Thursday, April 23, 2009

Official Announcement: Ali Alam has officially joined ADP and officially so has Rahayl Sidikey. Officially.

Yep, the rumors are true (by rumors, we mean Yasir and me talking and giggling amongst ourselves). Ali Alam has decided to ruin his life by officially joining the Aunty Disco Project as a full time member. This comes as a great relief to me because now we have access to the incredible songs Ali writes without having to plagiarize them and we also have the secret to his lustrous hair/beard combination.

Here were some of Ali's stipulations for joining the band.

1) Fire Yasir (we did it immediately)
2) Just kidding, don't fire Yasir. (oh dear.... this is going to be awkward.)
3) End feud with Ali Zafar (unacceptable)
4) Snacks must be mandatory during jam (accepted)
5) No sexual innuendo during jam (not accepted).
6) Hire a permanent, proper bass player so he can go back to playing guitar

Which leads me to my next bit of news....

Rahayl Sidikey from Mizraab is our new bass player!

Rahayl and I have been playing together for awhile, he's a fantastic bass player and he can play almost any style. He's been playing with Mizraab for over 3 years now and he's also recorded with solo artist Faraz Haider. I first played with him when we were part of Tee-Em's back up band for a Beatles tribute show. Then we played together for my side project "The Big Cheese" and hit it off muscially.

To be honest, we've always been on the lookout for a permanent bass player. Back in the days when Imran was in the band, him and I used to switch instruments midway through the set and then he would sing and play guitar with me on the bass. While this kind of became our trademark, the guys in the band hated it because it broke the flow of the concert and it was awkward and unwieldly. Plus Imran and I were both primarily guitarists so we were make shift bass players rather than proper ones.

I think that kind of bass playing defined our earlier sound. Since Imran and I both thought like guitarists, the bass playing on our earlier songs was more note oriented and punk-ish rather than finding a groove or laying a foundation with the drums. As a result, we always felt that ADP didn't sound as full or as powerful as it should have.

When Ali took over on bass duties, it was the same case, because he's also primarily a guitarist who we had slotted into a bass playing role. This also meant that we were missing out on his services as a guitar player and Ali really is quite an innovative guitarist in his own right.

Enter Rahayl. Originally Rahayl was going to play a one off show with us at Shanaakht where we were scheduled to perform an acoustic set. His playing really filled out our sound, and he was gelling well with the other guys, so after the whole debacle, we all talked about it and offered him a slot. He abused us all and told us that he was only into playing Michael Bolton covers. We were confused since he was the bass player for Pakistan's premier metal band. After cornering him with our superior logic and promising him 72 virgins (thats usually our male fan demographic), we got him to join ADP.

So there you have it everybody, please welcome Ali and Rahayl to the ADP family, I promise you, we're going to be bigger and badder and nuder than ever before.....

Thursday, April 16, 2009

An Incredible, Heartwarming Moment...

The last couple of days have been extremely depressing and frustrating. Until today, when I saw this video.

Unfortunately embedding has been disabled. But it's clip from the show Britains Got Talent, which includes Simon Cowell as one of the judges.

A 47 year old Scotswoman, who's never been kissed sang for me, and by the end of it, I had tears streaming down my face.

You have to watch this video, it will make your day, and warm the hearts of the most cynical of you :)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Freedom of Speech and the Price we Pay for it.

Shanaakht is over

Here's a video of the PPP workers vandalising the Arts Council.

As many of you know by now, The Shanaakht Festival and all the events related to it have been cancelled. The government could not provide assurances of safety and the organizers could not risk the safety of the festival volunteers and attendees.

This has been an extremely painful and frustrating time, especially for those who had been involved in organizing the festival. I attended the press conference where they announced the cancellation amidst a barrage of hostile questioning from the media present. It was heartbreaking to see something that was truly one of the best things to happen in Karachi, something we could hold our heads and be proud of, come to an end.

