier in the decade, the late Nazia Hassan sang Disco Deewane, or crazy about disco, a song which made it to the US Billboard charts, a first for any Pakistani singer. Because the 80s produced some of Pakistan’s most memorable pop-stars, you get to enjoy not one but two videos:

1990s:
The U2 of Pakistan, Junoon struggled with promoting their music. The US invasion of Afghanistan left much violence on the streets of Pakistan and thus began a long, on-going stretch of political instability. One band member, Salman Ahmed, said he made his first political statement by creating a rock band. Their music, which highlighted the corruption of Pakistan’s elite, Benazir Bhutto for instance, got them into trouble. They were banned. Junoon’s vocalist Ali Azmat considered himself and the band to be “musical guerillas,” but the ban only escalated their popularity as counter-culture heroes. Watch this fascinating documentary by VH1 and narrated by Susan Sarandon on Pakistan’s greatest rock band, Junoon:

The 21st Century:
In the early 2000s, the explosion of media gave young artists an opportunity to showcase their talent. A plethora of TV channels saw the emergence of fresh, new faces that are now household names in Pakistan. Halfway through the decade, Coke Studio launched. This rendition of Live on Abbey Road has created a fusion of all musical genres. From combining qawwali with bhangra, to ghazals with rock, Coke Studio has brought artists from all over the country into one studio, and made it work. Here’s a little sneak-peek into the world of the hit-series Coke Studio:

Then there are those artists to come out of Pakistan, of which Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is considered to be timeless. A frequent collaborator with Peter Gabriel, powerhouse Khan, a qawwali singer who sang for soundtracks of movies such as Dead Man Walking, Natural Born Killer, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Gangs of New York is considered to be the greatest to come out of Pakistan. Time magazine writes about Khan: “On [his] death in 1997, Westerners were just starting to grasp this musical treasure that Pakistan had given the world-but in South Asia women wailed and men wept as if a god had removed himself from the earth.” Take a look:

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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Courtesy: NY Times

On Tuesday, July 20, Ambassador Hussain Haroon and the Pakistani Peace Builders Initiative hosted the 1st Annual NY Sufi Festival, a free three-hour concert held in the city’s Union Square. According to the NY Times, the Pakistani Peace Builders, an organization formed after the failed Times Square bombing by Faisal Shahzad, “seeks to counteract negative images of Pakistan by presenting a longtime Pakistani Islamic tradition that preaches love, peace and tolerance.” Below, Sehar Tariq, who just completed her Master’s in Public Policy from Princeton University (and is about to return home to Pakistan) and blogs at Sehar Says, discusses her experience at the concert:

In 2001, when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center located in the heart of America’s financial capital, New York City – Pakistan was catapulted from near anonymity to infamy within a matter of days. When I arrived in the United States for the first time to attend college in August 2001, many people did not know where  Pakistan was. I often had to describe it as the country right next to India. In a matter of one month, I did not need that explanation any more. And while my Pakistani pride had cringed at being described as the country next to India, in the fateful days following 9/11, I wished to go back to that simple explanation of my homeland instead of the rabid, angry and intolerant one I saw each day on television screens in the United States.

Since 9/11, Pakistan has suffered more so than even the United States at the hands of terrorists both in economic and social terms as well as sheer body count but somehow, despite all its suffering, it has been unable to rid itself of the label of a terrorist state. The U.S. media has not helped much in this regard either. Their obsessive focus on hate mongers ignores the millions that yearn and work for peace as well as the thousands who have given up their lives, not just in their homeland but in the countries of those that they will never meet. Caught between the drones and the begging bowl, Pakistanis, despite their best efforts, were unable to come up with an effective response to challenge the dominant image of the country in the United States.

The recent incident of Faisal Shahzad only reminded Americans and New Yorkers in particular, who had been at the epicenter of the violent 9/11 attacks, of the damage that a man blinded by hate can wreak. And even though Pakistanis in America were quick with condemnations of the incidents, one man’s actions spoke a lot louder than the voices of thousands who are a peaceful and productive part of the American fabric. So we who lived here, lowered our heads and gritted our teeth and prepared for more difficult times to come for brown-skinned believers. And life went on with increased searches at airports and impassioned defenses of the Pakistan that we love and call home but not to any great effect.

