Faris Shafi (in white) rapping in Awaam
Your master is your master, but even your master’s dog is your master. The Pakistani protest song may not have the grit of Ohio by Neil Young or the soul of Strange Fruit, but it sure has kick. Two music videos, by young guns Ali Gul Pir and Faris Shafi, have gone viral with their fusion rap takes on the canker of Pakistani society.
Comedian Ali Gul Pir’s ‘Waderai ka beta’ (Song of a Feudal Lord) http://youtu.be/OruEoqKftUs rips apart the oppressive hierarchical culture of the Pakistani countryside where all-powerful landlords and their sons have held sway for decades. It is here that many parallels can be drawn with the American south during slavery as indentured labour persists in Pakistan.
The video, which was uploaded on June 14, has already crossed 150,000 hits on YouTube and elicited a raving response from listeners, my newspaper, The Express Tribune reported on June 18. “The video shows Pir singing in front of a Hummer next to armed bodyguards. He raps about the luxurious brands he wears and the attention he gets because of his money and power, and also refers to how the social status of those around him changes because they are his pals.” According to Pir, The track is a dig at influential people who misuse their authority. The subject could be anyone from the sons of bureaucrats to tribal leaders.”
Young people love it because finally someone is using the language they use, talking about the rot in society and very simply making fun of the people in power. The line, Saeen to Saeen, Saeen ka kutta bhi Saeen, (Your master is your master, but even your master’s dog is your master) has nailed the way networks of power operate in Pakistan where the rule of law has been shot to hell. If you are connected to someone powerful you use their name to get what you want by bypassing the law. Combine this with vast income inequalities and you have a country of 180 million people who are left at the mercy of a top 5%.
The second song, Faris Shafi’s “Awaam” (The Masses/The People) http://youtu.be/tq0Ml-Z3kP0 is much more raw but just as funny. In one week Awaam got over 85,000 YouTube hits. It features Taimoor Salahuddin (aka Mooroo) and no-holds barred lyrics peppered with expletives. Here too income inequality emerges as a theme; Faris plays a labourer and Mooro a factory owner. Faris is clearly having a killer time dancing in the baggy shalwar trousers and wife-beater vest. He has reclaimed worker cool.
The song uses the same satire as ‘Waderai ka Beta’ to sweep over hot topics. He skewers Jihad (you’ve got an itch in your beard) and pokes fun at Pakistanis who boast about having the bomb in a country where rolling blackouts last up to 15 hours. In another stanza he takes a dig at the war against extremism which occupies public debate but the fact that no one wants to talk about the dirty secret of Muslims killing Muslims: “Nato’s army has got us by the balls/ It’s costing us an arm and leg/ But we’re at each other’s throats.” The lyrics are extremely difficult to translate as they use an Urdu rhyme scheme overlayed on a rap beat, but I guess you get the point.
It’s easy to understand why these young artists have taken as their point of departure the rap form. Protest poetry has a rich tradition in the Indian Subcontinent but the classical (Persian, ghazal or couplet) style is not just difficult to digest for its high diction but also lacks the modern urgency, appeal and pace of rap. Rap is also, very simply, sexier.
We’ve grown up with revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ‘Bol ke Lab Azaad hain Terey’ (loosely translated as Speak, for you are Free), an anthem of sorts warbled at left-wing civil society rallies and protests here. But it was high time something new emerged and the generation of today claimed some space on the cultural landscape.
English translation of Waderai ka Beta
Akbar Jatoi Jalbani is my name
Driving a Pajero and chilling is my dream
I’m so rich I can f*&t out money
I’ll show you now (f*&t) see?!
A gold Rado watch and my black suit is starched
Girls look at me and say, “Ooh la la”
Hair all set, with oil in it
Compared to my moustache, yours has failed
The cool boys always want to hate me
Cause I get all the cute girls
Girl, I will make you the princess of Dadu (my village)
Verssis (Versace) shoes and Armaanri (Armani) sweater
A feudal lord’s son, a feudal lord’s son
I am a feudal lord’s, a feudal lord’s
High five! Your *** is black
All my results from nursery to grade 10 are fake
I have a different way to impress the ladies
“Come over here I’ll show you a real man”
My dad wants me to become a parliamentary minister
But I want Sharmeela’s younger sister
I have lots of power and control
“Dad can I get my allowance today?”
I have 10 bodyguards who are always ready
Will put a false case on you and put you in prison
Once you’re in jail, you will yell out “NOOO!”
Boy, Saeen (master/sir) is Saeen but even Saeen’s dogs a saeen