Sunday, September 28, 2008

Exclusive Interview Teaser: Brian O'Connell out of seclusion

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Shehzad Roy shifts focus from much anticipated 'Qismat Apnay Haat Mein' video

Playing it safe: Shehzad Roy shifts focus from the much anticipated 'Qismat Apnay Haat Mein' video

He's making a video for the romantic ditty 'Ek Baar' instead. Will the lack of corporate sponsors for edgy songs take the edge off our music?

Saba Imtiaz, Karachi

The massively popular 'Laga Reh' video by Shehzad Roy - which poked a satirical finger at how Pakistanis deal with the problems that are facing the country now, as well as highlighted the issues that are everyday headlines - was by far one of the best things to have happened on the music video scene in Pakistan. The next video was expected to be that of 'Qismat Apney Haat Mein' - another hard-hitting number that forces people to sit up and think about those who have wrestled our future into their own hands. However, Shehzad's planning to make the video for another song in the album first - 'Eik Baar'. 'Eik Baar' is one of his signature romantic ballads, songs that Shehzad has built his career on as a pop singer. However, the move does come as a surprise because one would expect another controversial video to follow up the first, as the 'Qismat Apney Haat Mein' video was being billed as a sequel of sorts to 'Laga Reh'.

So what's happened? Obviously, Shehzad wants to play it safe. While the 'Laga Reh' video has garnered more coverage than anyone would have thought of - there were no sponsors willing to touch the video. All that said and done, while it's understandable that there was earlier hesitation on the part of corporations, the video's become a massive hit. But if companies are still afraid, as the grapevine goes, to touch Shehzad's album, then it speaks double standards about a lot of things. Corporations don't refuse to air advertisements on news channels that portray the truth or lift the curtain from social ills hidden in society. Supermodel Kate Moss, after her cocaine bust, was dropped by almost every brand she endorsed - but the ones that stuck with her reaped the benefits when she came back onto the modeling stage, as much of a force as before. It also makes one think why Shehzad Roy wants to shift the focus - releasing 'Qismat Apnay Haat Mein' now would cement his sudden rise in popularity and make him a star.

But can one even blame the corporations? While many business dealings in the country are far from being white as snow, the hesitation does make sense. Can companies afford to offend higher authorities - given how our business environment is so fragile with the constant political turmoil? Probably not - but then there is no other alternative for musicians - and these are ancient, ongoing debates that do not appear resolvable.

However contrary to how it may seem like, Shehzad Roy's satirical video is not the first satirical production to air in Pakistan. The classic Fifty-Fifty'TV show in the '60s was a groundbreaker - which spoofed Pakistani culture to the hilt and made fun of anything and everything under the sun. Even in the repressive 80s, the TV serial Aangan Tehra, penned by Anwar Maqsood, directed by Farooq Qaiser and starring Shakeel, Bushra Ansari and Salim Nasir - the play subtly pointed out the harshness of the regime that had banned dancing or the economic crises of that time. That was aired on PTV - during the 1980s. And there are countless satire shows on TV now - from Hum Sab Umeed Se Hain' to The Reel News.

In this day and age, when companies in Pakistan are sponsoring musicals, risqué 'entertainment' events and obscure artists, it is a stark parallel that a musician who's album has been consistently selling since its release, has yet to land a deal which would make doing music like this commercially viable. It makes someone who has been following the music industry for over a decade now think that we are still stuck in 1997, when Junoon got banned from the airwaves thanks to the 'Ehtesab' video, 'Khudi' and Ali Azmat and Salman Ahmed's long hair. The media revolution has come - but if musicians and corporations still need to 'play it safe' then what has really evolved?

Nothing, one fears.

Can Pakistani music speak louder than guns? - By Mark Levine

Can music speak louder than guns?

By Mark LeVine

The information for this article was extracted from the author’s topical book – ‘Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam’.

This piece was written exclusively for TGK’s inaugural issue.

Driving into Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), there is a sign on the road that welcomes you to ‘The land of hospitality’.

This is not what I expected to find on my way to Peshawar, gateway to the region of the country controlled by the Taliban and al-Qaeda, where Osama bin Laden is said to be hiding.

