Is music just music or does it have a nationality?

Pakistan and India share a common history, which gave rise to a common tastes so then why politicise art and music?

Raksha Kumar February 10, 2013
In the early 1980s, when Ghulam Ali’s melody ‘chukpe chukpe raat din’ and Nazia Hasan’s sensuous ‘aap jaisa koi’ took Indian film-viewing audience by a storm, the armies of both nations were engaged in a severe conflict on the highest battlefield on earth - the Siachen glacier.

Two decades later, the Siachen conflict grew to become one of the major factors for the Kargil war of 1999, in a parallel universe at around the same time, the Pakistani band Junoon was making the youth of India groove to the tunes of ‘sayonee’.

If talent and armed conflict could remain separate decades ago, today, when the online world is casting a wider web and borderless societies are being formed, one will not majorly affect the other. When Indian connoisseurs of qawwali sit down to download a collection, they would most likely type in “Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan” or “Sabri Brothers”, caring less about the nationality of the performers.

“Never thought of them as Pakistani talents till date,” said Vasudha Dalmia, a resident of Coimbatore, she was talking about talents like Rahet Fateh Ali Khan, Atif Aslam and Ali Zafar, “they are all super”. When a music lover listens to laagi tumse mann ki lagan’, he is enthralled by the voice, the emotions, the melody and would not be bothered by the nationality of the singer.

For the world outside the subcontinent, Jagjit Singh and Ghulam Ali are both just fantastic ghazal singers.
“Oh, are they from different countries?” questioned Zahra Nadeem a resident of Eygpt, when asked to comment on the two singers.

Pakistan and India can never overlook the fact that they share a common history, which gave rise to a common culture, language and sensibilities.

People in Lucknow, Allahabad and Delhi would be mesmerised by Farida Khannum and Mehdi Hasan as much as people in Lahore would.

My friend Arun Siddalingappa once said,
“It’s art! There’s nothing political about art”.

Art is never apolitical.

When artists choose to perform in a rival country, they are making a political point. When audience throng the concerts of these artists, they are making a political point. And when the authorities try to stall performances, they are also making a political point. It is just time to recognise that there is a huge gap between the divisive politics of the authorities and inclusive politics of the audience.

Talent has been reasonably democratic (for those who can afford to do art for a living!), despite borders. I am sure Randhir Kapoor chose Zeba Bakhtiar to act in his 1982 film Heena because of her talent as an actor, not because India was lacking acting talent. Just as Vishal Bharadwaj decided to ask Rahat Fateh Ali Khan to sing the famed dil to bachcha hai ji because it fit his voice quality and singing talent, not because singers are few in India.

Anand, who lives in Boston believes otherwise.
“Supporting Pakistani artists is like feeding our neighbour’s kids while our kids starve just because we want to be the most popular mom living in the street,” he says, “It doesn’t matter how well-behaved the neighbour’s kids may be, our kids come first! Simple!”

Question; why don’t organisers in India think twice about a Lady Gaga or a Beyonce performance that involves millions of dollars of revenue?

Let alone the fact that the US has committed war crimes against several countries, some would argue that the US has caused India more political hurdles in international forums, than Pakistan has caused in the neighbourhood.

Also, considering these pop singers have put our indie singers out of business?

Because when Lady Gaga performs in India, she is a pop singer first and a US citizen later. Similarly, when Atif Aslam sings, his country of origin becomes his secondary identity (at least to the audience that enjoys him).

Personally, I will be indebted to Mehdi Hasan’s 1985 album Kehne Usse’ and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s 2006 solo ‘nainon ki mat suniyo’ for keeping me company over many a pensive, lonely night.

Read more by Raksha here or follow her on Twitter @Raksha_Kumar
Raksha Kumar The author is a Bangalore based video journalist freelancing for the New York Times and the BBC. She graduated from the Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University in May 2011 where she majored in TV news. She is a Fulbright Scholar and has worked in various media outlets in India. She tweets @Raksha_Kumar.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Sudheer | 11 years ago | Reply Those who are calling Kashyap an hypocrite for opposing Pak singers' presence in the Bollywood are forgetting a vital point. Pakistan sends Rahat Fateh Alis to India, fine, but it also sends Ajmal Kasabs. Yes India sends Kashyaps to the US, but, never harmed America or its people in any manner. In fact, millions of Indians, right here in India, are working literally day and night, that too on dirt cheap salaries, to keep afloat thousands of American businesses. But for their hard work, these businesses would've downed their shutters long back. If anybody thinks that India should thankfully accept both Rahat and Kasab simultaneously, then I would call him/her a traitor of mother India. Shame on them. I can happily live without Rahat Fateh, after all, skies are not going to fall if he stops working for Bollywood, and more importantly, if sending Rahat back to Pakistan helps in anyway in stopping Kasabs entering into India, then, I am wholeheartedly for it. All this debate is as simple as this.
BlackJack | 11 years ago | Reply The simple difference between Kashyap and Rahet FA Khan is that Kashyap is buying a service which the US Schools are selling - which is education. They have limited quantities to sell, so they scrutinize applicants to ensure that their final pool is the right one; each Kashyap subsidizes another Jack or Jill, so there is value outside his profile that he brings to the table, which influences his candidacy. RFAK is selling a service which Indian film makers are buying - which is his singing ability/ skill; In both cases, the buyer makes a call on the value of the service and the price he is willing to pay, and if the seller has enough to sell, the deal happens; in both cases, the seller makes money regardless of whether the buyer is able to recoup his value. Saying that Kashyap benefits from his degree and so the equivalence holds is ridiculous because even RFAK benefits - when he sings for a famous movie/ banner or sings a popular number made by an Indian composer, it increases his bargaining power and the price he is able to charge, and I am sure that all the successful Pakistani singers would have upped their price post success. Further, basing the entire example on a Harvard education and its relative rank to IIM A is self-defeating since 99% of the foreign students abroad do not study in Harvard.
Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