Aunty Disco Project (ADP) announced their break up shortly after lead singer Omar Akhtar decided to move to New York to study journalism at Columbia University.
ADP is the stuff of Karachi legend: 90s alternative hooks, complicated rhythmic shifts, borrowings from genres as vast as samba, disco and garage, stellar musicianship and genuine tragedy. Established in 2006, the band reached critical mass when “Sultanat”, a raucous, anti-government rock anthem, replete with eastern rifts and psychedelic delivery, showcased on “Coke Studio” in 2010. Sped up at Saturday’s Pakistan American Cultural Center show, the song manhandled the crowd, nearly spilling the percussion kit onto the tweensters in the front row. Because at the final ADP show, it was really about the kids.
Take the Pathan sisters, Amna, 14, and Laila, 15 - ADP’s self-proclaimed biggest fans. “They’re the first band I ever saw in concert,” said Laila. “The line-up has changed. The old stuff was kind of grungy and interesting, and the new stuff is upbeat and happier. And the really cool thing, you can see how Omar has matured in the lyrics he writes now.”
She’s followed ADP since she was 10, catching every show that didn’t break curfew. Last week, she had three nightmares that she’d missed the final show.
“I screamed so much at that first show, that’s how we came to be ‘the Pathan sisters’,” Laila explained. Akhtar has greeted “the Pathan sisters” from stage on more than one occasion.
On Saturday, the sisters were front and centre, constantly bobbing in their low-top Converses (pink for Laila, baby blue for Amna) and skinny jeans. Laila also sported an ADP tee. As a parting gift, Akhtar catered to his biggest fans, occasionally making eye contact, so that one lucky Pathan grabbed the other and squealed.
ADP doled appreciation generously, to fans of all ages, and there was a definite range of four decades represented. Stage banter was peppered with frequent thanks, and most people remained on their feet throughout the show. There was a refreshing lack of irony. The band members weren’t too hip to have fun, to grin at each other, play rock-star and be obvious about it. This gave the crowd permission to be obvious, as well.
ADP won me over with their choice of covers. They opened with “The Who’s Teenage Wasteland” and sublimely pummelled The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah”, so by the time they got to The Dropkick Murphy’s “Shipping Out to Boston”, I was putty. Suddenly they were so messy, so big, so raw and rocking that I half-wondered what they’d been doing till then. Or what anyone in Karachi had been doing till then.
The original ballads - “Nazar” and “Kitnay Vaaday” with both Ahktar and rhythm guitarist Ali Alam harmonising on vocals - were evocative, while “Hum Na Rahey” was pure audiovisual candy. Beyond its accessible chord progressions, fizzy guitar fillers and poppy percussion, there was a guest appearance from a giant stuffed panda, whom true fans will recognise from the latest ADP video. There was also a jazzy, punchy version of The Stone’s “Sympathy for the Devil”, which sent both of my fists skyward, startling the thin, doe-eyed 13-year-old beside me.
But by the encore, Queen’s “We Are the Champions”, chosen not just for sentiment but for how well Akhtar’s voice renders falsetto and how capable these guys proved at constructing a near visible, electric wall of sound, the doe-eyed girl had squeezed beside the Pathan sisters. She waved her palms in the air, drummed on the speaker, swung her shoulders and whipped her waist-length ponytail.
ADP, the live show, had won a final convert. There’s another girl empowered to do what she feels, move how she wants and believe in herself and her body. And this girl, a mere hour earlier, had been a perplexed wallflower, crossing her arms and casting wishful glances at the sisters. In the days ahead, as she negotiates the angst, awkward path toward O-levels, she can remember how animated she felt at that one ADP show and how much she liked herself in that first moment of teenage cool. ADP’s legacy will live on, in this girl, in the Pathan sisters, in all the kids that attended the ADP school of rock.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2011.
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