10: Saban-Waban Chor: Majid Jahangir and Ismail Tara (1978)
The passionate South Asian music genre of the Qawali reached a peak in popularity among urban Pakistanis in the mid and late 1970s.
Two of the most famous exponents of the genre were Aziz Mian Qawal and the Sabri Brothers.
Over a period of time a rivalry of sorts developed between Aziz Mian and the Sabri Brothers, and a time came when both began to record qawalis mocking each other with taunting lyrics.
Aziz Mian was the wild man of Pakistani Qawali. Long-haired, almost always sloshed on his favourite brand of whisky, and punctuating his qawalis with sudden spoken-word interludes that he would shout out as if he was having an argument with God and the conservative clergy.
Though the Sabri Brothers too came from the same Sufi-music background as Aziz Mian, they were more subdued and harmonious in their approach towards their music.
As crowds in Karachi, Lahore and other major cities of the country flocked to see Aziz Main and the Brothers, they loved their professional rivalry even more.
In 1977, the Brothers released a long Qawali, Peena Weena Chor: O’ Sharabi, Chor De Peena (hey, drunkard, stop drinking), that indirectly taunted Aziz Mian’s obsession with whisky.
Aziz Mian retaliated with an even longer and sarcastic Qawali, Aye Kambakht Tu Nein Pi Hi Nahi (O’ unfortunate soul, you never even drank).
In 1978 the year Pakistan’s state-owned TV channel, PTV, launched Fifty-Fifty – a weekly 30-minute show of comedy skits – one of the show’s initial skits parodied the rivalry between the Brothers and Aziz Mian.
Comedians Majid Jehangir and Sakhi Iqbal (who was still studying at the Karachi University at the time and was a member of a progressive students outfit) played the Sabri Brothers, and Ismail Tara played the long-haired and uninhabited Aziz Mian.
Aziz Mian and the Brothers had taunted each other by using high Sufi symbolism in their respective lyrics. But Jahangir, Sakhi and Tara not only parodied the Qawali styles of the Brothers and Aziz Mian, but also their words by replacing their lyrical Sufi symbolism with mundane issues such as indigestion, quality of soap and fried chicken.
The results were hilarious.
Video | Saban-Waban Chor (1978)
9: No Love and Yes Love: Doctor Aur Billa (1994 and 1995)
During the early and mid-1990s when the modern Pakistani pop scene had well and truly broken out of its ‘underground’ status and went mainstream, there emerged a quirky pop band (from the famous Lahore College of Arts), calledDoctor Aur Billa (Dr and Billa).
Led by Javad Bashir, the band at once began to parody the mainstream themes of the Pakistani pop music scene of the time.
Two of its most famous songs in this respect were 1994’s No Love and its 1995 sequel, Yes Love.
The band consisted of Javad Bashir and also included Faisal Qureshi, Adeel Hashmi, Ahsan Rahim and a number of other guys, all of whom would go on to become established TV comedians, actors, directors, VJs, etc.
At a time when famous pop and rock acts like the Vital Signs, Awaz, Strings, Junoon, Ali Haider, Sajjad Ali, Hadiqa Kayani and numerous others had begun to be courted and pampered by large multinational sponsors and put large sums of money in their videos, Dr. Aur Billa arrived on the scene consciously behaving like poppers but with an almost arrogant DIY attitude.
They self-financed the recording of their songs and made low-budget videos because no multinational sponsor would go near them.
Not that they were subversive in an overtly political sense, they were just impossible to pigeonhole even as funny guys. Because not only were they not behaving like ‘regular comedians’, they were dressing up like 1970s over-the-top hipsters.
In 1994 when a majority of popular Urdu pop songs/videos in the country were about Romeos chasing Juliets, Dr. Aur Billa came up with a song and video called No Love.
It turned the thematic tables by making a woman chase a man! When the video was played on the now defunct NTM (a semi-private TV channel), it became a sudden hit, taking everyone (even the band) by surprise.
