Pakistan: Fundamentalism stops traditional music-Times
April 4, 2012
[CJ Hinke of FACT comments: I’m a big fan of ghazals, religious songs rooted in Sufism and deriving from a poetic form common in the Arabic, Malay, Pashto, Persian/Farsi, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Turkish, Bengali, Gujarati languages. The songs evoke God as the Beloved and expression the pain of man’s separation from God “and the beauty of love in spite of that pain” (Wikipedia) as well as those same expressions for (here comes the controversial part) “illicit love”, beginning in 10th century Persia. Most ghazals can be interpreted in either context. Although there are many Pakistani ghazal singer, the greatest and most evocative is the late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who also sang the more modern form, called qawwali, as well as hamd and naat. Only 700 years old, qawwali is the devotional music of the Chishti Sufis. I had not heard of Shiraz Uppal but his decision results from the same kind of politically-correct cancer infecting human thought everywhere.]
Faith & fear silence Pakistan’s singers
Times of India: March 18, 2012
Until a few months ago, Pakistani singer and composer Shiraz Uppal’s caller tune was the song “Rabba” from the Pooja Bhatt film Dhokha (2007). Now, one hears a prayer. Earlier this month, the Lahore-based musician announced that he would not be making music anymore as his religion forbids music.
After over a decade in the industry, Uppal has cut himself off entirely, even giving away all his instruments and recording equipment, save a guitar which was a gift from his late father. “He gave it to me in 1995. I’ve kept it as a memory of him,” says Uppal.
Uppal’s decision seems to fall into a pattern in Pakistan. In recent years, various singers and musicians have renounced their careers, either for personal reasons or in the face of threats from militant groups. UAE-based Pashtun singer Nazia Iqbal announced her retirement from music at a concert this January, reportedly to live as a “devoted Muslim woman”. She also announced her plans to open madrassas in Pakistan.
Ali Haider of “Purani Jeans” fame made the transition from pop to devotional songs and qawwalis in 2009. In fact, as early as 2001, Junaid Jamshed, a sensation in Pakistan in the late 80s and early 90s and known to his fans as JJ, too gave up his musical career for religious reasons. Now, he only sings religious naats and has taken to preaching.
There are other artistes who have been killed. A significant Taliban presence in north-west Pakistan has ensured a strong clampdown on music and musicians. Guns have been in constant battle with guitars. Singer and dancer Shabana from Swat was killed in January 2009, followed by Peshawar-based Ayman Udas who was murdered the same year, in what was said to be an honour killing. Pakistani newspapers suggest that singers Gulzar Alam and Gulrez Tabassum, known for their Pashto songs, too quit after threats from militants.
Uppal, however, clarifies his musical exile isn’t forced. “I am only doing this to make my Creator happy. For the past seven years, I had been having dreams about our Prophet. I took up reading the Quran Sharif and the Hadith seriously. It says that music is forbidden. So I decided to give it up. Music is not my destiny,” says Uppal, who considers A R Rahman his guru in music.
He has worked with Rahman for a song in an upcoming film, Boys. His opinion of Rahman and others in the music fraternity, he says, remains unchanged. “As far as music is concerned Rahman has been and always will be an inspiration. But in matters of religion, the only person to look up to is the Prophet,” he says. For now, he plans to put his MBA degree to use and possibly take up trading as a profession.
Many others don’t have a choice, though. Besides threats to singers, other artistes and those in the music business have suffered too. More than 20 stores selling music CDs were attacked by militants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and North Waziristan in November last year. In November 2008, The Lahore International Arts Festival was bombed. In 2007, Shoaib Mansoor’s critically acclaimed film Khuda Kay Liye was issued a fatwa. The film, among other things, features a young musician giving up his career after coming in contact with a radical cleric.
Singer Zeek Afridi, who lives in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan, has in the past received phone calls asking him to stop music production. Though he has continued, several others haven’t. “Haroon Bacha who sang Pashto songs left for the US after he was threatened. The overall atmosphere for business in general has suffered. If the government makes a platform for these artistes, things can get better,” says Afridi, who recently visited India to shoot a music video.
Singer Ali Hamza of the band Noori, is careful when he broaches the subject. He says that retirement decisions of singers like Uppal are not in the least discouraging. “It only motivates us to work harder. Pakistan has had a tradition of sufi singers and ghazal singers. There was serious censorship on music during the Zia era. But in the urban areas the mindset is changing. The music scene is growing. There is a promotion of underground artists with shows like Youth Records, and they are getting better by the day,” he says.