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Indian E-music – The right mix of Indian Vibes… » Ali Gul Pir

Risking Your Life for YouTube

Delivered... Ali Gul Pir | Scene | Wed 6 Jun 2018 6:00 am

Karachi-based rapper and YouTube star Ali Gul Pir wants to be a man who matters. He attacks powerful warlords with satire and opposes the YouTube ban in Pakistan. For this he received death threats. From the Norient book Seismographic Sounds (see and order here).

One Hundred Thousand Views In A Day

[Thomas Burkhalter]: In your video clip «Waderai Ka Beta» you make fun of rich, egoistic, and corrupt feudal lords. Can you translate the song on the spot?
[Ali Gul Pir]: Okay. It goes «Akbar Akbar Jatoi Jal Bani, this is my name, I’m driving a Pajero, and having fun is my game. I am so rich, I fart money, and I will show you now here.» Then the chorus is «Waderai Ka Beta,» which means «feudal lord’s son.» It talks about the feudal system we have in Pakistan. How people in power are doing whatever they like and getting away with it.

[TB]: Everyone in Karachi seems to know you and your song. How did this happen?
[AP]: «Waderai Ka Beta» was my first song. I didn’t have any money, so I borrowed it from friends. With a couple of thousand rupees we produced the song. Satirical rap hasn’t happened yet in Pakistan. So, we were really excited about it and wanted to play it on TV. But neither TV nor radio wanted to air it. They said the song was too controversial. We were kind of disheartened, and we decided to upload it on YouTube — it was June 2012. We released the song on Friday the 14th at 3 pm. We refreshed the page every few minutes and views would go up by hundreds. Within a day we had one hundred thousand views. And within twenty-five days we had one million.

[TB]: Why did it spread so fast?
[AP]: I don’t know really. We shared the video clip on our Facebook pages, and from there it just became crazy. Soon every radio channel was playing it. For the first time, I realized that the people of Pakistan actually have power. They just needed to come together and work towards something. The song was controversial, it was new, but it was true and many could relate to it. This emotion brought everyone together.

[TB]: Later the TV stations started screening your clip too. How important was that?
[AP]: Maybe five percent of people in Pakistan have access to the Internet. Our literacy rate is low, and our education system is messed up. We have big class differences. Poor people can barely buy food, while the rich drive around with big cars. So yes, it was very important that every TV channel and every radio station played it. I ultimately want to speak to the masses. People were transferring the song onto their phones too and were listening to it and watching it, so it trickled down.

«You Don’t Burn The Whole Library»

[TB]: Today, YouTube is banned in Pakistan. You attacked this ban in your video «Kholo BC.» Why was this important to you?
[AP]: YouTube is the reason why I am what I am today. So «Kholo BC» was basically about being loyal to YouTube. To ban it was a terrible decision. There were a few videos that the officials did not like; first of all this US-American film called Innocence of Muslims. It depicted our prophet Muhammad in a bad way, and it provoked a big reaction throughout the Muslim world. Many countries banned YouTube. Then, the film was removed from YouTube by the US Supreme Court. Most of the Muslim countries unbanned YouTube except Pakistan, where we have the ban as we speak. But listen, when you don’t like two books in a library, you don’t burn the whole library! There are bad videos on YouTube, sure. You can learn how to build a bomb. But you find important knowledge there too. You can educate yourself. It is up to the user to use it properly. So many people in Pakistan are trying to do something positive. For them YouTube is an important tool.

[TB]: YouTube is still banned. Did «Kholo BC» have some impact?
[AP]: I can’t believe that it didn’t change anything at all. If so, it would make me really sad. We want Pakistani people to start thinking, and not to start giving in on whatever people say. I believe a seed of thought can do wonderful things in the future. We had uploaded the video on Vimeo and the secular progressive Pakistanis started sharing it. It helped to open debate, and that is what art can do, right? Art can never physically unban YouTube, but it can open up your mind and it can present an argument and it can make you think. The first goal was to reach the educated elite, the policy makers. We also tried to reach out internationally. If a Pakistani politician hears about the song on BBC, CNN or Norient, they will take it more seriously, right? If they hear it on local news, they won’t really care. The idea is to create pressure on the government from different organizations that support freedom of expression.

Film still from Ali Gul Pir & Adil Omar (Music), Shahbaz Shigri & Ayesha Linnea (Video): «#Kholo BC» (Pakistan 2014)

[TB]: The video was produced with money from an NGO. In the Arab World you sometimes hear the argument that so-called «subcultural» musicians are «weapons from the West.» Have you heard this argument too?
[AP]: All of my work I have funded myself. I made the money through performing in theaters and through live shows. And yes, I have heard exactly that argument with NGOs. There is this clip on YouTube that says that I’m part of Zionist propaganda. This is stupid because I think I’m talking about the rights of my people, it has nothing to do with an agenda. Many times I have been approached by organizations that offered me money if I would promote their ideas. But I’m not for sale.