Sometimes, the voices of hate and fear are more potent and powerful than the ones of reason and rationale, unless the voice of reason is being sung by Abida Parveen, the Faqirs from the Shrine of Sachal Sarmast or the talented Baloch singer from Kalat. For so many years, Pakistanis tried to politick their way into the good graces of Americans but with limited effectiveness. There were many high brow events conducted in the power centers of New York and Washington DC to introduce an alternate image of Pakistan to powerful Americans. But if the current state of affairs is to go by, none of this has been very effective. Mistrust runs deep within the American government of the Pakistani establishment and fear can be seen in the eyes of ordinary Americans at the sight of bearded men – unless they happen to be Akhtar Chanal Zehri and they endear themselves to all of New York with their indomitable stage presence, their soulful voice and their graceful dancing.

The Sufi Music Festival held in New York’s Union Square, has probably done more diplomacy for Pakistan in the three hours that it lasted than all the work being put in by our missions in the US for the last ten years. On a bright and rather hot and humid summer day, a large crowd had collected to hear the much awaited performers from Pakistan. Featuring an eclectic blend of modern fusion music in the form of Zeb and Haniya and the Meekal Hassan Band to the more traditional singing at Sufi shrines in the form of Abida Parveen, the Sufi Festival boasted an impressive line up of performers. Friends drove for hours to see this concert. We arrived early and positioned ourselves in a convenient place with a good view. And there was a large enough crowd already present.

The concert kicked off on time and Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, who was instrumental in organizing it, introduced the concert to the people of New York as Pakistan’s present to New Yorkers  in the wake of the Faisal Shahzad incident. Speeches were kept to a minimum and the focus remained on the performers. The concert opened with the soulful singing of Zeb and Haniya and then moved on to the classical singing of Rafaqat Ali Khan. This was followed by the more upbeat Meekal Hassan Band and then the brightly dressed faqirs from the shrine of Sachal Sarmast followed with an energetic performance. This led to my most favorite act of the evening, Akhtar Chanal Zehri – who the average New Yorker would probably run away from in fear. His face is framed with a thick, dark beard and his eyes are lined with dark kohl. His strong clear voice reciting the melodic lyrics boomed over New York in absolutely perfect melodic harmony as he twirled like a whirling dervish lost in the beat of the music and in his devotion to God. And then came Abida Parveen, undoubtedly one of the greatest singers of the sub-continent. Her performance was breath-taking.

I have no words to describe what it felt like to stand in the very heart of New York City and see hundreds of heads nod to the beat and clap to the tunes of centuries-old religious poetry. When we had first arrived and taken up our positions, the park was about half full, but by the time Abida Parveen took stage, there was not an inch of space to stand on or dance in – so packed was the once open space of Union Square. Thousands of hands clapped to the rhythms of Abida’s mesmerizing songs and hundreds of people broke into loud spontaneous chants of Ali Maula and Mast Qalandar. It seemed as if all of New York was reverberating with the beat of drums and dhols from the subcontinent spreading the message of love, peace and devotion to humanity. I have never seen such a sight in the city. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. As my little Pakistani heart was overflowing with pride, it couldn’t help but be sad about why we could no longer preach and practice the traditions of our Sufi saints and carry on the great intellectual debates captured in their poetry for fear of vengeance by the puritanical brigade who are leaving no stone unturned in the effort to alienate us from our rich cultural heritage.

It was a magical New York day, as people from across the sub-continent, from across the city, and all over the country, came to hear the messages of love and peace, written hundreds of years ago by our Sufi saints. And it was also refreshing to read a piece in The New York Times about Pakistan that was not about what an intolerant and violent country we are. It was nice to hear the words of those saints spoken louder than the words of those satans who murder the innocent and hog the limelight. What I liked best was that for once, concerned citizens in New York (who have formed a group called the Pakistani Peace Builders) brought the songs of saints to all of New York in an event that was free and open to the public. This was aggressive and impressive public diplomacy at its best and this is what Pakistan and Pakistanis living in the United States need more of in order to drown out the cacophony of hate mongers. I hope New York will continue to witness the brilliance, richness and sheer genius of Pakistani culture with greater frequency, not just behind closed doors catering to the elite but reaching out to all of New York and all of the world.

