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Protest Music
Standing between musical artistes in two neighbouring countries is the Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Bureaucratic Issues, Visas and Illegal CDs… and artistes are aching to stand up and be heard.

“In angrezon ne toh aur kuch nahi kiya par samandar mein lathi marne ki koshish ki.” It’s a line Durga Jasraj (from Art & Artistes) still remembers of her first visit to Pakistan; something she picked up from a lay person in Pakistan and has stayed with her ever since.

One cannot deny the rivalry between the countries but there is a barrage of talent to unearth and the musical connection between the two goes way back. Every person you talk to regarding the Indo-Pak issue only pushes you to explore more about the enigmatic relationship between the two nations. The Indo-Pak partition kicked up dust that would never settle. There’s too much history between the countries, almost like a booming romance that was eventually crushed due to circumstances. There’s the strange, awkward sensation every time the relationship status is tossed about. Every person who looks at the two countries conjures up either a happy/pleasant portrait, or digs out the muck running deep through the veins of the two lands.

Tracing the sequence of events that has led to the existing fate of the countries can be a lifetime job; in this issue we’ve tried to map out the interesting tales surrounding the music of the two countries, the introverted rebellious attitude that has struggled against undesirable conditions and the mélange of good and bad memories people have about the phenomenal music of the two countries.

The problem between the two countries is multi-dimensional. There are issues surrounding the bureaucracy, visas for artistes and piracy. Artistes from both countries have varied experiences of travelling across borders. “On several occasions, I have been part of festivals that advertised concerts by Pakistani musicians, but there have been last minute cancellations on account of the usual visa refusals. Now it is possible that the organisers did not do their homework, or that the artistes themselves pulled out at the last moment for reasons unknown to listeners. But yes, there seems to be an overall uncertainty about whether or not artistes from either country will in fact be able to perform as scheduled,” says Shubha Mudgal, who has on various occasions performed at events and festivals organised involving artistes from both the countries.

Filmmaker Yousuf Saeed from Delhi, who has made a documentary on the declining classical music tradition in both the countries after partition, has subtly captured the existing conditions and the loss-loss situation of both the countries, in terms of culture, that partition brought about. “The talented Muslim musicians crossed over to Pakistan and the patrons came to India. While shooting for my film, I had to deal with visa problems; it was a long six month wait. My fellowship which was granted from Bangkok depended totally on the visa. As a musician if you try to cross the border it’s very difficult to be certain about the visa,” says Yousuf whose film culls out some amazing facts ~ like the fact that the first music academy in Lahore was established in the year 1902 by an Indian, because he thought it was the best place for a music school.

According to Shubha, it’s the uncertainty that kills the pleasure of performing. “As an artiste, I can accept an invitation to perform, and I can provide whatever documentation is required for visa processing, but if I do not know till virtually the last minute if I am going to be granted a visa or not, somewhere the uncertainty takes away from the pleasure of the trip. Let me [put it on the record that I was] granted a visa to perform in Pakistan in March this year, and [was also provided one] last year. In 2006, I performed in Karachi for a fundraiser organised by the Accident And Emergency Foundation (AEF) to provide healthcare to earthquake victims. In March this year, I performed for the All Pakistan Music Conference in Karachi once again. The organisers of both concerts applied for ‘No Objection’ certificates in Pakistan and I had no trouble getting the visa thereafter. But before that, I was to perform in Pakistan as an artiste sent by the Indian Government through the ICCR (Indian Council For Cultural Relations) and hence the visa applications too were submitted by ICCR. Unfortunately, the trip was cancelled a night before; we were all packed and ready to leave, as we were neither refused a visa nor granted one. To this date, we do not know the reason for this, as no explanation was offered either by ICCR or the Pakistan High Commission. But as a result, invitations that had been sent out had to be cancelled, and of course, we were greatly disappointed,” she reflects.

There’s also the problem of applying for visas for different cities in Pakistan. For countries like the USA or UK or Germany etc, one can visit any city in the country. But the rules change between India and Pakistan; each city requires a separate visa which complicates the visit.

