Flowerpower from Peshawar
Flower power is in the air again. In the Pakistani town of Peshawar, of all places, in the turbulent North-West Frontier Province. A place close to Afghanistan, where the Pashto clans stick together and human bombs could go off nearby at any moment. "Ours is a world of drugs, suicide bombers and target killings. Sure, we´ve got problems and somehow we need to find a solution to them", says Sajid Ghafoor, one of the two musical brains that make up the duo Sajid & Zeeshan. Dressed smartly in western-style clothes, he says "But the solution doesn´t start with other people, it starts with you. You´ve got to work on yourself. If you clean out your own system, then you can go out and talk to other people. Look – this is what I am. I´m much more balanced now. I can respect you. I won´t kill you. So don´t kill me either, respect me."
Clean yourself! The duo sees their sounds as a kind of washing machine for the soul. Somewhere between REM, Sting and electronic lounge music, and without a trace of ethnic Pashto elements, these two boys from Peshawar strike out to set themselves free. It´s no easy task, because their English-language lyrics alone are enough to force them underground here. Even music itself is frowned on in some quarters. Video and music stores are at constant risk of attack. "Music is not respected here, so we just don´t get to hear it. But we´re fighting against that. Even if the artist doesn´t get any respect, the music should."
All the more amazing that Sajid & Zeeshan are such a success story, even in Pakistan. It may all have begun with Sajid´s preference for U2, Counting Crows and Pink Floyd, or at the latest, when his mother gave him a present of a guitar – not something to be taken for granted in Pakistan. The "damned guitar", he says, could not be tuned. In 1989, he pulled off his own personal coup: he bought a new guitar and above all, a book entitled "How to Play a Guitar". Three months later he wrote his first song and followed it up another two months later with "My Happiness", a song that remains part of the band´s stage repertoire to this day.
My Happiness – maybe it was the happiness of a tuned guitar that gave a musical voice to this erstwhile law student. Because it is difficult to find western instruments in Peshawar and impossible to find music teachers. "We are all auto-didacts", says Sajid, "it was not easy for us at all, it was trial and error. That works, that doesn´t work, that works, that doesn´t work, it was like so many things that happen where we come from." The instruments are all from the black market, discarded goods from Japan, smuggled in over the Himalayas. They can buy a synthesiser for nine or ten euros, they say almost over-enthusiastically. Zeeshan or Sajid´s brother Sarmad repair the instruments. Often, they are hardly damaged at all, just a scratch that can be polished away. And this explains how they appear on stage with a synthesiser from the 1970s, playing the latest cool electronic sounds from Pakistan. Sounds which will also be featured on their new album.
Peshawar, a seething city of almost three million people, sounds like a small town when these two musicians talk about it. "If you buy a guitar, everybody finds out, within a day or so," says Sajid. Zeeshan Parwez, a corpulent marketing man with an Henri Quatre beard and the look of a technical wizard, lives just around the corner from him, 35 seconds by car, one and a half minutes on foot. They and some friends met up in the mid 1990s and formed the underground band Still. When their guitarist left them for another band in Lahore in 2004, their percussionist took off for Congo and their bassist emigrated to England, only Sajid and Zeeshan were left behind. But they saw no reason to give up, because they are both all-rounders. Sajid, a fan of alternative music, and Zeeshan, who is more into relaxed club sounds and the likes of Radiohead, decide to keep going and combine their two styles. It´s a unique mixture in Pakistan. After a few club appearances, they made their first low-budget video track "King of Self", directed by Zeeshan Parwez. "King of Self" (You’ve got a fast car, you’re not a rockstar) was an instant hit. The video was aired 22 times in 24 hours on Pakistani TV channels. "We were lucky," says Zeeshan Parwez, who, in addition to the synths and videos, also takes care of the music production. "Other people who make music in English find themselves under siege by journalists. Thanks be to God, we didn´t have that problem."
And everything seems to be going smoothly for the two. Sajid and Zeeshan´s story is one of superlatives. Their video clip "Freestyle Dive" was Pakistan´s first completely animated music video, and won numerous prizes, both for the song and the video. Then came their first English-language album on EMI Pakistan: “One Light Year at Snail Speed.” In 2004, they made it into the final of the song contest “Song of the Year” (www.songoftheyear.com/) in the Electronic/Dance category.
Their performance in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt is their first international Gig, and they are pretty excited about it. For the "ethno flavour", they´ve also included a song in Pashto in their set. Suddenly, Sajid´s face turns serious and he reaches for the microphone. "We´ve come here with a message," he says in his soft voice. "Hatred is a very extreme, very strong word. But there´s a stronger word and a stronger emotion – love. Most of us aren´t the way you see us on television. We´re not all terrorists!" Then the duo casually grooves on, with a bit of synth-pop, here, a bit of alternative rock there, and just a hint of flower power in their message.
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
Festival of Electronic Music
(26 November 08 - 30 November 08)