And while I hope such public events continue with greater frequency, I cannot help but be sad at not being able to be a part of them anymore as I leave for Pakistan this week. But I will always take with me the immense pride I felt as I stood amidst a sea of people from all over the world who clapped with one beat and sang in one voice the songs of our saints and their message of peace and love. It was inspirational.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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Flash Dance Hits Pakistan

Last year, T-Mobile UK debuted a commercial that featured 400 dancers at Liverpool Street Station. The ad, which has been seen over 19 million times on YouTube, even led to a Facebook-organized knock-off flash mob that shut down the same station a month later.

In Pakistan, the Keh Do campaign for Coca-Cola is attempting something similar, albeit on a much smaller scale. If you haven’t seen the very cute “Keh Do with Coke” commercial, see below:

(For you non-Urdu speakers, the song essentially tells you to say what’s on your mind, and in your heart and – surprise, surprise – say it with a Coca Cola. Cute, right?)

According to blogger Sehar Tariq, the company “has hired groups of young people – both boys and girls – to dance to the new Coca Cola jingle in crowded public places.” According to the Keh Do Facebook page, the group of urban (probably middle to upper class) youth, have randomly performed at shopping malls, restaurants, universities, and market places in Lahore and Karachi. Below is their performance at Karachi’s Park Towers:

Flash mobs have been occurring since 2003, using new media tools to not only organize crowds, but also to foster viral online sensations. The flash dance strategy, as used by companies T-Mobile and now Coke, is therefore a pretty savvy marketing tool because it’s using the universal appeal of dance to target and engage audiences. In the case of Coke, the kids are dancing to a catchy commercial jingle, that will at the very least catch your attention (if you’re a non-Grinch, it’ll make you smile). Even if you don’t drink Coke, you’d probably walk away humming the tune. At least I did.

(Thanks to Maria for passing on the link!)

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Mesh Lakhani on VOA Urdu!

Photo by Samier Mansur

Last week, VOA Urdu aired an interview on GEO Television with my younger brother, Mesh (short for Meshal), an aspiring singer/songwriter who recently launched his own music publishing company, Franklin’s Row. In the below video, Mesh discusses why he writes and sings English (versus Urdu) songs, as well as his desire to improve perceptions of Pakistan through his music. It’s a testament to how music truly is a universal language, one that transcends cultural, ethnic, and national barriers.

I generally keep my personal life separate from this blog, but what can I say – I’m a proud sister. I am extremely close to my family, and my brother is truly an example of how hard work and talent can pay off. His company Franklin’s Row is an innovative challenge to the music industry, placing the emphasis on the songwriters and taking a novel approach to music production, distribution and promotion. Amid all of this, though, he never forgets his roots. Last year, when his music first appeared on Pakistan’s FM radio [see my previous post], he emphasized how important it was to share his music both in Pakistan and the West. He told me, “My cultural identity is important to me, but for someone to find a way to relate to my own identity is equally as important. For me, that middle ground is music.”

Congrats Mesh! If you would like to check out his music catalog and read more about Franklin’s Row, click here. To hear one of my personal favorites, “Edgar” (with album art, lyrics, and link to download), click here.

[Thanks to Raza Naqvi, who did an awesome interview!]

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Picture 1

Ali Azmat Music Video: Kalashnifolk

Adam Ellick, a fantastic video journalist, has covered a wide range of topics related to Pakistan – from the issue of Swat to the sex toy industry to the issue of drug-resistant tuberculosis in Karachi. Yesterday, the NY Times released another video report entitled, “Tuning Out the Taliban,” in which Ellick discusses why Pakistan’s music stars have yet to sing out against the Taliban, despite journalists, playwrights, and even moderate Islamic clerics condemning the militant organization. In his accompanying blog post, Ellick wrote,

…in a nation where the West is often the villain, television stations and big businesses have little economic or political incentive to put their name on a musician with an anti-Taliban platform.The result is a surge of bubble-gum stars who have become increasingly politicized. Some are churning out ambiguous, cheery lyrics urging their young fans to act against the nation’s woes. Others simply vilify the United States.

