BY SHAHJAHAN KHURRAM
VIDEOGRAPHY: NASIR AHMED
KARACHI: Ali Gul Pir is arguably Pakistan's first ever YouTube star--the one who shot to overnight fame with the song Waderay Ka Beta-- and ever since then he has come up with witty rap singles that have shone the spotlight on issues we'd rather discuss in our drawing rooms.
Pakistan has always been wedged between the two extremes--the liberal extremists who never hesitate at cursing and calling out the fundos (as Ali labels them) and the fundos on the other hand who never hesitate in attacking the former.
The two extremes have always been at daggers drawn--issues ranging from Valentine's Day to Afia Siddiqui and Salman Taseer have always resulted in hateful spats and controversial jabs. The country suffers as a whole and here's where Ali Gul Pir's latest song comes in.
We sat down with Ali Gul Pir to talk about how he came up with the concept of De Maar Saaray Chaar, how he copes up with backlash and fame at the same time as well as his upcoming projects.
Q. What does De Maar Saaray Chaar mean? If asked to, how would you interpret it?
When I was young there was a guy in my school who was once narrating an incident to me. So he goes like,"And then I had enough of his nonsense and I said De Maar Saaray Chaar." That is when I realised that it meant enough is enough--when you're ready to just attack on the other person. No holds barred.
Q. Where have you come across such extremes? On social media or in person?
I know a lot of people who are liberal extremists and fundos to be honest. I've studied with them in universities and colleges. But this is mostly stuff you discuss in drawing rooms and not air such opinions publicly--so I've come across people more in drawing rooms badmouthing the other side than on social media.
Q. How difficult was it to come up with a song such as this?
For me it was very difficult because at first there's a whole writing process to it. I consider the written element and the lyrics to the song as the foundation--everything else from the concept to the music video follows the lyrics. So if I can't get that bit right then of course it all becomes murky.
I wrote the song about seven to eight months ago and discussed it with some of my friends. They were alarmed at the probably controversy it would generate and told me not to go ahead with it. So I dropped it initially but then again, started working on it. At last I released it and I'm glad I did. It probably took me three months to write the lyrics to the song.
Q. You took on waderas with your first song, then the government with the YouTube ban song, the VIPs and now the two extremes. What drives you to push the boundaries and clash with the powerful?
I think it's more about the importance of such issues that we don't discuss openly. I don't think I had an idea how much of an impact Waderay Ka Beta would have when I first released it. It painted an image of the elite class that everyone knew existed but few people had talked about before.
If you remember, exactly six to eight months after I released that song, the Shahzeb murder took place. I saw how the media ran that news and played Waderay Ka Beta in the background. So my song was successful in creating an image and that was what I intended. It's important we start discussing such issues and gladly accountability is being accepted in our society so it's not that bad nowadays.
Q. But don't you feel afraid at times of any possible backlash?
I create songs that have funny lyrics to them so that the message can be digested and especially after the success of Waderay Ka Beta, now everyone knows that Ali Gul Pir makes music in jest. So they thankfully don't take me that seriously now after a plethora of such songs.
After Waderay Ka Beta I told people when people accused me of mocking the Sindhi community that I myself am a Sindhi. But there exists a feudal elite class that we have to talk about. They're in the minority--the majority are the poor and middle class Sindhis. We have seen waderas do what they do even before the Shahzeb murder took place.
Q. Can you recall any incident wherein you felt threatened at someone who was offended by one of your songs?
I remember this one time after I had released Waderay Ka Beta that a black Corolla car used to tail me around. At that point in time I did not own a car and travelled in a rickshaw.
That Corolla used to intercept my rickshaw and people would call me at random, issue threats and let me know they were the ones who were stalking me in that car. That happened for around one week before it stopped.
Q. You must have been scared?
All I could do about it actually was laugh. I mean, what could they do to me now that I had already released the song? Would could such threats achieve? Can anyone take down all videos of Wadera Ka Beta from the internet? Surely not. But I consider that incident as the one wherein I felt intimidated.
