Rapper Ali Gul Pir from Karachi offers biting satire and humor, and he has a lot of courage. In tracks like «Waderai Ka Beta» [about the feudal system] and «#KholoBC» [against the ban of YouTube in Pakistan] he attacks political and social issues in Pakistan head-on. And he does so on National TV – and not hidden on the Internet, for small elite circles exclusively. Ali Gul Pir received death threats, and he inspired hot controversies. «I want to be a man who mattered», he says in our interview. I visited Ali Gul Pir in Aflatoon Studios in Karachi, where he and the singer and producer Mooroo were recording their new track «Itni Chikni».
[Thomas Burkhalter]: Your video clip «Waderai Ka Beta» from 2012 is very satirical and controversial. You make fun of rich, egoistic, and corrupt feudal lords who do not care about anybody and anything. Can you translate the song on the spot?
[Ali Gul Pir]: Okay. It says Akbar Jatoi Jalbani, this is my name, I’m driving a Pajero, and having fun is my game. I am so rich, I fart money, and I will show you now here. Then the chorus is Waderai Ka Beta, which means feudal lord’s son. It talks about the feudal system we have in Pakistan. [see full lyrics below]
[TB]: How did you manage to get this video on TV in Pakistan?
[AGP]: «Waderai Ka Beta» was my first song. I didn’t have any money, so I borrowed money from friends. With a couple of thousand rupees we produced the song. Satirical rap hasn’t happen yet in Pakistan. So, we were really excited about it, and wanted to play it on TV. But both, TV and radio first did not want to air it. They said that the song was too controversial. We were kind disheartened, and we decided to upload it on YouTube – it was June 2012; YouTube was not banned in Pakistan yet. We released the song on June 14th, Friday 3 p.m. We refreshed the page every few minutes, and views would go up by hundreds. Within a day we had 100’000 views. And within twenty-five days we had one million views.
[TB]: Can you explain how and why it spread so fast?
[AGP]: I do not know really. I was a theatre actor back then. I had a Facebook fan page with three hundred followers, and my friend had a page with maybe two hundred followers. Plus I had a few hundred private Facebook friends. Basically we shared the video clip on our pages and profiles, and from there it just became crazy. Soon, every radio channel would play it. It was just amazing to see that the people of Pakistan have power. Anywhere you go people ultimately have power, but they just need to come together and work for something. That’s what happened. The song was controversial, it was new, but it was true and people could relate to it. It was about feudal lords and people in power doing whatever they like and getting away with it. A lot of people had been affected by such people, a lot of people work under such people, lot of people see such people in school, colleges, work. So they could relate to it. That was the emotion that brought everyone together. Google later gave me an innovation award for the song – and the greatest thing was that a big politician, that I often made fun off, had to present me this award. He didn’t know my work back then, I think, but I was laughing throughout the celebration.
[TB]: How important was it for you that the video clip was not a success on the Internet only, but that got coverage on national TV?
[AGP]: Maybe 5% percent of the people in Pakistan only have access to the Internet. Our literacy rate is low, and our education system is pretty messed up. We have big class differences: There is an extreme upper class, a lower class, and the extremely poor, but no middle class. So we have poor people who can barely buy food, and we have people who drive big cars. Anyway. I ultimately want to speak to the masses. I am an artist that reflects what 90% of people think about. So yes, it was very important that after the Internet release every TV channel and every radio station played it. And then we have these mobile phones in our villages. People were transferring the song onto their phone and they were listening to it and watching it, so it trickled down.
[TB]: To which extent was this video clip just about having fun, about the joy of producing music and writing lyrics. And to which extent was the song about protesting, and maybe even about changing Pakistan?
[AGP]: Every song starts from an emotion. «Waderai Ka Beta» came from anger. When I was in school I saw such people get away with murder, but poor people would get beaten up for breaking a signal. Or they would do something small, and they would spend months in jail for that. Most of my tracks start from anger, and then in my tracks and videos I turn this anger into fun.
The clip «#KholoBC» is a youth initiative against the ban of YouTube in Pakistan (since September 2012). With Ali Gul Pir and Adil Omar.
[TB]: In the Middle East many artists are from elite families, and I sometimes wonder how they can actually speak what the masses are thinking. How is your family background?
[AGP]: I was born into a rich family. My dad had a good job, and we had decent money. Then we went to Canada. I studied there for four years. Around that time my dad was put in prison on drummed-up political charges, which haven’t been proven till this day. He spent six years in prison and during that time we didn’t have any money. We had to come back and started living in Karachi. During that period it was hard to even come up with money for school fees. We tried to sell every property we had, or we tried to borrow money. We had no savings, but we were managing somehow. But because of «Waderai Ka Beta» my career kicked off in 2012. I did over 200 shows. I was invited by the US state department too and performed five shows in the US. And because of the many brand endorsements I have now, I’m doing well. I pitch songs to brands. And I’m also a film graduate, and I produce Internet shows and Internet content for brands.
[TB]: So you know the social world of the feudal lords very well?
