Piracy Ahoy!

It’s the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, except the few whose toes the mighty animal steps on. And those toes belong to musicians and artists across Pakistan through the years.

Music piracy and copyright infringement is rampant in Pakistan. Walk along the busy streets of the city, and you’re bound to come across a shop or even a stall selling illegal DVDs and CDs. Though we have record labels and even distribution outlets, piracy is as rampant here as it is off the coast of Somalia – albeit on a different medium and level.

In the last 25 years, Pakistan has become one of the global hubs of audio and video piracy. The country is ranked by International piracy watchdogs within in the world's top 10 pirate nations. And this ranking will climb onwards unless there are drastic measures adopted to put an end to illegal copying. Some watchdogs are even referring to Pakistan as “the new China.”

The International Federation for Phonographic Industries (IFPI) represents the recording industry worldwide, with a membership comprising some 1400 record companies in 72 countries and affiliated industry associations in 44 countries. IFPI's mission is to promote the value of recorded music, safeguard the rights of record producers and expand the commercial uses of recorded music in all markets where its members operate.

In 2005, the IFPI wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, in which the organization stated that illegal replication facilities in Pakistan were doubling their copying capacity every 18 months. In a list compiled by IFPI, the top 10 countries where piracy is “at unacceptable levels” are Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, Paraguay, Russia, Spain, and Ukraine.

Also, thanks to advances in technology, the medium of piracy is also advancing. Where there was one video cassette with one movie, now we have one DVD filled with 10 movies. Where we had audio cassettes with one album of one musical act, we now have a CD filled with the entire collection of the artist in MP3 format.

Piracy is not confined to physical aspects such as CDs or DVDs. Thanks for formats like MP3 and its respective playing devices, people now have the choice of not paying at all for their music by downloading it for free.

With such easy access to music and movies, and nearly free of cost, why would anyone want to pay for it in the first place? There have been efforts in recent times to establish proper channels both in the music and movie industry, but competition against piracy which is free and more easily available has always been a one sided battle.

The solution to piracy will not come from abroad, it will start right here at home. Though our music industry is still in its early stages and record labels are just started to learn the ropes, it will be industry and labels that will bring a fighting chance against piracy.

On the topic of copyright infringement and royalties, things aren’t much different. This nation has produced venerable legends in music, with songs that have shaped eras and touched the hearts of millions. These legends have indeed been overlooked, not just the fact that they haven’t been given the proper credits or copyrights, but because they have literally been overlooked. Instead when their songs “conveniently” become “inspiration” for new hits across the border, their name and hard work fade into the shadows of history.

Artists like Sohail Rana, Nisar Bazmi, or even Alamgir, have been overlooked as mentioned in Lost Icons, Lost Cause (IMAGES on Sunday by S Faruqi), have either left the country altogether or this mortal realm.

In the big picture, we ultimately forget that out of all of the parties involved, all the artists and companies around the world, it is Pakistan that gets hurt the most. When artists and labels in Pakistan ultimately find it not feasible to continue producing and making music, they will leave the room and leave the elephant, that is piracy, by itself.

One of these days, the elephant is probably going to be too big for even the room to handle.


The Magic of Music and Politics

Music and politics make nitroglycerine cocktail. It is nothing short of explosive, spreading like wildfire and fueled by the controversy it carries.

Whether it was the rhyme and satire of the bard or the pop song that rallied a returning politician, the combination of music and politics always brings out the best and worst in the masses.

And although we may think this is a relatively new concept, it has been around for quite some time now. Take the example of nursery rhymes, particularly the case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds and Yankee Doodle Came to Town. Both rhyme and song are deeply political in their meaning, and became embedded within the culture of their respective nations, namely Great Britain and the United States of America. And now it has become a part of their history.

