By Sonya Rehman
What do you get when you take two Pakistani Marxists, a guitar and satirical poetry? The answer: a toe-tapping number sautéed in irony that hits close to home.
Penned by the eminent, Leftist Urdu poet, Habib Jalib, ‘Main Nay Kaha’ was written “in response to a conversation he [Jalib] had with Hafiz Jalandari during the time of Ayub Khan’s dictatorship”, puts forth Taimur Rahman.
Composed in four hours flat by Taimur (a young Political Science lecturer at LUMS) and sung by Shahram Azhar (an Economics grad student at Warwick University), under the banner of ‘Laal’ – Taimur and Shahram’s band – the video of ‘Main Nay Kaha’ has been raking up quite an excited little tizzy over Youtube and Facebook.
Produced two months ago, on a shoe-string budget, and shot in barely a few hours, ‘Main Nay Kaha’ depicts Pakistan through the black cloud of riots, despair, a brutal assassination, a crippled judiciary, and the much-awaited elections through the edgy months of December till mid-February.
We’re talking real footage, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, light vocals and a teasingly upbeat composition. ‘Main Nay Kaha’ couldn’t have been released at a better time.
While the dust may have ‘settled’ since the country sighed 2007 away to make room for a slightly more ‘hopeful’ 2008, the song comes as a gentle reminder of what had transpired.
Self-proclaimed Marxists, Taimur and Shahram “have been engaged with working class politics and the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party for a long time”, states Taimur, “ten years for me and six for Shahram. We have been very active in organizing protests in Lahore, Rawalpindi, and London for the restoration of democracy. Music is another way for us to reach people in order to bring about a positive social change in society.”
So when was ‘Laal’ the band initiated? How did it all transpire? “I have been playing guitar for quite a while. When I teamed up with Shahram (a student of mine at LUMS), it took our music to another level. Shahram has by far the best most trained voice I have ever heard in my life”, states Taimur, “we began to play at various locations. Sometimes in workers rallies. For instance, once we put loud speakers on a dala and went to the workers rally on May Day giving them a mobile concert (the workers loved our Punjabi songs). We played at LUMS for my students, and we played in London. Recently, however, some media people (Aliya Salaudin and Taimur Khan) took an interest in our activism. We invited them over and as is usual played a few songs as the evening wore on. They were so excited that they immediately asked us to record the songs and produce a video. Although we had been playing for years, this encouragement gave us just the push we needed to raise our game that extra notch. So ‘Laal’ is very much a product of our work as grassroots political activists of the Left. But it got its name in connection with the recent movement for democracy in Pakistan. What distinguishes ‘Laal’ is the fact that we are interested in playing music of resistance, struggle, and emancipation.”
While the concept of Pakistani songs with social messages isn’t new, they still are pretty few and far between.
For instance, in the beginning of 2007, EMI released ‘Yeh hum naheen’, an anti-terrorist song which was produced by Shuja Haider and sung with the likes of Strings, Shafqat Amanat Ali, Hadiqa Kiyani, Ali Haider, Ali Zafar and Haroon.
A simple video depicting Pakistani’s from every walk of life – ‘Yeh hum naheen’ was produced with the primary motive of making a statement against terrorism in light of the ongoing ‘war on terror’.
And then there have been other socially-conscious songs such as ‘No More’ by Junoon, ‘People are people’ by Amir Zaki, ‘Beirut’ by Strings, and others churned out by Pakistani musicians that have incited the Pakistani public at large to think, become aware, and set free the heavy shackles of rigid reflection.
But coming back to ‘Main Nay Kaha’, Taimur anticipates a positive response to the song. One question springs forth though, given the socialist nature of the song, was ‘Main Nay Kaha’ produced with any aim in mind? Was it primarily for personal catharsis or perhaps for mass awareness (at home and abroad)? “It was produced with one aim in mind”, Taimur affirms, “to raise awareness about political issues – about democracy, about the class divisions in our society, and the need for the struggle against them. It is simultaneously an expression of our feelings about our country as young people and a call to the people to struggle for their rights. All our work is for the people, where ever they may live. It is for those people whose voices are ground down under economic oppression and political despotism.”
To kick-start the wheels of change back into gear, one has to have a vision – always. A vision so internally inspiring and stimulating, that it can be manifested into the external world – set free, to take shape, and a life of its own.
And music, one of the most stirring and powerful tools of art, can propagate and grease the wheels of change.
‘Main Nay Kaha’ is a creditable endeavour; now let’s just hope it hits the local airwaves soon, so that its essence can contribute to the ignition of a holistic awareness.
The Friday Times