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Music vs. militancy

Music vs. militancy

Even though Pakistan is bleeding from terrorism and suicide bombings, no mainstream pop music artist has come close to condemning or questioning the spread of militancy through music and lyrics. A recent video from The New York Times highlighted this issue, showing how pop acts such as Ali Azmat and Noori were keeping quiet on the subjects of terror, religious extremism, and the Taliban, while railing against America through their songs. In this context, 25-year-old Daniyal Noorani‘s debut effort ‘Finding Heaven,’ which was released on YouTube a few days ago, is encouraging. The daring single takes the Taliban and religious extremists head on, creating quite a buzz online. Dawn.com speaks with Noorani to find out what prompted him to fill the ideological vacuum in our music scene.

Q. Are you a musician by profession or is it something you do as a hobby?

A. I’m a 25-year old Pakistani who grew up in Lahore, studied at Aitchison College, and later did my undergrad at a small liberal arts college called Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. I graduated with a math and economics double major in 2006 and I am currently doing business development at a biotech company in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I am not a musician by profession. I actually started playing the guitar a couple of years ago at the insistence of my younger sister, who also plays the instrument. I began playing a right-handed guitar, left handed; in fact, I still play the guitar upside down. I do not have a band. Right now, it’s just me writing music and having friends help out with the instrumentation.

Q. What are you trying to convey with your song?

A. I wrote ‘Find Heaven’ at a time when I felt there was no clear public consensus on suicide bombings. At that point, the urban centres of Pakistan had not been as hard hit as they are today and I felt that the country didn’t know how they felt about these activities, whether they were sympathetic or condemning of it. It was around that time I started writing the lyrics. The song tells the story of a confused  young man seeking answers about life’s important questions and traces how an individual lures this young man by saying he has the answer to life’s ultimate question, how to find heaven or zenith? The lyrics convey the young man’s journey and the events that lead to the conclusion he comes to.

Q. Is there anything autobiographical about the young man in your song?

A. The confused man is any person of my generation who is questioning and thinking about what’s been happening in our country. It’s autobiographical in a way that we the youth are confused about a lot of things, like the injustices we see all around us, our corrupt society, and incidents of terrorism taking place all over the country.

The realisation (of how bad things have become) dawned on me over the last few years. Before, frankly, when we would hear about terror incidents like those in north-western areas, it wouldn’t affect us much or maybe we wouldn’t think too much about it. But now that terror is hitting close to home in our cities, it shakes us up.

Q. How did the concept of the video evolve? Why did you choose to animate it rather than shoot a video with real people and places?

A. I think the concept of the video came while writing the song, so that is one reason why they are so interdependent. From the start, I had a pretty clear vision of the final version of the video. I think that the audio and video together are much greater than the sum of the individual parts. The animations were done by my cousin Marria Khan, who is a very talented artist and graduate of the National College of Arts. She did a fantastic job coming up with the character designs and giving them a life of their own.

I chose animation to limit the element of personal bias that may be associated with an actor so that the focus remains on the story and the message. Black and white sketches don’t allow for the focus to shift from the story to what a said actor may stand for. Also, this video could be misinterpreted by some people, which may have resulted in consequences for actors playing the roles – I didn’t want to endanger anyone.

Q. Did it strike you that you might endanger yourself through this effort?

A. Yes, the thought did cross my mind. In fact, while making this song, I even discussed [possible repercussions] with my family. Having said that, even though the song might be controversial in nature, I don’t think I’ve done anything to offend anyone, especially anything that would give me negative feedback of a violent kind.

Q. What feedback have you received?

A. The feedback has been predominantly positive with a smattering of negative comments. I am not very concerned about the negative feedback as part of the goal of the video was to have the people who hold opposing views to communicate with those who have positive feedback, and start a dialogue. I hope that after seeing this video, people will question things and not just take things at face value; the more we question, the more we learn. On another note, my friends have interpreted the lyrics in a multitude of different ways, so I think the song has more character than I am highlighting in the video.

Q. If the goal was to initiate dialogue, why not compose Urdu-language lyrics?

A. I do realise that it’s rather elitist of me to have done the song in English, which limits the audience in Pakistan. At the same time, the song now has global reach and can be understood by people the world over. Also, my control over the Urdu language is not as strong as I would like it to be. Despite that, I am working on an Urdu version of ‘Find Heaven’ and soon, if nothing else, I will at least have the same song with Urdu subtitles. At the moment, though, I’m trying to figure out what the Urdu word for redemption is.

