Wednesday, September 02, 2009

17 Year Old Pakistanis Play The Guitar To Get Laid. Period.

I don't really know what to make of Declan Walsh, he can write some insightful pieces on Pakistan for the Guardian but then occasionally he'll give us an article like:

Never mind the Taliban – Pakistan's youth put their faith in rock'n'roll

Mr. Walsh, who has been reporting from Pakistan for some time now, is well aware of the intricacies and contradictions present in Pakistani society, therefore I'm rather surprised by his proclamation that a couple of underground concerts illustrate a larger social trend. They don't.

I don't care what people say but Pakistani youth don't put their faith in rock'n'roll, they put their faith in cricket. And even if they did put their faith in music it would be pop and not rock. This is not to say that Mr. Walsh is wrong to be impressed by underground Pakitani rockers, there are plenty of good Pakistani rock bands, some of whom aren't even that underground, but they simply cannot compete with the likes of Abrar, Atif Aslam and Strings (please, they're not a rock band). Seriously, I would bet on Abrar-ul-Haq leading a revolution over the likes of co-VEN any day.

Pakistan has had two music revolutions in the past two decades: The first occured when the likes of Vital Signs, Fringe Benefits, and Sequencers brought us their cheesy songs about women accompanied by dancing that would make Cliff Richard proud. The second music revolution occurred with the launch of Pepsi's Battle of the Bands which brought a new breed of musicians into the limelight and was soon followed by the launch of Indus Music (or did Indus Music come before?).

Its interesting to note that Rohail Hayat ,the man behind Coke Studio -- the show Declan Walsh highlights as a catalyst for the latest music revolution -- was actively involved in both Vital Signs and Pepsi's Top of the Pops. But there's something missing this time around.

The musicians of the early 90's were part of a larger cultural revolution that occurred after Zia's death; it was okay to have fun again. The rise of Aaroh, Fuzon, and Strings (re-dux) too highlighted a broader change resulting from the growth in size and comparative affluence of the urban middle class.

There is absolutely nothing that has changed socially or economically that would indicate that somehow the underground rock musicians are part of a greater revolution. If there is a social change occurring then it is in the form of hightened paranoia and increased penchant for conspiracy theories. The latter has reached epic proportions, and it is more than likely that at any social event you will find seemingly intelligent people debating which is better between Zeitgeist or The Arrivals, two utterly rubbish mockumentaries. And if this wasn't enough, we have rock legend Ali Azmat doing a program with Zaid Hamid, Ali Azmat's always been ahead of the curve when it comes to popular trends and if he's doing a show with the devil, you know which way we're headed. Here's a clip for your viewing pleasure:

The article ends with a simple but seemingly profound quote from 17 year-old Daniel Khwaja who says "It's kinda cool doing stuff you love." What utter bullshit! Danyal Khwaja, like all floppy haired 17 year-olds, plays the guitar to look cool so that he can achieve his (current) primary goal in life - getting laid. There's nothing more to it.

Link: An interesting article by Nadeem F Paracha charts the socio-political history of pop music in Pakistan.

An earlier version of the post had incorrectly mentioned Pepsi's Top of the Pops when the intention was to mention Battle of the Bands. (Thank you Karachi Khatmal for helping me remember the correct name.)


Shaheryar Ali said...

Agreed! but whats wrong in getting laid eh?

karachi khatmal said...

i'd have to disagree with your eras of musical revolution...

firstly pakistani music post zia is vital signs and junoon. everything else is 'graby'

not to say that Music Channel Charts and VJ didn't kick ass and introduce a lot of great bands, its just that the signs and junoons were our two monoliths.

eventually the 90s almost managed to kill music off. i think the resurrection occurred when pepsi did the battle of the bands in the early part of this decade.

in one swoop that introduced mekaal hasan band, EP, Aaroh and Jal.

all that said though, spot on with the declan walsh bullshit.

infact you guys should compile all these articles written by gora journos asked to do a soft story.

remember the one on raves, or the NYT pieces on trash collecting college grads, or my favorite - facebook drives against terrorism.

yup my status change killed baitullah!

Annie said...

You called Zeitgeist and The Arrivals mocumentaries!!!


Ahsan said...

What does it say about Pakistan that the man who supposedly led the fun revolution after Zia now has a beard longer OBL?

SAna said...

umm, the music industry was associated with the red light district before coke studio? seriously declan walsh?

FZ said...

actually the music following youth is more politically aware than the Vital Signs generation. For one the subject matter is often political now as opposed to just love songs, and the media revolution has made for a much better informed population. Now ofcourse sometimes the politics are ridicolous, and I'm amazed that a retard like Zaid Hamid is on TV other than as pure parody. And the conspiracy theories are sad (but I'm not sure that hasn't been the case throughout or history...just egged on now by technology)

But your argument that the 80s and early 90s were bigger cultural revolutions than the late 90s and the 00s (what are we calling it?) needs some support...I'd love to hear it.

Anonymous said...

