By this time, everyone you know or can possibly know, who is or possibly can be, a fan of Pakistani music, already knows and is a fan of Coke Studio.
And by this time, many of you have had the chance to hear musical greats like Saieen Zahoor, Shafqat Amanat Ali and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan performing amidst superior-quality musicians and instruments creating breathtaking musical fusion.
And while all that sounds amazingly appealing and classy and oh-so-rocking, the more arrogant of us often question why Atif Aslam has to stand on that platform ruining greats like “Mai Ne Main Kinnon Akhaan“.
I’m not a very big sufi music fan, but I do have ears and I do have a soul. And Atif Aslam pierces both.
And so not in a good way.
Back when he was new and nasal voices were still a novelty (alliteration, alliteration, even when they’re at Atif Aslam’s benefit, ROCK), and Jal was still one boyband with two annoying front men rather than one man who has been, as I’ve been recently told, the representative for Les Paul in Pakistan (and he now joins ranks of Slash!), Addat (the song) was still likeable. With its mainly underbudget but overall moderately creative video, its record-breaking downloads throughout the cyber-sphere and the rising fad that was jhing-jhinga-jhing-jhink guitaring (I bet there’s a better word for that), Jal was still somewhat of a prodigy.
But then they all turned into girls and started to bitch.
And then Atif sold his soul to big bucks, Indian cinema got obsessed with nasal tones of him and Himesh Reshammiya and the rest is history.
Which is something I’m usually okay with. Pre-teen pubescents like Jonas Brothers and I used to be a Backstreet Boys fan when I was 14. And bubble-gum poppers make millions. Hillary Duff and Miley Cyrus are living proofs of that.
But then Atif Aslam goes on Coke Studio and ruins a perfectly beautiful song. And it gets me thinking about the obsession we gather for mindlessness and complete tunelessness.
Is the rest of the Pakistan, including Rohail Hyatt, tone-deaf?
Or just when it comes to Atif Aslam?
I sat with Ali and B to listen to the full track last night and I realized that it was nothing but pots and pans clanging and banging together with Atif Aslam’s high, dogs-can-hear-you-pitch notes ringing in between. The original song has been sung by many people including Iqbal Bahu and Shazia Manzoor and Pathanay Khan. Their standards are high and pretty impossibly to meet rhythmically, unless you’re a pro yourself.
Which Atif Aslam probably thinks he is.
And why shouldn’t he, I ask you. He’s famous, he’s rich, no one (apart from me) thinks he looks like a drooling 2 year old with a mental disability, Bollywood pays him tons to sing off-key, ripped off songs and he’s on Coke Studio now singing a musical classic.
Celebrities are weird people. And what makes them weird is that they are surrounded by an even weirder lot. Working on television onscreen was an experience that taught me something that post-graduate level textbook psychology taught me much later.
All celebrities can be total assholes. Egomaniacs. Narcissists. And most of them suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder, say stats.
So last night, after I begged B to put a stop to the track after 2 minutes into it, I realized no one could possibly have told Mr. Aslam that he sucks. He probably had fifty people come up to him after the performance was over and tell him he totally nailed it. That’s the media culture that brews gods and goddesses that you can’t understand. That’s the way these nobodies get to be somebodies and that’s the way Atif Aslam’s head is bigger than his bank balance.
We were flying from Karachi to Lahore when we were sitting in the airport lounge waiting for the flight to board. I noticed a flurry of excitement in a group of 8 year olds sitting next to me as they excitedly pointed and giggled. Turns out Atif Aslam was sitting across us, looking as bored as he was doped. I peered closely noticing he DID look like a drooling two year old.
But before I could notice anything else, I found another bunch of people completely out of their gourds. A tall, fat man stood at least 40 feet away from where Atif was sitting and yelled, “How are you man? I’ll see you at the concert then!”
Atif looked at him and drawled a “Yeah, man” back. A couple of more loud and pointed exchanges between them revealed that the tall fat man knew Atif personally and now indeed wanted the whole airport to know that he knew him personally.
I felt embarassed for him. The tall fat guy.
Is this how we act around people we see on television? On the big screen? We begin foaming at the mouth? Atif Aslam’s hysteria represents the unreasonable, the un-understandable, the completely unbelievable obsession people can have for rich, famous people who have a total of zero talent.
Stephen Colbert recently mentioned Walter Cronkite’s death and said he was outraged that there wasn’t a single helicopter shot of Cronkite’s house. The CNN news programs feature “Michael Jackson’s death reports” as top news and Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran come in after them. FOX breaking news cover custody decisions of MJ’s children and then talk about what a racist Obama is.
Bill Maher recently wrote a brilliant article in the LA Times about Right Wing Nuts debating over Obama’s citizenship. He writes,
But we live in America, and in America, if you don’t immediately kill arrant nonsense, no matter how ridiculous, it can grow and thrive and eventually take over, like crab grass or reality shows about fat people.
I wonder what he’d say if he was a Pakistani witnessing a President who’s a president only because he’s guilty of uxoricide, 16-hour blackouts all over the country, and over 30 years of military rule.
And like most of us, I wonder what he’d say about Atif Aslam ruining a timeless classic, a complete work of art and make it into something hideous, revolting and a soundtrack for a flick only dogs can watch.
Maher ends his article saying,
That’s why it’s so important that we the few, the proud, the reality-based attack this stuff before it has a chance to fester and spread. This isn’t a case of Democrats versus Republicans. It’s sentient beings versus the lizard people, and it is to them I offer this deal: I’ll show you Obama’s birth certificate when you show me Sarah Palin’s high school diploma.
And I guess I’ll see more respected, more intelligent, more talented people rising as superstars when we can learn to act normally around celebrities spotted at airports.
Any moment now.