When in 1995 some pop groups tried to add more ‘social substance’ into their songs and videos, Dr. Aur Billa perversely released Yes Love in which they turned the haughty and impersonal protagonist of No Love into a helpless, nervous romantic failingly trying to get the attention of the girl he had ignored. Macho had turned into mush.
Both the songs though based on minimalistic compositions, were extremely catchy.
What’s more, as famous pop acts began to hire equally famous fashion designers to update their images and looks, Dr. Aur Billa decided to appear in gaudy 1970s attire designed by the band members themselves from bits and pieces of contemporary shirts, trousers and even from worn-out women’s saris!
Video | No Love (1994)
Video | Yes Love (1995)
8: Chief Saab: Sajjad Ali (1994)
Sajjad Ali began his career as a young semi-classical crooner in the 1980s. But by the early 1990s, he had successfully established himself as a highly talented and famous pop vocalist.
He achieved this with his first pop album in 1993 (Babiya ’93), but it was his second album in 1994 that turned him into one of the biggest selling pop acts of Pakistan.
Though the album was studded with Ali’s trademark pop melodies about the birds and the bees, one song on it, Chief Saab, saw him completely depart from his usual style and lyrics.
The song is about a righteous and cool street toughie of Karachi mocking another (more villainous) toughie in typical Karachi street lingo and slang.
The tune has a hypnotic slow-burn groove and is paced with the Karachi cool dude attitude, but it became controversial when the video of the song hit the TV screens.
The video is cheaply shot at an apartment block in Karachi. Sajjad Ali plays the cool dude trying to cow down three hooligans with his macho and witty lyrics fattened with the city’s twisty street lingo.
Though long hair (on men) had gone out of fashion in the 1980s, for a while they came back into vogue (the world over) in the early 1990s. So, Ali grew his hair long as well and appears in the video with a full stock.
Two theories emerged about the song. The first was that Ali was parodying street hooligans and gangsters that had begun to infest the streets and colleges of Karachi from the 1980s onwards.
The second theory was that Ali was actually addressing a notorious member of the city’s gangster community that was supposedly being patronised by a political party.
Ali suggested that he was simply parodying men who act tough but were normal run-of-the-mill guys. The video would seem to suggest the same in which Ali and the hooligans are seen locked in a tense battle of tough postures only to break down and become ordinary guys who were just interested in making some dance moves in front of the camera.
However, Ali suddenly left Karachi and ended up in Lahore. Some newspapers reported that he had been threatened by the gangster. Ali again denied the news, even when his thick flock of hair suddenly end up alarmingly trimmed.
Video | Chief Saab (1994)
7: Dubai Janey Walley: Bushra Ansari and Majid Jahangir (1979)
In the mid-1970s a number of Pakistanis from working-class backgrounds for the first time began being able to travel to oil-rich Arab countries for work.
By the late 1970s the trend had considerably picked up and more and more Pakistanis were sending back or coming back with the kind of money and consumer goods that were once beyond their reach.
However, as more Pakistanis from small rural areas and the working-classes in the main urban centres tried to make it to cities in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, hundreds of fraudulent travel agencies and agents cropped up who would rob the hopeful travellers’ by running away with their savings after issuing them fake visas and passports.
In 1979 such crimes hit a peak and thousands of poor Pakistanis lost their savings in their desire to make big money in the Arab countries. The same year PTV’s comedy show, Fifty-Fifty, ran a song/video about the alarming phenomenon.
The song was sung by Bushra Ansari and Majid Jahangir. In the video, Bushra plays the wife of a lowly paid employee of Karachi’s municipal city government (Ismail Tara) who is walking around his small house (in a shanty town) with a puffed up chess because he has managed to get a visa for Dubai.
The wife sings to him the list of things he must send back for the poor family (TV, fridge, jewellery, etc.), from Dubai.
However, as the husband is strolling about and already acting like a king, his brother (played by Majid Jahangir) comes in. He laments that he (Tara) would not be going to Dubai because his travel agent had been arrested and his visa was a fake.
