‘We show up with medicines, not guns’

Published: January 29, 2012

American musician Todd Shea about his humanitarian efforts in Pakistan. PHOTO:PUBLICITY

American musician Todd Shea about his humanitarian efforts in Pakistan. PHOTO:PUBLICITY American musician Todd Shea about his humanitarian efforts in Pakistan. PHOTO:PUBLICITY American musician Todd Shea about his humanitarian efforts in Pakistan. PHOTO:PUBLICITY American musician Todd Shea about his humanitarian efforts in Pakistan. PHOTO:PUBLICITY
LAHORE: 

Musician Todd Shea has developed a reputation for being the ‘go-to guy for relief’, an accolade that has come with his unique dedication for helping out with disasters around the world from places like Sri Lanka and India to Japan and Pakistan. His life and work make for a great narrative as he traipses all over Pakistan with medicines and music to bring not only physical relief, but emotional and psychological too. The Express Tribune caught up with Pakistan’s knight in musical armour to discuss his vision and work for the future.

What was the vision for the Sonic Peacemakers at the project’s outset?

It was to make music with Pakistani musicians and highlight my relief work in the country and use music to open up people’s hearts so that they could see the truth about Pakistan. The American media never talks about their responsibility towards the people here. Our foreign policy has gone from dumb, dumber to dumbest since the starting of the Afghan war. This music shows what the government and the media aren’t showing.

How did your interest towards Pakistan develop?

I had been working in disaster relief in places like Sri Lanka and at home with 9/11 and the hurricanes as a logistics volunteer. And so when I heard about the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, I just hugged my son, said goodbye and hopped onto a plane. Initially, I was planning on staying for just 15 days but ended up extending my trip to two months. I realised that I could better use my life and music this way than pursue my selfish career. I now spend an average of seven to eight months every year in Pakistan.

How do you gauge the influence of your work?

Well, so far, we’ve helped 600,000 people through my NGO Comprehensive Disaster Response Services. My music project with the Sonic Peacemakers is just getting off the ground, so the measure for how effective my work has been is through what the NGO achieves. All my employees are Pakistanis; we come to people with the message of peace and love, and we live within the communities where we serve. We don’t show up with expensive vehicles and guns but just love and medicines.

How have people, including musicians and the media in the US, reacted to this project?

My pal musician Lanny (Cordola) and I went to Guns and Roses and asked them to do a project with us in Pakistan and although they were initially apprehensive, once they came down they saw for themselves how amazing Pakistan was. The New York Times ran a story on me titled ‘Improbable American’, based on my relief work in Chikar in Kashmir. That resulted in new avenues of support from ‘goras’ but apart from that, the US media largely ignores me and this side of Pakistan.

What’s your opinion on the Pakistani artists?

Pakistan has amazing musicians and great diversity within its musical community. The musicians and artists that I hope to work with are those who wish to utilise their artistry and their time, helping the less privileged ones. I have deep respect for Arieb Azhar, Abrarul Haq, Shehzad Roy, Quratulain Balouch, Jawad Ahmed, Salman Ahmad and Farhan Saeed.

Any collaboration in the pipeline with local music acts?

We are currently working on two projects, ‘The Sounds of Pakistan and Beyond’ and ‘The Dreamer Awakes’ that will include songs from various artists. Musicians including Strings, Ali Zafar, Qayaas, Sanam Marvi, Saeen Zahoor , Mekaal Hasan, Zoe Viccaji, Call, Noori, Laal, Sketches, Haroon, Usman Riaz, Overload, Overdrive, Abbas Premji, Reza Abbasi, Adil Omar, EP and many folk and classical musicians are among the performers who will be collaborating with The Sonic Peacemakers on recordings, concerts and fundraisers in Pakistan and abroad. We also have a partnership with the Children’s Academy for the Performing Arts to give guitars to kids and we are always willing to work with like-minded individuals and organisations.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2012. 

