Archive for Laal

Laal: music of dissent

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 31, 2009 by Umer

Much has been heard, said and opined about the band that surged on a tidal wave in the aftermath of a fresh exit of dictatorship. Sometimes, the most vocal and opinionated being the band members themselves who mask themselves under no pretences, and openly declare their motives to be revolutionary and incendiary to the saturated status quo. Of course, this leaves them open to criticism from old-school critics who look upon such plucky, naïve statements with doubt. However, being very much the emotional, passion-driven target market the band caters to, I find its mission statement endearing…and workable.

Laal debuted with the album Umeed-i-Sehar, opening with the melting vocals of Shahram Azhar serenading the listener with Habib Jalib’s satire.

The album can be defined as a musical score to the socially-conscious literature of Habib Jalib, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ahmed Faraz. A sort of tribute band to the nation’s poetry of dissent. Take the rebellious spirit of The Who’s earlier works and simmer in a tarka of a classically trained flute player and the delicate aural trajectory of a lead singer specialised in the North Indian classical genre. The album is surprisingly uplifting; its subject matter largely focusing on the optimism of overturning rather than plaguing the listener with the anguish of the actual.

The strength of the band has been its belligerent brand association with Aag/Fire Records. Its videos have been continually played to the backdrop of an ever-changing political landscape, gaining more-than-average airtime in the form of rockumentaries, televised concerts and interviews. And what videos they have been!

A special mention must be made of the more recent and very brilliant Umeed-i-Sehar directed by Azfar Ali and Umar Amanullah. The video, passed along excitedly through Facebook links and emails, had unprecedented approval from both viewers and critics: a simplistic tale representative of the social hierarchy and the apathy of the political bourgeois.

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Naghma-e-Zakhm-e-Dil: Songs of the Wounded Hearts

Posted in Communist Movement, Marxism, Pakistan, Poetry, Literature, Art with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2009 by Umer

by Shahram Azhar

Many people who know little or nothing about Laal’s evolution question the practicality of building socio-political movements through music and poetry. Too obviously, there is some truth to this skepticism; music, in its essence is a language constructed on notes and percussion. Revolutionary movements on the contrary are political-economic-social movements that are led by oppressed classes to overthrow a system of exploitation. However, revolutionary movements are not chaotic movements built in days or even months. Revolutionary science teaches us that a protracted process of ideological struggle precedes revolutionary movements—in the words of the greatest revolutionary of the past century, Vladimir Lenin: “Without revolutionary theory, there will be no revolutionary movement”.

In every epoch the ruling classes befuddle the minds of the oppressed classes by systematically propounding and enforcing ideas that seek to maintain the balance of class forces intact. In order to reproduce their class hegemony on a continuous basis they must convince the broadest sections of the masses that the status quo is in the best interests of the oppressed classes as well. This, the ruling classes achieve by monopolizing the means of propaganda: schools, religious seminaries, media, art and academic inquiry, in other words all the instruments of mass knowledge are directly or indirectly controlled by the ruling classes. It is through these institutions that the oppressor convinces the oppressed that the current system of production and distribution is sane, just and stable. Once that has been achieved the ruling classes are said to have established their ideological hegemony over all other classes. The consolidation of this ideological hegemony exhibits itself most vociferously in official discourse as an overarching objective of the educational, literary and cultural pursuits of the ruling classes. Marx said:

“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this In Its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch.”

It is precisely here that the role of revolutionary intellectuals and artists acquires primary importance: the destruction of the power of the ruling class first and foremost assumes the destruction of its sources of power. Now, power itself can be divided into various forms. The ruling class does not rule through force alone. It rules because it has convinced the oppressed segments of society that it deserves to rule. X cannot be a slave-master to Y, if Y is no longer willing to accept X as his slave-master. If Y must no longer accept X as his slave-master, Y must first be convinced that he too has the intellectual and physical abilities to become the ruler.

Therefore, in order to defy the domination of the ruling bloc, oppressed classes and their ideologues must challenge the ideas upon which their power rests. Too obviously in every society, revolutionaries must possess the ability to creatively apply the general science of revolutions to the objective, concrete situation of their society. Revolutionaries must find a way to propagate their ideas in a manner that pushes the broadest sections of the masses towards revolutionary action. Revolutions are built when a significant proportion of the population is convinced that the ruling system of oppression and exploitation must be torn asunder. Revolutions are built when the forces of love and humanity conquer the forces of hatred and barbarity. Revolutions are made when millions upon millions are united by their wounds against a common enemy.

In Asiatic (i.e., where the Asiatic Mode of Production prevailed) societies, from Arabia to India, poetry and music have played an extremely important role in forming the psychological make-up of society. Let us take the most familiar example. In ancient Arabia, competing tribes had poets and musicians as their ideologues. Poets (who were also musicians) were warriors, propagandists and strategists and led their armies from the front.

In colonial India the poetry of Nandlal Noorpuri and Ram Prashad Bismil became immortalized in their death: Sarfaroshi key tamanna abb hamaray dil main hai (The desire for sacrifice is now in our hearts). Faiz Ahmed Faiz, in his book Mah-o-Saal-e-Aashnai remembers this time as the formative phase of his life as a revolutionary and says that “as a result of this movement there was a significant change in the nature of national protests. Now, the slogans of Swaraj and Band-e-Matram had been replaced by the slogan of Inquilab Zindabad! (Long Live the Revolution!) and people sang “Sarfaroshi key tamanna abb hamaray dil main hai” instead of “Saaray jahan say acha Hindustan Hamara” (Better than the entire world, is our Hindustan).

In the Punjab the poetry of Ajit Singh Sikka inspired the peasantry to revolt against the local landlords. His poem “Pagri Sambhal, Jatta Pagri Sambhal” (Hold you turban, Jut,  hold your turban) united the peasantry across the Chenab and the Ravi and gave birth to one of the greatest revolutionary leaders from the sub-continent: Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, who formed the Naujawan Bharat Sabha (NBS) and later the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army with the explicit aim of creating a socialist republic. One of the principal methods of ideological propagation that the NBS employed was poetry recitation and music. In fact, Bhagat Singh and his comrades continue to resonate in popular culture with the song that they sang to the gallows: “Mera rang day basanti chola, maayay, mera rang day basanti chola” (Dye my robe the colour of spring, mother, dye my robe the colour of spring).

These poets and revolutionaries in turn, inspired a new breed of revolutionary poets and poetesses. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Habib Jalib and Amreeta Preetam first, and later Ahmed Faraz and Jaun Eliya continued to hold aloft the banner of purposive art and poetry. The power and strength of their ideas can be seen through the fear that these immortal revolutionaries instilled in the hearts of military dictators, capitalists and jaageerdars. These fearless freedom fighters would stop at nothing less than the complete abolition of exploitation and injustices. In a time when the military dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq had banned the publication of anti-dictatorship material, poetry recitals became an extremely important method of defiance. The poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib was banned from newspapers and declared illegal. Yet, it continued to inspire millions upon millions of workers and peasants towards rebellion.

In his poem, “Hum jo taareek rahon main maaray gayay” (We, who were slain in unlit pathways), Faiz declared:

“Qatl gaahon say chun kar hamaray ala

Aur niklaingay ushaaq k qaafilay”

(Picking up our flags from these grounds

will march forth more caravans of your lovers)

And so it is with Laal: As individuals who seek to build a socialist revolution in Pakistan we have decided to re-lift the flags of our heroes. As long as there is oppression and injustice in our land, we will fight. As long as there are those who live through the labor of others in comfort and luxury, we will fight. As long as there are those who consider themselves the masters of the universe and all its wealth, we will fight.

Our poetry and music is for all the wounded hearts and the oppressed millions who continue to live in conditions of bondage and slavery. In the words of Jalib:

Jo sadaaayain sun raha hoon

mujhay bus unnhey ka ghum hai

Tumhain shair key pari hai

Mujhay aadmi ka ghum hai

(The calls that I hear

Only these worry my soul

You are concerned about the poet

I am worried about humanity)

Shahram Azhar is the lead vocalist of the musical band Laal (the Reds) and a member of the Communist Workers and Peasants Party (CMKP) of Pakistan.

Laal’s Response to NFP

Posted in Poetry, Literature, Art with tags , , , on March 26, 2009 by Umer

A reply from Taimur Rahman of Laal to NFP’s article:

Recently Nadeem Farooq Piracha wrote an article that was very critical of Laal. It seemed from the article that he had neither heard the CD before writing the article nor did he bother to verify any of his claims from any member of Laal.

The main objection that he raised was about whether royalties from our work were going to help Jalib’s family.

The fact is that Laal has waived all royalties on the album in exchange for the promotion of the work of progressive writers. For instance, the recent “Jalib Week” and documentary on Jalib by GEO was in part inspired by Laal’s contribution. The videos of Jalib Faiz running on GEO news, Aag, and GEO entertainment, are also in part a result of this arrangement. Further, all the performances that we have played have been for free (we did not earn anything from them). Hence, Laal has not earned any money at all from any of our performances or album sales thus far.

I put one of our friends (Mobeen Chughtai) in contact with Yassir (Jalib’s son). I have not met Yassir personally as yet only because I have been in London for most of this period writing my Phd. His mother was in the Cancer Hospital. I asked Mobeen to help them out in whatever way possible. In our interviews we have called on the government to support the work and families of national assets like Jalib. Also our friends working in the media emphasized this point. The government recently gave help to their family. We think that our friends played a small role in this as well. Jalib’s younger brother was in the audience at the Karachi concert. He loved our music and supports us fully. He said that we were playing Jalib the way it was meant to be played. Jalib’s own family is fully supportive of Laal’s efforts.

In sum, we have been helping out in the measure of our strength. I cannot say that we have done anything great. But I would say that we have made a small contribution.