In the end, Tara suddenly loses his snooty and puffed up posture and complains that now he doesn’t even have his tiny government job.
The composition of the song is based on a famous Pashtu folk tune.
Video | Dubai Janey Wallay (1979)
6: Mr.Faudiay: Awaz (1995)
The 1990s were a time when democratic governments replaced the Zia dictatorship of the 1980s.
But as governments rotated between Benazir Bhutto’s PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s IJI/PML-N, remnants of the Zia regime still exercised great influence and power within the country’s military, security agencies and the bureaucracy.
The culture of patronage and corruption and that of violence that had begun to develop during the Zia dictatorship mushroomed within Pakistan’s political and social scene of the 1990s.
It reached a peak on the eve of the dismissal of the second Benazir regime in 1996 (on corruption charges by her own President), and the controversial, ‘establishment-backed’ election of the second Nawaz government.
The nouveau-riche phenomenon that the situation generated was often populated by shady seths, politicians and businessmen, who had made quick money through drug and banking scams, fraudulent business deals and through their connections in political parties and military ventures.
Awaz, though a conventional ‘boy-band’, however, managed to successfully parody all this with a jazzy song and video (on their third and last album).
Video | Mr. Fraudiya (1995)
5: Taroo Maroo: Ali Gul Pir (2012)
‘Tarna’ in Urdu slang means lecherous staring and ‘Taroo’ is a guy who does this.
In 2012 entertainer, performing artiste and singer, Ali Gul Pir, decided to satirise the bothersome Taru with a funky hip-hop song and an irreverent video.
The song treats the Taroo as a social parasite with an obsession for staring at women.
He maybe a rickshaw driver, a college student, a restaurant waiter, a small-time hoodlum or a rich man’s son, who stares at women like they were objects deserving to be started at in the most lascivious manner.
The song then goes on to suggest that the Taroo is basically a sociopath who (if he can’t find a woman to stare at), would end up staring everything from aunties, uncles, buildings, babies and even bakris (goats)!
The song and the video hit all the right chords. The composition is carefully crafted and manages to immediately catch ones attention, whereas the video and the words sardonically capture the lecherous absurdities of the Taroos.
Though the song was an immediate hit across the social media, some criticised it for showing the Taroo (played by Ali Gul Pir) lewdly staring at a small girl.
They accused Pir of ‘encouraging paedophilia.’ Of course, this was a rather ridiculous accusation because in the context of the song and the video, he was mocking the starer as a sociopath who would stare at almost anything to meet his obsessed, unethical need to stare.
Video | Taroo Maroo (2012)
4: Soh Lakh Milien Gey: Bushra Ansari (1986)
Though even the top satirists struggled to comment on politics and government during the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in the 1980s (without either being ‘blacklisted’ from state media or even jailed), writer Anwar Maqsood found unique ways to satirise and criticise the Zia government.
One way he used in this respect was to comment on the burgeoning materialism and (with it) the fake displays of piety that had begun to infiltrate deep inside the Pakistani society during the dictatorship.
It was a dictatorship propped up by millions of US dollars and Arab Riyals and Dirhams dished out to conduct the ‘anti-Soviet Afghan Jihad’.
Some of this money began to trickle down, and along with the rise of a ‘black economy’ that it triggered, the chaotic trickle-down also saw a number of Pakistanis suddenly become very rich, very fast (the nouveau-riche).
The tendency also graced the cricket scene, especially in Sharjah where rich Arab sheikhs began pouring in huge sums of money into India-Pakistan games.
In 1986, during an India-Pakistan final in Sharjah when Pakistani batsman, Javed Miandad, hit a last-ball six to win the game, he was showered by millions of Dirhams and gifts by the sheikhs and the Pakistani government.
Anwar Maqsood penned a song satirising the event in which he said that though Miandad got millions of Dirhams, his partner, Tauseef Ahmed (who was on the non-striker’s end), just got eight Dirhams!
This was Maqsood’s tongue-in-cheek take of the lopsided economic prosperity witnessed during the Zia regime.
