Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


Thursday, 19 August 2010

A Place Where Ends Meet (From the News on Sunday)

Some people came to the blog searching for an article I had in the News this sunday, in their special report on keeping the Pakistani dream alive. Little did I know that I’d be on the same page as celebrities extraordinaire Ali Zafar and Sami Shah. That was fun. I originally titled the article Then we meet, in Pakistan. Since the News website is down, I thought I’d put it up here.

ps My father just read it today and had some scathing comments. I should have replaced ‘changed my life’ with something less dramatic. And there was this one part he thought might be considered slightly inappropriate if people found it (not intended btw) so I’ll just leave that as the mystery. (Enter evil laugh sounds) (Now enter yes I have cheesy humor expression)

Update: I just realised how stupid I was for not embedding the song earlier.


Without further torturous jokes. The article follows:

A few years ago I heard a German song by a band called the Farin Urlaub Racing Team. The song is titled Pakistan, and roughly translated, here’s how the lyrics go:

With a bike through the desert,
by bus through Vietnam.
We’ve been waiting for years,
to drive off.

Without a goal, without a program,
we are still here
but soon we can make it to Pakistan.

With the boat to Japan,
on a donkey to Peru.
I see our flight path,
I think of the traveling.

I wait for you, what are you waiting for?
If nothing works here,
then we meet in Pakistan.

Away, away, far away …

Without nostalgia, no home,
without case, no money.
We will disclose this
in our memoirs

Once around the world,
we are still here
But soon we will write to you from Pakistan

The moment I found this was a weird moment in my life. I was of course, taken by surprise, was happy, and had perhaps had a brainwave that over all this time has turned into a vision. Some call it hysterical; some call it idealistic, others just stupid. But I will stick with it.

I imagined the Pakistan in the song. It sounds like a fun place. A place to escape from life, a place where memoirs are written and a place where ends meet.

Pakistan, even today, is a place where ends meet. As a land, we have seen the world’s oldest civilizations, the world’s first education systems (believe it or not!), rule from some of the greatest empires of their times, and also the worst. As a people, we have seen Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Muslim preachers, we have lived through wars of various kinds and against various enemies, we have got ourselves some good music, great food a sense of humor to match.  We have seen tastes of the developed world, and the worst disasters in human history. We have been there, done that.

We are now at war with ourselves. Now, for once, questioning who we are and what our conscience is. At the end of the tunnel, there is a light though, and it’s not an oncoming train. It is a realization.

What is my dream Pakistan? It is exactly that, a place where ends meet, a realization:  where the splendor of the British Raj makes peace with the magnificence of the Mughal Empire; where Western standards meet Easter flair; where many races and ethnicities and sects realize that they’ve been at war, and killed each other for their differences, and they’ve been wrong; where a tabla plays percussions to a guitar solo; where western classical music meets Urdu and the sitar; where India meets the Middle East; where the influences of the the Mughals, the British, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, The modern west, Jinnah and Islam co exist.

I don’t understand cliché’s; ironic as it is however, perhaps a song did just change my life. This is home, and I’m staying to see the phoenix rise from the flames.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Meeting Ali Hamza.

So I did manage to finally meet one of the Noori guys. Ok, this is assuming I don’t count the time where Ali Noor passed within three feet of me at Nando’s. To which fellow Noori Nut FS (who was there with me but didn’t see him) remarked: That is one person I would have lost all shame to meet, why didn’t you tell me. (Roughly translated and I think, censored)

My meeting with Ali Hamza was more legit, I think.

So I’m in Hafeez Centre trying to sell of my iPod to raise money for a computer, and Ali Hamza appears. Also dealing with the same guy I’m trying to convince about Apple’s warranty being valid in Pakistan. I realised that was futile, and also that I would later bang my head in the wall if I didn’t talk to Hamza, and so I went up to him as he was about to leave with a meek “Hamza Bhai…”.

Hamza, by the way, is a really nice guy to talk to.

