When music creates political change

Baani visiting artists
Left to right: Saad Sultan, Chris Stromquist, Ali Aftab Saeed, and Conner Singh VanderBeek practicing for their concert (Credit: Dr. Laura Brueck)

On their first US tour, Pakistani artists Ali and Saad Sultan spent two weeks in-residence at Northwestern. Sponsored by the Global Humanities Initiative, Saeed and Sultan were named Jean Gimbel Lane Distinguished artists.

They are well-known throughout the world and have collaborated to create catchy and politically-charged songs, released in response to growing civil unrest and terrorism in Pakistan.

Saeed sparked his music career with a viral YouTube sensation titled “Aalu Andey,” which means “potatoes and eggs.” He is the lead vocalist of a band called the Beygairat Brigade, which means “the shameless brigade.” The band name satirizes the censorship entity known as the Honor Brigade in Pakistan.  

Although the title and video are playful and lighthearted, the lyrical content reveals scathing criticism about the civil unrest and religious persecution of non-majority Muslims in Pakistan. When asked about the inspiration for the song, Saeed remarked, “We were initially driving to the studio to record a song titled ‘Rickshaw,’ but one of my bandmates spontaneously came up with the main verse [of ‘Aalu Andey’]. I stopped the car and said, ‘That’s it.’ People always expect the song was the product of a long process, but it is so special because it was spontaneous. ”

Several hit songs later, Saeed, 30, has become increasingly popular and remains controversial for his satirical style. While many of his videos were banned from YouTube, the censorship sparked increased interest and helped expand his fan base. In addition to his musical repertoire, he produced a documentary titled “Strangers in Their Own Land,” chronicling the everyday struggles of religious minorities in Pakistan, including Christians and non-majority Ahmadiyya Muslims. This documentary was screened for the first time in the United States at Northwestern on April 11, followed with a keynote address by Saeed.

In addition to the political satire seminars and screening, Saeed and Sultan recorded their latest single in Louis Hall’s brand new recording studio. Titled “Jaagay Koi,” which means “someone awakens,” the track features Saad Sultan on guitar and several local musicians, including students from the Bienen School of Music. Simultaneously, several students from the RTVF department helped create a music video in the sound studio and in various sites in downtown Chicago.

When asked if he had any final pieces of advice for students after staying at Northwestern for two weeks, Saeed responded, “Each student should follow their passion, even if they are experiencing resistance from their families or friends. Doing what you love can open doors to opportunities that will help you grow further in many more important aspects of life. I wouldn’t have been hired to produce a documentary or help make organizations for children’s music education if I wasn’t a singer. ”

One Response to "When music creates political change"

  1. ketomob.co   June 21, 2016 at 12:05 pm

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