Q. In the video, we don’t actually see the young man conduct a suicide bombing. Is there a particular reason for that?

A. I think showing the events that lead up to the climax are more important than showing the bomber explode himself. You see that the main character has taken all the steps to commit an act of terrorism, but what is more important is to look at the events that lead the character to that point. Also, one thing I wanted to highlight was the cyclical nature of these events. At the end of the video, one pretty much ends up at the beginning, except there is a man walking into a mosque in the background. The idea was to highlight the fact that unless there is a change in the events leading up to the climax, this horrible cycle will continue.

Q. Did you deliberately keep the composition and structure of your song very simple?

A. The song is just a simple four-chord progression with violins. The lyrical structure of the song is just divided into three sections to show the different phases of the character’s journey. Compositionally, I wanted to keep it simple so that the lyrics stand out, while at the same time I wanted to use violins to build the tension for the climax.

Q. Are you planning to launch an album any time soon?

A. I have made other music besides this, which I am currently refining. When I write music, I just try to write about things that interest me and hope that someone else will also find them interesting, so my other music can be drastically different from ‘Find Heaven’. As for plans to launch an album, I did not release this song with the hopes of releasing an album. It was just a story that I thought needed to be told. But based on the response on this first endeavor I do plan to continue releasing music. Whether this will be in an album form or just via singles, I haven’t yet decided.

Salman Siddiqui is a staff reporter at Dawn.com

The following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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71 Responses to “Music vs. militancy”

  1. Most people would agree with this, in my opinion the author could not be more right.

  2. Ueremia says:

    It is a new way to show your personal resentment on the present wave of terrorism in Pakistan. Since
    everybody is feeling pain when innocent children,women and civilians are being killed by suicide bombers and nobody have the answer to control it.

  3. tripkolik says:

    Excellent. Nice video.

  4. Daniyal Noorani says:

    Thank you all for your feedback and comments.

    @Critical Analysis: I think it is impossible for a 3 and half minute long video to analyze each and every facet of an issue. The video just depicts what I think is one of the plethora of problems facing Pakistan currently. However I think we can agree to disagree on the level of this problem. All I am trying to convey to this video is the exploitation of the impoverished in Pakistan. Whether this exploitation is religious or political is secondary in my opinion. Up till now, in the plethora of feedback that I received, not one person except you has made the deduction that you are claiming… “That all Muslims are terrorists”. Thanks for the feedback though, it is healthy to have such arguments. :)

    @Amir: I would hope at a time of war our army would step up to defend us.

  5. p-gill says:

    I wish it had been in Urdu. I would recommend a Punjabi song from India
    ” Band karo bandukan walio, Mavan the put muk chale”

  6. Ammar says:

    After reading some of the comments posted over here regarding what derives an individual towards the extreme acts of terrorism I thought I should my two cents too!

    While socio-economical factors play vital role but they cannot be signaled as the core issues. The social deprivation in India is no less then Pakistan, such factors do provide a conducive ground for terrorist elements to cultivate but the root cause remains the guiding ideology i.e. religious extremism.

    Some have objected the portrayal of Mosques as the training camps of terrorism but sadly the spiritual centers have been polluted by religious zealots.

  7. Irfan says:

    Ali Azmat, Ali Salman and Brian !! please unite and come forward and do something to condemn these brutal killers.

    All “Junooni” fans are waiting for your songs.

  8. Critical analysis says:

    I was Right, You haven’t replied yet Dear Singer. If you haven’t noticed that many Non-Muslims seem to agree with you. I wonder why ??
    Now do you know what message you’ve sent.???

  9. Amir says:

    If the country was to get invaded by ground foreign forces it’s the same beard types that you will find defending the country. All of a sudden all this trash negative image portraying will stop because this is nothing but media hype and your video is merely another tool that becomes a part of it. All the bloggers like us will be sitting in the comfort of our homes and praising the same types of people. Ofcourse the think tank of the invaders knows these things so that’s why there will never be a ground invasion. And why take that course when ready made Pakistani’s are available to do the job for some prosperity. If Pakistani’s still pretend to not see their main enemies then the writing on the wall cannot be more clearer than this. The people outside have all the tools ready to shape the hearts and minds of people anytime they see fit. Media will change the same beards into friendly OR Non friendly beards at will and short sighted people will always be clapping on the side lines and cheering up the most fancy thing that becomes popular notion. All it takes is to get a video on a popular channel to which everybody is hooked on to and that’s all. Muslims have to be the most gullible people on earth in current context who can be easily hired or manipulated to turn to their own to sow the seeds of dissent. This video unfortunately is another tool that fosters the same idea as it does nothing to bring about unity.