The brothers behind the rock band Noori, told Ellick, “First of all, it is the West that is against the Taliban because it is very heavily affected by it…we are not.” Such a statement is ironic given how many Pakistanis have been impacted by the continuous bombings and violence in the country. In fact, more than 200 girls’ schools have been destroyed by Taliban-perpetrated bombings. When probed on the bombing of girls’ schools, musician Ali Azmat came up with an answer that was frankly disgusting: “You cannot blame the Taliban for that, where do you think the funding is coming from…it’s the agenda of the neocons to de-Islamicize Pakistan…”

Ellick’s video is interesting because it raises some important points. First, as role models for the country’s younger generation, do musicians have a responsibility to come out against the Taliban? We have seen the power of celebrity elsewhere in the world, with stars like Bono raising awareness about AIDS or Angelina Jolie acting as the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. Whether or not Pakistani musicians care to accept it, their messages have a profound impact on the youth of the country. Columnist Fasi Zaka said in the video, “When they don’t think the Taliban is the problem, the reason is because they’re convinced that we Pakistanis could never be like that, that we’re peaceful people, and that it must be the Indians, Americans, Israelis. If that’s being mimicked by pop stars then that’s a significant problem because it’s reinforcing the wrong view.”

Zaka’s statement raises my second point regarding the power of celebrity in Pakistan. The songs and themes released by these musicians are not just a reflection of their own personal views, they are a reflection of public opinion as a whole. According to a recently administered poll conducted by Gallup Pakistan [via the Zeitgeist Politics], while 51% of those surveyed in the country support the military’s offensive in South Waziristan, most still do not believe it is only Pakistan’s problem. Instead, when asked whether the war was in the American interest, the Pakistani interest, or both, 39% still view the operation as America’s war.

Given the increasingly high anti-American sentiment in the country – a phenomenon exacerbated by U.S. drone strikes in the region – such views may be misguided but they are not surprising. The problem occurs, though, when Pakistani music stars link this sentiment to conspiracies in their songs. In the Azmat song, Klashinfolk, the singer “omits a stream of anti-Western conspiracy theories.” He told Ellick, “We know for a fact that all this turbulation in Pakistan is not us, it’s an outside hand.” Columnist Nadim Paracha asserted, “You talk to a musician over here, you say whats the problem, he won’t come up with a fantastic insightful answer for you…he’ll come up with the most rhetorical, most cliched crap.”

I am attaching Ellick’s report below, and I’ll leave you with one question, “At a time when the very state of Pakistan is under threat, is it the responsibility of all citizens – especially celebrities – to speak out against the Taliban, even if it means putting their own lives at risk?”

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Image Credit: The News Instep

Image Credit: The News Instep

According to the official website, Coke Studio “embodies a musical fusion of exciting elements and diverse influences, ranging from traditional eastern, modern western and regionally inspired music.” The second season of the immensely popular television show aired this summer, and each collaboration became an instant hit in Pakistan. While the series centered on live music performances, the show embodied themes applicable to Pakistan as a whole – Individuality, Harmony, Equality, Spirit, and Unity. Below is CHUP’s interview with Adnan Malik, who was the Associate Video Producer and the Behind the Scenes Producer on this season’s Coke Studio:

Q: You came on this season as an Associate Video Producer,  as well as a the Behind The Scenes [BTS] Producer. Given your background in film, were you prepared coming into the show? What were you unprepared for?

After watching the first season of Coke Studio last year, I was pretty blown away by the whole package: fantastic music that engages with both classical and contemporary Pakistani ideologies, bold visuals, great packaging and a pure, constructive intention. I knew I had to get on board for the second season, and got in touch with Umber and Rohail [Hyatt] (henceforth known as ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’). It was a tough selection process for them to choose a video team for this year, and I definitely pseudo-stalked them to get the job! I knew that I was the perfect fit. I was summoning it from the universe, asking for it in prayers and felt very blessed when they selected me to be the Associate Video Producer and the Producer Behind the Scenes.