But it's true nonetheless, at least part of the time.

For me, the main clue to understanding the contradictions between the warmth of the people in general, and the strikingly beautiful scenery across the NWFP and FATA, and the violence that has long plagued the region, lies in the beautiful new highway from Islamabad to the NWFP that, at least when I was last there a year ago, stops about half way between the two and becomes little more than a dirt road, passing village after village that seem poorer the closer you get to the border.

Whether during British rule or today, the unwillingness of central governments to commit to ensuring a humane level of social infrastructure and development created a fertile soil for grey-market economies, violence, and extremism of various sorts. When you add hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees to the mix you get precisely the tragic situation in which so many Pakistanis find themselves.

The NWFP is also home to some of the best rock n’ roll, not just in Pakistan, but anywhere today.

Indeed, since the 1980s, it's been home to one of the best record shops in all of Pakistan, whose owner has had a knack for finding the best music from the US and Europe almost as soon as it comes out and getting into the hands of eager local fans and, as important, musicians.

Most important for me, Peshawar is home to one of the best rock groups east of Berlin, ‘Sajid and Zeeshan’.

Apparently, Pakistanis were as surprised as I was to discover great rock n’ roll in Peshawar, since the day I first met them the newspaper, ‘Dawn’, ran a front-page story about the band that began by asking incredulously about the possibility of rock music in Pehsawar: "Peshawar is not a place known for being very music-savvy, and the idea of a band coming from there was surprising for many music enthusiasts."

Well, the same thing could be said about Pakistan as a whole from the perspective of most people in the West, and especially the United States. If Sajid explained over lunch in ‘Shiraz’, the best restaurant I've ever eaten in during my time in Pakistan, people from the NWFP are called ‘walnuts’ by other Pakistanis because they are supposedly; "Hardheaded or stupid. When we tour in other Pakistani cities, people actually ask us if we live in mud huts."

Sajid and Zeeshan's success has been hard won, and continues to be hard. "It can be terrible working here because of the poverty and violence, but it's our home," Zeeshan explained to me during a recent conversation.

"Yet if we thought we'd be bombarded by criticisms from journalists and others because we sing mostly in English (and Pashtu), in fact people are more open than that." But try recording when the electricity is off as much as 18 or more hours a day, or the army and Taliban are competing for control over your city.
It's often been said that conflict and violence produce great music, and I suppose Sajid and Zeeshan are proof of that. But it would be nice to hear what kind of music they can make in a ‘normal’ situation.

Peshawar's problems are, of course, Pakistan's. Everyone knows that the country was cobbled together out of four regions that had very little in common culturally and linguistically, and that the elite has succeeded in amassing a huge amount of wealth by ensuring that the vast majority of Pakistanis live in one of the world's most under-developed economies.

But despite the poverty and constant political turmoil, it's impossible not to feel Pakistan's rich cultural mosaic when you travel the country, and listen to the music.

Like most Pakistanis, I suppose, I was first drawn to the country's music by ‘Junoon’, whose music equally electrified and mesmerized me, bringing together Led Zeppelin and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in a way that I'd previously only heard in my dreams. But the music scene is so much deeper than ‘Junoon’, or ‘Vital Signs’.

It's hard for me to keep track in fact: Karavan's grandiose sonic assaults, the guitar virtuosity of Mekaal Hasan and Faraz Anwar and the way their bands blend hard guitars with lush, Qawwali inspired vocals, Ali Rooh's original mix of country music and Urdu melodies (now that's a combination I hadn't even dreamt of yet when I first heard it but can't quite get out of my head now..), the hard Sufi folk rock of Arieb Azhar, post grunge nu and progressive metal bands like ‘Akash’, ‘Messiah’, or ‘Orion’, and even harder bands like the extreme metal group ‘Halig Krinien’, the consummate hard Urdu pop metal groovers like ‘Aaroh’, or the enchanting yet haunting naats of Junaid Jamshed, one can spend a lifetime immersing oneself in Pakistan's best popular music and not reach the end.

