Well-known for his anti-war anthem The Bell written after 9/11, Stephan Said, an American with an Iraqi father and Austrian mother, touched Karachi last week for a concert and to film a video for peace and global unity with Pakistani youth, artists and organisations for his TV show Difrent. An interview with him follows:
Q. Tell us something about the show and the song.
A. Well, Difrent is a travelling reality show. Usually such shows are about tourism or food. But this one will be featuring the most courageous young people around the world. We are filming for global unity, interviewing the best people at the front lines of making a better world.
The song we are filming is ‘Love, make the world go round.’ I wrote it and sang it in Baghdad last year where CNN, Link TV and the like followed me. At the time everyone there knew that things were about to fall apart but they … Sunni, Shia, Christians … all joined in, lighting candles, placards with signs for unity, peace and equality. We prepared for it and taped everything in five days. The video shows all these people, men, women and children creating a sort of ‘We are the world’. And it went viral.
It doesn’t get any more multicultural than this — American musician Stephan Said is of Austrian and Iraqi descent, married to a Pakistani, and is passionately working for global peace!
Q. What gave you the idea for the concert and recording here?
A. It is not just a concert. It is a way that engages people to fly above the politics. We need real leadership in the world but it is up to us to create it. I realised that there was no platform for raising the voices of this generation, who can give us hope and bring us together. After seeing what happened in Baghdad, I thought of starting the ‘Light the World’ campaign for a global generation that rises from the people themselves. In New York, Farid Ayaz and Abu Mohammad Qawwal and Brothers from Pakistan came to see me and we thought of starting our campaign from Karachi. The lyrics of my song were translated to Urdu by one of my uncles, Amer Jafri, who also happens to be a teacher of Urdu literature. It goes like: ‘Mohabbat se duniya rawaan hai dawaan hai’.
After a month of working together we held a performance in New York on Sept 12, which was completely sold-out and which was also recorded by one of your news channels here.
But by the time, I reached Karachi for Eid, word had already gotten out and everyone here wanted to be a part of it. There are the qawwals, the music group Fuzon, the National Academy of Performing Arts, Ida Rieu, Aman Foundation and the Teach for Pakistan students among so many others. It was amazing rehearsing with the physically challenged children at Ida Rieu. The deaf and mute who couldn’t sing did so in sign language; others wrote messages of piece on placards while the blind had better voices than me even. It was obviously meant to happen because it happened so quickly.
Q. Your wife is Pakistani. How did you two meet?
A. Yes, she is Pakistani. We met in graduate school in New York and got married five years ago. We live in New York. My wife comes here often for family and work but this is my second visit to Pakistan. I first came here five years ago for our shaadi, when I got to experience traditions like dholki, mehndi etc. Amazing! At the time I was also accompanied by my father, who is Iraqi. His entire family still lives there. My father found Karachi similar to Baghdad. Both cities have similar dry weather. He loved going for long walks here. Interestingly (laughs), my parents, too, met in graduate school in the late 1950s. We are two brothers and two sisters and I am the youngest of all.
Q. And your mother is Austrian. Is she also interested in music?
A. My mother plays the piano but I started playing the violin at four.
Q. And where are you headed after Pakistan?
A. The plan is to take this to other cities like Sau Paulo and Johannesburg. People who pass through the most difficult circumstances have to work hard to survive. People in places like Pakistan, Iraq, Brazil, South Africa and their youth could lead us if we only listen to them.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 19th, 2014