Pakistan – a breeding ground for creative musical expression?

When it comes to the narrative of Pakistan shown on the international media, all that usually gets out are sordid images of bearded men angrily burning away American flags, protesting about everything under the sun. On other days, its the yearly floods that leave thousands and thousands of people homeless and hungry that gets some serious international TV air time and some worldwide pity. And when those wonderful things don’t make the cut, its the long list of corrupt politicians smugly travelling all over the world shaking hands with other politicians who steal the international spotlight. But what you never get to see are the still hopeful, incredibly talented and creatively inclined youth of the country who despite their dangerous odds don’t give up on their artistic journeys.

By difficult odds I mean, here’s a country where the majority of people don’t know if they’ll be able to have the next meal. So to assume anyone will be willing to buy music on iTunes no matter how inexpensive it may be, sounds like a joke to most people.

So why are these artists still making music? Why are they pursuing a career that is the least bit lucrative and can even evoke the wrath of extremists?

For some, making satirical or indie music is a form of rebellion against the system. For others, its a spirtual balm when things become too tough to bear. Maybe that’s why the most creative music has actually come from the youth of Peshawar – a city renowned for bomb blasts and Talibanisation.

Here are just a few odds that musicians are facing in Pakistan:

Musicians can’t earn any money online as people are not comfortable with online transactions and using credit cards on the internet. So buying music online is still an alien concept. This is a place where piracy is king and copyrights have no meaning. Add to this the fact that a majority of Pakistani people beleive in a brand of religion where music is assumed to be forbidden (haram). So pursuing it as a full time career is looked down upon by society in general. There are no academies or schools teaching instruments which means all Pakistani musicians do not get formally trained at all and tinker and toil with the instruments until they learn how to play something.

And considering almost every few months a bomb gets blown up somewhere in Pakistan, live gigs with more than 100+ people can’t happen because of the fear of the Talibanised thinkers infiltrating it and setting it all ablaze. While relatively large concerts were previously allowed at universities and educational institutions, they are now less common due to a stampede situation earlier this year at one of the concerts which resulted in more than a few deaths of young students.

So bands have no choice but to upload their music on their Facebook pages, MySpace and YouTube accounts. But the problem comes when every now and then, all these social networks are put on a temporary ban by the government. Quite recently, it was banned because of the ’Innocence of Muslims’ that was uploaded on YouTube. For these struggling artists, this ban means that even the smallest glimmer of hope of them connecting with their fans and sharing their music gets stripped away from them.

And no I’m still not finished with the odds yet.

There’s also the problem of dwindling record labels. According to Hamad Dar, who is behind Pakistan’s most famous music website KoolMuzone‚’’The few record labels which exist seldom sign artists. Only a few times per year and most of these deals are pathetic. They often only meet the recording costs of the album or not even that.’ There is only one indie net label in Pakistan called Mooshy Moo which has three signed artists.

There are thousands of these garage bands playing all over the country but making absolutely no money out of it. Most sustain themselves with a day job. Some are happy with no fame, while others hope to get discovered and get signed on to play on Pakistan’s biggest musical show Coke Studio. If that happens, (and it doesnt happen for more than a handful every season), multionational endorsements give them more than enough to sustain music as a career. Others try to cross borders to India where a thriving music industry welcomes them with open arms. But that means bands have to Bollywoodize (commercialise) their music to the taste and preference of India and many artists are not willing to go that route.

So the only sensible answer one can think of as to why these kids are continuing to pursue music is possibly just for the pure love and passion for it.

Here are some Pakistani indie artists who truly deserve some international attention.

1.     Asfandyar Khan

2.    Dalt Wisney

3. Poor Rich Boy

4.   Mole

5.    Basheer and the pied pipers

6.    Faris Shafi

7.    Jehangir Aziz Hayat

8.    Sajid and Zeeshan

9.    Omar Farooq


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