Indeed, Pakistan's rock scene might well be the most sonically diverse in the world-certainly in the Muslim world the only place that comes close is Morocco, where rock, metal, hip-hop, Gnawa (Sufi), Berber and other styles have been percolating together for almost two generations.

What makes Pakistan's music even more special is that it has long had both a religious and a political grounding. It's impossible to hear any of the great rock singers in Urdu and not hear the Sufi/Qawwali grounding of their melodies. Even more pop acts like Haroon have a strong foundation in local traditions that raises their music above the kind of disposable pop that dominates the airwaves in the US.

When it's combined with the political impetus that has periodically popped up in Pakistani pop music, the scene really stands out. I remember Haroon playing me the video for ‘Mr. Fraudiya’ as we sat in his house. I kept thinking: "Why can't an American rock group attack the fraud and corruption of our own system with the same honesty and-as important-fun and creativity that Haroon and the other members of ‘Awaz’ were willing to do? Or Junoon's ‘Ehsab’? Or Sajid and Zeeshan's first Pashtu-language song, ‘Lambay’?”

What's most interesting to me about Pakistani rock and heavy metal is its honesty. When you look at commercials on Pakistani television, or stare at the billboards for luxury housing along the Arabian Sea, it's hard not to get angry at the fantasy portrayal of life in Pakistan that is constantly being sold to people who have no chance to achieve it.

While the country's pop music can be as cheesy as Brittney Spears or Hannah Montana, the rock music to me seems to hold a piece of Pakistan's soul inside it, helping, in the words of Salman Ahmed, to; "heal the country" even as many Pakistanis continue to think wrongly, according to most readings of Islamic law - that such music is haram, or forbidden.

However powerful is Pakistani rock, it can't save the country. As I watched Asif Ali Zardari be sworn in as President, I couldn't help thinking of Junoon's ‘Ehsab’, and how far the reality of Pakistan's politics and economy is from the ideals of Iqbal and the other founders of the country.

And the words of singer Ali Rooh, which he said to me as we stood in front of Iqbal's grave in Lahore, came back to my mind: "Mark, Pakistan is doomed unless we can return to our traditions of taking care of each other." Music can't do it all, but it's hard to imagine Pakistan moving forward without it.

The author is a professor of Middle Eastern history at ‘UC Irvine’ and a professional musician who has recorded and performed with many leading artists around the globe. Mark is the author and editor of half a dozen books, including the just published ‘Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam’ (Random House/Three Rivers Press) and the forthcoming ‘An Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989’ (Zed Books).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Coming soon: Ali Zafar's new music video 'Aag' [Dir. Rahim Shah]

Ali Zafar is all set to release yet another video from his last album Masty. This time its for the song AAG and directed by Ahsan Rahim. The video stars Faisal Qureshi and Umaima along with Ali Zafar.

Watch out for more soon !

Monday, September 8, 2008

Video: Ali Azmat on Aag TV's 'Cell 224' show

Part 1 :
Part 2 :
Part 3 :
Part 4 :

Music Pakistan

Will Pop prince Ali Zafar grow up to be a king?

The boy who would be king

Pop prince Ali Zafar has proven at Coke Studio that his vocals go much beyond his love for Channo and his stint with Masty. Will the pop prince grow up to be king?

Maheen Sabeeh, Karachi

Rohail Hyatt's magnum opus project, Coke Studio, managed to prove quite a few things about the music industry of Pakistan and its collective power.

The most surprising factor on the show had to be Ali Zafar, the young pop prince as he is fondly referred to.

There have never been any doubts about Ali Zafar's capability as a singer. For songs like 'Channo' and later 'Huqa Pani' and 'Rangeen' that put him on the musical map for the youth of Pakistan, other numbers like 'Aik Pal' and 'Jugno Se Bhar Ley Aanchal' - all of his debut record Huqa Pani - proved his mettle as a singer.

But Ali has mostly been about the young, fun side of music. His most successful songs are just that. Whether it is 'Masty' where he lived his childhood dream of flying or a Casanova in 'Rangeen', the videos and the music have been about the energy and youth of Ali Zafar. This factor made him one of the most relatable musical acts around for fans.