  10. S zauq says:

    Very nice, would have been more *effective* in its message if it was in urdu/pushtu or Punjabi.

  11. Anand says:

    Excellent Animation Maria. I was spellbound by the creativity. I can guarantee you that you will go places if you pursue this career further.

  12. Critical analysis says:

    “@Critical Javed: Please look up Waltz with Bashir” TWO wrongs DONT make a Right !!!!

    Singer replied “One thing I want to reiterate is that this video is not meant to be against Islam or Muslims or the beard. It is meant to highlight how our society’s failings allow for the manipulation of our youth. This manipulation can be either religious or political/secular in nature. To think that this video is condemning all Muslims is rather myopic in my opinion.”

    When you make a video, it should be self explanatory, you should not need to explain it like your doing here., If you think your video is not insulting Islam, Muslims and the beard as a whole, then what scene is there in your video that divides or explains Islam from extremism or terrorism?? Being a Muslim what role have you played in trying to explain to the world what the fundamental problem is?? As a Pakistani what role does your video do to separate the true terrorist from the regular people?? Don’t you think that your video is infact myopic because rather than addressing the true issue you have left no room to arrive at a solution. And speaking of myopic, try to look at your video from a non-Muslims point of view! They will see, mosque, beard, terrorism. Tomorrow they will quote you and your song to say that Islam= Terrorism.

    Sorry brother, I don’t know what exactly you are trying to prove in your song but I am not going to comment a Good or a bad straight away. I only critically analyze where our educated country men are trying to take the image of our country. Thanks.

  13. SB says:

    Perhaps the lyrics of this song best explain the situation we are in

    The wall on which the prophets wrote
    Is cracking at the seams
    Upon the instruments of death
    The sunlight brightly gleams
    When every man is torn apart
    With nightmares and with dreams
    Will no one lay the laurel wreath
    As silence drowns the screams

    Between the iron gates of fate
    The seeds of time were sown
    And watered by the deeds of those
    Who know and who are known
    Knowledge is a deadly friend
    If no one sets the rules
    The fate of all mankind I see
    Is in the hands of fools

    And CONFUSION will be my epitaph
    As I crawl a cracked and broken path
    If we make it
    We can all sit back and laugh
    But …. I fear tomorrow I will be crying

    Sung by Greg Lake / Epitaph
    Album by Emerson Lake & Palmer

  14. Daniyal Noorani says:

    Thank you all for all the great feedback. I am glad that the message of the video has resonated with a lot of you.

    @Totalbliss: I think is wrong to be an extremist of any sort, whether it is a religious extremist or a secular one. The idea that the root of evil lies within the religious dogma is a little too extreme for me. Condemning a whole religion based on the actions of the few is not justifiable. Any ideology can be manipulated into something ugly, a democratic country can carry out an unprovoked and unjustified war against a nation… should we condemn all democracies. Opposed to simplifying the situation and profiling groups we should pay more attention to the root causes which create the ability for people to manipulate the situation.

    @M: Please don’t put words in my mouth. I have not labeled anyone a Jihadi.

    @Jehangir: I don’t think we are in disagreement on any point. I never said that corruption and lack of infrastructure were not a problem. I just said that education and poverty were the root problem in my opinion. I agree with you that certain people work the system to ensure their happiness at the expense of others but why must me rely on these people to build this infrastructure and just sit haplessly waiting. Why don’t we either start to build it ourselves or hold these people accountable? So I don’t think there is a point for us to disagree for the sake of disagreeing. As you said, “Learn to be JUST in your logical deductions”.

  15. shabbar says:

    Good blending of lyrics and animation. Sad but to the point commentary on this harsh reality we are facing. In this highly competitive and technologically advanced and global age, religious fanatics have managed to set us so far back economically and caused deep grief, hurt and embarrassment especially to our youth the world over.

    If religion is so high on their agenda why not help and feed the poor, or clean the streets or do something productive. Beat your foe by becoming smarter, better educated and technologically savv

  16. Brian says:

    Very nice work Daniyal. Thank you for being a voice. Your questioning message is simple and sincere… What we all need. God Bless!

