‘Laal was not just another band’

Published: April 29, 2012

LAHORE: 

Laal launched its second album Utho Meri Duniya in India this week with co-founder Taimur Rahman on the vocals. The fact that original vocalist Shahram Azhar was nowhere to be seen made listeners question his absence and wonder if the revolutionary band would ever sound the same?

Now, in an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune, the band’s former vocalist discusses the irreconcilable rifts that made him leave unobtrusively, the reasons behind band’s manager Asad Haroon resignation and Taimur Rahman’s alleged favouritism.

How did you and Taimur meet?

As an undergraduate at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (Lums) I took a couple of courses with Taimur during my freshman year in 2002. We developed an intellectual bonding because it was obvious that both of us wanted to change Pakistan. Even before the formation of Laal in 2008, Taimur and I used to go to working class quarters in Lahore and sing revolutionary poetry to inspire workers towards change.

What was the concept of the band?

The idea was simple: use music, art, and poetry as means of furthering the cause of workers’ rights in Pakistan. We took inspiration from the Progressive Writers Association and the great Marxist thinkers and intellectuals that changed the course of social and political action. Music would become the medium through which we took revolutionary poets like Jalib and Faiz’s message to the masses.

What is the Laal Brigade and how did it fit into your plans for politics?

While Taimur was away in the UK for his studies, I decided that it was time to consolidate whatever work the band had done in the form of a youth organisation. The youth organisation, Laal Brigade would be a socialist platform dedicated to the emancipation of the working class. I wrote the charter, the programme and the document for the Laal Brigade and invited students to become a part of this organisation in Islamabad.

You are predominantly known as the original voice of the band, why are you no longer the lead singer?

My reasons for disassociating myself from Taimur stem from the philosophy that drove me towards Laal. The philosophy of the band, as I saw it, cannot be understood without understanding two things: 1) It was not just another musical band, and 2) It was not just about us.

In 2010, I had to go to the US to pursue doctoral studies in Economics so we decided that I would travel back and forth between the US and Pakistan during my summer and winter breaks. This arrangement was not new for us since there was a time (from 2008 to 2009) when Taimur was pursuing his PhD in the UK and I was in Pakistan and we agreed to the same settlement.

However, once I had left for my PhD, Taimur began producing a series of music videos with his own vocals. In summer 2011, I planned a three-month long trip to Pakistan and emailed Taimur some ideas for our second album beforehand. Taimur replied saying that he had struck a deal with Times of India regarding the second album and wanted to “give his vocals a go”. The cross border deal made it apparent that the original plan of galvanising a youth movement had been shelved. It was frustrating to see “Neend Aati Nahi” replace “Jaag Mere Punjabi” as Laal’s latest release.

Additionally, the members of the Laal Brigade were treated like subordinates and a patriarchal system was forced on them rather than invigorating their potential and urging them to speak up. The brigade members were converted into cheerleaders for the band.

We had promised to play our part in rebuilding girls’ schools in Swat. We had also decided that any funds we would get we would use them to promote Laal Brigade and its objectives. However, much to my dismay, thousands of dollars were devoted to increase likes and fake popularity of Laal’s Facebook page.

And only recently I discovered that Taimur has removed my name from the band’s Facebook page and Wikipedia. I don’t understand even if there were differences between me and Taimur, why couldn’t there to be two Laals?

Asad Haroon recently resigned from Laal. He accuses Taimur of favouritism and bias. What is your take on these allegations?

Asad Haroon joined Laal at a time when I was in the US. I did not know that he had volunteered himself to the cause after having been inspired by the revolutionary message. Asad is only one of hundreds of people that have become disgruntled by the difference between what is preached and what is practiced.

What are your plans for the future?

I continue to perform here in the United States for various charity events. I am going back to Pakistan next month and have various plans for the summers as well.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2012.