Q. Some of the ideas the lyrics and thought that you portray as the 'extreme liberal Ali Gul Pir' and the 'fundo Ali Gul Pir'--are they what you think about? How did you gather such thoughts?
I had to search within myself for these two personalities. It was quite difficult to create two personas and pen verses to them in one song. You know I have always rapped as one individual and character throughout my career but this time around it was difficult.
Plus in Pakistan there is so much inspiration since people make regular blunders and mistakes so you can always feed off them.
Q. Would you like to name some people you consider extremes on the liberal side and some who are extreme on the fundo side?
Anyone who says that fundos should be bombed and killed in one fell swoop is a liberal extreme in my opinion. In the same manner, those who advocate senseless violence against the liberal side are extremists in my opinion.
Q. We don't want you to shy away from naming people. Please do.
On the extremist fundos I would consider Khadim Hussain Rizvi since he claims to be a scholar on one hand and then utters expletives publicly. Then there are people like Aamir Liaquat whose shows I never watch because I have an ideological difference with them.
You also have someone like Waqar Zaka who talks about Islam on Snapchat and in another different Snap story says,"I'm in currently in Defence and if any girl has nothing to do, she can come meet me."
So yeah, what can you do about that except say "Boss menay apko bola kya hai?"
Liberal extremes seldom make themselves known as they voice their thoughts mostly in drawing rooms so not many come to mind.
Q. Do you really have an ideological difference with Aamir Liaquat?
Yes I do. I mean, what he really does on television is awful. What can you say about a person who gives away babies on television for ratings? He says one thing on TV and then is a totally different person and says complete opposite things in person. One should stay away from a person like that.
I made a satirical song on him titled Kaisa Dia after which he called me and invited me on his show. He spoke to me on the phone and said that he would love to have me since he did not mind jokes on his expense.
I knew what he had done to Taher Shah in the past when the singer had been a guest on his show hence I was aware as to what was in store for me. So I declined and told him that I had ideological differences with his show. He was offended with that but oh well.
Q. Who would you want the most to react to this song?
People who are extremist on both ends. Whenever I do a song I want that particular target to watch it and if possible get offended or extract something.
For example, I would want the entire Sharif family to watch my song VIP that is against corrupt people. Hopefully it would do them good. (Laughs).
I am a big fan of Al Pacino and Naseeruddin Shah. When the latter came to Pakistan I tried to meet him but could not. I'm a big fan of his and have watched all his movies including Ghalib.
If him or Al Pacino ever follow my work it would mean the world to me.
Q. What's next for you? Any upcoming projects that we should know about?
I'm going to be releasing a new song in about two months that will not be as controversial as this but would contain a message in it. It is based on a problem that we all in Pakistan can relate to it.
I'm working on the script of a movie on the other hand as well and it will hopefully be completed by May. Then I will go knocking on everyone's doors to gather sponsors for the movie.
Q. Who is your inspiration when it comes to rap music? Is it Eminem?
Rappers way before Eminem. Like 2pac, Biggie Smalls and Koolio. My brother used to listen to these artists in the 90s and I would steal his cassettes to listen to them.
Rap back then was about society and socially conscious songs such as Tupac's songs Keep Ya Head Up, Changes and Brenda's Got A Baby.
Q. Have you come to grips with fame?
I have gotten used to fame but it does have funny moments. I remember once I took a friend to a restaurant and he was going through a bad phase. He started crying and all of a sudden this girl comes up behind me and she wants a selfie with me.
So while my friend was crying, I had to take a selfie with the girl. All smiling and stuff. (Laughs).
Q. Do you remember that incident or moment when you actually felt like a celebrity? Like people know you now?
Once I was smoking outside my house when a car passed me by and a family was inside it. All of them started to wave at me and I was dead scared since I thought they were relatives!
So I waved back at them and thought I would be in trouble with my mother for smoking. But then I realised after five minutes that I had become a recognisable face after Waderay Ka Beta was released.