The song was sung by versatile actress, Bushra Ansari, in the style of famous vocalist and film star, Salma Agha.
It was reported that after the song was aired on state television, Tauseef suddenly realised that he too should get as much money for being there with Javed. He got none.
Video | Soh Lakh Milien Gey (1986)
3: Billo De Ghar: Abrarul Haq (1994); Waderey Ka Beta: Ali Gul Pir (2012)
At the peak of the country’s pop music scene in 1994-95, Abrarul Haq burst onto the scene with an idiosyncratic Punjabi pop tune, Billo De Ghar.
The song that told the tale of a young man hell-bent on meeting a girl (Billo) and in the process is harassed by the cops and assorted moralists, was an instant hit.
However, in late 1995, some Urdu newspapers began quoting a couple of mullahs from Lahore who claimed that the song was actually about a guy who fell in love with a prostitute and wanted to marry her.
Abrar did not respond to the accusations and continued to enjoy his new-found fame.
In 1997 when Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N defeated Benazir Bhutto’s PPP in that year’s election and formed a majority government at the centre, it immediately banned the song from being played on state-owned TV and radio channels.
The Sharif government’s Information Ministry described the song as ‘an attack on the social and moral traditions of the country.’
Interestingly, a group of prostitutes from Lahore’s (in)famous Heera Mandi area told newspapers that even if the song was about a prostitute, the hero of the song wanted to rescue the prostitute from poverty and marry her. ‘Would any mullah ever do that?’ One of the call girls was reported to have asked.
Abrar never clearly explained exactly who Billo really was.
Video | Billo de Ghar (1994)
In 2012, at a time when the once thriving and vibrant Pakistani pop scene had become a distant memory, and the country had slipped into one of its most awkward existentialist crises (due to the rise of extremist violence), emerged a young Sindhi lad with a deliciously funky little ditty called Waderey Ka Beta.
One is still not sure exactly what sort of a reception the song’s author and singer, Ali Gul Pir, was expecting, but it went viral (via YouTube) and soon debates were breaking out on social media about whom or what the song was satirising.
On the surface, the song is a clear parody of the lavish and spoilt lifestyle of the young sons of Sindh’s feudal lords; but on a sub-textual level it also satirises the kind of paranoid repulsion that the urban middle-classes usually feel towards those from semi-rural or rural backgrounds and cultures.
In the scene (in the video) where Pir is bouncing on a sofa between two young ‘Burger’ girls at a party is like him actually celebrating the outlandish behaviour of the feudal’s son at the expense of the city girls’ near-xenophobic horror.
After gaining quick popularity, Pir began being asked by the media to explain whether he was just talking about feudal lords and the antics of their sons or was there more to the song than what met the immediate eye.
Pir suggested that he had used the feudal lord’s son to symbolise a brash and autocratic mind-set that can be found across various sections of society including businessmen, seths and maulvies, and not just among the feudals of Sindh.
Video | Waderay Ka Beta (2012)
2: Laga Rai: Shahzad Roy (2007)
When General Pervaz Musharraf toppled the Nawaz regime and imposed Pakistan’s fourth Martial Law in 1999, his ideological antics actually fitted well with the convolutions of the post-‘96 generation of middle-class Pakistanis.
Musharraf was modern, authoritative, hated the politicians, harboured a contempt for the ‘illiterate masses,’ talked about ‘enlightened moderation’, and yet insisted on nurturing sectarian and Islamist militant organisations whom his military believed would be ‘strategic assets’ against India (in Kashmir), and against an anti-Pakistan government in Afghanistan.
During the early years of his rule many pop musicians happily dished out saccharine-laced and overtly romanticised odes to the armed forces – until Musharraf fired the Chief Justice of Pakistan in 2006 on corruption charges.
The consequential uprising (‘Lawyers Movement’) against the firing of a supposedly ‘clean’ Chief Justice by Musrarraf was like an exemplary chapter from the neo-Marxian ‘Critical Theory’.