Our long terms plan is that we have decided that we will only take a working wage from Laal’s performances (i.e. what sessions players earn) and the rest will go into the creation of Laal Foundation that will create schools. Our target will be to build as many schools as the Taliban burn down (that is our slogan). All members of Laal have agreed to this proposal. All of Laal’s profits will be invested into education for workers and peasants. We have not announced this yet because we have no money at the moment, and we don’t want to make promises that we can’t keep. So once the ground work is laid out and we have at least enough money to set up one school, we will make this public. Obviously, I need to finish my Phd before I can begin doing enough performances to earn the necessary cash to set up our first school. Hence, I’ll launch this more publicly once my Phd is done and I have more time on my hands to organize this initiative.

It is now somewhat fashionable to be “socially conscious”. I have also seen many celebrities engage in charity not for the sake of social change but for the sake of improving their OWN image with the media and public. This is true of the West and also of the East. The motive is selfish and it shows in their work as well.

But the thing is that all of those people were musicians/celebrities first/primarily and became involved in charity for the disenfranchised as a by product of their career. We are their opposite. We are primarily grassroots activists and music for us is a vehicle to get our message across. I have been involved with grassroots movements for the last 12 years. I have played guitar as a hobby but never thought of taking it up as a profession. Laal is still not my profession. It is my hobby. My profession is academics and political activism (the same can be said of Shahram). Our goal is social change, the means is music.

So in sum, we are not in anyway trying to “cash in” on the great work of Jalib or Faiz. We are trying to popularize their work, and at the same time, using all royalties to provide educational institutions for workers and peasants. I hope that people feel that Laal has done justice not only to their poetry but also to their views.

Laal Perform at Islamabad

Posted in Communist Movement, Pakistan, Poetry, Literature, Art with tags , , on March 17, 2009 by Umer

Laal Play to Celebrate Restoration of Chief Justice

Laal’s Interview

Posted in Communist Movement, Pakistan, Poetry, Literature, Art with tags , , , on March 9, 2009 by Umer

Laal take off on an ideological musical odyssey
With their debut record, Umeed e Sahar, Laal is all set to revolutionize Pakistan’s musical landscape.
The band talks to Instep about where they see this revolutionary road taking them.

By Saba Imtiaz

Think Laal, and the first memory that pops up is the video for ‘Mainay Uss Se Yeh Kaha’, which received heavy airplay on Geo News, featuring a montage of notable political moments from last year. The band, comprising of Taimur Rahman, Mahvash Waqar, Haider Rahman and Shahram Azhar, have just released their debut album, Umeed e Sahar. But this is no ordinary band, nor an ordinary album. Set to the hard hitting and deeply insightful poetry of Habib Jalib and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, as well as the band’s own poetry, Umeed e Sahar may just well be one of the most important records to have ever been released in Pakistan. It is revolutionary and relevant to its core, and speaks of an honest desire to truly inspire change. Moreover, it has revived verses that have been enclosed in dusty books for far too long, and are a befitting soundtrack to our current socio-political landscape.

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Laal: Umeed-e-Sahar

Posted in Poetry, Literature, Art with tags , , , , , , on March 5, 2009 by Umer

Laal’s album has finally been released.

Cassettes and CD’s are available in the market.

Kal Aaj Aur Kal

Posted in Pakistan, Poetry, Literature, Art with tags , , , on November 11, 2008 by Umer

Music by Shahram Azhar and Taimur Rahman of Laal, the Band.

Translation of Lyrics

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

by Aitzaz Ahsan

In the prime of our youth
We dreamt of hope

Testimonies of a new world
Anthems of a new tomorrow

A world in which no one
Suffered sorrow or knew of hunger

On this side there were multitudes
On the other the elite

On this side the hungry the naked
On the other the treasures of Egypt

On this side were mothers and sisters
On the other prisons and jails

On this side the third world
On the other the old imperial order

On the one hand [the sufis] Sachal and Bahu
On the other hand the clergy and tradition

On the one hand [the lovers] Heer and Ranjha
On the other hand dogma and oppressive relatives

On the one hand rivers of nectar
On the other the waves of drops of poison

The whole world was asking
Speak! whose side are you on?

We had already declared
That we are with the workers
We are with the needy
We are with the oppressed

And then when Che leapt forward
We all marched with him
And when Chou [En lai] raised his voice
Hand in hand we followed

We were not divided by religion
And we all become one

The history of the world is witness
Without justice there can be no democracy

If we have justice our country
Can be saved from utter destruction

Without justice all [democratic] institutions remain weak
Without justice all individuals remain oppressed

Without justice citizens are helpless
Without justice there is nothing but sorrow

Just think, in the history of the world
When has the law giver been imprisoned

Just for the ego of a dictator
Justice has been trampled

It seems that one force straddles the earth
Roaming the entire world

It seems like every power fall at its feet

It’s bombardment has resulted in rivers of blood
It has made religion extreme, and suicide bombers have grown

But hark! true law givers will return to the halls of justice
We will provide the people with bread, clothing, and housing

Flour, electricity, water, fuel will become available to the people
The unemployed will find employment and work of their choice

The state will be like a mother, it will care for all citizens
The army will be respected only when it stays at the border

March on, march on, tell the world,
that our steps cannot stop
March on, march on, tell the world, that our heads can no longer bow

The road ahead is not long, we can see our destiny
The oppressor is running scared, victory is our destiny

Victory is our destiny
Victory is our destiny
Victory is our destiny