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Understanding Pakistan, By Way Of Its Pop Idols

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Understanding Pakistan, By Way Of Its Pop Idols

Understanding Pakistan, By Way Of Its Pop Idols

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This next story begins on the other side of the world, and inside the world of disco music.

(Soundbite of song, "Disco Deewane")

Ms. NAZIA HASSAN (Singer): Disco, disco, disco deewane. Disco, disco, disco deewane.

Disco deewane means disco crazy in Urdu. This song was a hit in Pakistan in 1981, and it comes to our attention courtesy of the Pakistani-born writer Kamila Shamsie, who remembers the music video.

Ms. KAMILA SHAMSIE (Writer): This woman and this man - and the woman, of course, is particularly important - who was sort of out there talking about, you know, the craziness of disco.

(Soundbite of song, "Disco Deewane")

Ms. HASSAN: ...deewane. Disco deewane. Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

And it was about a feeling of a certain kind of social liberation that later went away.

INSKEEP: Went away as Pakistan's conservative government became even more conservative. Shamsie wrote about this song in Granta magazine, which just published a whole issue on Pakistan. She tells the story of religious tension as heard through Pakistan's pop music.

Ms. SHAMSIE: The Islam of the sub-continent had very often - and forever, really, from the beginning - had been much more influenced by Sufi Islam.

INSKEEP: That's a branch of Islam that's considered relatively open and tolerant, very personal. Many Sufis welcome music and dance. From the 1970s onward, that form of Islam was under pressure from a conservative military ruler with very different ideas.

Ms. SHAMSIE: Zia-ul Haq decided to bring in very rigid Islam, which was about through the most extreme versions of what Islamic law could be.

INSKEEP: I'm interested to hear you say that, because it would be tempting for me to think of this as Islam versus the West. You're telling me it's different ideas of Islam that were in conflict in Pakistan.

Ms. SHAMSIE: You know, it's only in the West that people think it is Islam versus the West. I think even if you look at the last nine years, these war and terror years, many more Muslims have been killed by other Muslims than non-Muslims. So, no. It was about what kind of Muslims are we? When people outside Pakistan talk about, you know, Pakistan is this Muslim state or Islamic state, they almost tend to talk as though that means one thing, and actually, it means millions of things.

INSKEEP: Well, let's move a little forward in time as we look at this conflict as expressed in music. There's a music video that you write about called, "Dil Dil Pakistan." Let's listen a little bit first.

(Soundbite of song, "Dil Dil Pakistan")

VITAL SIGNS (Pop Group): (Singing) Dil dil Pakistan, jan jan Pakistan, dil dil Pakistan, jan jan Pakistan. Dil...

INSKEEP: I feel like if I were a radio DJ, this would be the point at which I would say, okay. We're listening to Duran Duran.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SHAMSIE: Well, this was 1987, you know, so I'm sure Duran Duran was some kind of influence there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: What was the story of this song? It's still a time of military dictatorship. It's still an Islamist military dictatorship. How did this video get out to the public?

Ms. SHAMSIE: In a very clever way, by disguising itself as a patriotic song. Dil dil Pakistan means my heart beats for Pakistan - or literally, heart, heart Pakistan. And Pakistan television - which was heavily censored - had a competition for a patriotic song, and whoever won this competition, their song would be aired on Independence Day, 14th August 1987. And there was a radio producer called Shoaib Mansoor who was very clever and saw this was the opportunity to get a certain kind of pop music on the air.

But the lyrics were incredibly patriotic, so it won the competition, and it played all over and became just this phenomenal, phenomenal hit.

(Soundbite of song, "Dil Dil Pakistan")

VITAL SIGNS: (Singing in foreign language)

Ms. SHAMSIE: And it was great - in the video, they were sort of going around in leather jackets and on motorbikes, and it felt subversive -which is ridiculous, if you actually look at the lyrics, which are the most un-subversive things ever. And for us at 14, it was just, wow. That's really exiting. You know, here's - and we thought in terms of coolness, you know. Here were some Pakistanis being cool, at last. Our nation, it seemed to us, suffered from a huge deficit of coolness, except where certain cricket players were concerned. So it was very nice to be able to say, there are some cool Pakistanis.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Well let's move a little closer to the present day. There's a group called Junoon which became very famous in the 1990s. They're still playing today, with changes in membership. But let's listen to one of the hits from Junoon.

(Soundbite of music)

JUNOON (Pop Group): (Singing in foreign language)

Ms. SHAMSIE: They would go back to Sufi poets, take their lyrics and put them to music, which would combine influences of Pakistani music, and you'd have sort of the tabla, the sitar or whatever, as well as the electric guitar. So it was a really new sound.

INSKEEP: A new sound representing moderate Islam.

(Soundbite of music)

JUNOON: (Singing in foreign language)

Ms. SHAMSIE: Junoon's guitarist had been one of the stars of that band that reminded us of Duran Duran, and so was another singer who didn't turn out moderate at all.

Ms. SHAMSIE: Junaid Jamshed went the completely opposite way and came under the influence of a group called Tablighi Jamaat, which is a proselytizing group within Islam. You know, their belief is that you must follow the example of the Prophet Mohammed in whatever way you can. And so they're very worried about, you know, what the length of your beard is and what kind of clothes you're wearing, and the sort of the stuff which the Sufis would say is nonsense.

In fact, Junaid Jamshed then took to saying that pop music was un-Islamic, and that he rejected that part of his life, and instead has taken to singing religious songs.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JUNAID JAMSHED (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

Ms. SHAMSIE: Although he does wobble now and then. I mean, in the early days, particularly, he would say, it's un-Islamic, and then he'd appear at a pop concert. And then he'd say, no, no. It's - no, I only did that because I have contracts with Pepsi. And for a while there, you know, he couldn't even seem to quite make a break from it.

INSKEEP: When you're spending time in Karachi, Pakistan these days, what's on the radio? What's exciting young people, or anybody?

Ms. SHAMSIE: The really exciting thing in music in Pakistan is a thing called Coke Studio, which is a sort of live, acoustic sessions where you have musicians coming together. You know, you might have Kaval(ph) or sort of Sufi singers in the very traditional style coming together with a rock singer.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

INSKEEP: And novelist Kamila Shamsie says it's this kind of song that's on her music player now, with a setting on repeat.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

INSKEEP: Shamsie wrote in Granta magazine about Pakistan's religious struggles as heard through its pop music. Her novels include, "Cartography" and "Broken Verses."

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