Another Side of Pakistan
October 25, 2011 7:34 PM   Subscribe

An unusual new Pakistani band's first single courts controversy, and provides a window into a side of Pakistan rarely seen in Western news. The Beyghairat Brigade musically satirizes the politics of Pakistan, and goes viral.

Notably absent from the satirical verses of the song is the MQM, a liberal and secular political party centered in Sindh, a comparatively diverse province in Pakistan's south, home to its largest and most cosmopolitan city, Karachi.

Moving north and east, the band itself is based in Lahore, widely described as the cultural and educational capital of Pakistan, part of Punjab, its prosperous heartland. (The song is sung in Punjabi.) Punjab's Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, is representative of Pakistan's political mainstream, his party the PML(N) being the economically conservative counterweight to the PPP, the nominally social democratic current national leadership. The two parties are the largest in the country. Near Lahore is Muridke, the headquarters of Lashkar-e-Taiba the terror organization that recruited Ajmal Kasab, mocked in the song.

Swinging far west of Lahore, we reach Khyber-Pakhtunkwa, formerly the North-West Frontier Province. This region includes the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, an area comprised of about three million people, constituting the largest base of support for Islamic radicalism and the Taliban. The people of the FATA are underrepresented politically, but the larger region is the stronghold of the MMA, a nationwide coalition of Islamist groups, who collectively support the Taliban. One major clerical supporter of the Taliban, Abdul Aziz Ghazi, led his followers to bloody confrontation before escaping by dressing as a woman, in a veil and burqa, winked at in the song. Previously on MeFi, one member party, the JUI-F, has taken the unusual step of directly denouncing "armed struggle".
posted by StrikeTheViol (29 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
"If You WantA Bullet Through My Head
'Like This Video'"

Holy fuck they arn't kidding. These are brave men, 15 year old and all, the world needs more like them.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:52 PM on October 25, 2011

You know, I always thought politically conscious bands such as Crass and the Dead Kennedys were brave for speaking up against Thatcher and Reagan, respectively. And while that's true, there's something to be said for forming a band in one of the most brutal regimes in the world and slinging the satire in all directions with impunity. Helps that the songs are damn catchy, too.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:57 PM on October 25, 2011

Funny to see the handful of nutball Youtube commenters reaching out from Western countries to tell "fellow" Pakistanis how much better an Islamist theocracy is for Pakistan.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:11 PM on October 25, 2011

Wow--catchy and brave. Be careful guys.
posted by LarryC at 8:40 PM on October 25, 2011

Holy fuck indeed. I've been in the dumps about what's happening in Oakland, but watching this gives me hope again -- humans don't suck. More young unreasonable idealists, please! (I wonder if it's possible to support these guys in some concrete way.)

What does Beyghairat mean? Something like "the ones without remorse"?

When I was a kid most of my school chums spoke that mix of Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, and English. Took me back!
posted by phliar at 8:42 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, maybe I should have clarified, Beyghairat is translated as "dishonor" in the "mocked in the song" link, which also explicates some other references.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 8:59 PM on October 25, 2011

Ah, Beyghairat -- ones without honour. An article in Dawn says it's the mainstream name for the dissenters, the ones who attack the "Qaumi Ghairat" -- the honour of the land -- hence the Beyghairat Brigade. (Man, Urdu is such a beautiful language.)
posted by phliar at 9:01 PM on October 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

The first linked article translates it as "shameless", fwiw.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:08 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

That Dawn article is probably the most thorough of the the explanatory ones, not sure how I missed it, thanks phliar!
posted by StrikeTheViol at 9:13 PM on October 25, 2011

The kid on the bongo is mad [0:41 - 0:44]. Mad!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 2:33 AM on October 26, 2011

Not as mad as the chickens [0:59 - 1:01]

And wow, that has to be the brassiest thing I've seen in a good while.

Is the make-up supposed to echo police tape?
posted by Kattullus at 4:27 AM on October 26, 2011

Oh you're missing that the "Beghairat Brigade" is a play on the "Ghairat Brigade" which is what those of us Pakistanis who are not so enamoured of self-righteous religious zealots tend to call those who go around telling women to dress more modestly, and men to hitch up their trousers/wear beards, etc.

The song is really funny on many levels, not least of which is the deliberately appalling subtitles.
posted by bardophile at 1:56 PM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is this something deeper I'm missing about the price of chicken or is he simply alluding to the fact that those with powerful connections can get the best stuff cheaply?
posted by rh at 4:33 PM on October 26, 2011

I loved this, especially the licking the of the ax, an aphorism I am familiar with from Buddhism - though I'm not exactly sure what it means in the video.

