how the world sees america

Pakistani Rock Star Sings "bin Laden Blues"

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Lahore, Pakistan - When Pakistani rock stars Ali Azmat and Mekaal Hasan were hitting their teens, U.S.-backed military dictator Zia-ul-Haq “Islamized” Pakistan. “There was no entertainment; nothing. It was the worst time to be a teenager in Pakistan. We just roamed around on bikes,” Ali complained. “I didn’t drink until I was twenty-five!”

But during this time, American programming came through. Pakistan and the U.S. were allies. And as Zia-ul-Haq sobered up Pakistan, urban-dwelling Ali and Mekaal could still get their eyeballs in front of TV screens and watch MTV once in a while. “Black suite, white socks, Jackson changed everything; 'Thriller' changed everything,” says Ali. “Your MTV sent out videos of rockers with girls roller blading on Miami Beach….Fireworks. Chicks. Big cars. You’re like ‘Holy Fruity!’ I want to do that action on guitar myself.” So Ali imitated big singers from Bruce Springsteen to Eric Clapton, and found he could hit the high notes. His friends loved it. He felt liberated by it.

And after a while of imitating American sound and the style -- “Long hair, glamrock, cheetah print pants” -- he “got interested in...actually hearing the great musicians.” And with friends like Hasan, he traded dubbed tapes of Western bands, from famous to obscure.

Rock, which Ali says he associated with America even though he now realizes he loved many British bands too, is “about being from the street; it’s about expression and not compromising. It’s an attitude…how to be true to yourself.” Through ul-Haq’s years his repertoire grew, he started singing around town, and soon after the general’s plane crashed, Ali picked up an electric guitar and formed his own band.

Soon thereafter he teamed up with American-educated Pakistani Salman Ahmad to become Junoon's lead vocalist. That’s when he started reincorporating South Asian sounds back into his music -- because it’s what he knew, because he couldn’t imitate all his life, and because his confidence was growing.

Reinterpreting Sufi devotional music with electric guitars, Junoon took on the establishment, true to Rock & Roll roots. President Nawaz Sharif banned the group for singing against government corruption. Yet for it's unapologetic political stance, the band skyrocketed to fame across South Asia.

Mekaal Hasan, a few years Ali’s junior, is more academic about his music than Ali. He went to Boston for two years to study theory and composition at the Berklee College of Music. But returning to Pakistan, he too underwent the same change as Ali, from a wholly Western style of music -- in Mekaal’s case it was jazz -- to an understanding of the power of cross-composing Eastern and Western styles.

“There is no difference,” says Mekaal. “That’s what you come to realize.” He says the composition structures are remarkably similar, and that East can meet West in new and surprising ways through music. At a time when misconceptions about the “Other” plague Americans and Pakistanis alike, he is convinced musical collaboration can bridge the divide. Ali jokingly sings "bin Laden blues" while Mekaal explains how Western riffs can energize Sufi devotional poetry, and poetry can add a profound depth to the wail of a guitar.

The music metaphor for improved East-West relations doesn’t escape Mekaal as he tells me “music is the greatest source of joy here” and there are so many connections between America and Pakistan through music as long as we can “explode misconceptions…and pull the connections out.”

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Comments (37)

usman:

love and peace to all no hatred for people actuallywe all r ppl religions matter but not in loving or hating someone they r just ur moralconduct actually a belief sometime forget everything and comalong have fun with each opthwer no discrimination as every country does wid pakistan like many countries have waiver program buit a visa for pakistani oh my god judgement day wud be easy thaN GETTING A VISA FOR THE US OR JAPANA MAN FOR A PAKISTANI SO WT DO U SAY WT SHUD PAKISTANIS DO THEY AINT TERRORISTS THEY R WAITING FOR THE WORLD TO DISCOVER WT KIND OF PPL THEY R NO TOURISTS IN APKISTAN BUT 10000SSS OF THEM IN IDA Y COZ ANTI MUSLIM AGENDA OR DISCRIMINATION U WUD SAY AND NWO ABT ISLAM THERE IS NO DICRIMINATION FOR ANY INE IN ISLAM EVERY ONE IS EQUAL SO THEBEST RELIGION ISLAM :) PEACE \\//

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Amar C. Bakshi:

Hi Maria and Nika, thank you both for your kind notes! I do appreciate them. I hope you are safe and well now in Pakistan. Please do post on the current situation if time permits you.

Nika:

Good site! I'll stay reading! Keep improving!

Maria:

Amar - I love the work you've done in gathering discussions and insights from Pakistan. Lahore is my hometown and I find the stuff you've covered is pretty much accurate. (FYI Lahore ROCKS! All top pakistani rock bands and musicians are from Lahore: ali azmat, mekaal, noorie, fuzon, call, junaid jamshed, etc).

The conversations that follow your stories are much more hilarious with the American Indians and Pakistanis battling out 30 year old ill-feelings of prejudice and hate(especially the cleaner airport debate). I was part of a hospitality committee for a Indo-Pak student conference and I really feel that Indians and Pakistanis actually really living in the country are much more laid back on the the relations of their countries. Its the expatriates who are in a time warp!

Keep up the good work. I don't really think people will care to change their minds but I'm so impressed that there is some writing in the American media that seems to have a reflection of reality.

Ben:

Maybe the CIA will fund Musicians from the Middle East like they did in America in the 60's instead of financing the fundamentalist extremists that give all the decent Muslims a bad name.

Nadeem Peracha:

Ali should leave the taling to Salman, and who is that idiot on the right?

Anas - Lahore ..:

Ali is a legend ... and he rules.... all we need is better understanding .. sum media support.. muslims are not wat they show the screens .. we have right side tht cuts the left side .... why dnt ya ppl show the original .. the pure side .. muslims were crushed by media .... cn be shown wat truth is .. media again.. thts it .. truth and nuthin but ..

hammad:

ali and meekal..u both rock buddies...u r da pioneer of wht u did in ur genre here in Pak

PBMiller:

I don't suppose any of you remember "We Don't Care," the Lahore American School rock band that used to play the Intercontinental in the early Seventies? The drummer (Tony Yussef) was Pakistani. Good times. But I'm dating myself. Pakistan zindabad! Rock and roll zindabad! Down with the haters and up with people!

Aamir Ali:

Zakir Naik's opinions are his opinions only.

JACOB:

AMAR - This is turning into a full hate site by your American based Indians.

Anonymous:

Want to hear about some wonderful things this "religion of peace" teaches?

Zakir Naik is a radical fundamentalist mohammedan (a doctor by profession, quite like the doctors from UK involved in the terror plot), whose views about this crazy cult would tell you in a nutshell what islam, on the (w)hole represents! In every debate he engages in, he tries (quite stupidly I might add) to say how islam is better than any other religion. Moreover, he (like mohammedans the world over) suffers from a terrible problem: he has serious issues. Zakir Naik feels mohammedans are needlessly (yeah, right!) blamed for violence everywhere. He argues about how quran is a peaceful book, how islam advocates tolerance.

This idiot Naik says:
“The pig is the most shameless animal on the face of the earth. It is the only animal that invites its friends to have sex with its mate. In America, most people consume pork. Many times after dance parties, they have swapping of wives; many say ‘you sleep with my wife and I will sleep with your wife.’ If you eat pigs then you behave like pigs.”

In an interview, Naik was asked:
“If Muslims should be allowed to propagate their religion in other countries, why should non-Muslims not be allowed to propagate their religion in Islamic countries? This is, after all, fair.”
His reply:
If a non-Muslim is the principal of a school and if he wants to select a math teacher will he select a teacher who says 2 + 2 = 3 or the one who says 2 + 2 = 4 or the one who says 2 + 2 = 6? He would select the candidate who said 2 + 2 = 4, because the others don't have a correct knowledge of Mathematics. Similarly the other religions are wrong, and only Muslims have a right knowledge regarding religion. And when their religion and worship is wrong how can Islamic nations allow them to preach their (wrong) religion & build their places of worship?"
The interviewer who asked the question follows it up with: But is it not so that the Non Muslims think their religion is true and Muslims think our religion is true?"
Then comes another gem from the incorrigible Naik:
One thing must be understood that Non Muslims will never let their children learn 2 + 2 = 3, because they are sure its wrong similarly we are only sure Islam is true and they not sure about their religion if they were sure they would they allow wrong things to be preached?"

I would not respect any person who has no respect for women. And Zakir Naik probably tops the list. He, like most islamists, is a true misogynist and chauvinist. So, after reading his really insulting and degrading comments on women, I was shocked about how low these islamists would stoop to subjugate their women. This is what Zakir Naik has to say about polygamy in islam:
“If every woman got married to only one man, there would be over thirty million females in U.S.A, four million females in Great Britain, 5 million females in Germany and nine million females in Russia who would not find a husband. Thus the only two options before a woman who cannot find a husband is to marry a married man or to become public property.”