  17. TheOtherSide says:

    This video is completely wrong. It portrays the exact stereotypical views the west has about Islam and Muslims. So this is just to appeal and appease that audience. Perhaps you should make an attempt to bring to light with the same eagerness the plight of those helpless Palestinians at the hands of Jews and their illegal occupation or perhaps the plight of those innocent civilians being killed in their own country by the US with the agreement of the Pakistan govt on a daily basis. All human live is equal, wherever it is.

  18. Imran says:

    We want more! We want more! We want more!

  19. Mohammad says:

    Danyal noorani,

    there are people who can answer all of your questions.

  20. tough task..easy approach,
    i wish every body watching this shd forward to their group,
    waiting for the URDU version.
    plz plz plz .do translate thru some good pakistani poet.
    pakistan zindabad,

  21. samreen says:

    Good Start! Daniyal:):)
    Keep doing work on the same theme.
    All the best.

  22. Jehangir says:

    @Jehangir: In Reply to your comment: Lack of education and poverty is indeed the problem. It is not the root cause. Education and prosperity doesn’t fall into people’s hands out of the skies it has to be arranged and institutionalized. Our masses have been deliberately kept uneducated by the powerful elite so they could be manipulated easily. So the root here being “corrupt leaders who haven’t done their part since the inception of Pak…no point condemning the under privilledged, opressed and supressed by depicting them committing heinous crimes. Depict the manipulators and look at things from a global perspective. The top dog will do anything to maintain the status quo…keep people divided etc. Study what divide and rule did to the peoples in the past. It is a concept which will use people like you and I to promote the vested interest without even realizing it. Learn to be JUST in your logical deductions!

  23. m says:

    hmmmm simplistic and sick.
    And also since its in English I would think it is aimed at an elite audience that would very well want to keep their world going by terming people as being “jihadis”. Also interesting that they would actually use a symbol of a mosque as being the source of this problem. I would say that this militaristic music.

  24. Mohammed says:

    The Mullas have never condemned the extreme behavior of these fanatics. I attend every Friday prayers and never is there a announcement that religious extremism is bad.

  25. Totalbliss says:

    Good job! However what about the 9/11 and london bus bombers. I feel the essence of the video should have captured a flawed ideology which can affect any Muslim of any socioeconomic status rather than an impoverished, underpriviliged teenager playing at the hands of a nut case mullah. Remember the 9/11 and London bombers did not fit the profile of the suicide bomber portrayed in this video. They were ordinary, well educated men born & raised in UK (in case of london bombers). They were purely driven by ideology. It’s time to look into the root of evil (which may lie in the religious dogma) forcing an ordinary Muslim to perform these murderous acts. This is the most disturbing issue in my view.

  26. Maliha says:

    Nice work mr. daniyal.we pakistanis (most of us) are light years away from true spirit of islam. we are blessed by ALLAH ,ALMIGHTY that we are born in muslim families.
    some body raises the slogan of jehad ,blind foldedly ppl follow without even investigating .it is wrongly said this is all due to lack of education .Sadly i have seen and met some highly educated ppl (degrees in worldly education) favouring this mass killing 100% in our countryand believing its the path to heaven.HEAVEN HELP THEM!

    i am a teacher and i will definately pass on this link to my students.Glad that words are simple and music is soft even the younger students can COMPRHEND the meaningS just by looking at the video.keep up the good work. GOD BLESS U!

    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!

  27. Daniyal Noorani says:

    Once again… Thank you all for your support and feedback, I really appreciate it. I also appreciate the opposing views that are arising and would appreciate if people would point out particular aspects of the video or the song that they don’t agree with, rather than using blanket statements.

    One thing I want to reiterate is that this video is not meant to be against Islam or Muslims or the beard. It is meant to highlight how our society’s failings allows for the manipulation of our youth. This manipulation can be either religious or political/secular in nature. To think that this video is condemning all Muslims is rather myopic in my opinion.

    @Critical Javed: Please look up Waltz with Bashir.

  28. Ammar says:

    Amazing lyrics and a very well put forth message through animation, If only this song was in Urdu so that the masses could relate to the message. The false notion of “heaven” has misled many youngsters who stand defenseless to this propaganda.

  29. Kabir Ali says:

    While I appreciate the thinking behind the song, the lyrics is rather weak and amateurish. I am afraid the terrorist mullahs will not take too kindly to this. I don’t think it is such a good idea to take on radicals like these who have no moral bearings. Take care, Daniyal.

  30. Mohammed says:

    YES!!! it is about time for something like this, and a great song.


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