November Issue 2009
Interview: Omar Bilal Akhtar
Celebrating the Pakistani identity, as well as our culture, heritage and history, Shanaakht 2009 aims to bring together ordinary citizens and give them something to celebrate. And that’s not all: entry is free for everyone.
Newsline talks to Omar Bilal Akhtar, the vocalist/guitarist for Aunty Disco Project, about the band’s performance on November 11, 2009.
Tell us about the event, Raag and Roll.
Raag and Roll is a collective musical performance featuring some of the best in Pakistani music sharing the same stage. We’ve got some very diverse and exciting acts, we’ve got the pop-classical mix of Fuzon, the classical-world music rhythms of Taal Karisma, the pop-rock of Noori and, Aunty Disco Project (ADP) and Laal with their brand of political music. I’m told that there will be several folk musicians performing with us as well, so it should be a fascinating mix of the indigenous and the influenced. The concert isn’t so much a collection of performances as it is a showcase of our musical identity. I expect it to be a lot more interactive and intimate than regular music festivals because we will be using our performances to highlight the Citizen Archive of Pakistan’s work and shape our performances to fit the theme of the evening. We’re humbled and absolutely thrilled to be sharing the stage with such fantastic artists.
How important are festivals like Shanaakht for the average Pakistani?
I cannot over-emphasise how important these festivals are. Bringing people together in an atmosphere of goodwill and shared experience is crucial to our sense of community and identity. We’ve become so jaded with the politics and the war in the country that it’s important for ordinary citizens to realise that we are still a people of culture. I think festivals are, probably more so right now, a true reminder of our humanity and if they are successful, it gives us something to be proud of.
How will ADP’s performance help reinforce or strengthen the Pakistani shanaakht?
I don’t know if it’s accurate to say we will strengthen the Pakistani Shanaakht, but maybe we can help define it, which is the goal of the organisers. I would say that our performance represents another side of the Pakistani identity. We represent the youth, we represent the entertainers and we are playing a brand of music that we’d like to call Pakistani. Sure it has been influenced by western pop and rock, but the words, the message and the experience are truly Pakistani. If somebody looks us up on the Internet and our music is classified as “Pakistani Music,” then I think we’ve contributed to the Pakistani Shanaakht.
What does ADP aim to achieve through the festival?
We want to give Pakistanis ownership of something they can be proud of, so if they can take ownership of our music and our performance as representing their identity, nothing would make us happier. In smaller terms, we’re an upcoming band, still waiting to break through to the mainstream, so this is a fantastic opportunity for us to get to a larger audience of people who probably wouldn’t have heard of us under normal circumstances.
Are you or any of the band members involved in any other aspect or event in the festival?
As much as we’d like to be, we’re not involved in any other aspect of the festival due to our schedules. The most we can do is spread the word and tell as many people as we can about the event because it is something very personal for us and we’re all great admirers of CAP’s work.
What kind of a turnout are you expecting, given the current situation in the country?
I think the turnout will be better than most people expect. I think our public is starved for entertainment and communal activities, and for a chance to be proud of their heritage. Yes the situation will deter a number of people, but I’m very optimistic about the turn-out, especially from the younger crowd.
What kind of a line-up does the band have? Will you only be playing ADP songs or others as well?
We’re basically a guitar-based rock band; we have Ali Alam on guitar/vocals, Rahail Siddiqui on bass, Giles Goveas on drums, Yasir Qureshi on percussions and myself on guitar/vocals. We plan to primarily play ADP songs because we want to use this opportunity to showcase our original material, but we’re not ruling out small tributes to our past musical heritage.
Shanaakht events mentioned in this interview:
FROM RAAG TO ROLL
Musical Performance: An evening of musical fusion with Pakistani musicians, including Taal Karisma andAunty Disco Project.
(Please note: This performance has limited seating. Please pick up free passes from the venue on Wednesday, 11 November, 2009).