I have quite a few years as a documentary producer under my belt, having worked on projects like Sundance winning Why We Fight and being the local producer on Jihad for Love as well as directing the award winning Bijli, and the first feature length anthology on Pakistani cinema, The Forgotten Song. I have also been an assistant director on many music videos, produced shows for MTV and worked as a packaging director on the Lux Style Awards. So I would say that I was pretty prepared to jump on board the ‘Coke Studio’ project. I knew it would be very intensive, and I really enjoyed handling the camera for all the behind the scenes, and collaborating with Zeeshan Parwez on the videos.

What I was not prepared for was the spiritual satisfaction I got from working on this project with Ma, Pa and the rest of the CS team. It was by far the most pure intentioned, good willed, honest project I have worked on in Pakistan. Rohail is fantastically tech savvy, a great problem solver, intimately in touch with his music, a communicator and above all very organically connected to the project. It was a passion project for all involved and it started at the top with Ma and Pa, and filtered through to the house band members, the people who worked on the set, the tech support, and even the security guard, all of whom contributed their energy to making this project the phenomenon it has become today.

Q: What was the interaction between musicians like behind the scenes, particularly between the older, more established artists and the younger, more up-and-coming musicians?

Having worked with a lot of these musicians and artists before in various capacities, I was well aware of the possibility of conflicting egos. But I think all of us were so committed to the project and believed in it so deeply at a visceral level that every time a new artist came on set, their energy merged with ours and not the other way around. Coke Studio definitely had an aura about it that was welcoming, trusting and open to ideas and I think that made it a very comfortable space for new energies to mingle and become something higher than ‘ego’.

We had an amazingly talented houseband with some of the best musicians in the country, and they set up a fantastic framework for the artists to come in and further develop the songs. There was never any conflict, just growth, and that kind of energy has become increasingly rare to find in Pakistan.

Q: What was your aesthetic vision when shooting the BTS videos? What did you most want to portray?

I shot the behind the scenes almost everyday for two months and really got to develop the aesthetic for how we were going to shoot the final videos. Naturally, Rohail had shown us examples of what he wanted, and Zeeshan contributed heavily with his own unique visual style to the final videos as well. The final look of the videos was the result of a collaborative vision shared by the three of us. All of the visuals were well thought out and discussed and we even trained all of our camera men! Zeeshan and I were behind microphones in the CCU room during the final shoot, instructing our respective camera men on what to shoot; however, without those two weeks of training, we wouldn’t have achieved the aesthetic that we finally managed to achieve.

As for the Behind the Scenes (BTS’s), the best part of shooting verite on an evolving show is that you can capture the really spontaneous moments, and for that I had to make sure I was in tune with the people I was shooting. The aesthetic was to capture immediacy, spontaneity, expression, emotion and a little soul. After spending weeks with the house band, I began to understand their habits, their gestures and therefore preempted them to capture some great spontaneous footage. I always had my camera handy, and managed to capture about 120 hours of footage, out of which audiences have seen less than an hour! There are a lot of precious, crazy moments and espoused philosophies in those hard drives! Hopefully, we will do something with all that footage one day soon!

Moreover,with a background in still photography I wanted to imbue every frame with something pleasing to look at. I believe in the power of the image to tell a story on its own, and I wanted every image that came onto the screen to be open to multiple interpretations. But more than that, it was of utmost importance to make sure that each BTS segment told the story of each song. It took months to put these songs together and it was my job to show the depth of work that went into each song, from its conception,to its philosophy, deconstruction, reconstruction, and the evolution in rehearsals.

The BTS segments give context to the songs and an insight into the characters that made up Coke Studio.

Q: The fifth and final episode of Coke Studio’s Season Two aired on August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day, and was aptly titled, “Unity.” How do you think the show embodied the spirit of unity, and what message did that send to citizens on Pakistan Day?

My favorite aspect of this show is its engagement in helping define a Pakistani identity. We are clearly at a crossroads in terms of a collective cultural ethos, and I believe that this show is an example of how we should engage with our past, present and future. The music takes from both current Western influences and indigenous classical and folk influences to create a truly ‘contemporary’ and ‘universal’ sound. The music is an honest representation of where we are today, it’s both timely and timeless; both purely Pakistani and palatably global.