Ultimately, the controversially political songs of today will shape the history of tomorrow. The more popular the song, the more it will shape history. Hence it is important for the song to strike a cord with the masses, such as Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud) by James Brown. During the racial turmoil of the ’60s, Brown came up with this theme that has empowered Black Americans for decades. Say it Loud dictates the need for respect and black self-reliance. This made Brown not only an icon in music, but the face of a movement that defined that era. Later on, Marvin Gaye’s 1971 hit, What’s Going On, depicted a nation’s division over the Vietnam War, racism and inner city struggle.

The ’60s and ’70s were ripe for political songs. Issues such as war and racism provided much ammunition to the ever-ready politically charged musician. As these times went by, old issues gave way to new ones, but war would remain constant for all musicians.

The Cold War era had its fair share of hits, too. Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror (1988) and 99 Luftballoons by Nena (1983) depicted a bleak future devastated by nuclear war.

Jackson’s venture into songs filled with political statements was short lived. Instead, he delved more towards social commentary and making statements about the current state of affairs. Songs like Black and White (1991) and Heal the World (1992) talked about issues like racism and ultimately the new issue at that time, global warming.

Now in this day and age, political forces have made use of music too. Take 1997’s Labour Party victory in England for example. The party re-branded itself as New Labour and more importantly it carried a theme song. D:Ream provided its song, Things Can Only Get Better, for the party’s soundtrack and ultimately it made more and more people aware of it. The song gave it a sense of accessibility to the people towards the Labour Party, something it’s opponents — the Conservative Party — didn’t have. And some say that it’s because of the song, Things Can Only Get Better, that the Labour Party won its first election in nearly 18 years!

Closer to home, music and politics have a different relationship. Some mixes are good, whereas others not so good. Columnist and music journalist Nadeem F. Paracha recalls that first ever incident: “Nazia and Zoheb Hasan’s first album, Disco Deewane (1980). It was a massive hit but soon attracted the wrath of the information ministry of Gen Ziaul Haq and the Jamat-i-Islami. Accusing the brother-sister duo and their music of ‘misleading the youth of Pakistan’ and as ‘un-Islamic’, both Nazia and Zoheb were banned from performing on the state-run PTV and Radio Pakistan. The ban was only lifted in 1982 after they met with Gen Zia and promised to “keep their music within the confines of acceptability.”

Ultimately, it would be songs like Dil Dil Pakistan by Vital Signs (1987) that would pave the way for a smooth relationship between music and politics. But in 1988, when Benazir Bhutto returned from exile, she brought with her a powerful weapon that would literally unclamp the clamped environment of Military rule. That weapon was a song called Jiye, Jiye Bhutto Benazir. Shazia Khushk recorded the famous Balochi song in a rundown studio in Karachi’s Lyari area. “The song became a massive hit and became an important part of the PPP election campaign for the November 1988 elections,” remembers NFP. This was perhaps the first-ever incident where local politics used the sway of music to turn the tide of an era. Political parties have not looked back since, and over the years many more soundtracks have accompanied various political marches and campaigns.

Junoon is perhaps the pinnacle of Pakistani music bands. Along with Vital Signs, few have ever achieved the level of fame these two bands have. Junoon’s politically-influenced songs seemed like they would be the band’s undoing. Their songs were often subject to censorship, which led to their eventual ban from the state-run electronic media. Songs like Ehtesab (1997) hardly even saw the light of day as music videos, though now thanks to the likes of YouTube it can be remembered as a historical piece of commentary on those times.

Though we came to see the might of military rule once again in October 1999, this time around there was more leeway in terms of what was acceptable and what wasn’t. What was acceptable and what did do incredibly well was Shehzad Roy’s Laga Reh. Roy’s track from the album Qismat Apnay Haath Mein, is a satire that pokes fun at the establishment and bluntly attacks it too. The song received a moderate airing, but was quickly spread through portals like YouTube and became the talk of the town and ultimately the nation. He has since recorded a new video of the title track from the same album, which picks up exactly where the last one left off. Again, the tones of the video are sharply political and satirical.

