Giving Peace a Chance

By Sonya Rehman

‘Yeh Hum Naheen’ is the latest addition to life-affirming music anthems.

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At street demonstrations and marches, songs (‘Oh freedom’, ‘This little light of mine’, ‘We shall not be moved’) were an extremely fundamental part of the American Civil Rights Movement. Lyrics such as “All the state troopers, we shall not be moved/ Just like a tree that’s standing by the water/ We shall not be moved” – spoke of the fervent spirit at a time when racial bigotry was at its bloodiest zenith.

And then at the height of the Vietnam War, John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace a Chance’ kick-started a nationwide anti-war faction. The song had become an ‘anthem’ of the movement against the war, so much so that in 1969, on the second Vietnam Moratorium Day, half a million protestors sung along to the chorus of: “all we are saying…is give peace a chance”. From his ex-Beatle days, make-love-not-war-poster-child Lennon focused much of his solo career not only as an artiste but also as an inexorable social activist at the risk of being deported from his homeland. These are just a few of the many examples that illustrate the power that music brings with it – be it with regard to social revolutions and/or the alteration of a vast majority of peoples to ‘get thinking’ a certain way.

In the West, a celebrity’s opinion is considered just as significant (if not more) as a politician’s. This has led countless Western artistes to produce songs on globalization (‘Dogs’ by Pink Floyd), on the environment (‘Heal the World’ by Michael Jackson), on imperialism (‘Sleep Now in the Fire’ by Rage against the machine), on child abuse (‘Janie’s Got a Gun’ by Aerosmith) and on nuclear weapons (‘A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall’ by Bob Dylan) to name a few.

And it’s catching on in Pakistan too. Our musicians aren’t all that far behind either. ‘People are People’ by Aamir Zaki, Junoon’s ‘No More’, ‘Beirut’ by Strings and Salman Ahmad’s ‘Al-vida’ are some of the scores of songs – with spines of social annotations – produced by Pakistani artistes (which impel local audiences to ripen the conscience with ‘awareness’), that set free the dusty padlocks of dogmatic, unyielding thought.

As of late, an EMI released song called ‘Yeh Hum Naheen’ (produced by Shuja Haider with lyrics by Ali Moeen) has been doing the loop on local music channels. At a press conference that was held on February 17, 2007, it was stated that Pakistani artistes (namely Strings, Shafqat Amanat Ali, Haroon, Hadiqa Kiyani, Ali Zafar and Ali Haider) collaborated on a song that bases its idea against terrorism in light of the current – war on terrorism – affairs. As stated in its press release, “the song and accompanying video are the brainchild of Waseem Mahmood, author and media consultant who specializes in the reconstruction of media in post war countries”.

Speaking with Instep, Waseem declared that Pakistan was not a terrorist state and that “Islam is a religion that bases its foundation on peace and tolerance”. He went on to state the fact that his children had acted as the main mechanisms that propelled him to come up with the concept for ‘Yeh Hum Naheen’. “We can only change the perception of others when we know what defines our identity. The youth of Pakistan will respond to either musicians or cricketers. This is why I went for a song and video that featured local musicians. And it truly was incredible to see some of the biggest stars of the country come together on a single platform without any fuss or hassle”, Waseem had gone on to say.

Legendary boxing champ, Mohammed Ali, was also said to have sent a message of appreciation and encouragement to the group on their efforts in aiding to rebuild the Muslim world’s broken image. So inspired by the support was Waseem that he instantly set up a ‘Yeh Hum Naheen Charitable Foundation’ for future projects that are to deal with similar issues regarding the unmerited juxtaposition of Muslims and terrorism.

Imagine a world without freedom of speech via music – how different would our history be? And just think, how different would our present be? What would have changed, what would have remained? Would we be powerless? Desensitized and numbed if musical expression (bespeaking of truth) were to be clamped down upon? What significance would the word ‘free’ then hold? None. None whatsoever. It’d be as empty and as nasty as a four-letter, casually tossed about ‘f’ word.

In light of the current circumstances, songs such as ‘Yeh Hum Naheen’ are needed now more than ever before. While some of you may be gnawed by pessimism and nibbled by cynicism, allow me to say, that if change (even if it’s microscopic) can be brought about by a song resulting in just one person to have a change of heart…a musician’s job is done. And that is what most socially conscious musicians ought to do – to tweak mass grievances with tune and hurl melodies like hand-grenades at governments and societal plagues.

Those under the ‘stardom’ spotlight have a duty to use their ‘star power’ (if you may) to voice mass sentiments. It is imperative for ‘celebrities’ to act as podiums for the common man, because just as we give back unto them admiration, respect and appreciation, it is imperative that they invest themselves for bigger, social causes to uplift their country’s (sagging) image. It’s a two-way street you see – one end that is marked ‘give’ and the other end, ‘take’.

Instep, The News

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