Now for some context. My friend Hamza M (yes what irony, or maybe not) is launching Smudge Magazine, which in the vaguest terms would be a collection of idealistic people talking about stuff they, well want to talk about. But trust me the promos are better than this. If you are an advertiser, note not to hire me in the future. So HM got hold of me to write a story on Noori and their upcoming album, since my Noori Nut status is not a secret. Not at all.

Well he came over, we discussed music that he and I have discovered, him being an event organizer who regularly gets concerts going, and me just having ridiculous amounts of time I like to waste unproductively. We realised it was unlikely we’ll get a face to face interview, considering their recording schedule. We decided to do it over email (which I don’t like but succumb to), as we thought of new ways to convince them that would also, ultimately fail.

And, so, as fate would have it. I run into Ali Hamza. Also, as I would have it, I failed to mention that I was on a research mission for university trying to get Pakistani artists highlighted abroad and giving them basically great PR, and also that I worked closely with Noor Zehra Kazim, Ali Hamza’s mother at TEDxLahore. Get-Brownie-Points-When-You-Can Fail.

Let’s see where that goes soon.  I only have another two weeks (less actually) to see them face to face.

But whether or not that happens, I will remember speaking unusually fast and getting in Ali Hamza’s way awkwardly and having my toes almost crushed. Also he was trying to get something to 4.0 (this was him talking to the shop keeper not me). And he was also about to give out his phone number, my ears perked up, only to tell him that his was the same number as ‘big boss’ (in the words of the shop keeper, I’m assuming Ali Noor) with the last two digits changed. So no, I don’t have his number.

Saturday, 14 August 2010


To everybody in the world. We know you hate our government. And perhaps hate us and our whole story, but supposedly messed up ideals have no involvement in a natural disaster that is worse than the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake, the 2004 Tsunami and the 2010 Haitian earthquake combined. People have now been drenched for weeks, cut off from food supplies, electricity and clean water. The muddy water they drink carries the rubble of their homes, and perhaps the remains of family members. We try. And we know we do things wrong. But if you could see college students out on the streets collecting whatever they can, if perhaps you could see beyond the stereotype, you might change your mind. Until then though, please donate somehow, some way if you know a Pakistani and you know they are not evil. This is one sad independence day, and we await another calamity. Please help us fight this one. I thank you.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Arieb Azhar. The Interview.

Photograph via Coke Studio

Arieb Azhar is one of my Pakistani music heroes. He is out to discover great ideas and share them. Even in my little conversation with him over email, as you will see below, and through the many interviews I used to research (read: stalk) Arieb Sahab, his love for poetry became obvious. He has delved in folk not just in Pakistan, but is now back from his stay abroad and digging through a repertoire of ideas presented through the poets that have graced this land before and after it was named Pakistan. He has been featured in Coke Studio this year and last, but all of his work outside of the platform is equally inspiring, if not more. His studio album Wajj, has been out for a while, and there are more recordings on the interwebs for those that seek them. I embed here Husn e Haqiqi (The beauty of truth), the version from the album, and Sagar Kinare (On the shore), which is yet to be released officially but is one of my favorite discoveries over the last year.

Azhar has now become one of Pakistan’s Sufi Music icons, but talking to him, you realise the label is just that, a label. There’s more to the Sufi story. Its definitely authentic, but the label is almost restricting, once you realise what Arieb is out to do. Read on to enjoy Arieb’s music and his insights in this exclusive interview.


Tuesday, 10 August 2010

More Stories from the Land of the Pure.


That is Ali Azmat live in New York, reuniting with old Junoon band-mate Brian O’Connell on the bass, with Omran Shafique from Mauj, a regular on the Azmat’s live band on guitars as Fahad Khan and Stanton Davis also join in. He’s performing his new single, Bum Pata (Bomb goes off), which is yet to be released. While I’m not completely able to make out the lyrics, they’re along the following lines.

Bum Pata / Bum Bum Pata / Kadi Lahore, Karachi te kadi Fata
Bomb, Bomb goes off. At times in Lahore, in Karachi or maybe FATA

Aithe tael na cheeni na aithe aata
Here there is neither oil, nor sugar, nor flour (Both Punjabi and English updated after RQ accused me of ruining the song with inaccurate lyrics)

And so on. Oh and something like this:

Sohniye Bura Na Mana
Don’t mind this my love.