The idea as I understood it is that being involved in wordly sensations and affairs (i.e. attached to samsara) is so dangerous, and so pleasant, that it's like licking a razor that has been dipped in honey.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 6:24 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

FTA: The lyrics take a punch at basically everything that is wrong with Pakistan’s set-up. From the prices of staple food to current political parties, the powerful army and the country’s revered and now feared ISI – the band leaves not one stone unturned as it goes along its merry satirical way.

The song mentions the seemingly unexplainable swings in food prices. But why complain about the price of chicken going down?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:32 PM on October 26, 2011

It's the rise in the price of bread they're referencing, instead of just saying "wow bread is really expensive" they're going "wow chicken is really cheap (in comparison) all of a sudden", as if a drastic rise in bread prices is a hard thing to notice.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 6:51 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Brilliant, thanks. I has a suspicion that I missed the joke.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:29 PM on October 26, 2011

It used to be that chicken was the expensive meat that was served only at weddings or other special occasions. Daal roti (lentils and bread) was considered the standard meal of the poor. Or onions and bread, depending on which part of the country you were from. In recent years, daal and poultry meat have come to have comparable, exorbitant prices.

The other allusion is to chicken as the food that's always referenced in jokes about meals eaten by takers of bribes, the mooching village moulvi, etc.

Finally, it's the desi equivalent of eating cake since you have no bread.
posted by bardophile at 12:18 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Incidentally, the exclusion of the MQM may be about one of two things, or both. The first is that these boys appear to be from Lahore, in the Punjab, while the MQM's influence is pretty much limited to Karachi and urban Sind.

The other thing is that the MQM *will* come after people who criticize them. People's families have been threatened, disappeared, etc. Contrary to popular Western belief, political satire is not new or unusual in Pakistan. Usually, the politicos turn a blind eye to it. The MQM does not.
posted by bardophile at 12:28 AM on October 27, 2011

So, as an exercise in procrastination, instead of transcribing a research interview, I transcribed and translated and annotated the lyrics, because the subtitles are deliberately wrong in some cases.

Here's my interpretation:

Meri maan ne pakaaye aaloo andey
My mother has cooked potatoes and eggs (Curried potato and hardboiled eggs are a traditional cheap substitute for curried potatoes and meat)

Main nahin khana mainoo lagde ne gande
I don’t want to eat them, I don’t like them (with a hint of “they smell bad”)

Main te khaavanga chicken di boti
I’m going to eat a piece of chicken (significant that it’s a piece of chicken and not chicken curry, because curry goes further)

O de naal khameeri roti
And leavened bread (which is more expensive than regular flatbreads)

Paavain ho jaaye chicken toun mehngi daal
Even if daal becomes more expensive than chicken (This is an interesting poetic choice. Referring perhaps to the fact that people used to serve chicken as a status symbol)

Ain ganjeyan ne nap layi patang ai
These baldies have measured the kites (I disagree with the Dawn writer here. I think this is a reference to MQM, whose electoral symbol is the kite, and it’s abortive bid to spread to Punjab, where the formerly bald Sharif brothers hold sway.)

CJ Khan di akhri umang hai
The Chief Justice is the Khan’s last hope (Imran Khan has been notoriously unable to gain any real political traction ever since he entered politics. Should the Supreme Court bar some candidates from running, he may have a chance.)

Extension de pai gaye raulai
There’s been a fuss over the extension (Kiyani was due to retire, but then didn't)

Tayyon Chief di bolti vi band hai
So the Chief is keeping his mouth shut (Probably Chief of Army Staff Kiyani)

Aithai Qadri baneya nawab hai
Here Qadri has become a nawab (nobility) (Mumtaz Qadri, the man who assassinated Salman Taseer)

Aithai hero Ajmal Kasab hai
Here Ajmal Kasab is a hero (Ajmal Kasab being one of the perpetrators of the Bombay massacre)

Mulla nasseya vich hijab ai
The moulvi escaped in a woman’s veil (A reference to a militant moulvi who tried to escape during the Red Mosque siege in 2007 by disguising himself in a burka)

Aithai Abdus Salaam noon puchhdaee koi nahin
Here no one gives any attention to Abdus Salaam (Abdus Salaam is Pakistan's Nobel-winning physicist, who, because of being an Ahmedi, has never been given much recognition by the establishment or the nation in general, in a nation that typically lionizes award-winners of any sort.)


