Dum Ghutku - a class of its own
As a silent rule of thumb in Pakistan, the uber-elite seldom interact with people belonging to rural backgrounds. Coke Studio has proven an exception to this rule, for here it is the mascots of the masses- the Arif Lohar, the Saeen Zahoor, the Abida Parveen stand as titans towering over us jeans-wearing, English speaking, educated elite.
The chorus verse employed in Arif Lohar's Coke Studio rendition of 'Jugni' in 'Alif Allah Chambay di Booty' conveys simultaneously a sense of ‘suffocation’ and ‘with every breath’ in traditional folk-speak.
Something that I, and perhaps many, would never have come to know about had Rohail Hyatt not decided to introduce a platform where the varied strains in Pakistani music could meld to give birth to magic on screen and in sound.
Pakistani 'sufi' music is a term that generally represents a melting pot of folk, cultural, mystic and religious influences. Perhaps Hyatt's greatest achievement with Coke Studio is the fact that an entire generation is now curious about traditional Pakistani music, and by extension the roots from where that music stems. An extremely unique feature of this endeavour is its class structure. As a silent rule of thumb in Pakistan, the uber-elite (read educated class) seldom interact with people belonging to rural (read uneducated) backgrounds, unless the interaction takes place within clearly defined hierarchical perimeters. The elite is generally exempted from most social and administrative problems that plague our country and thereby its views of the latter group usually pertain to how the masses need to come up to a 'certain' level before any fruitful interaction between the two groups can take place.
Coke Studio has proven an exception to this rule, for here it is the mascots of the masses- the Arif Lohar, the Saeen Zahoor, the Abida Parveen who stand as titans towering over us jeans-wearing, English speaking, educated elite.
The rules of cultural and social interaction are reversed as our young musicians seem inherently aware of the fact that they are the ones awarded the privilege of performing, interacting and learning from giants. Perhaps, the most glaring yet glamorous feature of the show is the vibrant clash of folk figures in all their colourful regalia performing alongside youngsters dressed in contemporary fashion.
Aesthetic philosophy is littered with loopholes regarding what, if anything, 'constitutes art'. There are two broad opinions on the subject, one that art lies outside the province of reason and the other echoing Ayn Rand's assertion that art must project a sense of intellectual freedom, concern with fundamental problems and demand 'standards of inexhaustible originality'. Whether or not one can genuinely ascribe 'taste' as an effective barometer for art has always been a vital question as it frames how an individual perceives art. There are those of us who believe that art pertains to 'expression' in its broader and absolute sense i.e. anything can constitute 'art' as long as its creator manages to make an intuitive connection with an audience. There are also those who believe in an artistic standard, a marker separating 'real art' like a Rembrandt from a Jackson Pollock spattering of paint on canvas. It is impossible to qualify both these positions permanently as they are linked to both the artist's and the audience's 'personal taste'.
Sufi music becomes impossible to qualify as the nature of the music is meant to be raw rather than refined, with antiquated text and meaning conveyed primarily by the manner in which the poetry is delivered. Most of us do not understand much of what Lohar sings; most of what Abida sings and perhaps any of what Zeb and Haniya sing and yet we are moved and fascinated by their mode of delivery. This music is resurrecting lost languages and lost poetry for a generation that needs to realise that progress lies is collaboration beyond class structures.
Whether or not we know it a tentative dialogue has been initiated on a most surprising platform. A dialogue between two social groups that would perhaps never have met each other under the present status quo, it is now our job to take this 'fusion' further. Einstein said 'the distinctions separating the social classes are false; in the last analysis they rest on force' and this has never been more true than it is today. Still, there is also an ancient Arab classification that divides society into three classes 'the immovable, the movable and the ones that move.'
One hopes that we are finally ready to join the final 'class.'