While Azmat’s radical political views have left many speechless, his music continues to make me smile.

On the other hand the news I read does not make me smile. From reading Express Tribune stories that tell me kidnappings will rise in Ramadan because ‘criminals also have to prepare for Eid’, to the worst natural disaster to have possibly hit the Earth in this decade (I don’t think I can be fair to the near 15 million that have been affected by floods by writing about it. Take a look at the damage in these pictures.) While a bomb hasn’t actually gone off in a few days, not that I’ve heard of, buses and trucks have fallen into rivers, killing scores. Every time it rains I now feel sad, unlike never before. This is going to be my most depressing Independence Day ever.

The flags are up on the streets. Shops have started decorating with lights and little flags, and road sellers have huge ass flags ready to be picked up by patriots. The fervor is there, and I’m glad it is. This is my favorite holiday, a time when everybody again, does come together. But despite it all, it will be bittersweet to say the least. The week, yes, has been terrible for this country.

There is an obvious character to learn to laugh at ourselves. Especially in Lahore. But no one is laughing about the floods.

We did laugh about the cricket though. For those that don’t follow, yes we lost again, but some of our tailenders were a real pain for the English. That made us very happy. Also led to my Grandparent’s servant to recall a story from his village. Pakistan was playing New Zealand late last year and two tailenders had made a similar mockery of the Kiwis, bringing us close to winning. His neighbors were the only ones who had a dish to catch the live telecast, and people from all over neighboring villages dropped by to watch the match together and offer their expert views.  Cricket is this country’s true nationwide phenomenon after politics. A love this uniform is not found for anything else it seems. Us losing is not helping the depression, let me tell you that.

Update: Oh, and I forgot to mention one of the best things from the tribune story. Even terrorists only want ransom in foreign currency. The rupee’s decline is no longer a secret to our government. Shoot.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Koolmuzone: An Online Success Story – The Interview.

I recently got the chance to talk to Hamad Dar, through TEDxLahore. Hamad Dar, along with Faiz Dar, aged 21 and 16, are Pakistan’s new form of entrepreneurs. The Dars and Faizan Shoaib are the administrators for Koolmuzone, Pakistan’s premier resource for music related news, along with other interesting tidbits now and again. But Koolmuzone is very much about the music, from videos to interviews, from hounding every other news source, getting musicians to submit music and guest posts, and gathering a sizeable following on social networking sites, they have crossed the barriers of publishing costs and bureaucracy and bring unfiltered music to their readers. In an age after the demise of Bandbaja, Pakistan’s music magazine, and the declining standards of music and entertainment journalism over the country, Koolmuzone have been a ray of hope in embracing the power of the blog and getting content to those who want it.

They have been actively raising their voices against record labels when they have begun infringing on artists’ rights, delaying albums and generally messing around. Similarly they are quick to raise responses to certain kinds of anti Pakistan news if and when they can. Their Facebook page is no less entertaining.

I have been a reader for a long time now, and to say I am biased toward them would be, well sort of true. Its because they’re good. As Hamad’s work grows, Faiz has begun to take the reigns at the blog, and things are smooth as ever. Here is our chat:

First off, tell us a bit about Koolmuzone in your own words, what did it set out to be?

We started koolmuzone to do things differently. Music websites in Pakistan had contributed differently earlier which mostly involved uploading free albums for the audiences (which isn’t a bad thing for musicians, bad for labels though). We wanted to play fair since we wanted to take koolmuzone a) as legal b) as an informative music blog.

This was something which wasn’t done before in Pakistani music websites and that’s why we thought we could still grab traffic even after starting the blog couple of years after others did.

It turned out to be huge. The following is massive and we have very strong media presence now.

I know musicians aren’t in too great a situation financially right now, what about you guys?

Music industry is very dry when it comes to revenues and it’s just not musicians who are suffering but blogs too. We have plenty investments, server and editorial costs and the return is very low. Advertisers in Pakistan haven’t really moved on to online advertisement yet, not directly on a blog at least. We had a little support by advertisers like Telenor and Two Five Right but even then the returns are pretty low.