Reader Comments (37)

  • Neha Khan
    Apr 29, 2012 - 9:24PM

    Wish bringing change was as easy as singing an already famous poetry! Laal was a contrived effort right from the start and it does not surprise me that it too has gone the bickering, money making way. Well, it would be ‘umeed-e-sahar’ for one of the singers at least :)

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  • Lateef Khan
    Apr 29, 2012 - 9:36PM

    From my observations, both are upto something and they deserve each other. They should combine again. I don’t think any of them is for bringing change and their original agenda has always been to steal limelight!!!
    .
    I’ve seen their tactics in anti-Musharraf rallies in LONDON. I am not surprised that Taimur did this but the other party is not innocent either! Taimur used to bring his own microphone to hijack the rally arranged by others, while the ex-vocalist (with his friend) wouldn’t hesitate even using physical force against those who had arranged the original rally! I would say: ‘serves you right!!
    .
    In youtube people can search and see his abusive langauge on microphone, including racist laguage against MQM which was more about race than the policy of MQM.

    For more reference and comments by Taimur, read the comments section of this news:
    http://tribune.com.pk/story/248754/laal-dont-express-yourself/

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  • M
    Apr 29, 2012 - 10:16PM

    Your vocals will be missed Shahram.

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  • Iqbal Khan
    Apr 29, 2012 - 10:44PM

    Laal cannot be Laal without Sir Shahram.

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  • bahadur yar sher
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:05PM

    its pretty sad to see a so-called educated youth making hate-remarks in public over trivial and personal matters about a well respected teacher, scholar and social worker. Taimur has done much more than Laal, he has done free educational stuff on topics such as marxism, and extremism and occasionally speaks in media on socio-political issues and has taken a lot of personal and life-threatening risk and his intentions cannot be questioned. He even goes to rallies with the mazdoors to fight for their rights with strong resistance from the police. What have you achieved through the laal-brigade other than writing its charter on a piece of paper and asking the non-serious young elites to join the brigade instead of mobilizing the ones who really are oppressed and educating them. if it was not about the two of you and about the band’s ideology then why complain about being left out while the band progresses. Taimur is the founding member of laal and you have done no favor to him by not hijacking the band while he was away for his phd.

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  • Faraz
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:07PM

    Wishing you good luck in future… :)

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  • Ayesha
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:10PM

    I find it sad that neither shahram nor taimur mention the political party they belong(ed?) to i.e Communist Mazdoor Kisaan Party (CMKP) while they go on about naive initiatives like the laal brigade. While singing revolutionary poetry and gaining popularity through the mass media is very important for the cause of the left in Pakistan, deserting the organization that could very well have been the voice of the working classes in Pakistan is tantamount to tying ones legs together and trying to win the race. Sadly, even left politics in our country is characterized by opportunism and immaturity.

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  • Ali Hassan Jahangir
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:15PM

    We are with Sir Shahram. I second Iqbal Khan, Laal will not be laal without Sir Shahram

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  • Ali Hassan Jahangir
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:27PM

    bahadur yar sher: That is the most biased opinion that I have ever heard. Firstly, laal was co-founded by Taimur and Shahram. Secondly, Just because Shahram remained silent during this whole period and Taimur went on advertising all and any of his contributions, doesnt mean that only Taimur has been working directly for the cause. There are many people in the left parties, like Shahram Azhar, who have been working tirelessly for the cause without flaunting their contributions in public.
    By the way, you can also read this article by Taimur`s manager.
    http://www.pakmediarevolution.net/2012/04/laal-left/

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  • Ibraheem Mustafa
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:30PM

    …. and they say molvies fight each other !!! loolllll

    ‘Which brand of Islam you want to impose in Pakistan?” You tell me, which brand of secularism or socialism you want to impose in Pakistan? Taimur’s or Shahram’s?

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  • qasim
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:33PM

    Indeed u did the right thing, taimur did’nt seem to be a reliable person, he added commercialism to “laal” theme, in their new album, especially by signing a deal with times of India . Strugling for change for mases in Pakistan, how can he sign a deal with Times of India. He will soon be wiped away from comorades book. Keep on moving Shahram comorades are behind you!Recommend

  • Shahzeb Qureshi
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:34PM

    Shahram Azhar is the most humble and passionate human being I have ever met. Laal is absolutely nothing without him. This Taimur should publicly apologize to Shahram, Asad Haroon and Laal brigade for his commercialism.