Both Roy and director Ahsan Rahim continue exactly where they left off in Laga Reh, when the former is surrounded by a group of armed guards that look like a cross between men in black and a Swat team. In it, Roy is captured and brought to prison where it seems that he is joined by others who share his views and opinions. Like all prison stories, ultimately there is rebellion and then a prison break. The short action sequences — with almost over-the-top violence — reflects how desensitised society has become, and how news items like prison breaks or riots have been the norm.

Finally, in the video, Roy meets the men incharge, who decided his fate. And just when we think that Roy has escaped their clutches, Ahsan shows that he may be able to run but thanks to state-of-the art drones and military intelligence, he can’t hide.

The video is almost immediately compared to the numerous prison videos that have come before it, such as Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock or the comedic number from the Austen Powers’ film. The production of the video is elaborate and doesn’t seem like a cardboard cut-out of a prison. Ahsan creates a stark comparison between the all-black establishment and the brightly-coloured orange boiler suits of the prisoners.

As conditions and state of affairs continue to deteriorate all around, Roy remains determined to get his message across. It’s interesting to see what he will do next, but from the looks of his previous work it surely will stir up controversy and debate… and be the talk of the town.

It is too soon to see the ramifications of such videos yet, but if current popularity has any say in the outcome of history, music and politics will mix even more yet. In an era where politics uses as many avenues it can to reach the people, it is ultimately the words of song and rhyme that will attract the attention more, than speeches ever will.

It is a matter of relation between the human psyche and the written/spoken word and perhaps it is comic book writer Alan Moore who describes this relationship the best. In his documentary on his views about the modern world, writing, art and entertainment, he states: “Words when written or spoken well can have an almost magic-like effect on the listener. They are literally the spells that conjure up images and feelings within the human psyche.”

Indeed, if anything, the combination of music and politics can be described as magic. Whether it is good or bad remains for history to judge.


Crimson Tide: The Return of Coke Studio

It's back. Some say it's bigger and better, some say it's more of the same—in a good way. Whatever the case may be, one cannot deny the force Coke Studio has become. Sure it had its fair share of critics but that, and tumultuous times, did not waver the determination the forces behind Coke Studio.

The concept of Coke Studio is pretty simple, take a contemporary artist and a regional one, add a dash of production courtesy of Rohail Hyatt, sprinkle with a lavish set up and you achieve the perfect blend of fusion that bridges barriers, celebrates diversity, encourages unity and instills a sense of Pakistani pride. And that perfect combination, is about to return – with some old pieces and new ones too.

Coke Studio 2 was announced at a press conference, held by members of soft drink giant Coke and members of the crimson concert. Surprisingly, the event started fairly on time and was smooth sailing all the way through. Unlike the previous arrangement, this time around there was easy access, the entire set was elaborate and reflected the spirit of Coke Studio.

Speaking at the conference, the country manager for Coca-Cola Export Company, Rizwan U Khan has said “Coke Studio prides itself on providing a musical platform which bridges barriers, celebrates diversity, encourages unity and instills a sense of Pakistani pride.”

Rohail Hyatt started off being associated with Vital Signs, but long after Pakistan’s premiere rock and pop band parted ways, Hyatt is finding plenty to do. Speaking on his involvement as the lead on the project, Hyatt said, “This time round it seems as if I have a big brotherly sort of role and I don’t know why that is so but I am enjoying it thoroughly. Last year it wasn’t like this! Everybody’s paying attention now or maybe, I don’t know, looking up to me in some way I mean I don’t know what it is, but its great and that’s the bottom line. I'm very proud and honoured to be working with all the team members of coke studio. They are all an amazing bunch and are nothing short of family for me.”

After the announcement, Images on Sunday was invited backstage, in the Red Room, a small section of the studio converted into a small eatery, complete with lavish sofas for the who's who of Coke Studio.