Do you think the war is affecting your work?

The war isn’t really affecting the work. The musicians are pretty active and only a few live acts are affected due to security reasons. However, whenever there is a delayed album launch, labels put it on war.

Surely this can’t be full time can it? You guys are young people. You’re 21, Faiz is 16. What’s the rest of the story?

It’s not full time and it can’t be anytime soon. We try to put as much time into it as we can but even with a very good following we can’t really rely on it for the full time living. The sole reason is that the online ad. industry of Pakistan is so dry. It will take a lot of time for them to realize that they are putting their money into TV while the youth is browsing Facebook.

As perhaps the only channel of news dedicated to Pakistani music, what is your take on where Pakistani music has gone over the past few years, since the boom earlier this decade?

Well, I think the music industry of Pakistan was better a couple years ago with respect to quality of music while it’s better now with respect to opportunities and distribution. Since recently there has been a lot of support to the musicians by blogs like ours and labels like Fire Records and Musik Records have become mainstream labels releasing a lot more acts than before.

Your coverage lacks news of classical and less mainstream music, has that been becuase that genre has found it hard to keep up with modern technology and get in touch with you? Was it simply a case of “they’re not on the internet” or is there more?

We have to get continuous stream of updates from the musicians to cover a news on story on them. Unfortunatly, we are not very much connected to classical musicians and yes, that’s partly because they aren’t keeping up with the modern technology. In general, the musicians should be sending us continuous press releases if they need continous coverage but only a handfull of musicains tend to do that. I think artist managers are responsible for this. Artist management in Pakistan is usually very unprofessional and has no or little experience and education of music management. We however do provide good coverage to upcoming and underground musicians since most of them tend to contact us to do so.

You mentioned that you want this to be a legal operation, so how do you run the music library on your website in those constraints?

The music library mostly consists of old albums and singles released prior to 2008 with labels like Sadaf and others which either don’t exist anymore or don’t have any concerns with their music online. All the content released after wards including but not limited to audios and videos by Fire and Musik records is not uploaded. Only a few singles make it to our blog which are permitted to be shared by either artist or label, whoever has the ownership of the content.

This was a challenge for us because we had competitors with much better online presence who were putting the albums online. I think even with these constraints, we still managed to acquire respectable influence in music industry.

When Good News Eludes This Land.

I don’t like pessimism. So I wanted to avoid writing about the bad news that we’ve gotten in the past fortnight. Add the fact that the win over Australia was followed by a hammering at England’s hand, and that Coke Studio has hardly lived up to its hype, and I’m pretty depressed.

This comment I quote sums it up. It’s from this Express Trubune Story about the launch of the new BMW 5 Series. Hasan writes:

Is it flood, arson, theft and bomb proof? as nothing less would do in current circumstances.

My heart goes out to those who’ve lost their lives in the worst floods this country has seen in decades, to the families of those who’ve died and to those who’ve lost their homes. You are all in our prayers. To the victims of the Air Blue Crash, we hope we figure out what happened, may we prevent this from happening again, rest in peace. To the many more innocent victims of drone attack, terrorist attacks and combat, you will be our heroes when we come out of this war. We have treated you badly, but there are many that stand by you. Please do not forget them.

To everybody who was with me on PK302 on July 30th, when the bird went through our engine, thank you for remaing calm and polite and not creating a huckass. To everybody else, yes the media reports were sensationalised. I would know, I was there. Everything was fine. It took a while, but there was no hysteria. I hope you have better facts next time.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Me and a Rebel in Nepal.

Click on the thumbnail below to see the new gallery!

I’m back, and have some photos I’d like to share. Credits for the photo I’m in, obviously can’t go to me. That and the signs are photos my sister and father took. I was too busy laughing my head off to take them myself. These are photos that have given me some peace, and some that reminded me oh home. All are unedited, unphotoshopped. That good was the camera. Its a Rebel T2i that belongs to my sister. One more good thing about her visit.