To be ‘western’ is not to be ‘modern’

Published: June 17, 2014
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Ethnomusicologist Thomas Burkhalter interacts with local musicians to understand the genesis and rich heritage of Pakistani music.

Ethnomusicologist Thomas Burkhalter interacts with local musicians to understand the genesis and rich heritage of Pakistani music.

KARACHI: 

Swiss Journalist turned ethnomusicologist Thomas Burhalter has come to Pakistan in search of experimental music and his interest is not only restricted to qawwali. Having a post doctorate in Global Niches — Music in a Transnational World, Burkhalter interacted with local musicians to understand the genesis of this part of the world’s music and what they are doing with their incredibly rich heritage.

Most of the music produced in the Middle East and Africa has western influences, however, Burkhalter believes that Pakistanis are proud of their heritage and have their own genre of music. “Most of the music produced here is quite indigenous and I am not talking about Sufi music,” he says, pointing at ventures like Coke Studio. “They think that to be modern is to be western. I don’t think they should think like this. One should follow their own creativity, but be self-critical.”

Over the past few years, Pakistan has exported many musicians and their music has revolved around Sufism. While some artistes have genuinely worked to take the Sufi kalaam forward, the others have simply capitalised on the West’s thirst for the Sufi thought, which has eventually given Pakistani artistes a collective identity of Sufi musicians.

“The media portrays Pakistan in a negative light; people think that it is a dangerous and extremely religious country. As a result, they take Sufi music as Pakistan’s form of religious music,” says Burkhalter. For him, identity matters, but that never impedes a musician’s broad vision. That drive is persistent within Pakistani artistes, who he considers to be just as experimental as Europeans. “There is little investment and fewer opportunities, which is why talented people never get a bigger audience. You will see that there is no concert culture in Pakistan, but in Europe there would be almost five to six concerts running at the same time,” says Burkhalter.

In a week, Burkhalter has met artistes like Ali Gul Pir, Rohail Hyatt and Usman Riaz. He watched movies with them, visited their recording sessions and went instrument shopping to Saddar. He is doing this to add more value to the features for his own online magazine, norient.com.

Referring to Ali Gul Pir’s style of music, he says that protest through parody is a great strategy to engage a bigger audience. “The usage of metaphors and lyrics for protests requires a lot of courage and you only see it in the east  — this is music with a message.” He enjoyed watching Usman Riaz’s short movies Waves and Ruckus and called them “high-quality work”. He also met Waqas Abbas, the man starting a Pakistani version of iTunes.

“Some people make music to sell, which ends up making it a product and not art.” For him, Coke Studio was the kind that sells and is also very creative. “The world is full of sounds, why not use all different sounds around us,” he says.

“I am interested in art, whatever it is, the way it’s created, the process of making that art and how people experiment,” says Burkhalter, “ After all, music is not all about the lyrics,” he replies.

Burkhalter feels that the music industry in Pakistan has a lot of potential to grow. There will come a time when he would visit again and see more new bands emerging and actually get some recognition. “You never know, maybe one day musicians will take over the world.” 

Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • amir jafri
    Jun 17, 2014 - 9:06PM

    Pakistan’s english-medium riffraff is a perverted lot..be it music, literature, or scholarship. The slaves of the west relish, enjoy and flaunt their slavishness. They look towards the west to seek a nod of approval for their “creativity”. Their audience/readers are NOT DESI pakistanis but the westoxicated riffraff like themselves…fancying themselves to be anything but DESI, Pakistanisand MUSLIM.

    NO pride, No self respect. No wonder they are treated like dirt everywhere.

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  • Aamir - Toronto
    Jun 17, 2014 - 11:11PM

    @amir jafri….You’re a real piece of work !!!

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  • Nobody
    Jun 18, 2014 - 1:28AM

    @amir jafri:
    Wrong on so many counts.
    Generalizations dripping with disdain and statistically incorrect will not get you anywhere. This blind dislike of anything western coupled with an ethnocentric attitude is why some Pakistanis are treated like dirt elsewhere- NOT the ones who tolerate all cultures and maintain their own identity.
    Cheers.

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  • Shuaib
    Jun 18, 2014 - 3:56AM

    I was an overseas Pakistani, I moved to Islamabad when I was 8 years old. Always indentified as a desi. lol
    Why copy western culture when ours is awesome?

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  • Professor
    Jun 18, 2014 - 10:18AM

    @amir jafri: And what exactly is “self respect” according to you? It is obvious that there is something wrong in the way Muslims are doing their business. Why else is the Muslim youth disillusioned and seeking violence instead of being a productive member of a community? It is no coincidence that there is NO Islamic society in the world that is at peace with itself or its neighbors. It is time to introspect as a community and be forthright about the ills in Islamic society. I don’t see the chances of this post seeing the light of day, very bright. But, well, at least I voiced my opinion.

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  • genesis
    Aug 28, 2014 - 7:14AM

    Pakistan music is Indian in orign and is based on Indian tradtions.

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