Political music: Rousing the masses

Assessing the political music videos in Pakistan.

Rafay Mahmood June 29, 2011


Bum Bum Phatta, Bum Bum Phatta , Kadi Lahore, Karachi tae Kadi Fata” (Bomb explodes, bomb explodes, sometimes in Lahore, sometimes in Karachi, sometimes in Fata).

These are the hilariously ironic lyrics of Ali Azmat’s latest offering “Bum Phatta”, which has gone viral on the internet ever since it was released. The catchy tune, which has socially relevant lyrics addressing a wide array of problems faced by the Pakistani nation, also has a very interesting video. The advent of such satirical songs and videos is nothing new to Pakistani music. We only have to look back to the 90s, to find a number of such bold songs and videos.

The 1995 video of the epic Pakistani tune “Chief Sahab” by the pop legend Sajjad Ali allegedly targeted a certain political party and its workers. It is rumoured that in retaliation to the video, the party worker shaved Ali's head, following which the singer left Pakistan for good. But the event was never reported anywhere and Ali, who now lives in Dubai, has maintained in all his interviews that he left the country for personal reasons.

Another powerful video of Junoon’s overtly political and anti-state song “Ehtesaab”, which literally translates to ‘accountability’, was released in 1996. The video included footage of a polo horse eating in a posh restaurant and many thought that the image was an indictment of the corrupt political elite, especially former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The controversial video ended up being banned.

Yet the age of state television, when several controversial videos and films were banned, has past. Now there is a plethora of private channels providing a platform for present day musicians to vociferously voice their socio-political concerns. Here’s a look at a few contemporary socio-political hits with provocative videos.

‘Laga Reh’ and ‘Qismat Apne Haath Mae’

In 2008, the singer-cum-philanthropist Shehzad Roy returned with his new album, Qismat Apnay Haath Mae, and the release of his two videos took the nation by storm. The first song “Laga Reh” depicted Pakistani society in a very hilarious manner; the video showed a lawyer trying to burn a tyre and a rescue team worker robbing a deceased man while the singer Shehzad Roy rocks out in a local bus. The second video for his song “Qismat Apne Haath Mae”, portrays a couple of prisoners (dressed up like the ones at Guantanamo Bay Prison) conspiring to escape jail and shows how one of them manages to escape the death sentence due to load shedding. But as fate had planned, as soon as the inmate escapes, he is hit by a rocket and all this had been pre-planned by a foreigner.


In late 2000, Laal came as a welcome change for Pakistani music as they revisited the revolutionary poetry of masters like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib. The video of their song “Umeed-e-Sahar” was truly heart-wrenching. Directed by Azfar Ali and Umar Amanullah, the video showed several vehicles stuck in a traffic jam due to a blockade on Karachi’s Chundrigarh road faciliating the movement of Vips.An ambulance carrying a patient in a critical state is also stuck in traffic. The highlight of the video is when a brave individual, struggling to make a way out for the ambulance, is beaten up by policemen. This triggers a spirit of realisation amongst the people who finally step out of their vehicles and stop the VIP movement and succeed in making way for the ambulance.

‘Main Tau Dekhoonga’ and ‘Ab Khud Kuch Karna Parega’

The latest offering by Strings is “Main Tau Dekhoonga”. It is a contemporary take of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poem Hum Dekhenge and the beautifully shot video is a sincere song, speaking about hope in tough times. Faisal and Bilal, the band members, stand with a blackboard in a desert and start singing about peace and love. They are surrounded by a number of children who are celebrating, as if they are listening to a nursery rhyme. Hats off to Jaami, the director, for beautifully shooting the video and highlighting a strong message.” Ab Khud Kuch Karna Parega” was performed by Strings along with Atif Aslam, and the video was also directed by Jaami. Even though the song seemed like a half-hearted attempt to showcase social upheaval, it still managed to strike a chord. The video shows the musicians singing in the old streets of Karachi, while images of violence and burning cars are juxtaposed with it.

‘Go Saab Jee’

The front man of Awaz, Haroon has also climbed the bandwagon of political songs. Yet quite like his solo career in music, the song doesn’t manage to leave a lasting impression. Directed by Jalal, “Go Saab Jee” talks about prodigal politicians lavishly enjoying their lives. It ends with Haroon sitting with his hands cuffed and mouth sealed as the characters playing Pakistan politicians dance around him.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2011.

Correction: The report earlier read that Sajjad Ali's song 'Chief Saab' and video were regarding a certain political party worker who had then shaved Ali's head before leaving the country. This is incorrect, the rumor such ran that Ali's head had been shaved by a political party worker in retaliation to his song 'Chief Saab', following which Ali decided to leave the country for good. The error is regretted.