This year's line up includes, Ali Zafar, Arieb Azhar, Atif Aslam, Javed Bashir, Riaz Ali Khan, Saieen Zahoor, Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan, Strings, Josh, Zeb & Haniya. Accompanying these formidable is the power-house band, which includes the talents of Babar Khanna on dholak, Kamran Zafar on Bass, Gumby on Drums, Omran Shafique on guitar, Saba Shabbir on backing vocals and Zulfiq “Shazee” Ahmed Khan on multi percussions. In addition, they are joined by Assad Ahmed, also on guitar, Jaffer Zaidi on the keyboard, Javed Iqbal on Violin, Natasha De Sousa as backing vocalist, Sikander on dholak and Waris Baloo on multi percussions. This year also welcomes guest musicians Gul Mohammad on Sarangi, Gurpreet Chana on tabla, Rakae Jamil on Sitar and Sadiq Sameer on Rabab. And they’re all mingling together, laughing, smiling and anxious for the world to hear their music.

Rohail Hyatt was visibly tired but seemed relax when speaking about his experience, "It's been awesome. Tiring, but awesome. My reward this year is just watching these gifted artists perform." How difficult is it to get people for Coke Studio and did they not get anybody this time around? "It's a simple choice really, you look at the artist and hear their music, you hear what they can bring to the table and then you invite them. We got everybody that we wanted this year." And how did he finally manage to get a hold of Saieen Zahoor, a legendary artist, who was supposedly in the first season, but then not? "We didn't go through the proper channels," admits Rohail, "apparently he had made commitments elsewhere and the timing of the schedules was conflicting."

The venerable artist Saieen Zahoor admitted that last year the timings were off, but this year everything is in tune and on track. "Every generation has its colors," Saieen Zahoor said, "and it's only natural that this one has its own. And it's been an exhilarating experience working with all the new colors of this generation."

Emerging from absence this year is rock band Noori. "This is exactly the kind of thing we were looking for," says Ali Noor, "The level of sound quality here, the production, it's just way beyond to what we're used to." There is also talk of their new album, which Ali Noor confirms, "We're ready, we have to get some final touches in, but we're ready." Ali Hamza’s contribution isn’t just limited to the music, in fact, he’s also part of the sound team. “I don’t feel like I’m just part of the music team, I feel like I’m a part of Coke Studio on a whole.” CS2 brought about an interesting collaboration, one that was now difficult to imagine, that of the temporary re-unification of Gumby and Noori. Both the band and drummer are excited about the re-union of sorts, but make it clear that it is only for Coke Studio and not for any future Noori albums.

CS2 also sees the likes of Atif Aslam into the fray of the Crimson Concert. "I've completed work on my new album which I've worked on all by myself, right down to the arrangements.” What can his fans expect to hear? “My performances will be a complete surprise to my fans." JoSH have been a popular band in Pakistan and this time they bring their popularity and their songs to CS2 and Q of JoSH was most excited about the project. "This has been a memorable experience for us, we're working with some of the top artists of Pakistan."

Also joining in from abroad is the Tabla maestro Gurpreet Chana. "It's quite exciting, this is my first time here in Pakistan," he said. And what was it like working with all these artists? "Amazing experience, this is something that I'm really looking forward to." Chana learnt the Classical Tabla in the Punjab Gharana (style) from his Ustad Ji Professor Parshotam Singh. He started by playing at the Gurdawara with kirtan and continues to do so, but as of late he has added a unique flavour to his music and mesmerizes crowds with Tabla Fusion which is perfect for Coke Studio 2.

It's not the returning and new bands people are looking forward this year. CS2 also marks a change in production direction thanks to the likes of Zeeshan Parwez and Adnan Malik. "I was part of the band last year, but this year Adnan and me are overlooking the look and feel of the project," says Zeeshan.

Coke Studio 2 has proven that no matter what it is that divides us, the sound of music unites us all. The warmth and the genuine passion present in the air in and around Coke Studio gives hope. To see such diverse stars gathered amid times like these gives hope to those who shall listen to them.

Coke Studio 2 will be aired later this year, during the summer.