One aspect of this theory suggests that the urban middle-classes usually ally themselves with authoritarian regimes.
But after such an alliance brings relative economic benefits to these classes, they then experience a political awakening of sorts in which they want to prosper politically as well.
Usually a demand for democracy becomes their cry.
If one is to understand the ‘Lawyers Movement’ in Pakistan through this theory, then one can suggest that the economic growth experienced by Pakistan’s urban middle-classes under the Musharraf dictatorship eventually turned against the authoritarian regime that had originally triggered it.
But democracy was not quite so cohesive a call by those who now wanted more political participation in the running of the country.
The movement was a hotchpotch of democrats, lawyers, non-militant Islamists, leftist fringe groups and emerging right-wing outfits.
One can say that the overall make-up of the movement was rightist in orientation and not exactly democratic, as such.
Amidst all the turmoil and confusion, emerged a fantastic song and video.
Written and performed by famous pop singer Shahzad Roy, it was called ‘Laga Rai’(Keep at it).
In an era of widespread electronic media and YouTube, it became an immediate hit.
The sharp satirical ditty takes to task the agitating lawyers who are shown involved more in protests and politics than in what they are actually paid to do.
However, taking in its stride the contradictory nature of the movement, the song then goes on to mock the lazy fatalistic nature of the Pakistani masses as well.
Maybe Roy was satirising the extremes that the Pakistani society and polity were displaying: i.e. of overt political agitation counterbalanced by numb political inactivity?
Social disgust and political cynicism expressed through wit and satirical imagery remained to be at the centre of the song and the video. Not bemoaned by Roy as such, but rather used as a weapon to mock the two above-mentioned extremes.
However, though the agitating lawyers, politicians, their supporters, the electronic media and the numb, fatalistic sections of the society were all taken to the cleaners, nowhere to be found in the song and the video was the military.
Yet again it was conveniently left out by a rolling urban middle-class pop protester, given the benevolent benefit of the doubt whereas civilians and their representatives were cynically ridiculed.
Whatever the case, the song turned Roy from being a popular pop tart into becoming a sardonic protest pop icon.
Video | Laga Rai (2007)
1: Aalu Anday: Beygairat Brigade (2011)
In 2011, just when one thought Pakistani pop music had eaten itself up and choked on its own self-indulgences, emerged a band called the‘Beygairat Brigade’ (the Dishonoured Brigade).
The name said it all: It was a tongue-in-cheek take on what is called the ‘gairat brigade’(honour brigade). The band sarcastically embraced a title that the peddlers of ‘qaumi gairat’ (national honour) spit at and/or at those who disagree with the gairat brigade’sconspiratorial rants and an almost xenophobic brand of ‘patriotism.’
In the wee hours of the 17th of October 2011, the Beygairat Brigade (BB) uploaded a video of a song called ‘Aalu Anday’ (Potatoes and Eggs) on YouTube.
It was not just another ‘funny song’ about a guy talking about his mom cooking some potatoes and eggs. Nor was it a ditty toeing the usual lopsided (anti-politics) line taken by the many political spoof shows and social parody songs that have been doing the rounds on popular TV news channels in Pakistan in the last decade or so.
For years one has come to expect everyone from talk show hosts, to their ‘expert guests’ all the way to mainstream pop stars and actors to (as if on cue) roll-out a now much worn-out and self-comforting narrative about the awkward political and social ills besieging Pakistan.
This is how it goes: Politicians are corrupt, America is evil, Indians want to break-up Pakistan, acts of terrorism are either being carried out by US/Indian/Israeli agents or by Pakistanis trained by these agents, or by non-Muslims posing as Muslims, or even if they were Muslims they are not Pakistani and if they are really Pakistanis then they are .. errm … not circumcised.
In other words, the whole wide world (except Saudi Arabia) wants to destroy Islam (and thus Pakistan, which is the ‘bastion of Islam’).
