Music vs. Militancy

Cross Post from Dawn Blogs

By Salman Siddiqui on January 21, 2010

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. 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.


Filed under Activism, Blogging, culture, Left, Liberal Democratic Pakistan, Media, Music, Pakistan, video

21 responses to “Music vs. Militancy

  1. Milind Kher

    If the youth are coming out and speaking up against the Taliban, it is a good thing. The appeal of the Taliban to the youth has to be dulled by all means.

    Terrorism becomes toothless the day it lacks mass support. This is the course that people will have to take

  2. P Gill

    I wish such songs are sung in Urdu or Punjabi.
    I would recommend a Punjabi song from India (Khalistani days):

    Band karo badukan walio
    Mavan the put muk chale

  3. Mustafa Shaban

    Amazing video. Very well made.

  4. Sadia Hussain

    Daniyal Noorani efforts should be credited by the mainstream media!

    When most of the musicians have caved into the Taliban pressure he had the guts to highlight the issues which pose foremost dangers to Pakistan. This sets an example for Pakistani musicians who need stop playing “safe”!

  5. Mustafa Shaban

    @Sadia: I disagree, I appreciate the fact that Daniyal has specifically done a song on extremist brainwashing. But just because the other artists did not do songs on that does not mean they do not acknowledge it. Ali Azmat and Shahzad Roy have accepted the rightist influence in Pakistan. In thier opinion the public is very well aware of the brainwashing of extremists, but the public are less aware of the problems posed by foreign involvement, overt or covert, drone attacks or foreign backed militants. That is why they saw it more important to highlight those issues. Maybe the other singers will highlight the islamic extremism issue after a while as well but so far they see the hidden things that are more important to make people aware. A few of them maybe cowards but most of them seem to be nice and sincere people, who do acknowledge the role of islamic fundamentalism.

  6. Sadia Hussain

    @Mustafa! The involvement of external elements still remains a myth and I feel we lack any credible proof for that! If there is any strong evidence behind such allegations then surely the foreign office would put forth or is there another conspiracy that our government wants to kill its own citizens?
    The mainstream musicians are under the influence of the Taliban propaganda of the so-called hidden hand!

  7. Mustafa Shaban

    @Sadia: There is evidence presented by the Army, of Indian weapons and financing and Indian consulates in Afghanistan. Also a lot of evidence is with the foreign office but due to thier subservience to US they will not release it which makes things a little harder. The foreign influence in Balochistan is confirmed, the involvement in FATA and Waziristan is proven as well. Army has already presented compelling evidence. What makes you think that foriegn forces wont take advantage of this situation? Wil they just stand there and watch especially when there are a lot of strategic interests regarding Pakistan?

    And also the TTP is not strong, its been crushed by Army, and also rightist elements are not as strong as you think ,they acutally have been weakened a lot in the past few years. I think times have changed, nobody is afraid to speak out anymore atleast most arent.

  8. vajra

    @Mustafa Shaban

    Would you be able to cite any references for these Army revelations, or did you make it up? Or have you heard it on your favourite TV programme?

    This is with reference to Indian weapons and financing.

    For Indian consulates in Afghanistan, the number and location of consulates is public knowledge, and I am not sure what discoveries are being quoted.

    The foreign influence in Balochistan is confirmed, the involvement in FATA and Waziristan is proven as well. Army has already presented compelling evidence.

    I would like you to quote when and where this was presented.

  9. Mustafa Shaban

    @vajra: The evidence was presented by the PM during the Sharm Al Sheikh meeting to the Indian PM. Also Kayani has presented the evidence to Gen Mchrystal, and Adm Mike Mullen. Patreus and Mchrystal have been quoted saying that they are concerned about Indian involvement in Afghanistan and how it creates problems for Pakistan. So I dont beleive they are lying.

  10. Mustafa Shaban

    The only way to be sure is to have the foriegn office release the evidence which unfortunately they are not doing. This is why we are still havin this debate.

  11. vajra

    @Mustafa Shaban

    This is what I was afraid of.

    There was no evidence presented by the Pakistani side, as far as I remember newspaper reports and media reports, at the actual meeting at Sharm al Sheikh. There were statements made that such evidence (specifically, of Indian involvement in Baluchistan, and nothing else) would be presented subsequently.

    I could be wrong, but from memory, there has been no report that any such report has been presented, and Sharm al Sheikh was a long time ago, so it isn’t that there hasn’t been enough time.

    2. About General Kayani presenting such a report to General McChrystal and Admiral Mike Mullen, do you have a reference, a newspaper account perhaps or a TV report? I doubt very much that this happened or was reported.

    3. Re. Petraeus and McChrystal having been quoted, where, and when please?

    I am saying all this because there is a very great danger that in this climate, people will forget details and report the wrong details, or that they will combine two or more entirely different reports, or that similar inadvertent distortions may happen. This is not lying, it’s the kind of fear-psychosis that arises in such times.

    4. Have you thought that the Foreign Office might not have such evidence after all? Think about the Sharm al Sheikh case, for instance.

  12. AZW


    “The foreign influence in Balochistan is confirmed, the involvement in FATA and Waziristan is proven as well. Army has already presented compelling evidence.”

    Did you see that evidence. What does the evidence say? What is that you saw that you declared it compelling?