Analysts have pointed out the hypocritical approach of both Indian and Pakistani governments on the topic of cultural exchange. The civil bureaucracy on the Indian side is as conservative as the military bureaucracy in Pakistan. The bureaucracies are the impediment.

The peace process that both the governments planned to tread was obviously not working with the nuclear tests and instances of unsafe bus services. These symbolic overtures hardly amended the existing situation. While in India the fear revolves around Pakistani terrorists, in Pakistan the height of xenophobia has shot up; the new breed is increasingly nationalistic in its attitude.

Analysts and musicians from both countries feel nuclear tests were another high point that ruined things for the countries. “In 1998, when Sayonee and our album Azadi was a big hit in India and Pakistan, I spoke against the nuclear testing that took place in both countries. The government of Nawaz Sharif immediately banned Junoon from performing in Pakistan, appearing on television or radio and accused me of treason because I said that the people of India and Pakistan want cultural fusion not nuclear fusion. Although Junoon had to suffer the ban for three years, I’m happy that our principled stand for peace was justified, when in 2004 peace talks began between both countries. Sacrifice is necessary if you want to bring change in society,” says Salman Ahmad from Junoon.

Backtrack to the time when Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the young musicians now will tell you how they are lucky the rule has been eased out over the years. “Things are much simpler now, as compared to [the time of ] Nawaz Sharif’s government. Anything radical was banned, but now there is no visa issue; at least I haven’t really had to deal with it,” adds Zulfiqar Jabbar from the rock band Call which has performed in India a couple of times.

Celebrated Collaborations
Shubha worked with Salman Ahmad on the track Ghoom Tana and feels the experience would have been better if the artiste was say from New York because collaborations are easier. “Well, Salman only asked me to dub part of a song he had already recorded. So all I had to do was to go to a studio in Mumbai and dub my parts. No visas required there fortunately! And no, we didn’t discuss the Indo-Pak issue, because there really wasn’t any time for that,” she explains.

For Salman, it was a totally treasured experience: “Recording Ghoom Tana with Shubhaji was a very special and memorable moment. Our duet of rock and classical music symbolises the harmony that exists between Indians and Pakistanis, and I was thrilled to have Nandita co-star in her first music video. The icing on the cake was that the great Naseeruddin Shah also lent his voice to the opening narration of Ghoom Tana. It was a dream project which would not have been possible without the help of many Indians and Pakistanis, who possess a ‘junoon’ for peace and have became lifelong friends after working together on the video.”

Durga Jasraj also goes back in time and recalls her memories of spending time in Pakistan. Her father switched from a tabla player to a singer after giving his first vocal performance in Pakistan. “For my dad, that country holds special memories. When we were there for a concert, it was the peak of Ramadan and we were quite apprehensive about the attendance and people’s reactions. The pleasant surprise came when people refused to leave for their midnight prayer saying music was God,” smiles Durga.

She has also hosted festivals bringing together pop-rock artistes from both India and Pakistan including bands such as Indian Ocean, Fuzon, Kailash Kher, and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. “I was hosting the show along with a popular Pakistani host and the event was a lot of fun,” she says.

Celebrating 60 years of Indian independence, this year bhajan exponent Anup Jalota will perform along with ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali Khan in Mauritius, in India and then they are planning another trip to Pakistan.

He has sung with Ghulam Ali for more than 100 shows and is now looking forward to this peace concert. “I’ve never been to Pakistan, though I was slated to go twice. The first time around, my musicians did not get visas so I also dropped out, and the second time I had some personal issues,” says Anup who feels the change needs to take place at the level of the politicians.

Durga Jasraj, who has been to Pakistan twice, however, has a completely different experience and a positive take on the bureaucracy and the visa. “I have been there on completely government organised trips and they were perfectly done,” she sums up.

A lot of pop-rock bands have also joined hands for various causes and to strengthen the ties between the two countries. When the bands Strings and Euphoria share the stage, it’s a performance akin to fireworks and a true treat for all their fans.

You can read the rest of our special feature Protest Music in the August 2007 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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