It has been an even more soul-crippling experience to read some of the comments on the internet and even on this blog by people who have been blaming the organizers for the entire episode. I know the people who were organizing Shanaakht. They are some of the most passionate, and patriotic citizens of this country I have ever had the honor of working with. It is important to me that their integrity should be defended loudly and unequivocally. These people put their lives into organizing this festival, by Pakistanis, for Pakistanis. It was completely open to the public, a chance many people are not willing to take here. These people were genuinely working towards bringing Pakistanis and Karachiities together, to give us something to be proud of, to celebrate our heritage. But these are the people who today we are lambasting from our safe little shells on the internet.

Not only do I support them because I believe in the ABSOLUTE freedom of speech, I support them because I feel it is our duty to support people who set out to do good for this country. However many mistakes they make on the way, we all know that the greater good was always the point of the Shanaakht Festival.

But more importantly it is our moral duty to speak out against those who commit acts of violence and injustice. If we do not, we are just as guilty of perpetrating it. It is not the criticism of the actual photograph that bothers me. People are entitled to their opinion on a piece of work and I wholly encourage healthy debate over it. What has appalled me is the lack of condemnation for the acts of the Pakistan Peoples Party. It's as if people are implying that the protestors could not be blamed for their acts of violence, destruction and intimidation because their feelings had been hurt and their great love for Benazir Bhutto drove them into a self-righteous frenzy of destruction.
Are we so resigned to the fact that we are always going to be a nation of barbarians?
No, I don't think we are a nation of barbarians. Which is why it is so crucial for us to draw a distinction between ourselves and the perpetrators of those violent acts. You cannot support them. You must not.

It has horrified me that somewhere among the educated people of this country, from people who should clearly know right from wrong that there hasn't been a stampede to CONDEMN the violence that we were witness to that day. This should not be something we are debating over. Nor should this be something people should be looking to justify. It is dangerous to even play Devil's Advocate here because it is our moral fabric that is under question. What kind of people are we that would condone a violent attack over somebody's expression?

There are some of you who seem to have gotten the wrong facts over the incident. Here is a huge misconception which must be cleared up.

Nobody had asked the organizers to take down the photograph before the incident. No one had raised any objection. The exhibit had been up since the morning and no one had raised any objections. When the hooligans from the PPP entered the exhibit they immediately removed the photograph themselves and took it with them. They did not make any requests or ask for it to be removed, they simply attacked the exhibition. The notion that the organizers refused to take down the picture when asked to before is absolutely false. This simply did not happen.

It is important to note that had the organizers in fact decided to refuse to take down the photograph, they would have been well within their rights to. They were not doing anything illegal. Whether it was ethical or not is open to debate. but that's exactly what there should have been. A debate. Not a physical attack. This is extremely important for everyone to realize. There is no law in Pakistan that would consider the display of that picture illegal or obscene. We may be a lot of things but we are not China and we are not the United Arab Emirates. Political commentary is still protected speech.

A long time ago, before I decided to throw away my life and become a musician, I was a journalism student, and the issue of free speech has always been a crucial one. I studied journalism in the US. When it comes to the laws on free speech, I admit I am better versed in US law than Pakistani law. But I do know that displaying a picture like the one at Shanaakht, while it may be offensive, is not illegal. It does not fall under the same category as blasphemy. However you would think from the reactions of the PPP and people over the internet that some religious figure had been mocked or insulted. That is not what has happened.

The point I am trying to make here is that freedom of speech is not a clean cut golden shining value that is going to make all of us happy. It is dirty, and messy but it is the most important value we have. It is worth dying for. Freedom of speech doesn't just mean allowing the people who agree with you to speak. Freedom of speech was made for the people who disagree with you.

"Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're in favor of free speech, then you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise, you're not in favor of free speech"
Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (1992).