    What did General Kiyani present to General McCrystal? It is a bit hard to find an evidence compelling because PM Gilani or Man Mohan Singh, or General Kiyani met somewhere and presented each other evidences. Or they gave statements (with quite regular frequency over past many years) that they are troubled with suspected Indian involvement in Balochistan or suspected Pakistani involvement in Mao insurgency or Indian held Kashmir.

    So beside their statements where they are troubled what compelling evidence you saw that confirms the Indian hand in Balochistan and FATA?

  13. Hayyer

    The evidence in FATA I read somewhere was the dead uncircumcised Taliban fighters. That sort of evidence would not even qualify as circumstantial.
    About Baluchistan, whatever the truth of otherwise of the charge no evidence at all was presented. The Pakistan PM made a mention of Pakistani concerns I believe but that is all.
    But would it surprise you to know that Pakistan is still trying to infiltrate bombers into Indian Punjab. They found a van with explosives in Halwara near the airbase just a week ago. Efforts are continuing to reignite the terror campaign that died out in 1992 in Punjab. Sikh militants from Jammu and Punjab still have a refuge in Pakistan.
    So, MS it is time for some mutual trust building; CBMs I think is what they are called. There is more than one guilty party.

  14. Mustafa Shaban

    @vajra: I have read these things quite some time back as that was when the statements were made:

    Here are a few articles relating to my points, I wil keep looking for the articles i read before.

    these are the articles I could find so far. I will look for more stuff. Try reading Christine Fair”s part.

    I beleive that indian involvement is very much possible as it is highly beneficial for india to keep Pak Army busy in other areas and maybe even weaken it by insurgencies.

    @AZW: I doubt that Gilani would go upto Manmohan Singh , and Kayani up to Mcchrystal and Mullen if the evidence was not compelling, also llooking at the acceptance of this assesment by Mcchrystal and partial acceptance by Manmohan.

  15. Mustafa Shaban

    My comment is awaiting moderation, will probably take a few dayz to moderate, after which you can read the links.

  16. Hayyer

    The Pakistan Prime Minister gave an interview to an Indian journalist Suhasini Haider reproduced in The Hindu newspaper today. Go through it.
    Here is what he said in part;

    Interviewer- Would your government be open to India’s request on Hafiz Sayeed?
    PM “……..We needed further information…….One thing I must tell you, when we met Manmohan Singh it was a good meeting and he really wanted to discuss all the core issues including water, Sir Creek, Siachen, Kashmir-including interference in Balochistan. He said I’m ready to discuss anything and we had mutually decided that yes, the dialogue is the only answer. But he had tremendous pressure in his own country, his Parliament, and that can be the only thing which stalled this composite dialogue.

    Interviewer: We did have a joint statement…..All the reactions which have come since on Balochistan seem to have taken the process down…
    PM- I disagree with you because when we discussed these issues the two Prime Ministers were meeting. We were very careful in wording all these things, and we took three hours.

    Interviewer- Was including Balochistan a mistake…? Pakistan has not provided any evidence…
    PM- We can provide everything at an appropriate forum and appropriate time.

    Interviewer- But you are convinced that there is Indian interference in Balochistan?
    PM- Yes, I’m convinced… That’s the reason I raised it with the Prime Minister.

    You will notice that the Pakistan PM makes no mention of interference by India in FATA. He also confirms that no evidence of India’s interference in Balochistan has been provided as yet.

  17. Hayyer

    I read a bit of the Foreign Policy colloquy.
    I cannot believe that any responsible Indian official would boast to an American think tank member that India is pumping money into Balochistan. That is like a public announcement is it not.
    Aqil Shah says that the Pak Army says India is involved in FATA. The question is one of evidence. Where is it? Sumeet Ganguly is also incredulous that the Indian agencies could conduct such an operation.

  18. vajra

    @Mustafa Shaban

    If you read the account of the colloquium for yourself, that silly remark by Christine Fair is so much in the spirit of wishing to score points with her seniors by saying that she knows something that they don’t that it is downright laughable.

    Just read it for yourself, and check it out.

  19. Mustafa Shaban

    So far the question of Indian involvement is questionable, but we should not rule out the possibility of thier involvement. Only when they release the evidence then we can be sure, till then its a question mark. But the theory should not be dismissed.

  20. vajra

    @Mustafa Shaban

    If you put it that way, that it is only a theory, perhaps not even a very seriously maintained theory, and that only release of hypothetical evidence, which may or may not exist, then of course it is difficult to argue against it.

    By the way, did you know that pigs can fly? It’s a theory, of course, but the scientists have proof, of course, it’s just that because they all look forward to rich professorships in the US after they retire here, that they don’t publish the real research reports that will prove the point conclusively. Oh, we can question it all right, but just wait till the proof comes out; won’t everybody who says they can’t look mighty silly then?

  21. AZW

    Mustafa Shaban, Jan 28 @ 5.02 p.m.

    The foreign influence in Balochistan is confirmed, the involvement in FATA and Waziristan is proven as well. Army has already presented compelling evidence

    Mustafa Shaban, Jan 29 @ 4.44 p.m.

    So far the question of Indian involvement is questionable, but we should not rule out the possibility of thier involvement. Only when they release the evidence then we can be sure, till then its a question mark. But the theory should not be dismissed