Music revolution 2.0 was a Musharraf-an phenomenon. It was part of the general, "hey we don't suck, how 'bout that" feeling we had mid-2000s--bolstered of course by the media revolution, beating-England-at-home-after-2005-ashes, remittances, investments, S&P credit ratings, everyone-in-DHA-owning-an-imported-four-wheeler, everyone-not-in-defense-leasing-Hondas, Kara-film-festival, Lahore-performing-arts-festival, Islamabad-no-longer-sucking, and AQ-Khan-still-under-house-arrest). I forgot where I was going with this, but MAN do I miss Musharraf.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather take this story on its otherwise intricate and contradictory merits than the combined worth of Pakistan-related megabytes posted on the internet this week.

Besides, this line alone warrants a cheap e-mail forward:

"On a recent afternoon a woman brought in two reluctant-looking teenage daughters for lessons. "It will do them good to learn," she said."

Checkmark P said...

Oops, the Anonymous above ("I'd rather") is me. Read your pseudonym instruction a bit too late. Apologies. :)

AKS said...

@ Karachi Khatmal

Dude no way! Everything else was certainly not graby. Okay so perhaps Fringe Benefits weren't that successful (its a shame because Tanhai was a great song) but other graduates from MCC did prosper including: Ali Haider, Sajjad Ali, Yatagaan (Fakhr-e-Alam) and Nadeem Jaafri, Najam Shiraz / Karvan (remember "Sona Chahta Hoon"?), Awaz(!) and Strings 1.0.

And Junoon were late entrants and didn't become hugely popular till the mid 90s by which time many of the above mentioned acts had faded away or disbanded.

Thanks for mentioning Battle of the Bands, I had mixed up my Pepsi sponsored programs in the post. The second revolution started with the Battle of the Bands.

@ FZ

You're not being fair to the early 90's. One doesn't have to be talking about politics to be making a political statement, the fact that Fringe Benefits were singing a song about making breakfast for a girl, or Hassan Jehangi singing Shaadi Naa Karna Yaron and dancing himself silly on Pakistani television was a HUGE deal.

And lets not forget Sajjad Ali's Chief Saab (a song aimed dquarely at Altaf Bhai, for which Sajjad Ali's got his ass kicked) and Jago by Jazba.

The politics of the music listening youth may have been different but that doesn't mean they were less politically savvy.

You are right in mentioning the impact of the media revolution. IN the 90s television was still strictly regulated (especially during Nawaz Sharif's tenure) and it wasn't easy for musicians to get their music across. But there were far a fair number of overtly political underground acts who sadly never made it big, perhaps they may have done so had they access to music channels.

Lastly while Pakistani music and listeners may have evolved there has not been a more politically relevant music act since Junoon circa late 1990s.

AKS said...

@ FZ

You should check out this Nadeem F Paracha aricle ( Mr. Paracha knows a little bit about Pakistani music and says that:

"The new underground scene [circa 2003] however is different in context compared to the UG scene of late-80s/early-90s and that of mid-90s. It is less political in its lyrical approach and not as vocal (or pissed!) about corporate sponsorship as the mid-90s acts."

karachi khatmal said...


I didn't mean to hate on the others (Najam, Sajjad Ali etc) because they all did great stuff.

however, other than perhaps sajjad ali, none of them match junoon's and vital signs ability to create a body of work that is highly cohesive and artistically meritorious. the signs fluctuated between genesis with peter frampton (prog-rockish, soundscapes etc) and then genesis with phil collins (pop ditties) while junoon went from straight rip-offs of zeppelin to the most accomplished fusion rock prior to mekaal hassan band.

no other rock band in pakistan, save for strings, managed to get a credible second album out. as for the pop acts, almost all of them lost it once they crossed the border - see Ali Haider, Najam Shiraz, even Sajjad Ali.

and finally, i don't get the necessity of politics in music. i mean all of pakistani life is so goddam politicized, its ok to have something that is depoliticized.

sajid & zeeshan, overload, MHB all kick(ed?) ass despite the lack of overt political messages in their music.

FZ said...


fair enough, I am obviously not a music critic and maybe you are right- though I wonder if its partly a case of the reviewer as much as the reviewee (ie every generation grows up thinking their's was the real revolution)

Nadir said...

I think it's relevant that Ahsan neglected (forgot?) to mention Junoon in his article. In my opinion as far as "Rock 'n Roll" goes there is no band in our history that comes even close to embodying it's full spirit the way Junoon did, and yet they are depressingly un-influential in the minds of the modern day Pakistani guitar-wielding youth.

I think if Pakistan's youth truly did put their faith in Rock 'n Roll, a band like Junoon would be much more influential in their musical output, and would consequently be unforgettable to someone writing an article concerning these young musicians and the history of non-classical music in Pakistan.

Ahsan said...


AKS wrote this post, not me.

Junaid said...