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  • bahadur yar sher
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:50PM

    @Ali Hassan Jahangir: i don’t know shahram personally.. may be he has done stuff for the poor with honest intent but this article just shows that he is still an immature kid, just like taimur’s ex-manager whose article i don’t have time to waste upon.. why is he so bothered about being out of the band if his real intent was emancipation of the working class and not trying to hold on to being a lead singer in a band.. i don’t see taimur wasting time writing hate-articles in newspapers about the two of them.. and i don’t see the later two writing anything on a serious topic, but they have time to write on personal issues.. doesn’t that show who is serious with his intent. also laal wouldn’t be all that famous with just shahram in it.. he is free to pursue singing on his own but he knows he has no following.. i have seen him talk on tv and he is pretty clueless chap

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  • Nadeem Asghar
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:54PM

    Bahadur Yar Sher obviously does not know what he is talking about. He thinks everyone is lying: Is Asad Haroon lying? Is Sharam also lying? NO.Recommend

  • sufi
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:57PM

    @bahadur
    “why is he so bothered about being out of the band ”
    shahram was asked “You are predominantly known as the original voice of the band, why are you no longer the lead singer?” . he replied. its simple.

    taimur is on india tour, why would he want to write hate articles. he didnt get ditched anyways. and shahram isn’t writing any hate articles either. he just answered an interviewer’s question. He also talks about how charity fund was misused for band promotion. to be upset with that (and other stuff stated) is the only decent thing to do and is not related to being left out of the band.

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  • bahadur yar sher
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:00AM

    @Nadeem Asghar: have you really read my response? where did i say that anyone was lying?

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  • Fariya Ranjha
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:05AM

    Shahram you and your voice will never be forgotten. You have given us hope; I was, and still am a member of the Laal Brigade that you founded.

    Stand with you brother.

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  • Danish Manzoor
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:29AM

    Together or apart, we look forward to hear the passion u still have for the cause. Best of luck with your plans and come back soon.

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  • Sarah
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:56AM

    @bahadur yar sher: I dont see any hate-mongering in the article as you suggest. Instead I see someone who is standing firm on his principals and speaking up even if it means bearing the costs.

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  • Asfandyar Munir
    Apr 30, 2012 - 1:06AM

    Laal might be an average band right now..with Shahram on board it was an amazing band…plus it was following an ideology….how is neend aati nahi based on an ideology…why was the studio so important…y do the lead of the band need to travel by air while the session players travel by bus..where are the schools for girls of Swat as promised…..Wehther we admit it or not…Laal has become commercial…Shahram is right in sayin that this was wrong…Taimur should issue a public apology and work on the the promises on which LaaL was started. Taimur..please justify spending f thousans of dollars on paid facebook advertisements

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  • Hassaan Sherwani
    Apr 30, 2012 - 2:42AM

    On same page with shahram, Taimur preaches and practices different. Lastly it was all attention seeks behaviour on this end, lall should be driving force not individual success or fame. Recommend

  • Apr 30, 2012 - 2:55AM

    Since Laal has been on tour in India for the launch of our second album “Utho Meri Dunya” some slanders have been leveled against the band and against me personally.

    The crux of the issue is that Laal began to produce music videos after Shahram Azhar left for his Phd. Of course we did. This is neither a crime nor an infringement on anyone’s rights. We made the video Aye Dharti in defense of our schools that were being blown up by the Taliban. We made the video called Doob Gaya, to motivate people to raise funds for flood relief. We made the video Meray Dil Meray Musafir, to highlight the problems of the working class in capitalism today. We made the video Fareeda, to defend the great legacy of Sufi humanism against Taliban atrocities. We made the video Neend Aati Nahin, all the funds for which went to the Salman and Sameena Trust for girls education in Swat. We made the video Dehshatgardi Murdabad, identifying who was responsible for the death of 37,000 Pakistanis. We made the video Surkh Ghata, chronicling the lives of the working people in Lahore. And we made the video called Utho Meri Duniya, talking about the rights of landless tenants during which we mobilized about 20,000 tenants all over the Punjab. With the exception of one video, all the other videos were financed by our own earnings (mainly from my earnings as a teacher). One would have hoped that all progressives would be proud of this work that we have done for the cause. And members of the band, especially, would feel proud that despite the absence of their contribution, the cause was going ahead.

