Pak’s tribute to the God of Pop
Music and musicians have often been under attack in Pakistan. Their detractors earlier were right-wing religio-political outfits. The offensive now is led by the likes of Tehreek-e-Taliban and other hotheads who even consider as un-Islamic the “moving picture” as it appears on television. But Michael Jackson’s death was big news in that country. The print media, like in India, went overboard in reporting the pop icon’s fairytale rise and his tragic end, music channels ran retrospectives, cybercitizens downloaded his famous numbers, music shops did brisk business selling his CDs and DVDs and the Sindh assembly observed a minute’s silence in his memory.
As portrayed in director Shoaib Mansoor’s critically acclaimed Khuda ke Liye, Pakistani musicians, be they popular bands or ghazal singers, live dangerously in the country where extremism has moved from the fringes to the core. Maybe not in football fields or under proscenium arches. But local bands play— at private functions, in clubs and in charity concerts such as those recently held in Lahore and Islamabad for people displaced by military action in Swat and other parts of Pakistan’s North West. If concerts are difficult to come by, they cut CDs, sell videos and do live performances for a popular series “Coke Studio” titled after the soft-drink major.
The music channels, the bands and the singers who belted out titillating stuff were safer under Pervez Musharraf. He let them proliferate to buttress his self-image of a ‘benign’ dictator. I remember having once bumped into Abrar-ul-Haq in a Lahore-Islamabad flight.
The young singer—whose hot number Aasey tey jana billo dey ghar got him on the wrong side of the mullahs and their conservative middle class supporters— had high praise for the general. “He accepted my request and danced to my tunes to inject life in a concert I was doing in the northern areas,” he recalled. Abrar still performs but some of his contemporaries like Ali Haider (whose Purani jeans aur guitar is an all-time great) have grown beards and turned religious in a real life version of Khuda key liye. Even Junaid Jamshed. of top-of-the-line pop group Vital Signs now limits his singing to songs that praise God. As an active member of
the Tablighi Jamaat (a preachers’ group devoted to the spread of Islam), he focuses on his religion and its pious personalities — a bit along the lines of former Cat Stevens now known as Yusuf Islam.
Pakistan’s tribute to Wacko Jacko is worth a tribute itself.