Each of the five episodes of coke studio represent the journey of the show: from the ‘Individuality’ of the artists coming together, to the cohabiting and synchronization which was ‘Harmony’, to the ‘Equality’ of all artists collaborating from all sorts of musical backgrounds, to tapping into the ‘Spirit’ of our times and its music and to finally reveal the ‘Unity’ in a true sense of great musicians coming together, collaborating and creating something that is greater than the sum of their parts.

Coke Studio is all about ‘Unity – the collaboration of big-hearted, open-minded Pakistanis to create something unique, beautiful and truly our own. The effort shows that it is possible to work together and create amazing things with pure intentions and dedicated hard work.

At a micro level, Coke Studio is also a metaphor for nation building. It has captured the imagination of the whole nation and collectively brought us together from all corners to appreciate and celebrate the diversity of our country.

I am extremely proud at having been a part of something so amazing! I walk away from this season of coke studio as a richer, more evolved, and spiritually ignited human being than when I entered it and this is solely because of the dynamic created by Rohail, Umber, the production team and the supremely talented musicians.

Q: The show is immensely popular in Pakistan. Will there be a third season? What do you think the biggest differences were between the first and second seasons?

I hope there is a third season!! Why wouldn’t there be one?

I loved both the first and second seasons respectively. The first season was a bold experiment in a new direction for music. It wasn’t as high tech or ideologically evolved as the second season, but its rawness and passion really shines out. The second season has a much more evolved visual ethos, and musically has a greater slant towards folk music than the first episode, which had a greater focus on classical fusion music.

Well, that’s the politically correct answer anyway! The un-p.c answer would be that I preferred the second season a whole lot more because I worked on it!!

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Celebrities have often lent their star power to a cause – from Bono‘s efforts to rally Americans to fight AIDS and global poverty to Angelina Jolie‘s work as UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. In Pakistan, pop star Shehzad Roy established Zindagi Trust, a not-for-profit organization that aims to provide education for underprivileged children. The organization has established 29 operational schools throughout the country, educating over 2800 children. On Thursday, Dawn reported that Roy was recognized for his philanthropic work when he was awarded the 2009 Patricia Blunt Koldyke Fellowship on Social Entrepreneurship by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Dawn added in its coverage, “The music star is one of the youngest ever recipients of the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz, one of Pakistan’s highest civil honors, and he has also been awarded Pakistan’s highest humanitarian award, the Sitara-i-Eisaar. MTV Pakistan also recently gave him two awards for his music.” During his one week stay in Chicago this October, where he will exchange ideas with local civic, government, business, and academic leaders, Roy told Dawn he would “like to impress upon notable American educationists, politicians, reformists and media persons the need for the Pakistani government to be pushed to bring about reforms in schools, particularly by replacing outdated textbooks and updating curricula. He said he would appeal to foreign agencies for funds for these projects.”

According to the press release on the Chicago Council’s website, “Roy uses the proceeds from his hugely popular concerts to fund the work of the Zindagi Trust, which since 2002 has established vocational centers and health care clinics and has worked to improve Pakistan’s educational system. One of its first projects, ‘I am Paid to Learn’, provided child laborers nationwide with monetary compensation for attending school, an important initiative in a country where more than 10.5 million children under the age of 15 work menial jobs to support their families.”

So congratulations Shehzad Roy. You not only have addressed a very important issue in Pakistan through your work, but your dedication has been an inspiration to us all. Below is the pop star’s music video for “Qismat Apne Haath Mein,” [Destiny/fate is in your hands]:

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Team Coke Studio, from the press conference

According to its official website, Coke Studio “embodies a musical fusion of exciting elements and diverse influences, ranging from traditional eastern, modern western and regionally inspired music.” The unique initiative provides a platform for Pakistan’s wide range of musicians, bringing them together to celebrate their industry, artistry, and diversity through live recordings and performances. After the unprecedented and immense popularity of Coke Studio’s first season, the initiative’s second season is slated to begin next month. Below, Batool, a journalist based in Karachi describes her experience at the press conference for Coke Studio’s Season Two:

When I’d been handed the envelope with Lotus written on it, I’d curiously turned it over while my boss briefed me on what I was to do. As soon as I pulled out the glossy 4′ by 6′ black and red invitation, she didn’t have to say anything more – the colors on the card gave it away. My eyes grew wide and I gasped with excitement. Coke Studio was BACK! I was going to go to the press conference!! I was over the moon, even though it was on March 23, a public holiday.