    The deal with Times Music India came about as a result of Fareeda. They loved the song and the album this year is the result one year later (the album features many of the songs mentioned above). In India we have played in over a dozen locations in two weeks. We have played four gigs at the Hard Rock Café, one at attitude, one at the Delhi Press Club, a street concert in Janta Colony organized by the Communist Party of India, at the Tagore International School, at the Education Conference India 2012, one at the Habitat center, and will play the climax gig on 1st May at Jawarlal Nehru University. It has been breathtaking experience. The love that young and old have given Laal has totally overwhelmed us. At every concert we have spoken about peace between India and Pakistan. At every concert we have done our best to show people in India a progressive side of Pakistan. We would argue that all of this is another great contribution that Laal has made to the cause of the progressive movement in South Asia. With this great leap forward, Laal has emerged now as a South Asia level band. Next the album will be released by Pakistan by Fire Records. And we hope that it receives an even greater response in Pakistan than it has in India.

    As for the charge that this deal with Times Music proves that the “original plan of galvanizing a youth movement had been shelved”. One can only question why releasing a new album with Times Music in India is any more or less revolutionary than releasing an album with Fire Records in Pakistan? Afterall, Umeed e Sahar was released by Fire Records an affiliate company of GEO. Secondly, while it has been stated that the original goal of mobilizing the youth has been shelved, the article charges that “thousands of dollars” (a gross exaggeration) have been spent on bringing 67,000 people to the Laal page. What is that except an exceptional effort to galvanize and organize the youth through new social media?

    Last but not least, I wish to clarify that Laal has never COLLECTED any money for charity. We have done a lot of charity work but we do this charity work by performing for free or at a minimum rate for institutions that are collecting money. We have not collected money ourselves because we do not have the capacity to deliver it to the needy in far away areas. Hence, accusations made by our former manager Asad Haroon about financial irregularities with charity money are a complete slander given that we have never personally collected any money in the name of charity.

    Last but not least, for those who think Laal has diverged from its original mission, I would like to ask them to just click the video above in the article and see the kind of work we have been doing amongst the working people of Pakistan. Do these allegations square with a band that has so openly and in such reactionary times associated itself so strongly and vocally with the cause of socialism and has had the courage of convictions to take its music to the streets and villages of Pakistan and India to mobilize the working people in the manner that you see in Utho Meri Duniya.

    Last, I wish to say that Shahram Azhar is one of the most talented vocalists in Pakistan today. It has been my honour to have played with him, to have learnt from him, to have made music with him. I understand that he feels hurt and left out of Laal. It may be hard to believe but the truth is that this was never my intention. I always wanted him to sing the songs that I composed. I sang and found my voice only in his sore absence. I would have only desired and hoped that he would have supported my efforts just like I supported him as his teacher, his comrade, and his friend.

    Laal Salaam
    Dr. Taimur Rahman

    P.S. In the interests of good journalism, it would not have hurt to have solicited my comments on this interview to get both sides of the story.

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  • Ali
    Apr 30, 2012 - 2:56AM

    I am not surprised.
    When it all started, i was excited.
    Was too good to be true.
    Typical of Pakistani Left.
    Seen this happen in last half century.

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  • Shahram Azhar
    Apr 30, 2012 - 5:04AM

    Thank you all for your comments. I have tried to respond to some of the comments and questions that have been raised by the readers of ET on this forum. Please follow the link below:

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/shahram-azhar/why-laal-split/445651048784069

    Regards,

    Shahram Azhar

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  • Dr. M. S Khan
    Apr 30, 2012 - 6:39AM

    I recently attended a show featuring LAAL band (amongst other artists) in London UK this Feb of 2012. While the absence of Shahram as a strong vocalist was sorely missed (undisputed issue), I must say that as a 50+ year old man that was least of my concerns.

    What made me and my mature friends uneasy was Taimur’s flair in performing which was quite offensive, at times vulgar (language wise) and down right embarrassing (perhaps Dr. Taimur thought was displaying ‘passion’)

    While its one thing to get the crowd pumped up and encouraged, I sat there mostly wondering what he is doing and saying. He made the crowd chant some ridiculous things with him which involved name calling etc and to be honest – I had no idea what the agenda was (if any).