Chitti cheeni vi bikdi black ai
Here white sugar is sold black (Sugar has been one of the commodities that have been hoarded and sold at exorbitant prices, even sparking off riots in 2007)

Siyaasi totaian da lag gaya jack hai
Political parrots have hit the jackpot/have been jacked up

Blackwater di nahin koi tension
Blackwater is nothing to worry about

Aithai andron hi honde attack hai
Here attacks come from within

Jaivain marzi pakaalo roti
Whatever way/However much you cook the bread

O rehndi ai tavai ton choti
It remains smaller than the griddle (This could be a reference to rising flour and bread prices, or simply an observation about truth being only so stretchable)

Jithe chun chun maar de ne daaku
Here where dacoits are picked off one by one (a reference to how many times political opponents, dissidents, etc., are killed in ‘police encounters’)

Uthe “puls” di chori noon pharda ee koi nahin
No one catches the thievery of the police.

posted by bardophile at 11:55 AM on October 28, 2011 [8 favorites]

Bloody hell. Top work, bardophile. Enjoying this thread way more than I thought I would. It's criminal that it's got so few comments!

Your translation of "I don’t want to eat them, I don’t like them" makes a heck of a lot more sense to this English speaker than "I find them bad."
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:39 PM on October 28, 2011

Wow, thanks bardophile!
posted by StrikeTheViol at 9:14 PM on October 28, 2011

Your translation of "I don’t want to eat them, I don’t like them" makes a heck of a lot more sense to this English speaker than "I find them bad."

I had a back and forth with my friends about why the subtitles were so awful. There are several possibilities:

1) The subtitles are bad because subtitles often are (See: All your bases are belong to us), because the people doing the subtitles can't manage any better.
2) The subtitles are deliberately bad, as a joking reference to how subtitles are often/usually bad.
3) The subtitles are deliberately bad, in order to provide plausible deniability. The words in Punjabi sound much more direct when translated into English.

The consensus amongst the Pakistanis I spoke to was that it was a combination of reasons 2 and 3.
posted by bardophile at 12:09 AM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I watched this interview with Beygairat Brigade and the band switches constantly, often mid-sentence, between English and Urdu. That seems quite odd to me, I've never come across that kind of communication before. I'm used to seeing people switch between languages, but not like this, not in the middle of sentences. And it's not slang, it seems like the speakers are just switching between languages on the fly. It seemed quite amazing to me. Is this the common way youth (presumably the middle class youth) of Pakistan speak or do people of all ages do that? Is this a specifically Lahore type of speaking or widespread throughout Pakistan?

I wrote an e-mail to The Bugle, the podcast that John Oliver (of The Daily Show) does with another English comedian, Andy Zaltzman, that was about Beygairat Brigade (and Anonymous' provocation of Los Zetas). They read it out! That totally made my day. Anyway, I just needed to tell someone.
posted by Kattullus at 6:14 PM on November 5, 2011

Pakistan agrees to normalize trade relations with India (via Marginal Revolution -- "The best news of the day")
posted by Anything at 10:37 PM on November 5, 2011

That kind of switching between languages is very much the norm amongst urban Pakistanis and Indians. In fact, people have different names for it: Hinglish, Urdish, or my personal favorite, Minglish.
posted by bardophile at 9:04 PM on November 6, 2011

What I find curious is that that form of speech is apparently common in mainstream TV. Is this universally accepted or are there purists of any sort or other people arguing against it?
posted by Anything at 9:11 PM on November 6, 2011

There are situations in which it is unacceptable, generally. Until relatively recently, it was pretty uncommon to hear TV hosts using it. I tend to think that the increase in use is connected with several social changes: a general blurring of lines between formal and informal settings (so, people showing up to formal weddings in jeans and T-shirt, for example), an increase in people's familiarity with spoken English (more cable TV, the springing up of call centers that train in spoken English, etc.), and an increasing sense that knowing English is the key to economic and social mobility (this notion is not a new one. It just seems more widespread. It also has some basis in fact.).

There is some resistance from purists, but it doesn't get much traction, as far as I can tell. The fact that Urdu is a melting pot language leads even a lot of Urdu teachers to say that it's to be expected that a fair bit of English would get assimilated into it.

And now I am off for Eid celebrations.
posted by bardophile at 9:37 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

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