The idea of promoting the rights of the labour class through music at a top tier five-star hotel hosting a social media ‘mela’ might come across as an oxymoron, but Dr Taimur Rahman of Laal the band is quick to refute that notion in the same breath by adding that today’s socialists like him need to adopt modern tools and seemingly bourgeoisie inventions such as the internet to promote rights of the lower class.
Rahman and his band mate Ammar Aziz, who also works for Laal Films, shared their views on using the power of the internet, social media and music videos to promote their movement or as Rahman put it, ‘modernise the way of conveying Marxism and its message’
The session titled ‘Music, Resistance and the Internet’ kicked off with an upbeat Dr Rahman speaking about his journey of promoting Marxism, starting off as a grassroots activist and interacting with members of the labour class at dhabas , organising protest marches and issuing pamphlets.
Rahman said that there was only so much he could do with traditional means and so decided to use his hobby of playing the guitar as a tool to promote the message, joking about it being a bourgeoisie invention that worked. He shunned the leftist perception that the internet was a bourgeoisie medium, and hence could not be used to promote their movement, adding that it was time for the ‘old progressive to meet the new progressive’, since combating capitalism was not only in the interest of the labour class but the entire society.
Rahman, who is the general secretary of the Mazdoor Kissan Party and also teaches at LUMS, spoke about how Laal the band began and forayed into music videos through a chance meeting with a British Pakistani filmmaker in England and how integration of music videos had helped take the band’s message all over the world via the internet, including India, where he had just returned from after a brief tour.
Rahman said that through their music videos on YouTube and engaging with like-minded activists on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, Laal was able to increase awareness about labour rights, exponentially, with almost 10,000 weekly interactions taking place on the band’s Facebook page. He says a message they share on the page reaches 100,000 people.
Rahman also credited the internet with helping the band promote its message, given that the surge in terrorist attacks meant it could no longer hold protest marches.
However he clarified that such social media analytics did not translate into building an ‘organisation’ and that he still used traditional grassroots mediums to spread awareness amongst the labour class.
When asked how the internet could spread awareness amongst people who don’t even have access to it, Rahman said that this was not completely true and that there was gradual internet penetration taking place. Inventions such as the television and telephone filtered down from the upper classes to the lower, he said. He also credited his band’s videos for helping create awareness about terrorism amongst people.
Although Rahman dominated the session, Aziz also had his moments and briefed the audience on his contribution to Laal’s cause as a filmmaker, singer and social media activist.
Responding to a question by popular RJ Kulsoom, on whether a rather politicised Twitter could be used to promote a positive image of Pakistan, he replied candidly that the micro-blogging site scared him, adding that it was just a very casual platform with ‘people dissing everyone and everything’, but acting the opposite in person.
The band also treated the audience to a little gig of sorts, performing songs including “Haq Kabhi Rehta Nahi Zair-e-Niqab” and “Utho Mere Dunya Ke Ghareebon”, accompanied by an impressive beatboxing performance by Khurram, a volunteer at the event.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2012.