    I left unimpressed and felt that a night honouring brilliant Pakistani poets closed on such a poor note (pun intended!)

    However, I must say thank you to both Shahram and Taimur for at least doing SOMETHING for Pakistan. Which is the least we can say about ourselves.

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  • Radhika
    Apr 30, 2012 - 8:18AM

    @Ayesha: I really like your comment, a communist party should have a structure wherein such differences are sorted out, this sort of petty bickerings are just not on.

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  • Apr 30, 2012 - 9:08AM

    Dear Ali, most of the Pakistani left is petty-bourgeois in its class background. And they adhere strongly to petty bourgeois infantalism. This is yet another example of the same.

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  • Apr 30, 2012 - 9:09AM

    Dear Ayesha, every single article in the Indian media has spoken about my connections with the CMKP. We haven’t abandoned that in any way shape or form.

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  • Apr 30, 2012 - 9:14AM

    Those who say I do not practice what I preach, often don’t have a clue about what it is that I preach. Socialism is not a doctrine that preaches poverty or asceticism. It is not a doctrine that says that I should live like a sadhu in a village without electricity. It is about building an industrial society in which everyone will be able to share in the benefits of production. It is about building a society without exploitation. To popularize that message, I am prepared to utilize any means. Working with music through the mainstream media. Buying adverts on facebook to mobilize young people through new social media. Performing in the streets, cafes, universities, colleges, schools. These are all a means to widen the scope of our message. There is absolutely nothing anti-socialist about utilizing all means at our disposal to introduce the ideas of socialism to a wide array of people.

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  • Asfandyar Munir
    Apr 30, 2012 - 9:27AM

    @Taimur

    Let’s be honest here…..I had raised certain questions in the past…and you did answer them..but today is what my questions were leading to……Today..sit back and see what has happened….how commercialism has eaten you up….how it has eaten laal up….how it has eaten the ideology :( bas….tabaahi hai ye left ki….tabaahi hai ye ideology ki…bas

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  • Should i say Something ?

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  • interesting
    Apr 30, 2012 - 7:08PM

    It is an interview where opinions are being dispensed so how can journalism be in question.

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  • Ayesha
    Apr 30, 2012 - 7:14PM

    Thanks Radhika and thanks for the reply Taimur. Its good to know that you have not left the CMKP. I know very little of your party and that too from your members’ activism on the internet, which I always thought was brilliant. I know for certain that your party has solid links with the working class viz a viz trade unions, the AMP of southern Punjab and the peasant movement in KPK. Being a leftist myself (not by practice though), I always felt a sense of pride that there are people out there who are actually involved in workers movements in Pakistan and I was literally shattered when I came to know about this bizarre story.

    If this infantile behavior can have an effect on a petty-bourgeois closet leftist like me, just imagine what the workers who are attached to your movements must think about you guys and your party. I must say Shahram’s character assassination attempt is immature and stupid and will leave a mark on all the good work your party has done over the years. As a fan, I just have one request, if you guys are so bent upon following the political practices of the feudal-bourgeois parties of our country, make sure you follow the policy of reconciliation too and make up because you are being very very petty about this whole thing. No one but a bunch of idealistic kids care about Laal, but the future of a lot of people is dependent on the political work that you do.

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  • Sarmad
    Apr 30, 2012 - 7:16PM

    @Asad Haroon, If you had any valid point to make backed by evidence then you would not be making rudimentary statements like “should i say something”

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  • more interesting
    Apr 30, 2012 - 7:25PM

    @less interesting- when you interview a person who makes strong allegations without evidence against a well known personality you ought to take and print the other party’s view as well before printing the allegations.

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  • Mighty
    May 1, 2012 - 12:13AM

    I like Ayesha up there. She sounds sane.

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  • Umer Hanif
    May 2, 2012 - 3:59AM

    Dr Tamur , you yourself belong to capitlaist family ! your company sold furniture to Prime Minister’s office as BB tooks goverment after Nawaz, for 2 karoar Ruppes i nearly nineties. when your own pockets and homes are filled ,you came out for ‘mazdoor-kissan’-socialist’ theme… if that so , then would you like to sponsor Nisar Rd house for a Girl’s School for a good cause ???

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