THAT IS ISLAM IN A NUTSHELL... NOW WHAT DO YOU EXPECT OF ANY ISLAMIC THEOCRACY, REALLY?

BV:

Music and arts are the way to go to fight the evils of religious extremism. Religion is good and it gives you the root to flourish. But religious extremism in all religions is to be condemned. People need to 'get a life'. Musicians and artists help tense people to 'get a life'. The mullahs and rabbis don’t want people to experience it, because they think it will stray people from the main stream.

Most common people don’t need anything to excite them other than their common ordinary life. The common folks derive pleasure from their simple life. There are some people who derive pleasure from substantial existence who turn to the real religion to derive peace and happiness from. Then there are people who live on the edge of the mainstream. These edgy folks are in their thought stage of Multiplism & Relativism. Their next step is Commitment stage of thinking. These are good people by nature but can be made to monster with some hard core teachings. They can be turned soft and creative with art forms and music. The power monger types of people who happen to fall into religion become the mullahs. They dont derive pleasure from any of the things from above. They love controlling people! They are typically Dualists in their thinking as that is the right kind of thinking that is in need, when you control a crowd. They deprive people on the edges of the mainstream. In case of Mullahs, arts and music is the first item to be barred as that is not generally something that gives you control (unless gospel music and church art). The edgy people who are deprived of the common pleasures can be influenced easily to their commitment stage of thinking in the wrong way by the wrong type of Mullahs/Rabbis. These are the people who become terrorists/freedom fighters. Arts and Music keep these people in the state of entertainment. Few of them self destruct. But self destruction of these few edgy type is better than mutual destruction as a terrorist.

So bring on the rockers from America!( Now there is plenty of up and coming natives as well). They are the ones to fight the War on Terrorism. I cannot thank enough Ceylon Radio for keeping people sane in India and Pakistan during the 60s and 70s. I still wonder why Srilankan people did not get the pleasure out of it! As young turks, people from India & Pakistan (and some from Southeast Asia) could only hear western music and gossips from Radio SriLanka!

Aamir Ali:

Sol: Thanks for giving up so easily.

Sol:

I am glad Pukistan belongs to you Pukis and nobody else...don't want a mess like that. Iraq is bad enough as it is :)

Aamir Ali:

Sol and Sukhwinder:

Pakistan belongs to Pakistanis, nobody else. Your inferiority complex towards Pakistanis however is delightful.

Sol:

Sorry for the typos...

Sol:

Shehzad...
Get your geography straight...you sound (and are) ignorant. 8 of the world 10 tallest peaks are in Nepal (not Pukistan). And even if they would have been in Pukistan (and again, they are not), that is not your country's achievement, so refrain from using that to boast to us. There is nothing you or your corrupt politicaans have done to be proud about. Attitude like this makes you people jealous of the western and everything western, though surprisingly that does not stop you and your likes from living here, making the most of life in the US and then talking bad about us. Get over it, we are better than you or country every could be. It is a fact...live with it.

Sol:

Shehzad...
Get your geohraphy straight...you sound (and are) ignorant. 8 of the world 10 tallest peaks are in Nepal (not Pukistan). And even if they would have been in Pukistan (and again, they are not), that is not your country's achievement, so refrain from using that to boast to us. There is nothing you or your corrupt politicaans have done to be proud about. Attitude like this makes you people jealous of the western and everything western, though surprisingly that does not stop you and your likes from living here, making the most of life in the US and then talking bad about us. Get over it, we are better than you or country every could be. It is a fact...live with it.

sukhwinder:

I am a Sikh from Amritsar, India and I really hope that some day India takes back part of Punjab that Pakistan has stolen from us. Let us get back Lahore and all our sacred sites! These belong to us! Muslims have no right to control them, all they will ever do is desecrate them or destroy them. Any sane person in today's world would resist Islam, otherwise their intolerance and bigotry will make this world a difficult place to live in.

Shehzad Ahmed Mir:

DOES IT MATTER - Thanks for your gracious comments. I would like to add the following.

1. Taxila is near Islamabad (30 minutes drive) a collection of great ruins including SIRKUP, Buddha University etc. There is a Taxila museum just before the ruins where you will see the worlds best preserved relics of the ancient Buddha. Really amazing to see on how these people lived in those times. This is also the place where the likes of Alexander the Great came. These are very well preserved sites.

2. Nankana Sahib is another good location. One is near Lahore and the other one is in Hasanabdal which is the second holiest site for Sikhs after the Golden Temple.

3. If you have time visit MOENJODARO and HARRAPA ruins which is the oldest Indus civilization. They are amazing.

4. Also visit the BADSHAHI MOSQUE in Lahore and FAISAL MOSQUE in Islamabad which have the distinction of being the largest mosques in the Muslim world.

5. Pakistan has 8 of the worlds highest peaks above 8000m. All of them are located up north (heavenly abode) and are a haven for thousands of mountaineers who visit annually. Remember VERTICAL LIMIT? (although it was filmed in New Zealand).

Keep exploring dude.

DOES IT MATTER:

Amar Bakshi
Since you have done a lot of rocking and rolling, now something serious! And since you are on the "All is well in the land of pure" tour; here are some great places that will allow you to write even greater things about Pakistan!

(1) Visit Taxila (Takshasheela). The Oxford (or Harvard) of its time! Where, this really cool dude named Panini taught. He rocked and rolled his way through the Sanskrit grammar, while doing that he also came up with the “Backus Normal Form”. A foundation of complier design! A common ancestor of you and I.

(2) Visit the Indus, perhaps on the banks of this ancient river, Nachiketa asked the eternal question to Yama about the Self. The answer he got was for the whole world to cherish! The very same wisdom that we received; through our fathers and mothers, mostly unknowingly!


(3)Visit Nankana Sahib where, not that long ago, came along a Guru! He declared freedom. Freedom from evil and divisions. In the very Upanishidic tradition, he proclaimed “Ek Onkar”! (Truth is one; sages know it by many names!)


Or read their textbooks ( history and Pakistan studies), May be you will find everything you need to know about the things above from those!

Shehzad Ahmed Mir:

AMAR - Ali Saleem aka Begum Nawazish Ali Khan Show on Pakistan Media is proof of the pudding in the eating. Though not an original idea (Dame Edna??) but Ali Saleem and his representation of Begum Nawazish on TV is all in good fun and liked by many Pakistanis. His show is well attended by all the know personalities from all walks of life in Pakistan. He also does an excellent Benazir Bhutto impression.

PS - The guy is looking for a bride these days, try and help him to find one when you see him ;-)

By the Way, we wish you a very Happy 60th Year of Pakistan Independence Day which is on August 14, 2007.

Joe:

Congratulations, Mr. Bakshi. This is your first blog where Muslims are not ranting against America. Which may explain the very few number of comments here.
But I am afraid your next blog will be a double does of reality.

Amar:

Hey all, nice to see these warm comments! Aamir, good point on Brian. It's an important point to add in and I will do so. I'm not on steady internet right now but when I am I will link to him.And Joe, Shehzad, thanks for the comments. Am writing about Ali Salim, aka Begum Nawazish Ali next! What are your thoughts on him and her performance?

Shehzad Ahmed Mir:

JOE ARMAND - Well Said!

Shehzad Ahmed Mir:

Pakistani rock music scene has matured very fast. From the simplistic days of NAZIA & ZOHEB and VITAL SIGNS to the more mature music of ALI AZMAT and others, Pakistan Music scene is indeed creating a unique identity. Music has no boundaries or barriers, keep jammin'guys.

Aamir Ali:

hey why have you missed out on the former American member of Junoon: Brian O Connell? That guy was an integral part of the band!

Junoon were a great mix of American/Pakistani music and talent.

preacher:

preach on! nice to see a warm spirit online!

Mark:

the triple (quadruple) R. i like jasper..

Cantankerous Jasper:

Rebellion. Rock and Roll. And Religion.

Maybe we do have the same genes.

Joe Armand:

Pakistanis and Americans are so similar. Most are moderate, funloving, family values type people. Both have their share of bible belt rednecks and mullahs who have stolen the limelight from the true face of each nation. But the media highlighting the other side of Pakistanis and Muslims in general will help in showing the side of the glass that's way more than half full. There aint no clash if you dont want it. You want to pick a fight, you'll fine one, sadly...

Lara:

nusrat to salman, incredible pakistan

Nivedita:

Way to go Junoon!

Love from Lahore:

im sooooo in love with these tow men....how AMAZING are they!? and there point is imprtant so listen, we do not support the crazies around here america! its you who did it. so dont judge us so harsh

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