[TB]: Pakistan makes headlines because of deadly attacks, the war between the Taliban and the government. And in Karachi many gang-related murders happen every day. What is it like to live there?
[AP]: You want to feel safe, you don’t want to die, but you don’t see any steps towards a safer future. Pakistan is so mixed up: the religious parties, the secular parties, the army, the foreign agencies, India, Afghanistan, Iran — all have their agenda. So people are just trying to live day-by-day. One day I hope to get out of Pakistan and do really hardcore satire on important topics. I can’t do it here. I would be killed in a day or two maximum. I don’t have a bulletproof home, I don’t have a bombproof car. I don’t have security guards, and I also cannot imagine living like that. It is so disappointing that the only way I can help my country is by giving in and moving out. As a person I don’t want to leave. My family is here, I love it here, and I don’t want to give in.

The Occasional Death Threat

[TB]: Were «Waderai Ka Beta» and «Kholo BC» still «safe» videos that didn’t put you in too much danger?
[AP]: In Pakistan, even if you don’t have a dangerous job, you live in danger. Anything can happen anytime. So, if I get some extra danger from my work, it doesn’t really matter. Satire might help a bit: when you wrap something up in humor it is easier to digest. If I said half of the things I said in «Waderai Ka Beta» in a serious way, I would not be here today, I guarantee you. And yes, there is the occasional death threat. A few weeks back my manager received a call from a big politician who wanted to meet me. The manager declined. I can’t meet everyone who calls. The politician then threatened to kidnap me. You know these are people with power and money and nothing to do in life. So I don’t invite everyone to my house; I don’t want people to know where I live. I recently applied for a license to get a gun, you know. I want to keep a gun at home—but is this the right way forward? I’m not a person who likes conflict and violence. But I’m going to get married and I’m going to have a family. I have to protect them, so that’s the one thing that worries me the most.

[TB]: Being an artist in Pakistan, do you feel part of a community, or do you feel rather lonely?
[AP]: Lonely, mostly. Our nation already is lonely and lagging behind. The YouTube ban brought this feeling of loneliness, of being left out as well. As an artist you perform for an audience, and when YouTube was banned, your audience became small. There are also not many people who are doing similar work as me here. The many underground musicians do not get the same attention as I do. So I cannot really talk to many people here who have similar experiences. So yes, it gets lonely. And you have friends abroad. But that’s the reality. You have to stay positive.

[TB]: As an artist what do you plan for the future?
[AP]: After my first song I received my first few death threats. I knew I had to make a choice: continue like this or stop? I decided not to go soft. If I speak, I speak my mind and face the repercussions alone. Everyday several people die in my city. One day I might be one of them. I’ll be gone without notice. But you hope that even though you are alone as an artist and you are not as connected to the whole world—and your country is labeled the world’s most dangerous country — you still try to make a difference. Do your bit. Not much, just save the world in your own little way.

The text was published first in the second Norient book Seismographic Sounds. Click on the image to know more.

Read More on the Web

> Fahad Desmukh: «Pakistani artists say their country’s YouTube ban is about politics, not religion»
> The Guardian: «Pakistan’s YouTube ban lifted»

Read More on Norient

> Thomas Burkhalter: «Satirical Rap from Pakistan»
> Asadullah Qureshi: «Underground Noise from Pakistan»

Rapping a Message with Simplicity

Delivered... Ali Gul Pir | Scene | Tue 18 Jul 2017 7:00 am

When it comes to understanding media, many people are in a race to study the content of a particular work. They’ll study the lyrics, the dialogue, the sets, the props, the stunts, the actions, the clothing – all the things that are manipulated in order to get a message across. But people often forget to study the medium, in our case the form of the video clip itself, which can speak volumes. A commentary on the music video «Whales» by Hail Mary Mallon from a Pakistani perspective. From the Norient book Seismographic Sounds (see and order here).

Film still from Hail Mary Mallon (Music), Toben Seymour (Video): «Whales» (USA 2014)

Imagine if this video by Hail Mary Mallon had been made with a huge budget, an expensive cinematographer, celebrities, and state of the art lighting and art direction to show two homeless men singing this song. The real message would have been lost on us because the irony of money being spent to show that there is no money would have been too silly for us to take seriously. Instead, what you have in this piece is animated clay models that don’t even have color; everything is white. Clearly, it was a conscious decision to make the production look like this to add to the point of the song, but it is possible the producers of the video really do have «money on their mother******* minds» because they have none in their pockets. In any case, the point hits home. The hip hop industry is intensely conscious of money. To point out how everyone’s bat-shit crazy for money, the video creates irony in two key ways: through its medium and by using rap to make fun of itself.

