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VIEW: Signs of Our Time

Old Old Piece Published In The POST, May 10, 2007

Update: Imran Khan's Karachi Jalsa (2011) turned to yesteryear's idols to liven up the proceedings....

2014: JJ puts his foot in it by declaring women should not be allowed to drive. Time to Boycott his clothing.

It is the 1980s.

Sounds of music emanate from a garden where some youngsters strum a guitar to the amusement of a small captive audience of neighbourhood children perched on the wall, the best seats in the house.

Some years pass; destiny fashions this unlikely albeit glamorous hobby into a career; a pop icon emerges with the phenomenon of Vital Signs, one of the most recognisable and well-loved hit songs of that time and a fan base ranging from admiring youth to stern-looking aunties.

As the Signs rejuvenate Pakistani pop culture, their wholesome image and evident musical genius quickly establish them as a class act. Music flourishes despite the stifling media policies and good songs with great musicians surface to define the 90s.

Now that music is fast becoming endangered in some areas of Pakistan, some former advocates of this vocation have crossed over to the other side of reason, leaving their legacy highly vulnerable. The implications of such radical shifts, the derivative risks and farcical charges against an art form make for an intriguing study.

In a group, and later as a solo act, front-man Junaid Jamshed was the most vocal of his group, whose candour and charismatic personality captured the imagination of the nation. The youth looked up to this group, especially Junaid, as a role model who displayed none of the airs of a celebrity or the stereotypical lifestyle usually associated with Western pop/rock culture. Vital Signs effectively bridged Western standards with Eastern conservatism and the blend appeased all but the hidebound traditionalists and confused moralists. Music and the musician seemed to get on well together, which is why the breakup of Junaid's musical relationship, when it came, was hard to fathom and even harder to accept for the legions of devoted followers.

Today, Junaid denounces his past life and undermineshis former profession - the same profession through which came something more lasting than wealth from any amount of endorsement deals, through the respect of a nation, renown both at home and abroad and admiration of peers. In fact, casting aspersions on his musical past makes it appear like it was Crystal Meth and not music he was promoting.

Does he still regard the Signs music as worthy or their work to be a noble endeavour that evoked patriotism, conserved the musical/cultural heritage, uplifted this nation and gave us some of the finest songs? Would he now concede that his past devotion to music and observance of cultural norms attested to love of country and not frailty of character? The public's disappointment stems not from renouncing fame and fortune but denouncing the music that brought honour, not disgrace, songs that touched many and earned accolades along the way. This says something for the kind of work the Signs did, with music that was profoundly patriotic, facetious yet poignant, stirring the spirit of nationalism and the effervescence of spirit.

Aging pop stars/celebrities do eventually reach a place where they seek fulfillment away from the glitz and glamour of show business. This is perfectly understandable. The good news is that the power of celebrity positions it very well to bring the positive change they seek in their society. Celebrities elsewhere manage to reconcile their quest for salvation with their work. Hence we saw our Fakhar-e-Alam successfully rallying the nation after the October 8 earthquake, rock star Bono promoting his 'One Campaign' to eradicate poverty, and even Shakira comes with a 'Fundacion Pies Descalzos' (Barefeet Foundation) for her country's impoverished children.

Music and art are professions much like engineering, architecture, politics, medicine or cab driving; each can bring renown and also lead to infamy. Personal choices play a role in how professions are tackled. Who do you suppose would be recommended access to the Pearly Gates, a crooked architect/politician/engineer or the honest musician or cabbie?

Part of the myth about religion is that it is an obdurate philosophy that suppresses expressions of humanity by binding the soul in rigidity of norms which define right and wrong and insist on conformity to this bleak notion. The true spirit of our belief, however, lies in rejecting the radicalism of ideals. Know that the faithful are recognised by good deeds, not by dress code alone. It is merely a symbolism and nothing more. By itself, it does not reflect the strength of character or force of conviction. There is no confusion in this religion. Clear cut diktats will tell what is prohibited, logic will support these assertions, and the heart will accept them as right.

Now, to take a detour believing that no other road leads to God, salvation only lies in renouncing the world, associating art with vice, asking the flock to do the same will further widen the chasm between extreme interpretations and the new found concept of 'modern enlightenment'. Careless comments and condemnation of the finer things of life can only fan the flames of bigotry, which are becoming harder to extinguish as it is. The young generation must realise now that they do not need to give up a respectable life for an acceptable afterlife.

That religion must never infringe upon reason is a given and while reactionaries try to re-sculpt societies, only the presence of genuine role models can truly establish that rationality of theological beliefs is, in reality, at par with progress.

This is not a comment on the changing priorities or the determination of which path is most rewarding. It is, however, about protecting the intellectual property rights that foster balanced development of civilised societies. All societies do hold the right to artistic expression within defined boundaries and, therefore, must stand up somehow to counter this cross-pollination of radical concepts.

'All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing' - Edmund Burke.

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