Pakistani musicians’ political opinions & February elections

OPINION: Changing citizens


Archaologists tell us that the first ever rockstar had something very important to say. Sure rock ‘n’ roll has always been associated with emaciated rockers in tight platoons, singing of love, groupies, drugs and girls. But the species of rockstar has had a history of socio-political thought and action.

Whether it was the Band Aids that united top British and Irish recording artists in 1984 to raise awareness and aid for the dying in famine-infested Africa, or the same idea that kick-started the next year in the form of Live Aid — and later as a string of benefit concerts some twenty years later as Live 8 — or if it was April of 1978 when Bob Marley at his “One Love Peace Concert” got Prime Minister Michael Manley and Opposition Leader Edward Seaga to shake hands on stage, or twenty years later when Bono singing Sunday Bloody Sunday, linked hands with John Hume and David Trimble, of opposing political factions. Even if it’s a hairless Sinead O’ Connor ripping up the Pope’s picture on Saturday Night Live mouthing “Fight the real enemy” — a rockstar has had plenty to say to us.

In Pakistan, things are a little different. It’s as if the pop artistes stay away from these menial political affairs. One cannot deny the social movements and organisations artistes such as Shahzad Roy, Abrar-ul-Haque and Jawad Ahmed have put their grove into, but it’s all quite mum on the political front. In the recent year that saw quite the rollercoaster of rides when it comes to daily news, one wonder where the rockstars were and why they, the supposed voices of societal consciousness, were so absent.

But to prove that the creative mavericks of the country do have a political opinion and happen to surf through the daily news now and then, we asked different musicians whether they would be voting for the February elections, and why. We sent out the survey to as many people we knew, and got back replies from twenty different artists (a response rate of 46.5 per cent).

A total of 55 per cent of own respondents categorically said that they would not be voting, while another 25 per cent were on the fence, unsure of whether they would that day or not. But a surprising 20 per cent of our respondents enthusiastically declared that they would be voting! Amazing, yes, I know! Here’s what they had to say.

“Yes! But whom to vote for? We’re still deciding on that.” — Zeeshan Perwaiz (Sajid and Zeeshan)

“Vote? No, kee faida?” — Omran Shafique (Mauj)

“I don’t mind voting if Ali Azmat is the next Prime Minister” — Mustafa Zahid (Roxen)

“Oh yes I will. I think all of us should vote. Seriously, people don’t take this seriously. I would like to send a message to all youngsters out there and tell them that voting is their right and they should vote in these upcoming elections. Make the right decision, because you know what’s right!” —Yasir Qureshi (Aunty Disco Project)

“Voting? For? I’d like to believe that I’m reasonably intelligent. Observing our politicians I’m sadly disappointed. I don’t think it even matters if citizens like myself vote or not. In three decades I’ve just seen the best from the worst. We as a nation are striving for mediocrity.” — John Loius “Gumby” Pinto

“That is rather an intrusive question. I shall not allow an invasion to my personal space because I belong to a free nation (?). I’ll vote for you if you are contesting though” — Sohail Qureshi (The Rising)

“Hell yes.” — Omar Bilal Aktar (Aunty Disco Project)

“Hell no.” — Arafat Mazhar (The Rising)

“No we won’t be voting. We’d rather save the country with our music.” — Maaz Maudood (Kaavish)

“I will try and exercise my right to vote, but as an artiste I try and stay away from politics only because I don’t like being loop-holed to have a particular agenda or support a particular group. I did register last year but I might be out of town when the delayed elections do happen. Who I was going to vote for was going to depend primarily on my mood at the time I have the choices in front of me. I hope we can vote online somehow, these are important elections and they should have all kinds of facilities.” — Imran Lodhi (Aunty Disco Project)

“Not at all.” — Ali Hamza (Noori)

But there are no complaints here. Atleast 20 per cent is higher then the 13 per cent of high-income areas of urban Lahore that makes their way to the polling stations every four years. One feels that the current trend of detachedness that has plagued the Pakistani mindset must somehow be ruptured. And perhaps that time is not far.

A few years ago musicians in the United States — frustrated with the Republican regime — wanted change. Knowing through documented statistics that young Americans were the least likely to go to polling stations to cast a vote, the idea of Citizen Change came into being.

Citizen Change is a group not unfamiliar to those of us who like to indulge in the occasional MTV. Formed by a handful of hip hop and rap artists, and supported by a few Hollywood heavyweights, one fondly recalls the Citizen Change t-shirts donned during award shows and television recordings. The tagline (“Vote or Die”) had teenage angst written all over it. And imagine just how many teenagers were “inspired” once they saw celebrities like Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent, Paris Hilton, and P. Diddy waltzing about in that latest fashion statement. Overlooking the fact that most of the staunchest supporters of Citizen Change could hardly vote themselves — thanks to their felony records — at least they got the kids excited about the 2004 US presidential elections.

Musicians will always have the power of personality and the ability to get the fans and people to listen to what they have to say, be it political or not.

And you know what they taught us in Spiderman about great power.