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2 Pakistani Musicians Gain Fame Singing Political Satire

Apr 10, 2014
Originally published on April 10, 2014 7:54 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There's also anxiety in Pakistan because it is a country where you can get into big trouble because of what you say. Recently, gunmen there opened fire on a prominent journalist who's a critic of Islamic extremism, killing his driver. Twenty-five journalists have been killed over the last decade. Non-journalists, like the young activist Malala Yousafzai, have been attacked. NPR's Philip Reeves went to see two young Pakistanis who think they're better off singing about their political views than talking. He sent this postcard from Lahore.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ALI AFTAB SAEED: We're basically musicians. We produce music. It's just that we incorporated politics with music, and it clicked.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

DISHONORABLE BRIGADE: (Singing in foreign language)

DANIYAL MALIK: But maybe that's also one of the reasons of our defense. When we are questioned that why are you coming up, we say we are musicians. We are sweet people. We just produce music. We are not a threat to you.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: A few years back, no one had heard of those two. They're Ali Aftab Saeed and Daniyal Malik, of the band the Beygairat or Dishonorable Brigade. That changed overnight, when they posted a satirical video on the Internet. It takes a swipe at Pakistan's mullahs and its military.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

REEVES: The lyrics, which are in the Punjabi language, single out Pakistan's then-army chief. Pakistanis were amazed and intrigued.

Here's Ali again.

SAEED: It was wonderful. We uploaded it at 2 a.m. in the morning. By 11 a.m. we were everywhere.

REEVES: Public discourse in Pakistan often appears vibrant and outspoken. Yet journalists know that tackling certain subjects is very dangerous. No one had even been punished for killing a journalist until last month, when a court actually convicted six people of murdering a TV reporter. Pakistan's government's now planning measures to protect the media. But the Taliban remains a big threat.

Agencies of the state also have a murky record. People are very careful about publicly criticizing the military and its intelligence services. Ali believes musical satire is a good way of opening up sensitive areas.

SAEED: It is our job to actually make space for serious discussion. As soon as we come up with a song, we see people on TV and newspapers discussing seriously what we have presented in a funny way.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC VIDEO)

REEVES: Not so long ago, Ali and Daniyal posted this video. The entire song mocks Pakistan's military. It speaks of corruption, army coups and proxy wars.

MALIK: We have seen that when army steps into the politics of the country, then the problems really start happening. So maybe, when we talk about army, it's not army in general. We love the soldiers. Those fighting at the borders, we are with them. But it's maybe those who are doing something that is not their job.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

REEVES: Who dares stop these merry men, the generals, asks the song.

SAEED: It would be a lie if we said that we aren't scared. We are scared. But then again, the thing is, we can't stop doing it just because we are scared. Somebody has to do it.

DISHONORABLE BRIGADE: (Singing in foreign language)

SAEED: I actually went to my dad once and told him that what I am doing is not really safe, so I just want you to know that something can happen. He was really cool about it. He said, go on and do whatever you feel is right.

REEVES: Ali and Daniyal are planning to release a new song soon. They're not saying who's the next target of their satire.

SAEED: The thing is, we don't want to stop. So you'll keep on hearing from us. You'll keep on hearing more of our songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

SAEED: It is our country as much as any rightist extremist thinks it is his. We should fight for it. We should make it the way we see it should be.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.