Veteran singer Alamgir once said that Ali Zafar is the complete package, with looks of a movie star and manners that make him a dream for girls and an inspiration for boys.

But beyond the youth, there is another market of Ali Zafar. The 40 year old age group and above who often attend his shows to see him belt out old hits of Kishore Kumar. Not every pop star can pull it off. But Ali Z has always managed with natural ease.

On Coke Studio, one saw Ali Zafar perform some of his most well-known, much-loved tunes. But it was 'Allah Hu' from Khuda Kay Liye OST that he sang with Tufail Ahmed that stunned everyone.

Ali matched Tufail in verses and hit notes that were powerful to the hilt and ultimately mind blowing.

It proved that of all the pop singers around, Ali Zafar is the only one besides Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan, whose vocal range allows him expansion few can dream of.

Ali Z has the kind of voice that gives him an edge over most commercial musicians.

His last two albums, Huqa Pani and Masty, do show these vocal ranges but on a few songs. The rest are often dominated by the sound, and at other times, the bouncy nature of the songs themselves. That doesn't make his tunes any less interesting and powerful.

But, after two albums, it seems the time has come when Ali can turn towards a more serious side. It doesn't necessarily mean loose all the fun and charm that has now become the staple of Ali Zafar. But more songs like 'Allah Hu' that showcase Ali Zafar's voice than anything else, in all its power and glory, should ideally be a part of his new record.

After 'Allah Hu', he has entered a new league, which few can be a part of.

And fans have proven that they are ready.

On a poll conducted on the Coke Studio website, 75 per cent people voted for Ali Z's 'Allah Hu' as their favourite. On another poll, which was held after the 'Best Of' episode of Coke Studio aired, fans again voted for 'Allah Hu' as their favourite.

It was tripped-out and hypnotic and the entire Coke Studio team put together this number but it was the voice that was the defining factor for many.

"Ali Zafar was fantastic on Coke Studio. 'Allah Hu' was just impeccable. I didn't know he was capable of this," says Imran, a 24-year-old.

Another 21-year-old, Nida held the same view. She says, "Ali Zafar's songs are fun but 'Allah Hu' was like a different singer altogether, so mature, and so powerful. I was really surprised."

For musicians, experiment can often work out. After all, Huqa Pani was just that. Bollywood-meets-Arabic dance-meets-pop were some of the genres that defined it.

Ali Azmat's Klashinfolk maybe picking up slowly but hardcore fans have lapped it up. Even Ali Azmat's debut Social Circus, a 360-degree turn from everything Junoon ever did, worked out nicely for the rock star.

The latest example is of course, that of Strings who took a drastic turn from soft, sonorous pop to sharp, addictive rock and rewrote their own hits such as 'Jab Bhi' and 'Jab Se Main Ney Tumko' and took them to different levels altogether on Koi Aanay Wala Hai. And it worked out for them rather nicely.

Between Masty and Huqa Pani, Masty is the record that shows off the more restrained side of Ali Zafar. Songs like 'Janay Na Koi' and 'Aasman' are well-written numbers that work not just for their soft notes but for the words that bring hope and inspiration. The process has already begun for Ali Zafar and with Coke Studio, Ali Zafar showed off to the world what he's capable of… and its solid stuff.

The timing is just right. Music industry has collectively turned 2008 into one of the best musical years we've seen in a long time. From debut acts like Zeb and Haniya and Azal to veterans like Shehzad Roy, Ali Azmat and Strings, it's been a time of experiments, diversification and true-blue gems. And if anyone can add to these names on his own, it is Ali Zafar. So here's hoping that the third album shows us all more magic that Ali Z's vocals can create!

Source: The News International - No. 1 English Newspaper from Pakistan - Saturday, December 30, 1899

Watch New Music Video: Nazish - Leaving on a jet plane

Watch New Music Video: Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan - Josh

Video: Fahad Ahmad makes Primetime guest appearance on ABC

Monday, September 1, 2008

Watch New Music Video: JaL - Main Mastt Hoon