The day came, anticipation built, and expectations were high. Studio 146 was packed. Red coke bottle palanquins hung on the walls, forming a great backdrop for pictures, interviews and so on. About 20 video cameras formed the back row. I had plenty of time to observe the scenery, because even though the event was being held by Coke, the press conference began about forty minutes late. The conference finally began with a montage of clips from the previous season, which was famous for the remixed well-known tracks like “Garaj Baras” [see YouTube clip below] and “Allah Hu”. Country Manager Rizwan U Khan took his place at the center of the panel and put forth Coke Studio’s mission statement, “Bringing alive the magic of live recordings and performances, Coke Studio prides itself on providing a musical platform that bridges barriers, celebrates diversity, encourages unity and instills a sense of Pakistani pride.”

Rohail Hyatt next took the stage and echoed, “To have the opportunity to add to such foundations through Coke Studio is inspiring and motivating.” Coke Studio presented an incredible and diverse line-up for this year. There are three different categories – The Featured Artists, the Guest musicians, and Coke Studio’s very own house band, ensuring that the quality of music remains consistently outstanding. This year’s Featured Artists comprise of Ali Zafar, Arieb Azhar, Atif Aslam, Javed Bashir, JoSH, Noori, Riaz Ali Khan, Saieen Zahoor, Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan, Strings, and Zeb & Haniya. The Guest Musicians are Gul Mohammad – Sarangi, Gurpreet Chana – Tabla, Sadiq Sameer – Rabab, and Rakae Jamil – Sitar. The House Band contains a wide array of musicians who are renowned experts at their various instruments. Assad Ahmed – Lead and Rhythm Guitars, Babar Khanna – Dholak, Jaffer Zaidi – Keyboards, Kamran ‘Mannu’ Zafar – Bass Guitars, Louis ‘Gumby’ Pinto – Drums and Percussion, Javed Iqbal – Violin, Natasha De Sousa – backing vocals, Omran ‘Momo’ Shafique – Lead and Rhythm Guitars, Saba Shabbir – backing vocals, Sikander – Dholak, Waris Ali Baloo – Multi Percussionist, and Zulfiq ‘Shazee’ Ahmed Khan – Multi Percussionist. With such a diverse group of musicians, I am certain we will see many unique and groundbreaking performances.

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Coke Studio is reportedly going to decrease its live audience this year because of last season’s sound quality issues – resulting from crowd chatter, cell phones and the sounds of the doors opening and closing. The press conference ended surprisingly early – after ten minutes – and I was disappointed that none of the artists from the panel spoke. Tea was announced and the interviews commenced, leaving one’s thirst for more unrequited. Journalist and blogger Faisal Kapadia of Deadpan Thoughts commented,  “The fusion aspect of Coke Studio’s mixes is energizing our youth, stimulating them to get bigger and better and do more to help cultural influences thrive. In these times, when all other views of Pakistan are bleak, Coke Studio is taking Pakistan to new heights on an international platform. The fundamentalists send SMS’s claiming Coke’s cloaking a Jewish Conspiracy, which is ridiculous when you look at how much it is doing for our community”.

This event was clearly important for Coke, and it appears that a lot of expenses were incurred to maintain the standards it is renowned for. The glossy handbook in the press kit contained detailed biographies of each of the artists, and photography was done by none other than Rizwan-ul-Haq [a prominent Pakistani photographer]. The Pakistan music industry is clearly benefiting from Coke’s attempts to cradle Sufi and other folk/regional music and incorporate it into contemporary sounds. Using Coke’s platform, Pakistan’s crown jewel musicians can soon make a mark in the world as the most progressive country in the field of melody.

If you would like to contribute to CHUP, email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan@gmail.com with a piece/idea (no longer than 700 words please). We cannot post every piece, but we try to provide you, our reader, with a platform to voice your opinions on all things impacting Pakistan.

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