The song and video came down hard on the sacred cows fattened by the self-claimedGairatmands (the honourable patriots). The satirised cows in the song included military dictators, intelligence agencies and jihadists; as well as middle-class morality and right-wing parties like Imran Khan’s PTI, PML-N and Jamat-i-Islami.
With biting satirical irreverence and joyous cynicism, the song, sang the unspoken (or the strategically hidden).
But whereas the band experienced overnight success, it also faced the expected criticism: That they were from the ‘heretical’ Ahmadi sect; that they were on the payroll of foreign agencies; that they were anti-Islam, et al.
One needs to understand well the political discourse in Pakistan at the time to fully appreciate the lyrics that are largely studded with allusions.
It’s easy making fun of politicians (because most of them do not bite back), but the military’s top brass has been one of the sacred cows that the media cannot touch, let alone mock. But the song does that.
So, after lamenting the apathetic and confused state of the so-called ‘moderate’ right-wing politicians, and winking at Imran Khan’s desire to see the ‘chief’ (former ISI chief, Pasha) come in and light up Khan’s political career, the song then gets to what are perhaps the most loaded and boldest lyrics of the whole tune.
In a clean, unadulterated sweep the song wonders about a country where killers like Mumtaz Qadri (who assassinated former Punjab governor Salman Taseer after accusing him of committing blasphemy) are treated as royals; and where Ajmal Kasab (the Pakistani terrorist who took part in the attacks in Mumbai) is a hero; and wheremullahs escape after adorning women’s burqas (like the head cleric of the Lal Masjid); and how noone ever mentions men like the Nobel Prize winning Pakistani scientist Dr. Abdul Salam (just because he belonged to the outlawed Ahmadi sect).
As the song moves on, the singer can’t help but comment on yet another one of our favourite obsessions: the notorious Blackwater.
In a lyric that instead of absolving Blackwater’s many reported misdeeds in the world, the song instead suggests that we shouldn’t be worrying about Blackwater because the terrorist attacks taking place in our mosques, schools, shrines and markets are coming from within.
There is so much more here that doesn’t actually get sung but appears as placards in the video: ‘Nawaz Sharif bye, bye, papa Kiyani no likey you’ (alluding to the schism between the once pro-military Nawaz and the army); ‘Free Judiciary = Hanged PPP’(the so-called free judiciary’s lopsided bias against the Pakistan Peoples Party);‘Tehreek-i-Insaaf = A Good Looking Jamat-i-Islami’ (or how Imran Khan is just a more good-looking fundamentalist); ‘Your money + My pocket = We’re still enemies’ (a taunt at Pakistan posing to be anti-America after pocketing millions of dollars’ worth of aid from the US); ‘Mullah + Military = Ziaul Yuckee’ (the alliance between religious parties and the military that began strengthening during the dictatorship of Ziaul Haq).
Then halfway through the video, as if pre-empting what the ‘gairat brigade’ would be decrying about in this video, one of the band members is seen holding up a placard with the words, ‘This video is sponsored by Zionists.’
However, the joke in this respect turns darker still when at the end, the singer pulls up another placard with the words ‘If you want a bullet through my head, like this video,’scribbled on it.
The song and video attracted a record number of ‘likes’ and views on YouTube and Facebook and even managed to get aired on a number of conventional TV news channels!
The band led by Ali Aftab and Daniyal Aziz became an overnight sensation.
Though they have gone on to record and release three more songs (one of them was banned), they never could turn this success into a more financially satisfying arrangement, and for obvious reasons.
Though the band’s radical politics has continued to give it slots at literary festivals and at seminars, but no multinational sponsor or TV channel is willing to back them financially.
This means the band has to completely self-finance the recording and shooting of its songs and videos.
However, early this year the group finally did get some mainstream recognition (and some much deserved income), when the young chief of the left-liberal Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto, invited Ali Aftab to record a song for Bhutto’s lavish Sindh Festival.
The band was also invited to perform live at the Festival’s opening ceremony. This was the first time that the band managed to actually make some money.
Video | Aalu Anday (2011)