Pakistani indie rock Aunty Disco Project bows out


Aunty Disco Project (ADP) announced their break up shortly after lead singer Omar Akhtar decided to move to New York to study journalism at Columbia University.

ADP is the stuff of Karachi legend: 90s alternative hooks, complicated rhythmic shifts, borrowings from genres as vast as samba, disco and garage, stellar musicianship and genuine tragedy. Established in 2006, the band reached critical mass when “Sultanat”, a raucous, anti-government rock anthem, replete with eastern rifts and psychedelic delivery, showcased on “Coke Studio” in 2010.  Sped up at Saturday’s Pakistan American Cultural Center show, the song manhandled the crowd, nearly spilling the percussion kit onto the tweensters in the front row. Because at the final ADP show, it was really about the kids.

Take the Pathan sisters, Amna, 14, and Laila, 15 – ADP’s self-proclaimed biggest fans. “They’re the first band I ever saw in concert,” said Laila. “The line-up has changed. The old stuff was kind of grungy and interesting, and the new stuff is upbeat and happier. And the really cool thing, you can see how Omar has matured in the lyrics he writes now.”

She’s followed ADP since she was 10, catching every show that didn’t break curfew. Last week, she had three nightmares that she’d missed the final show.

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Journey to the Kalash valley of Rumbur

photo by Zeeshan Haider

text by yours truly

My journey officially begins at the Chitral police station, where Pakistani friends sip sweet green tea while Shane and I try to argue our way out of 24-hour armed escorts.

“I was here just last July, and I didn’t have a guard then,” says the adamant Irishman, a five-year resident of Islamabad and a seasoned traveller in the northern areas.

Apparently, since October 2010 — a point in time that seems completely arbitrary to us — all foreigners are assigned guards. Will the guards fit in our Landcruiser? Okay then, not a problem. They’ll send a separate truck. So the next afternoon, we begin the treacherous uphill chug into what was, until recently, the North West Frontier, following a pick-up packed with cops — at least seven at last count.

The midsized Kalash valley of Rumbur is the land that time — and electricity, mobile service and hot showers — forgot. It’s less commercialised than Bhumboret, the larger valley, and its population is almost purely Kalash — a tribe of Indo-Aryans who consider themselves the progeny of Alexander the Great. Rumbur has five villages of between 10 to 50 families each.

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Party in Chitral, y’all!

Chitral is a great little town at the foot of Tirich Mir, which is the highest peak of the Hindu Kush, in Khyber-Pakhtunkwa province. Okay, actually, Chitral is the only “city” in the district, but at 20,000 people to Karachi’s nearly 16 million, it still felt like a little town to me!

People have a distinct language (Khowar aka Chitrali), costume and culture. They are conservative but friendly, and there’s a shopping street (they call it the bazaar) open till dusk everyday, where you can buy chadors and  heavy wool handwoven socks, Chitrali hats (which are traditionally for men, but are super-cute on ladies!!), instruments, and all sorts of necessities and extras. There are also polo grounds in town–we saw part of a polo game–an ancient fort (Noghore, 400 years old, written about in Sir George S. Robertson’s Chitral: The Story of a Minor Siege), and gorgeous mosque built in 1915. We weren’t there long enough, but there’s also supposed to be fabulous trekking in the area, and while it’s incredibly dusty (the river resembles chocolate milk), there are also parts that are shockingly (again, after Karachi’s crux of desert-meets-beach) green and fertile.

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Urban development check: can Karachi build castles on dung heaps?

KARACHI: “We think we’re going to build castles on top of dung heaps? Karachi is a katchi-abadi city, a city of squatters, slums,” said Roland deSouza, an engineer and speaker at a seminar by the urban activist group SHEHRI-CBE.

On Thursday about 75 engineers, architects, city planners, students and journalists gathered at the Institute of Engineers Pakistan to ponder the implications of pending changes to the Sindh High Density Development Board Act 2010, passed last June by the Sindh Assembly. An advisory committee, appointed by the Karachi Building Control Authority and compose of architects and infrastructure personnel, opposed the Act.

Although high density refers to the number of people per square feet, high-density development is often shorthand for vertical development, or high-rises. The law gave the government permission to designate “high-density development” areas anywhere in Sindh. Architects and planners criticised the law for being vague and ignoring the problems that could result from indiscriminately placing commercial, highly trafficked buildings in residential areas.

Now lawmakers are attempting to clarify the Act with a set of rules and procedures which have not yet been voted into law. The rules would give the government permission to build anywhere in the city, with no height or size restrictions, no zoning boundaries and no sort of institutional approval process. Perhaps the government hopes to save time and avoid expensive bureaucracy. According to architect Husnain Lotia, a speaker and member of the advisory committee, President Zardari envisions Karachi as the next Dubai, with 100-storey buildings that would ignite the city’s depressed economy.

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Karachi’s Zoe Viccaji politely rocks out

KARACHI: Backstage Zoe Viccaji pulls a face at her reflection as her stylist gives the loose side ponytail a tentative pat.“Okay, just don’t touch it,” the stylist advises.

“Don’t touch my hair for two hours?” Zoe is incredulous.

She is also late — nearly an hour late. The crowd was receptive to a warm-up comedy sketch by Adeel Khalid of CityFM’s breakfast show, but now they are chanting, “Zo-eee, Zo-eee!”

The chanting climbs a pitch as Viccaji takes the stage. There is standing room only for the audience which consists of over 300 bodies packed into the Pakistan American Cultural Centre. And the crowd is politely (because it’s that kind of crowd) ravenous for a piece of her. Viccaji smiles, adjusts the microphone and says, “Wow…wouldn’t it be really embarrassing if I started crying right now?” The cheering just gets louder.

“This is great. I don’t even have to sing!” she quips, giggling with a sudden surge of confidence. Then she introduces Lenny Massey, the highly proficient piano player for Aunty Disco Project, and opens with the first song she ever wrote — a 16-year-old’s break-up anthem, heavily influenced by Sarah McLachlan. A gutsy move, but Viccaji manages to pull it off — perhaps because she really is, or at least can be, that earnest.

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Levis Pakistan Originals:Inspire campaign features Strings

KARACHI: Following the corporate/artist sponsorship model that has proven effective with Coke Studio, on May 30 Levi’s Pakistan debuted Zoe Viccaji’s acapella interpretation of the Strings hit, “Bichara Yaar”, on CityFM’s Breakfast Show.

“Levi’s Originals: Inspire is about how Strings are the originals and Zoe and Bilal are inspired by the originals,” said Adnan Malik, creator and executive producer of the campaign. “Levi’s wanted a twist on a photoshoot with Strings, but I thought they should give the stars of tomorrow a platform. The mainstream artists have done so many campaigns already, why do we want to keep seeing the same people?”

In the case of Coke Studio, promoting independent artists has translated to direct market gain. In recent years, Pakistan has become entrenched among Coca Cola’s 15 fastest-growing global markets. And for Pakistani artists who can’t access the-incidentally, dying-giant labels of the west, it’s a viable means of funding and distribution.

“Music is something I do for me, whether or not I make money out of it,” said Bilal Khan, 24, a veteran of Coke Studio and another Levi’s artist. “Levi’s is a cool brand, I wear it anyway. So I’m promoting something I believe in. Really this is just another way for me to make music.”

Keep reading at Express Tribune.