Pakistan calling

Friday, March 24, 2017 - 16:45

Alchemy has always been a space for extraordinary unions and insights. This year, the festival combines two potent musical forces in one concert. Arwa Haider reports.

British rabble-rousers Asian Dub Foundation (ADF) with Pakistani leftist alt-rockers Laal. It also offers a heady snapshot of Pakistan’s modern sounds and visions, courtesy of Karachi-based producers Salt Arts.


ADF have made their distinctive musical mark since their early-‘90s London community collective roots. They’ve earned a rep for thrilling gigs (with a heavy nod to sound system culture), and uncompromising anthems (from campaigning tracks such as 1998’s Free Satpal Ram to their acclaimed live re-score for French urban drama La Haine).

They’re also ardent champions of international music; DJ Pandit G describes their initial aim of working with Laal as ‘a pipedream’, realised with the help of media platform The Samosa:

‘Laal represent the best of the courageous, progressive and secular political movement in Pakistan,’ he says. ‘This movement is needed more now than ever. It will be an honour to perform with them, and bring their hope and optimism to the audience at Southbank Centre.’

Progressive values inform what both ADF and Laal do with our music

‘Our sounds are quite different,’ admits ADF lead guitarist Steve ‘Chandrasonic’ Savale, who first heard Laal while researching for his Music Of Resistance TV show. ‘Laal are a melodic vocal-led group; ADF come from a punk and jungle MC tradition. We don’t follow trends, but we’re able to absorb interesting developments from any source.’

‘Of course, there has always been fantastic music coming out of Pakistan, but Laal have a fascinating voice that we don’t hear much over here. They put music to Urdu leftist poetry, and cover traditional socialist themes that are still relevant in Pakistan.’

Laal also feature an unconventional founder/frontman, in award-winning academic and rock performer Taimur Rahman:

‘It may sound strange, but I’ve never really seen these roles as two different things at all,’ says Rahman, whose ‘day job’ is assistant professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. ‘It has always been my effort to educate and agitate the people against oppression. It was the reason I became a teacher in the first place and it is also the reason I picked up the guitar to write songs.’

Asian Dub Foundation

Rahman argues that both acts share a vital ethos: ‘A deep commitment to progressive values and socialist politics informs what ADF and Laal do with our music.’ The bands will play individual numbers and brand new collaborative work at this show, which is presented as a distinctly passionate concert for peace.

ADF’s line-up includes celebrated original bassist Dr Das, and beatboxer/musician Nathan ‘Flutebox’ Lee. Laal will perform benchmark tracks Umeed e Sahar (Dawn Of Hope) and Dehshatgardi Murdabad (Death To Terrorism), and previously unheard material including their homage to murdered Karachi human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud. (‘We can never forget the sacrifices of our friends who gave their everything for a new tomorrow,’ says Rahman).

Rahman reflects on the concert’s theme, in the wake of terrorist atrocities from Brussels to Baghdad, Ankara and Lahore. ‘This cannot be the result of a “clash of civilisations”,’ he says. ‘How could the same horrific incident occur on both sides of the world, by the same kind of forces? This is a clash between the forces that wish to do away with the walls that divide man from man, and the forces that wish to raise walls, that wish to increase hatred, that wish to harden our hearts towards each other. They will not win.’

Chandrasonic agrees that the tone of the show will be one of raucously spirited, bassline-fuelled unity. ‘Thinking in terms of “them and us” is part of the problem,’ he says. ‘I hope this will be a meeting of minds and experiences.’

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