We can't simply cherry pick the freedoms of speech we like and disregard the others. We must learn to accept that when we fight for the right to say what we think, we must be prepared to hear things and see things we may not want to.
It scares me that freedom of speech is such a lowly regarded value here in Pakistan. It's worrying because its not just uneducated people or fanatics who disregard it, it is educated people who are politically and morally conscious. The freedom of expression is the God-given right of every man, woman and child on this planet.
We are Pakistanis who may not have a lot to celebrate but we can celebrate the fact that we can criticize our government and we will not back down when they censor us and we will protest when they block out our news or violate our Constitution. Is this the same country that only a few weeks ago loudly exercised their right to free speech by marching on the government and loudly denouncing it's leaders? Once again, we should be on our hands and knees savoring every moment of the few freedoms we have. Because somewhere in North Korea, there are terrified people who fear for their lives for so much as suggesting regime change. Somewhere in the United Arab Emirates there are activists being whisked away by secret police for daring to criticizie the Draconian laws of the state.

And here we are expressing our opinion on the Internet, freely, without fear of being violently reprisal. And if you cherish this freedom and are willing to fight for it, you must denounce those who try to take it from you. It doesn't matter that you find the photograph at Shanaakht offensive. It doesn't matter if you thought it was art or not. What matters is that it was somebody's expression and no matter what it was, whether you agree with it or not, it is your duty as a Pakistani to stand up and defend their right to say it.

We have a real opportunity for debate and discussion here and while the events of last week are tragic, it will give us an opportunity to talk about it, in a hopefully civilized way. You have my point of view. Now lets hear yours.

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing as S. G. Tallentyre in 1906 (commonly attributed to Voltaire, of whom Hall wrote a biography).

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Update: Attack on the Shanaakht Festival

Details of the Event:
After watching footage from SAMAA TV and speaking to more eyewitnesses, here are some details of the event
The protesters started off as a small group of people who were objecting to the display of the offensive picture. They became increasingly violent, very quickly and after destroying the paintings in the exhibit, they came outside of the hall and started damaging any property they could get their hands on.
The Arts Council had 5 armed guards and the only one who put up any resistance was the oldest one of them, a grey haired gentleman who displayed his gun. The PPP rioters brandished their own weapons but did not fire them and tried to snatch the weapon of the guard who only backed down after his colleagues persuaded him to.
The most striking image for me was Sharmeen Obaid (founder of CAP) standing at the entrance of the hall pleading with rioters to calm down and not destroy the signs and the exhibits. The rioters were visibly threatening, brandishing weapons and using extremely vulgar language, ordering that the entire Arts Council be shut down. This was in the presence of several women, young students and senior citizens.
The camera footage showed them clearly ripping up signs, turning over tables, kicking down tent poles and creating mayhem. Eyewitnesses say that the protestors came up to them and personally threatened their lives saying "we know who you are, we've seen you on TV, we are going to kill you for what you have done"
Here is the disturbing part. The police arrived on the scene almost immediately. Four to five mobiles were standing outside and several armed policemen were inside the premises. They did nothing. The video footage clearly showed them standing back and ignoring the PPP rioters as they destroyed public and private property. Keep in mind that the initial number of rioters was quite small and could easily have been overpowered by the police force.
Not content to destroy the art exhibit, the protesters then broke the windows of the Arts Council offices that were thankfully closed and unoccupied at the time.
Response and Appearance on SAMAA TV:
There were several major news channels that were on the spot with cameras covering the exhibition. Not a single TV channel displayed any footage of the attack save for Samaa TV. While Geo TV ran a ticker briefly saying an art festival had been attacked and erroneously reporting that shots had been fired, they stopped running it after a few minutes and did not follow up on the story. I personally knew a Dawn TV cameraman who was on the spot filming the entire thing who submitted it to the editorial board who chose not to run it. It was a complete failure on the part of the television news. There was no information out until 10pm on SAMAA TV, where TV Personality Faisal Qureshi had Amean J, (photographer/ main organizer and curator for the exhibit) appear on his show to discuss the events. After playing the footage and hearing Amean's version of it, Qureshi contacted Shehla Raza, spokesperson for the Pakistan People's Party.
Ms. Raza then proceeded to berate The Citizens Archive for allowing that picture to go up and launched into long speech about the glory of Benazir Bhutto. Amean apologized on the behalf of CAP and said it was not their intention to offend any person or party. This was not good enough for Raza, who repeatedly laid the blame for the events on the shoulders of CAP.
When repeatedly asked by the host if her party had gone too far in its response, Raza responded "logon ke jazbaat bharak jaatey haain…theek hai inhon ne maafi mangee, laikin inko nahin lagani chahiye thee"
("People can get emotional, he is apologizing now, but they should never have put the picture up in the first place")

Here is the version of the events from Dawn this morning.