Talking About Money in Pakistan

Rappers in Pakistan are much like the men in the video because singers/songwriters barely make any money. There aren’t any concerts or record labels that generate revenue for us. Therefore anyone involved in the hip hop industry is simply there because of their love for the music. However, perhaps one major difference between rap in Pakistan and anywhere else is that while most rappers are «fighting the system» and «sticking it to the man», tackling issues such as poverty, lack of education, and corrupt politicians, to name a few, we’re trying to do it without upsetting our parents. Pakistani parents are the biggest obstacle when you’re a rapper. As a teenager, it was very difficult for me to pursue my love for rap as my mother hated all the curse words her children were exposed to. So, she broke all our cassettes and CDs. I continued to secretly buy more CDs because what my mother didn’t understand then was the fact that I wasn’t listening to trash that only spoke about booze and sex and bling. I was listening to real rappers like 2Pac and Biggie who were tackling real issues, so it was okay if they threw in a swear word or two. Or ten. This was my way of pacifying my non-rebellious 15-year-old self.

Whether you swear or you don’t, or use a lot of money on your video or not, your rap should be able to grab somebody by the neck and make them pay attention. In my own rap, I use comedy to get the point across. «Whales» uses simplicity. It’s just two colorless, homeless men telling us how it is.

This text was published first in the second Norient book Seismographic Sounds. Click on the image to know more.

Read More on Norient

> Tara Mahadevan: «Reinforced Rap Clichés»

When a Rapper Tries to Change the World

Delivered... Ali Gul Pir | Scene | Mon 12 Jun 2017 6:00 am

Ali Gul Pir is a comedian, writer, producer, and entertainer form Karachi, Pakistan. In the Norient podcast he tells us what's the only good thing about doing music in the national music scene. He interviews producer Mooroo (Taimoor Salahuddin) about being lonely as a musician and adds his own point of view. An impressive and moving testimonial of an artist who is faced by death threats due to his art. A podcast from the Norient exhibition Seismographic Sounds, written by Ali Gul Pir, produced by Taimoor Salahuddin, and transcripted by Manal Khan.

Ali Gul Pir: #KholoBC

#KholoBC is a youth initiative against state censorship in Pakistan, where YouTube is still banned by the authorities. Rappers Ali Gul Pir and Adil Omar call for freedom of expression. Restricted access to the digital world amputates people from an important source of education and leads to a particular form of modern loneliness.

Quotes from the Podcast

«Let me tell you a little bit about doing music in Pakistan. No royalties, and lots of piracy. No protection against intolerant acts, violent acts and reaction to your art; lots of love from citizens. That’s probably the only thing good: you get lots of love. Because when there’s lot of hate around and you are alone or you and a couple of other people are doing positive, happy things, people like you.»
Ali Gul Pir

«Music is something that one has to be passionate about to make in the first place. So you do it for yourself when you’re making it. But when it goes outside of you, and people don’t appreciate it, I guess I would loose all meaning.»

«I think in every industry, in every society religion has a role to play. And it’s not just Pakistan, there is examples in America, I mean there is a Billy Joel song ‹Only The Good Die Young› that was banned by the church. Every aspect of a society is affected by religion. So religion of course has an effect on industries.»

«There is a part of me that also thinks that I can make a change, you know? I can make a difference. And I don’t know if that’s true but I’ve been trying to do that. And ‹#KholoBC› is that.»
Ali Gul Pir

«‹#KholoBC› speaks of Freedom. Freedom of expression. It’s a basic human right. Especially in Pakistan there’s the public education sector struggling very hard. So you have a place where you can go and learn from making your favorite cooking dish and it’s how you use it, right? It’s how you use it. And YouTube is still banned in Pakistan. We as a nation are lonely and are lacking behind.»
Ali Gul Pir

«I do feel lonely because my music, the way I approach it comes out of a sort of solitary time.»

«When I think about loneliness I remember this moment from my life around the time I made my first song and after the first few death threats I knew I had to make a choice, I had to decide if I’m gonna do this or if I’m not gonna do this because I was not gonna go soft, I was gonna say what I was gonna say. If I’m gonna speak, I’m gonna speak my mind. If I’m not gonna speak, then I’m not gonna speak at all. So I decided to speak and decided to take that and face the repercussions alone. And every day several people die in my city, you know in Karachi, every day there are number of people who are dying and maybe one day I’ll will just be one of the numbers you know? Everything will stop in the middle of me, I don’t know, trying to change everything. I’ll be gone without notice. But you know, you hope that even though you are alone as an artist and you are not as connected to the whole world and your country is labelled as the world most dangerous country, you try to give it some good name, you try to do your best, and not much, just save the world in your own way.»
Ali Gul Pir

Read More on Norient

> Ali Haider Habib: http://norient.com/video/kholo-bc-first/“>«Pulling the Plug on Art»
> Manal Faheem Khan: http://norient.com/video/kholo-bc-second/“>«A Finger to the Establishment»
> Thomas Burkhalter: http://norient.com/stories/aligulpir/“>«Satirical Rap from Pakistan»

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