Danish Faruqi: Merging Musical Exploration With Social Relevance
“It’s easy to take things for granted and much more inconvenient to look beyond the ‘norm’ to see how flawed society and its structures and systems really are. Being well adjusted to a flawed society is not healthy, it is desensitisation. And from desensitisation stems hopelessness and blind acceptance of violence, intolerance, and the status quo,” said Danish Faruqi , a Karachi-based artiste, who has mastered the art of crafting musicality with exceptional finesse under the pseudonym AL AK.
Although, his music is rife with rhythmic patterns and dissonant melodic intervals, there’s something inherently intriguing about his sound. There’s a strong sense of purpose in his music. Like an ode to the unsung voice of a conflicted mind, his compositions have the capacity to embody and control the dynamic nature of human connections. However, within the metaphorical tenor of his expressions lie the true intent of his musical experiments – a pursuit that binds social relevance and artistic exploration.
Currently pursuing a Master’s degree in International Education Policy at Harvard University, Danish’s two years as a Teach for Pakistan fellow has had a massive influence on his chosen career path and what he intends to do in the future. As a part of the programme, he taught third and fourth grade students English in a government school. Not only did this foster his interest in education but it also enabled him to chart out ways to help make quality education accessible to children in Pakistan.
“My music is heavily influenced by things happening around me, and how I perceive them. And, the prevalent social scenario has definitely had an effect on my creative process. A lot of times some of the hopelessness and despair I’d feel about occurrences in Pakistan would manifest themselves in my music” said the artiste and added, “ For instance, my latest track Only Human is quite dark and my way of expressing and coming to terms with how I felt after I heard about the killing of Sabeen Mahmud . She was a great patron of the arts and, I realise now, one of the bravest people I’ve come across.”
Can art and music nurture society’s cultural transformation?
Faruqi strongly believes that any compelling art form can engender a sense of hope and faith in mankind. “It seems that everyday there’s something new to divide us, finding that one thing that can bring people together, evoke emotions regardless of where you’re coming from, is a sign of hope. Just the fact that stringing words together in a certain way, or playing certain chords, or filming from a certain angle can make people feel something is beautiful. The fact that these evocations can transcend divides is a testament to our shared humanity,” said the artiste.
Throughout history, art and music have played an imperative role in shaping society’s transformation into an evolved cultural entity. Over the years, with the emancipation of expressive forms of art came the adaptation of a movement that led to historic changes within the social paradigm. While some considered this as a sign of progress, others believed that it was the end of an era of a praetorian regime – one that thrived on selfishness and bureaucracy.
1968 signified the mark of rebellion against social injustice in several countries. Protests were held worldwide by those who suffered at the hands of oppression. While this sparked revolutionary movements that successfully overthrew military dictatorship in some countries and ended colonisation in others; it also inspired mass socialist movements in nations that suffered in the shadows of repression.
“I think the fundamental issues faced by society today are the high degree of inequality, and the huge divide between the haves and the have nots. When your life path and the opportunities available to you are determined by which household you were born into, there is something clearly wrong with the system. It is no surprise that there’s frustration across society, and increasing intolerance and mistrust. When there is so much inequality, and a person’s humanity is tied to how much money they have in their bank account, it’s a huge problem” said the musician.
Though an underlying need for change with respect to consciousness and morality was brewing silently within the soils of Pakistan, 1968 proved to be one of the most pivotal years in the country’s history. In the fall of 1968, the then military dictator Ayub Khan declared his reign as the ‘Decade of Development’. In order to celebrate his dictatorship, students of Punjab University were forced to attend parades which were held at the Fortress Stadium in Lahore. As a mark of protest, the National Student Federation composed a song titled ‘The Decade of Sadness‘. What ensued was the government’s attempt to categorically destroy any uprising or resistance of sorts; what they didn’t realise was that years of muted suffering had finally gained a voice and thereby a momentum. Soon, this paved way for a strengthened community within the arts where artists and intellectuals united to resist autocracy.
Political theatre, drama and films such as Zarqa by Riaz Shahid sent powerful messages to the public. Musicians too composed songs that glorified the resistance and condemned the military dictator’s leadership. And, for the first time in history, it led to a chain reaction of events wherein culture, art and music joined hands to create one of the most crucial revolutions the country had ever seen.
Based on his own experiences, Danish says that he hasn’t really witnessed music being used as a catalyst for change in Pakistan today. He feels that music and art can only contribute to bring about a cultural revolution in society when access to it is made more equitable and widespread. “A group of privileged artistes or musicians making art for each other won’t galvanise a wider awakening of society,” said the artiste and added, “I feel it’s only when the elitism around the art or music scene is dispelled, and when the common man or woman is allowed equal opportunity to access the arts will a cultural revolution be possible.
Currently, a child born into a Katchi Abadi in Karachi will never have the same access to music lessons or art equipment as their more privileged counterparts.” Danish strongly feels that bringing about an artistic reform will be merely reduced to elitist and wishful thinking if the current situation persists, and the economic and social barriers keep the majority from being willing or able to devote time to the arts. However, promoting a meaningful dialogue and action at a fundamental level can trigger unexpected insights which could eventually bring forth the ‘change’ we’ve all been waiting for. As someone once eloquently put it, the first step in solving a problem is perhaps recognising that there is one…
written by Akshatha Shetty