It's crucial to note the PPP's official stance, this is what spokesperson Waqar Mehdi had to say

Anything that is religiously or politically controversial should not be displayed. It should be acceptable to all. Even if offensive pictures of Altaf Hussain or Nawaz Sharif were displayed, we would oppose it. Our party believes in freedom of expression, but that does not mean it should be a free-for-all. People’s feelings should not be hurt."
What is really disturbing about the comments from the PPP is that they have basically equated political commentary to blasphemy. The punishment for blasphemy in Pakistna is death. Is this to be the punishment for political commentary as well?
Until we stop canonizing leaders and let this feudal, herd mentality prevail in our political party system, we have no hope for political discourse or free speech.
Personally, watching the SAMAA TV interview, I was consumed with uncontrollable rage and grief. I tried desperately to call their hotline and speak on the air but the phone lines were jammed. I was initally not happy that CAP offered to apologize for their actions, I could not believe that the victims had to apologize. But I know that when Amean apologized he truly believed that the greater good of making the show go on, and making sure people go along with us was in everybody's interest.
While there are reports that the show is going to continue, I have not received official word from the organizers yet. They are visibly heartbroken and extremely shaken by the events yesterday. We have already pledged that we will perform as scheduled should they choose to continue and I hope the other artists wil too, because it is the only way we can fight back.

Update : Here is a link to the offending picture on Teeth Maestros Blog.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The PPP attacks the Shanaakht Festival, destroys the exhibit at the Arts Council

We have just been informed that a few hours ago, around 7:30 pm Pakistan time, a large mob of PPP activists stormed the Arts Council which was hosting the Shanaakht Festival. The mob was protesting the display of a photograph in the art exhibit section that showed a photo-shopped image of Benazir Bhutto sitting in the lap of General Zia-Ul-Haq.

The mob destroyed the entire exhibit and physically threatened the workers of The Citizens Archive and all the volunteers/workers for the Shanaakht Festival.

We were slated to perform on the final day of the festival along with Fuzon, Noori, Taal Karisma and The Kolachi Quartet. As of right now,all the events for all the days of the Shanaakht Festival, has been cancelled.

Now that I've given you the news, I can't begin to tell you depth of the anger me and my band members are feeling. The Shanaakht Festival is extremely close to our hearts as well as the people organizing it. We performed at the original one and we were looking forward to sharing the stage with our idols Noori and Fuzon. We are sitting in my living room, and I have been on the verge of tears on numerous occasions. Some of my closest friends were in The Arts Council when they were attacked by the mob. According to them, the more they pleaded with the mob to stop the more they destroyed.

There is no difference between the militants in the North and the Pakistan People's Party today. None. We have two groups of people who have spread a doctrine of hate, intolerance and violence. The people who were putting this show together have been working at it for the last 2 years. It was by the people of Pakistan for the people of Pakistan. The theme of the show was 'identity' and we were looking to establish, ro take back the Pakistani identity. I guess all we have to show for it now is an identity of violence and victimization.

If the show goes on Aunty Disco Project will perform. We stand right behind The Citizens Archive and Sharmeen Obaid.

I feel personally attacked. We cannot believe that the concern of our parents which we keep dismissing has been vindicated. They have attacked our show, and our people, our friends.

For those of you who are going to come and say that it was stupid to put that picture up in the first place, you may be justified in your thinking, but there is NO justification for the kind of violence that happened as a result.

Today they attacked ART. They attacked culture and humanity. But worst of all, they attacked and threatened innocent people who were trying to do something good for this country.

I have no more words, except my love and support to the people of The Citizens Archive.