Reader Comments (9)

  • Rafiq
    Jan 29, 2012 - 3:07AM

    ‘Humanitarian Efforts’? You guys (Sonic Peacemakers) talk so high. Yet, I am utterly disappointed with the way you guys moderate your Facebook group. I have never seen such policing as done by you guys. Any single comment, no matter how decently it is said, if it is against you, you delete them straightaway. Furthermore, you guys block that person. I had once commented very respectfully on your page for a problem I saw with your methods in one of your competitions. I was immediately blocked and my comment deleted. Is this how you run things? If you are using a Social Media Agency then I advice to get them changed. I know from firsthand experience that censoring something against yourself is the worst Social Media disaster. Learn to accept the basic principle of humanity ‘freedom of speech’ and learn to accept the criticism that is directed towards you. As a first way to set things right, unblock all those you have banned (I know there are many) and then stop with your censoring. A good thumb of rule is not to police any comment unless it contains abuses. Hoping this puts some sense into whoever is running the page.
    P.S. This is the first time I have posted a comment on ET, and shows how strongly I feel about social policing. I hope this does not get moderated by the ET team.

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  • Falcon
    Jan 29, 2012 - 9:48AM

    Reading about Todd Shea for the first time. Truly great self-less soul. People like him are inspirational icons of humanity. Thanks for publishing his interview.

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  • BS.Detecter
    Jan 29, 2012 - 12:13PM

    Respects for him.

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  • Tajammu Hussain
    Jan 29, 2012 - 1:43PM

    @Rafiq: Greetings.
    I am shocked an utterly surprised to hear such an allegation from your end, if you look at Sonic Peacemakers page you will find people directly posting against us yet we let people voice their opinion.

    However abusive language is not tolerated at all. I assure you personally that only those users are banned who had used foul language during our Photography Competition. Freedom of speech and positive criticism is truly appreciated, however baseless allegations and highly abusive language cannot be left on the page.We personally look after our Facebook page through THREE independent admins.

    I hope that i catered to your query.
    Best Wishes
    Regards
    Tajammul Hussain
    Marketing Director – Sonic Peacemakers
    Sonic Peacemakers

    P.S ‘Humanitarian Efforts’ carried by Todd, Shine Humanity CDRS and the rest of our affiliated organizations has COMPLETELY nothing to do with ‘facebook group’. :) Our facebook page is only used to connect with our fans & well wishers. Stay Blessed!

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  • Straight Fire
    Jan 29, 2012 - 4:26PM

    In pakistan, both Medicines and Guns kill people …

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  • Rafiq
    Jan 29, 2012 - 8:01PM

    @Tajammul: Are you sure? If I post the same comment here, that I posted on your page (yeah I saved it for an occasion like this) would you then accept your mistake? Look this is not a personal thing. I don’t care to get back on a page I’ll probably never visit again. But I have seen examples of pretty decent comments deleted across the board. I have nothing to gain by lying. And yeah Shea’s humanitarian efforts do not have anything to do with this, but your Facebook page being the face of the efforts of Shea you can’t separate them, can you?

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  • Tajammu Hussain
    Jan 29, 2012 - 10:01PM

    @Rafiq:Greetings

    We always accept positive criticism/feedback, anything that you can do to help us improve is wonderful.We always welcome that. :)
    The only thing we dot tolerate is abusive language and/or base allegations. Will be great if you can share with us your contact information so that i can personally connect with you and cater to your concerns.

    We value every single PEACEMAKER :)

    Best Wishes
    Regards
    Tajammul Hussain
    Marketing Director – Sonic Peacemakers

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  • Rafiq
    Jan 30, 2012 - 1:22AM

    @Tajammul: So how do you differentiate between ‘criticisms’ and ‘allegations’? You know me by the way.

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  • Tajammu Hussain
    Jan 30, 2012 - 3:26PM

    @Rafiq: Greetings
    Sir is Rafiq your surname or your first name? Will be great if you can share your contact information so that we connect with you personally, we do really care about each and every one of our PEACEMAKERS. Kindly share your details so that we can look into the matter.
    Best Wishes
    Regards
    Tajammul Hussain
    Marketing Director – Sonic Peacemakers

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