Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Laal" - Anthems of a Different Pakistan

Few musical voices are more emblematic of the rise of Pakistan's civil society in the last couple of years than the group that goes by the name "Laal". The day after the restoration of the Chief Justice on March 16th, 2009 they headlined a concert on Geo Television Network celebrating this hopeful moment in Pakistan's history. I love the spirit and music of these young men who, unlike many in their elite ranks, are embracing the struggle for a just society. Here is a relatively old interview with them.

"Laal" in Urdu means the color red and fittingly the members of the group are passionate left wing activists. Supporters of democratic freedoms they wish to highlight the wretched class divisions of Pakistani society and struggle against them. Shahram Azhar, the vocalist and Taimur Rahman who has composed most of the songs met at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) where Taimur was a lecturer and Shahram a young student. They have only released a few songs but the lyrics they have chosen to sing are overtly political anthems by the leading socialist and liberal voices of Pakistan like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib. Shahram's Facebook page lists people as diverse as Evo Morales, Rosa Luxemburg and Bhagat Singh as influences.

My personal favorite is "Umeed-e-Sehar" ("The Promise of Dawn") by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. It is a wonderful composition, the video is simple but powerful and the impact of Faiz's beautiful poetry is enhanced by skillful vocals. Surprisingly, the English subtitles are not clumsy literal translations but actually convey something of the power of the original.

Their biggest hit so far was the first track they released called "MeiN ne us se yeh kaha". This is Habib Jalib's famous poem called "Musheer" or "Advisor" which lampoons the obsequious advisors who seem to surround everyone who attains power in Pakistan. Thanks to Zakintosh, I have a 1960's recording of Habib Jalib singing his own poem a cappella. The melody is exactly the same as Laal's version with instruments. Unfortunately this video does not have subtitles.

Here is a link to a blog that has videos of some other performances by "Laal".


Zakintosh said...

For a hilariously skeptical view. take a peek at this:

Rahul said...

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the music you have put up on your site and Thanks for introducing me to some Pakistani artists I did not know about.

Fawad Zakariya said...

Rahul, thanks for visiting and the kind comments. The whole blog is aimed at getting to a few of you, every now and then.