[AGP]: Yes, in my childhood and in half of my teenage years I have been meeting the people that I talk about in my song. I still have friends in Malir Town [one of the 18 towns of Karachi city, once famous for its vegetable and fruit farms] and they still come by. I also try not to loose touch because this is essentially my family. My ancestors were farmers, so we still have some land, and we grow mangos. At the same time I try to keep in touch other social groups in Pakistan. But I don’t know, I think there is some gap that naturally comes when you are in the limelight.
[TB]: People I talked to in Karachi seem to love your song. Someone however wondered if a song like this was possible only because you are Sindhi, and you sing about Sindhi landlords.
[AGP]: I am Sindhi, yes. It is easier to make fun of yourself, right. It could be more controversial if I pick up another race and make a racist remark. I would get laughs, but I would probably offend a lot of people too. If I make fun of myself and my people, the first suspect and victim is me. At the same time, I did not make fun about Sindhi people only. I made fun about a mentality. In the video I am a waderai, but I could be a dictator, a military ruler, or a CEO too. It could by anyone in power, who abuses power and destroys lives – and nothing happens to him.
[TB]: Can you perform the song in Pakistan?
[AGP]: I did like twenty shows in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Multan, and in many colleges. But I have not performed in the rural Sindh region. It is not safe. Sindh people were sending me death threats. There are some nationalist parties that sent me death threats after the song was out. It was intense for a month or two. But you know, you have to make a decision: If you are in it then you are in it, for all your reasons, and with all the dangers. But at times I think that maybe I should stop doing these songs because it’s also your family that you have to think about. Me thinking that I can do this and get away with it, or face the consequences is selfish. I have to think about these issues as I go along.
Video directed by Ali Gul Pir.
[TB]: What is your inner drive and motivation? Why does Ali Gul Pir do what he does?
[AGP]: It’s comedy. It comes naturally to me. I like making people laugh. See people laughing because of something I did or said, makes me happy. I have tried to find this feeling in other places but I can’t. I do improvised comedy in theatre, in Urdu and English. Improvised comedy is the best. The protest and satire side of music somewhat comes – I believe – because of my father who was in prison for six years. I want to be a man who mattered, someone who tried to bring change, tried to make people happy, tried to inform them as well, and bring up positive change in society. To me that is a life worth living, I guess.
[TB]: Is your story a Pakistani story only? Or do you feel connected to rappers worldwide? In many places comedy and rap were linked in early stages.
[AGP]: I grew watching comedians like Seinfeld, Richard Pryor and then George Carlin. And I listened to mainstream rappers like Tupac, Busta Rhymes and Coolio. But I don’t compare myself to anyone. I don’t think I am good enough to be one of the rappers of the world. I think I am funny, but I am not even that funny. I try to keep my work focused, and I try to be honest to it. I don’t try to think at a bigger level. I try to tackle an issue and focus on it, because I think my country needs it. The focus is my country. This country is going through a lot of trouble, and only we can get us out of this trouble. So we need to take charge. We need to understand what the problems are. And we need to be entertained – because we are getting blown up, we are getting fired at, and we are going through unemployment, and all this stuff. Pakistani people need entertainment. They need positivity.
[TB]: Are Pakistani TV channels not full with entertainment?
[AGP]: Over here news is entertainment – news is supposed to be read normally. Here, political leaders shouting at each other, is entertainment. But there is no good entertainment, with good messages. Entertainment could heighten the intellect of people, it could teach them something new. Media is important, it affect a lot of minds. Media makes you think one way. Media makes you think that this country is bad – or good. Media shifts popular opinion.
[TB]: Are you an angry person?
[AGP]: Yes, probably so. Yesterday for example, I have been watching TV because of that airport bombing, and I just wrote half a song on it. It’s about the news anchors and the reporters, on how they dramatize stuff. What actually happened and what we watched on TV was so apart, and exaggerated. There is constant projection of fear in media. It basically says that we should all just stay home. It terrorizes you. You start to believe that you can’t go anywhere.
In Studio with Ali Gul Pir and Mooroo
Two Clips: Recording session of «Itni Chikni» by Mooroo, and the final result.
English translation of «Waderai Ka Beta»
Akbar Jatoi Jalbani is my name
Driving a Pajero and chilling is my dream
I’m so rich I can fart out money
I’ll show you now (fart) see?!
A gold Rado watch and my black suit is starched
Girls look at me and say «Ooh la la»
Hair all set, with oil in it
Compared to my moustache, yours has failed
The cool boys always want to hate me
Cause I get all the cute girls
Girl, I will make you the princess of Dadu (my village)
Verssis (Versace) shoes and Armaanri (Armani) sweater
A feudal lord’s son, a feudal lord’s son
I am a feudal lord’s, a feudal lord’s
High five! Your *** is black
All my results from nursery to grade 10 are fake
I have a different way to impress the ladies
«Come over here I’ll show you a real man»
My dad wants me to become a parliamentary minister
But I want Sharmeela’s younger sister
I have lots of power and control
«Dad can I get my allowance today?»
I have 10 bodyguards who are always ready
Will put a false case on you and put you in prison
Once you’re in jail, you will yell out “NOOO!”
Boy, Saeen (master/sir) is Saeen but even Saeen’s dogs a saeen
Feudal’s son, feudal’s son
I am Feudal’s son, feudals son
I swear, its very hot. Somebody get me one glass of lassi (dairy drink), so my heart can cool off (sigh).
(Translation by The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2012)