How Beygairat Brigade used the online space to create political rock n roll in Pakistan
It was after midnight when three boys from Lahore uploaded a three-minute song on YouTube titled Aalu anday in October 2011. With this seemingly harmless and rather odd title they made their debut online,not expecting to be woken up by incessant phone calls the next morning. The satirical Punjabi number that ridiculed the army and the politicians of Pakistan had gone viral. And the band Beygairat Brigade,comprising Ali Aftab Saeed,Daniyal Malik and Hamza Ahmed Malik,came to define the new age of political rock n roll in the country.
The cleverly shot video of the three of them posing as school students,holding posters that read Nawaz Sharif bye bye,Papa Kyani no likey you! and Mullah + Military = Zia-ul-Yuckee were enough to choke their inbox with hate mails. To top it all,the lyrics,penned by Ali and Daniyal,took digs at then political exile Nawaz Sharif,Imran Khans party Tehreek-e-Insaf and even Ajmal Kasab. Aitthe Qadri banya nawab hai,aitthe hero Ajmal Kasab hai (Here Qadri is treated like a royal,here Ajmal Kasab is the hero).
Before we released the song online,we performed it at The Knowledge Factory (a creative performance space) in Lahore and it was a flop. But I believed in the song and thought the world would realise its meaning in six months. I was wrong. It took one night. We woke up as celebrities, says Ali,the bands vocalist and lyricist,over the phone from Lahore.
Two years later,the band is back in the news for what it does best melodious mockery of the politics of Pakistan. Their new song,Dhinak dhinak¸ lampoons the militia and the release coincided with the arrest of former president Pervez Musharraf. Though it was blocked on Vimeo five days after it was uploaded,by then it had already been shared,posted and liked on Facebook and other social networking websites. We were working on a song on the Pakistan elections a while ago and then Musharraf came back and we forgot about that and began work on Dhinak dhinak. Ali and I were discussing political analyst Ayesha Siddiqas book Millitary Inc (about how the military has gradually gained control of Pakistans political,social,and economic resources). And in our song,we wanted to have a solid debate. It was after all this work that the song was made, says percurssionist and lyricist Daniyal.
Unable to pursue music full-time,Ali is a journalist with a news channel in Pakistan and produces political talk shows. Please dont mention the channel in your story. I give no credit of my intellect to them, he says with a laugh and immediately adds,I always wanted to be a musician,but I became a satirist. This was not the plan,but it worked well.
It was in early 2011 that Ali and Daniyal met through a common friend and formed a theatre group. After realising they shared a common interest in music,they began jamming together. What started as covers of old Indian and Pakistani songs soon turned into self-composed melodies coated with satire about the world around them. It just so happened that everything we wrote would have a political nature,even our first unreleased song Rickshaw,which is a love song. The political analysts in Pakistan are called ghairat and since we are their anti-thesis,we decided to call ourselves Beygairat Brigade, says Ali. Once Hamza joined,they were ready to put Aalu anaday online. As abusive text messages and hate mails poured in over the next few days,Ali gave Hamza the choice to walk out,since he was all of 16 at that time. I am apolitical and I have nothing to do with the lyrics. I love the melodies. Why would I leave? says Hamza,who is now waiting to join engineering college.
While the media in Pakistan and outside claimed the band received death threats,Ali says that he is still shocked by the absence of even one such mail or call. We have received brotherly advice but never a death threat. Its extraordinary because we are now moving towards a progressive Pakistan where we obviously have the support of people who agree with us but even the rich and powerful who disagree with us have been kind. We are still alive, says Ali. While their music is cynical,their vision of Pakistan is far from pessimistic. We might just write a song about this progressive Pakistan one day, he says.
The bands music thrives on wit and subtle criticism of the political and administrative systems of Pakistan. The band believes that is a smart way to make a point. With every song,though,Beygairat Brigades words are becoming bolder and louder. For instance,in Dhinak dhinak,Ali croons Coup kare kursi te aandey ne,maa pyo te dhido jive lyaande ney. (They coup the throne with such ease,like its their birthright to cease),followed by Jeda naughty deve look,o banda leve chuk (If someone gives them a naughty look,very soon they will disappear from view). The band also came up with another song titled Paise ki game a few months ago but its mellow tune did not receive the same attention as Aalu anday and Dhinak dhinak. It is very important for us that our audience understands the music we make and thats why we use Punjabi,so the songs become hummable. And the genre we picked is pop and rock n roll,so that it stays peppy, says Daniyal. Ali adds,Music is a musicians medium not a lyricists medium. We pay a lot of importance to the melodies we make because if thats not good,the song will sound like a lecture and who wants to hear a lecture,right?
As their Pakistani fans log on to proxy websites to hear their music and as the international media hounds them for interviews,the three continue with their lives,finish day jobs,write and make melodies and save every penny to produce the next song. We get three-four shows a year and theyre mostly free shows. Its not because of the content of our songs but also because of the law and order situation in Pakistan,so music is not anyones priority here, says Ali. He spends all his savings in producing the songs,making the videos and paying the studiowallahs. Probe him about the possibility of a full-length album of political rock n roll numbers and pat comes the reply,I have no money at all.
For a band that survives only through the music they put up on social networking websites,they are a success story. We dont get invited to TV shows to give our opinion and certain schools where we perform resent our lyrics,so social media is really our best bet, says Ali.
Ask them about the next song and for once,Ali is quiet. He refuses to divulge any details about the song,though most likely it will be about the bands opinion of their leaders and the elections. And going by their record one can expect the next song to also add satire and music to politics.