When Karachi’s resident comic and socio-political proponent was invited on a trip to Bern Univeristy in Switzerland, you might have been expecting him to have burst out into dance moves or have partied himself into a frenzy, given the comical nature that we all know and love him to have. But no – that would be very far from the truth. In fact, Ali Gul Pir actually did something that we all should – and it gave a much deeper message.
How it all came about
Ali Gul Pir is no stranger to the international platform, having performed in the US in 2012 with CenterStage and having given an interview to ArtTV (a French Channel) a couple of years before. He has also previously collaborated with German artists who visited Pakistan, but the seeds to this particular adventure were sown around 3 years back when Ali received a phone call from Thomas, a writer for Norient Sounds, who said that he wanted to interview an individual who makes socially political charged music.
The interview went through, was published and received great acclaim as they appreciated his realistic cultural depiction of Pakistan, since at the time many people were “unaware of the fact that there were even cars in Pakistan”.
After all those years, the saint of satire was contacted again and invited to a global Pop music conference known as “Pop Power Positions”, arranged by the University of Bern and Norient Sounds where he was asked to engage in a discussion on socially charged music across the world and in doing so, he cemented his status as the first Pakistani ever to be selected to represent the nation at such a prestigious Pop Music Conference in Switzerland. Although the initial conference was in Switzerland, “one thing led to another” and he was then asked to appear at the University of Amsterdam by a Professor, which he did soon afterwards.
The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side
Switzerland may not be all that it is believed to be. On Ali’s first night in Switzerland, he met a random man in a park who told him that Switzerland has the highest rate of suicide in all of Europe – a statistic that he later found to be true.
He found this one communal area where there were multiple youngsters aggressively engaging in combat. Essentially, the youth had set up this one specific area where they were allowed engage in illicit activities, but it was only confined to that specific area – nowhere else. “It looked nothing like the typical image of Switzerland”.
He wondered why they had so much aggression and the weird conclusion to that problem was that they had no problems. Life has a certain struggle – usually, people are so lost in their struggles that they do not even stop to ponder about other issues, but when there are no problems whatsoever, the human mind becomes lost and their aggression and depression comes from the fact that they have no purpose in life whatsoever.
How Ali Conveyed his Ideas to an International Audience
Ali was aware of the fact that it would be difficult for the international audience to immediately grasp the concept behind his art, since his music was based on Pakistani sociopolitical issues, something that the international audience would probably not be familiar with (especially since there was only one Pakistani in the whole crowd). Hence, he did his homework!
“I had made a presentation; and before performing each song, I would describe the context” e.g the ban on YouTube which prompted him to produce his hit “Kholo BC”. He also described feudalism and explained the entire Sharukh Jataoi case which happened 8-9 months after he released “Wadere ka Beta”.
Progress as a Nation on the International Front
This whole journey created a lot of self-reflection for Ali; specifically, how Pakistan can expand with regard to the music industry on an internationally recognized level.
“The problem is that people aren’t aware of the different types of music that exist within Pakistan- most only know of the kawalis or the Sufi music, and although those are an integral part of our national identity, we need to encourage growth for the new and emerging forms”.
A very interesting question was asked of him by a senior professor of University of Bern who inquired as to why Pakistan is only known for its Sufi music? His answer to that was because of the stereotype that has been cast on an international level that Pakistan only has Sufi music, and until this misconception is changed, the growth of other forms will remain stagnant.
“We need to give significance to our music. Many people are still locked in religious arguments over whether music is “Haram” or not, and we need to move forward. We are confused. Without significance, even if (music) is studied to the very core, it will not be accepted in society and then it will be of no benefit. Even if it comes to a subject such as Psychology, people won’t go to therapy because they will think that others will question their sanity”
“We need to remove the perception about the white man coming to rule our nation. It is stupid. We need to have the cross-cultural experience. If someone like Russel Peters were to come, then it would take this to a whole new level. It would be groundbreaking”.
“Right now, the internet “is the best thing for this expansion since Thomas found me from the internet, so what is holding us back from holding global conferences and interacting and representing on such a platform? It is only after knocking on 10 doors that 1 will open”.
We put too much on the govt and other people, but we need to take in upon ourselves and take the initiative. Europe and the developed areas don’t really need these events as much as we do. We need to represent and learn and interact”
“What is holding us back is the lack of education. The uneducated man will be unable to perceive the lyrical depth of songs, they can’t appreciate good lyrics. Our socially charged music has been here for some time, but we have not been able to develop it to a certain level. Until we study music and acknowledge the other types of music, we will be unable to expand to the modern culture and even the pop music of the late 90s”.
The Deeper Message
The message for Ali was that this journey was not just about going to Switzerland and teaching people about Pakistani sociopolitical rap, but it was also about learning himself.
“The journey motivated me to work harder. It opened by eyes. Prior to the trip, I had not written anything for 5 months, but since coming back, I’ve written 2 songs in 1 week. As a musician and a comedian over there, I felt part of a bigger group but in Pakistan, the feeling is more secluded and isolated.”
Lastly, he emphasized on the importance of travelling and how “it is necessary of all of us. If you’re not an artist, then you should travel. And if you’re an artist, then there’s all the more reason for you to travel!”
You can check out Ali’s Vlog and all his social media links down below: