'Laal' band: Review of 'Inqalab'

Given the miserable state of affairs in Pakistan, socially and economically, it is hard to find something to be proud of. For sure, one could say, coming from an economically privileged position, that there is much to be proud of. After all, there is plenty for the privileged to experience and enjoy without the hindrances of poverty and hunger. The sceptic, however, will hold that it is not in the privileged quarters of society that the true extent of Pakistani pride is gauged realistically, but in the vast majority; the people who have nothing, who eke out a bare existence, who face ruination, who are outcasts, who are chained. And here, one need not ask if living in Pakistan afforded these poor souls some exclusive benefit, a reason to be proud. Their physical deprivation is telling enough that they are not beneficiaries, but merely live here. It is these people that Laal's music is about.

Laal's latest rock music video, Inqalab, is an expression of the plight of bonded labourers and of hope that one day their exploitation will be no more. No other musical artist from Pakistan has dared to venture into this territory. But this is precisely what Laal concerns itself with. Taimur Rahman and Ammar Aziz, both of whom share singing duties on the song, do not pretend to be subtle. This is music about real issues, real people and real life. It is a hard dose of reality intended to bring us back from the fantasies and delusions that we are fed by corporate sponsored, mainstream music. It screams at us to see a side of Pakistan that we prefer not to see. Under the description of their video on Youtube, they cite, "Thirteen years after our Supreme Court declared bonded labour to be unconstitutional, and a decade after the National Assembly passed the Bonded Labour Liberation Act, there are still 1 million bonded workers in the brick kilns of Pakistan. Overall, there may be 20 million bonded labourers in Pakistan as a whole according to estimates of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan."

Just as stunning as their pioneering style is the contrast between the musicians and the labourers depicted in the music video. What could the two possibly have in common? They are clearly not from similar backgrounds; the musicians are free and well-to-do, the labourers are poor and bonded. Taimur Rahman teaches at LUMS and Ammar Aziz is an NCA graduate, whereas the labourers work in brick kilns. It is obvious too that the musicians of Laal care not for corporate endorsements, nor fame nor fortune by dealing with such a subject matter and by openly espousing Socialism; that supposedly long gone alternative which world leaders of countries ridden with economic crises and public protests insist is dead and buried, but which yet haunts them like a ghost waiting behind the next corner. It stands to reason then, that there is something that transcends social status and compels these musicians from the very inner recesses of their humanity to sing and draw attention towards the ignored. Laal's vision unfolds over the course of the video, from depicting the labourers, first as prisoners of their work, later as free men united and organized, ready to lay claim over their destinies. The song's lyrics (translated to English) make it even clearer, "this darkness, we shall sweep away, the mighty, we shall make them bow. And we shall have to make all answerable. The truth can never remain concealed. My slogan is revolution." To the youth of Pakistan who are anti-politics, Laal offers a clear message: organize and reclaim politics.

So when an Indian friend discussed music with me recently, he playfully mocked the music video output from Pakistan as uncreative and generally subpar compared to Indian music videos. I showed him another Laal video (Meray Dil Meray Musafir) and after watching a good portion of it, he nodded, conceding that he was caught off-guard by the uniqueness of it. This was my moment of pride. Because I know that, search as one might, even internationally; there is no band that as openly expresses its progressive politics in its music and videos as Laal does. It was reserved for a Pakistani band, born in an era of turmoil, to scale these heights first and clear away the suffocating fog of mundane music.