Changing tides with tunes: The role of music
Regardless of the times it finds life in, music always speaks.
Each era that is marked by social change sings it own tunes, and Pakistan’s now is no different. The changing social climate is accompanied by a new maturity in music, the intensity of which we’ve never seen before.
The Pakistan music industry has seen its fair shares of face-lifts. What was once heavily dominated by tracks like Ali Haider’s “Purani Jeans” transformed into the playing field for music like Junoon’s “Ehtisab”. As Pakistan moved forward, so did our tunes; we moved from happy pop songs to songs that with meanings that went deeper than the surface. Artists such as Topi Drama, Beygairat Brigade and Ali Gul Pir are all significant because their songs paint a painfully real picture of things as they stand.
Never before has Pakistan seen music with such strongly rooted satirical and critical expression. From political hypocrisies to societal absurdities – music today is speaking volumes of the change that is needed in Pakistan.
Topi Drama’s song “Khoon”, for example, talks about Shia killings – and it didn’t take very long to go viral on the internet. The video which first began circulating on Facebook garnered more than 100,000 views in less than three weeks. The three member band, consisting of Kenny Zeerick, Sohail Qureshi and Arafat Mazhar, was overwhelmed by the number of ‘shares’ the video received from people of all walks of life.
Arafat, Topi Drama’s lead vocalist, says about Khoon, “It is a very personal song for us. I don’t remember writing anything more sincerely than I wrote this. As a writer I felt as complicit as anyone else for the longest time. I mean with this massacre, we all knew who these people were pulling the trigger and ordering the blasts. When a group of people start thinking that they can play god, it’s usually when the majority is silent. This is what the song is about. The acknowledgement that we should have written, we should have spoken, we should have sung, we should have painted, we should have gone out on the streets for this long ago.”
“Tere aur mere hathon mein khoon hai”: The words hit harder because of the visual imagery that’s been added to the video.
While the band has no interest in political analyses or preaching, it does want to write songs that hit a person’s heart, and not just their nerves. Of the four songs that they have in the pipeline, some do point out to the failures of authority figures.
Other bands, like the Beyghairat Brigade, look at Pakistan’s political chaos through a satirical lens. The band’s second song, Sab Paisey ki Game Hai, took a shot at the ruling class of the country.
Vocalist Ali Aftab elaborates on the band’s style by saying, “We aren’t great musicians and we aren’t proficient political analysts, so by combining both we have managed to make our space.” The band has grown, with their latest track being a work of collaboration with Saad Sultan and Arshed Bhatti.
When a group of people start thinking that they can play god, it’s usually when the majority is silent. This is what the song is about. The acknowledgement that we should have written, we should have spoken, we should have sung, we should have painted, we should have gone out on the streets for this long ago.
The Beyghairat Brigade makes it clear that it isn’t interested in singing about just another Heer Ranja story. “While the bank members are individually making music with different musicians which isn’t satirical in its content, these songs are not under the banner of Beygairat Brigade. I can’t speak for others but I am always at ease singing satirical lyrics. ‘Tere shabnami honton kay sharare’ type (lyrics) are kind of uncomfortable at times,” smiles Aftab. While another track is sitting on the wait for the ban on Youtube to be lifted, Sab Paisey ki Game hai has already climbed the charts.
To say that music can help you measure the heart of the people it comes from wouldn’t be inaccurate. Arafat has it nailed at the end of the day when he says, “As a band we are very conscious of one thing, we are not here as an agent of change. We are here to express and that can be a powerful thing when done together.”
Musicians may not deliberately aim to be agents of change – but in Pakistan, growing trends indicate that we’re waking up as a people and there’s no better evidence than the turns we’ve taken musically.