Latest Interview: Band Laal talk ‘red’ in Hindustaan [The Hindu]

July 28, 2009

Laal-final-Poster“We are internationalists and would like to collaborate with oppressed and working class movements of all countries.”

– Taimur Rahman of Laal talks ‘red’ in India

Pakistani fusion music band Laal has catapulted to fame with their uplifting music and poetic lyrics. Pheroze L. Vincent interviews Taimur Rahman, the music composer of the band.

A former teacher at the Lahore School of Economics and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Taimur used to play the guitar in classes to entertain and teach. Infact, Shahram Azhar, the lead vocalist of the band, was his student at LUMS. Taimur is also famous in Pakistani theatre as a producer, director and actor.

The band became popular after their video ‘Maine Ussay Yeh Kaha’ (I told him so) which was based on a poem by Habib Jalib. Taimur’s cousin and Laal’s flutist Haider Rahman has trained under Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and Akmal Qadri.

The Laal brigade fan club has chapters in many cities of Pakistan. Laal wears their communist leanings on their sleeves and have successfully exploited the appeal of poetry to most Pakistanis. “Arguably, we are the most politicized youth out there, something that was lacking in the 1990s,” says Taimur, who is currently doing his PhD on the class structure of Pakistan from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

A communist at the LUMS. Isn’t it surprising?

It’s not surprising. It’s shocking! First, given the preponderance of reactionary organizations like the Jamiat in public universities, sometimes the space for open debate is more open in such private universities. Second, LUMS now has a liberal arts undergraduate program. And what is a liberal arts program if it does not include at least some understanding of Marxism?

The lawyers movement is over; Zardari continues in power, Pakistanis plagued by terror and the army’s decisive action in Swat has their popularity in the country at an all time high. What lies ahead for Pakistani communists?

The three main political forces of oppression in Pakistan are imperialism, fundamentalism and military dictatorship. It is a very complex situation where reactionary forces are pitted against other reactionary forces. And progressive forces are relatively weak. Nonetheless, by taking advantage of the contradictions between reactionaries, we hope to widen the political space for democracy. Its a form of Gramscian positional class war. At the moment, we are pushing against religious fundamentalism but if the military were to attempt to take power again, we would oppose them tooth and nail.

A lot of underground music, in Pakistan, happened after General Musharraf’s ‘enlightened moderation’. Will the grudging admiration for the military among urban youth prove as a stumbling block in mobilising them?

It was a stumbling block but not an insurmountable one. As time has shown, urban middle class mobilization forced Musharraf to resign. I think the liberals that admired Musharraf were relatively few in number. By and large, people have come to recognize that the political forces in play in Pakistan are unable and/or unwililng to address the structural changes that we need to make Pakistan into a representative and prosperous state.

Could you tell us something about the Laal brigade? What are its aims and activities?

The Laal brigade is a broad organization of young leftist fans of Laal. Its principle objective is to study revolutionary thought in order to consolidate an organization that can bring about revolutionary change in Pakistan. Students from other cities have been inviting us to form Laal brigades in their cities but so far we have been too busy to organize to the full extent of its popularity. We hope to make that up this autumn.

Your music is largely popular among urban English speaking youth. What are the revolutionary prospects for them, despite their class character?

Is it largely popular among English speaking youth? I’m not entirely sure about that. Album sales indicate a much broader mainly urban audience. English speaking fans are able to reach us through Facebook and the Internet. Hence, I can understand why such an impression is created. Actually our music originally became popular among the workers of Lahore in industrial areas. And we are very mindful that progressive poetry must reach the people and not become the exclusive preserve of an elite intelligentsia. To accomplish this further we are thinking of organizing a tour across Pakistani towns and villages. The notion that workers and peasants cannot appreciate poetry and music is far off the mark in the context of Pakistan. Poetry and music have a popular appeal in Pakistan, arguably beyond any other form of art.

Your party, the Communist Mazdoor Kisan Party (CMKP) has fraternal ties with the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM). What is the CMKP’s view of the agitations against the CPI (M) in Nandigram, Singur and Lalgarh in West Bengal?

I can follow these events from a distance. Hence, I do not claim to have a clear grasp of the entire situation. However, I would like to add that we have seen that reactionary classes also have the ability of organizing trade unions and peasant organizations in order to defend feudal or capitalist interests. Take for instance the trade union Solidarity in Poland. It was ostensibly a workers organization but it restored the most naked form of capitalism seen in the former Soviet Union. Similarly, anything that is organized under the hegemony of reactionary political forces (such as the Trinamool Congress) will objectively bring about results that are anti-working class (whatever the subjective desires of misplaced individuals that support such a movement).

The CPI (M)’s campaign album last general elections didn’t attract much of an audience? Many leftists in the country feel that your songs can make a huge difference in articulating the policy of the Indian Left Front to the people? Have you ever considered cross border collaboration?

We are honoured to hear that leftists in India would hold our work in such high esteem. We are internationalists and would like to collaborate with oppressed and working class movements of all countries. Our message to all leftists in South Asia is that we consider our music to be the product of, and a contribution to, our common struggle. In fact, when we recorded our first single, Aamir Khan’s studio was quite interested in taking one of our songs and using it in one of their films about peasants and suicides. As a matter of fact, we even read the script and were working on further collaboration. But then we got too busy with recording our album and the democratic movement in Pakistan. Aside from the glitter of the film world, what really interests us is to be able to perform and connect with the people of South Asia as a whole; to share with them and to work for peace and friendship in South Asia.

Will the agitations in Indian Jammu and Kashmir be used by reactionaries to whip up bellicose patriotism and an aura of emergency?

Isn’t it always? But it won’t work because at the moment, we Pakistani’s have too much on our plate to deal with domestically. With suicide bombers rampaging through our cities, I think we need to focus on getting our own house in order at the moment.

How is London? How are youth and South Asians in Europe receiving your music?

To be honest, I’m dying to finish my Phd and get back to my homeland to do more work and build a revolutionary movement. Although I’ve spent many years out of Pakistan for my higher education, I’ve never enjoyed being away from my country and my people. Being in London is like being in self-imposed exile. Nonetheless, London was where we were based when we recorded our first single. But so far we have not had the opportunity to perform in London (with the exception of raising slogans and singing in demonstrations). Expats normally download pirated versions of our album from the net. Hence, it is difficult to keep track of album sales and popularity in those terms. But when the album was first released I would get tons of emails a day asking me how people could get copies of our album in France, Britain, Canada, US, Spain, and even Germany. Moreover, GEO’s network is massive. Hence, I suspect that we have a number of fans in other countries that we can and should connect with in the near future.

South Asians in general and Indians in particular have been under racist attacks in Australia and elsewhere. Most of the attackers are believed to be from the economically weaker sections of the white community. As a socialist, a teacher and as someone who has been in the UK for his education, how do you view this situation? Can music build bridges?

Pardon the cliche, but doesn’t the recent international grieving over the death of the King of Pop Michael Jackson prove just that? There is racism that we South Asians face and there is also the racism that we South Asians mete out to each other. Both have to be countered to bring about the solidarity of all oppressed peoples against the multi-billionaire ruling elite of the world today. A ruling elite that feeds off the suffering of millions of people. Enough we say! Oppressed peoples of the world, UNITE! You have nothing to lose but your chains.

This interview has been taken from; a shorter version was printed in The Hindu.

Source: The News | INSTEP TODAY