SOUNDSCAPE: HIP HOPPING POLITICS

08 Dec 2019

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Ali Gul Pir has been a vocal supporter of the #MeToo movement which has been unfolding in Pakistan for the past couple of years. Meanwhile, the movement, if it can be called one, has been stumbling along. Women and their allies have spoken out, gag orders have been issued, cases have been filed, mud has been slung on traditional news media and on the internet etc. And so far, everyone and their grandmother has weighed in.

It’s started very important conversations about harassment, the treatment of women in public and private spaces, people have come to know about existing laws and many are sharing their stories. But there has also been a backlash and vile abuse, often at the hands of social media troll armies. There has been justified horror both at the tendency to blame the victim and at the use of the media to serve as judge, jury and executioner.

Ali Gul Pir has recently released a song and video of his latest ‘diss track’. I can’t post the lyrics here not only because they contain profanity but also because they refer to a matter that is sub-judice. But at the core of it, Ali is doing what he has always done and is known for: poking fun at or speaking out against more powerful cultural institutions or individuals. In this case, his song focuses on the importance of speaking out, come what may. It reminds one of novelist and political activist Arundhati Roy’s quote: “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

Kar Le Jo Karna Hai also references Ali’s own roots in Dadu, Sindh and how he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth and doesn’t come from privilege, that everything he has today is because he’s had to work very hard to get where he is in life.

The video for the song has been directed by Faraz Iqbal and Ali Gul Pir. In the description for the video, the artist-activist writes: Dedicated to those who think they can silence me.

In the manner of rap videos worldwide, it’s filmed in a low-income neighbourhood. The artist is shown singing his track on the roof, in the streets, with crowds standing and observing with rapt attention, and then there is some poverty porn.

While I applaud Ali on his ruthless, pun-filled, clever lyrics, for taking a stand against being silenced by individuals or institutions more powerful or with a much higher profile than him, and pushing for the need to speak out, I also have some issues with the video.

The production is very good, but it follows a lot of tropes that foreign rap or hip-hop videos follow that seem completely out of place in the Pakistani context.

There are some very privileged-and-out-of-place looking dancers doing some classic hip hop moves in the video. They’re in direct contrast to their environment — to be fair, they would be in direct contrast to any environment or public location in Pakistan. Independently, I love the dancers and their work, but they seem out of context. It comes across as an attempt to ape foreign music videos. It also seems completely disconnected from the video and the message it is trying to convey. What is happening here? Have we moved from fighting the system to … having a party in between?

Also, what about our own dance culture? Lyari, where the video is shot, has some really talented local groups and individuals operating in the area. Instead of using them, there is only a small note of thanks to ‘the lovely people of Lyari.’ The question is: why does anyone who wants ‘street cred’ go to Lyari? What was wrong with going to areas where the artist is currently residing in or grew up in? How about taking it back to Dadu? The song itself is clearly well thought-out, it’s a shame the video isn’t.

Published in Dawn, ICON, December 8th, 2019