Not all 17 year olds who play the guitar do it to get laid :P

Hehe, on a more serious note, good article. And I agree the vast majority of Pakistanis would rather listen to pop than rock, because that's just how we are. Pakistanis go for singers, not musicians, they will appreciate the guy who's singing, not the composition/ beat/ bass line/ etc. This is not suggesting that singers aren't musicians or that they aren't good, but the fact remains that musical instruments aren't really appreciated as much here.

I remember my uncle telling me one day when I was playing the guitar, "You should learn to sing, since singers are the only ones who gets famous, not the band."
I rest my case.

Junaid said...

Apologies for the second consecutive post, but I'd like to say that Junoon is really popular amongst the youth even today, or at least plenty of the teenagers. They might not be held in the same awe as they were in the 90s but they're still really popular.
Personally I am a huge fan, and think it is the best Pakistani band of all times (OK so I'm a little biased).
On a slightly related note most of the "guitar wielding youth" can't play for s*** (no offence to anybody), or don't make any effort to do as such. There's a difference between owning an instrument and actually playing it because you want to.
Secondly I'll second what Karachi Khatmal has done well to point out, everything in Pakistan is already so politicized, we don't really need to have politics in music. Politics is the staple of everyday conversations in the country, so it gets enough "coverage" anyway.

Nadir said...

Oh sorry about that Ahsan...

Junaid I think that in most Underground music all over the world there will always be a large number of people who can't play well at all... Wherever this music goes it leaves a long shadow of people who are more impressed with the idea of rock 'n roll than the actual music.

The typical underground scene is also replete singers who suck (because bands don't bother with them or just put their friends on the mic), so whereas mainstream music here is definitely all about the singer, underground music actually lacks good vocalists... To see that phenomenon at work all you need to do is go to a few underground gigs in Karachi :)

Ali said...

I think this article is sad to say the least. You see the people Declan Walsh talks about in the article are not the Atifs and the Jals or even the Ali Azmats in this country who undoubtedly have cliched reasons to make music (aka getting laid, according to popular belief - which again, is absurdly incorrect). They want to make money and they've done a BLOODY good job at that. As far as "getting laid" goes.. well the concept just seems a little funny here in Pakistan. Way too many kids have picked up guitars and other instruments these days and I dont think there are as many girls to fulfill their oh-so-naughty desires anyway. Yet, you shouldn't be stereotyping people or musicians here at all.

The people mentioned in the article like Hamza Jafri and the few underground bands from Islamabad etc. are actually making the kind of music that people need to listen here - obviously it's been a bit exaggerrated with the whole 'revolutionary' thing but powerful nonetheless. Sadly, we just can not get enough of the cheesy pop-rock "channo" music that has been going on for the past.. I don't know how many years.

I think you really need to stop jumping to conclusions about your own country and if you really think this is all bullshit then why not step up and try to make a change yourself? Frankly, I found this article extremely pathetic and disgraceful. Would you rather have the "goras" you despise write some more bullshit about you, your country, the politics and the million things that are wrong with it? Shouldn't you be glad that there's SOMETHING which has at least TRIED to earn you some respect? Okay, at least divert the attention? I'm sorry but this is simply the "I-am-too-cool-for-my-country" attitude that is just going to push this country further down the international ganda naala. We just love the position we're in, right? People say crap about us in the international community, we try and defend it.. people appreciate us in the international community (like that ever happens.. haha) people like you start talking crap.

Take the time and listen to the people mentioned in the article, and for whoever likes it, promote it.

I agree with the fact that a goup of cheesy, good-for-nothing, money thirsty, untalented fools is ruling the music industry today, but if you really dislike it so much, work for something to challenge it.

A suggestion for everybody.. youtube it.. "ready to die - coven"

Ahsan said...

Ali: What? No, seriously...what? Did you even read the post?

Ali said...

I just don't like the pessimistic attitude and the way it has portrayed the music scene here. If someone is trying to appreciate it, be it a very small part of it, let them. Take the opportunity and promote it? Rather than just resorting to the fact that nothing's gonna happen.

I feel there is room for a group of people to come in the limelight and make a difference. They just don't get the opportunity because that's not what people want to hear. I realise that AKS is saying pretty much the same thing but even though it sounds cheesy, there should be hope. There IS hope. That's why I said don't label the kids with guitars in their hands because there are some, in fact quite a few that I know, who have a better purpose. That's all I have a problem with.

Ahsan said...

Ali: This post had two basic points. First, that from a socio-political perspective, pop has been more important than rock in Pakistan. Second, that the early 90s revolution in music was more groundbreaking than the early 00s revolution. There was nothing pessimistic in the post. I don't know what you read.

As for the so-called "labeling", it's called making a joke.

Ali said...

Sure.. nice joke :)

Annie said...


Didja know, you and Lil wayne have a lot in common...

Baby understand me now
If sometimes you see that I'm mad
Don't you know no one alive can always be an angel
When everything goes wrong, you see some bad
But I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
O lord please don't let me be misunderstood

lil' Wayne, "Misunderstood"