The first time Pakistan’s Strings went to India was in 2001, to perform and promote their album Duur, released after a long hiatus. Who knew back then that a band that had just got together would become ambassadors of peace representing Pakistan internationally?
Given the misunderstandings about the image of Pakistan, we desperately need to show our positive face to the world. As Aisam ul Haq said in his Grand Slam speech, we are not terrorists and we love peace as much as everyone else. And for that, we have to start extending a hand of friendship towards our neighbours.
This is clearly a philosophy close to the Strings’ heart too. The band has a history of collaborating with Indian musicians and actors like Sagarika, Hariharan, John Abraham and Sanjay Dutt. They sang Jeet Lo Dil with the Indian band Euphoria in 2004. So it was not surprising to see them on stage with Euphoria again last year in Kolkata at an Aman ki Asha concert, soon after the launch of this peace initiative by the Jang Group and The Times of India, that aims to bring the two countries closer, collaborating for peace in the subcontinent.
Aman ki Asha recognises that interaction between the two nations needs to go beyond entertainment; ongoing projects include students’ exchange programmes, free trade, political interactions, and collaboration in fields like health, education, energy, and agriculture, besides film, music and theatre. The entertainment side remains the most prominent, particularly with cross-border musical collaborations that have been going on for years – often without a stated peace-building agenda.
These collaborations include work done by Strings over the past decade. In fact, they have become part of the Indian music industry — and consider India a second home. Having performed in many concerts and shows in India, they have quite a fan following there too. “India is closest to us in terms of language, culture and way of life,” said Faisal Kapadia of Strings talking to The News over the phone. “They have more energy and exposure, and a lot more happening there, than in Pakistan.
And with so many social networking websites and the digital world it has become so easy for us to be in touch with fans around the world and get an immediate response for our work. With time, we have made our mark in India and are happy with what we have achieved.”
The Aman ki Asha concert in Kolkata last year was part of this process. Not only was the show a huge success but it also gave birth to another idea — to release a song titled ‘Aman ki Asha’.
“It was backstage during that concert that Palash Sen (lead singer of Euphoria) approached us with a song that he had penned,” says Faisal. “Bilal and I heard it and really liked it. We learnt the lyrics right then and there and performed it that night. We thought that was it, but a couple of months after the show Palash contacted us again and suggested that we record the song to take it to another level altogether.”
Fans can expect to hear the song really soon — Strings and Euphoria are hoping to record it in the coming month, after which they will decide on the video and other details.
Besides presenting ‘Aman ki Asha’ on stage in Kolkata last year, the two bands came together on January 30 via video conferencing, on FM stations in India and Pakistan at a BBC programme called ‘Music Beyond Borders’, with Strings in Karachi and Euphoria in New Delhi.
Strings are now all set to perform in India again, at Ahmedabad on February 20, alongside Indian Ocean at another concert organised by Aman ki Asha.
In all their years of travelling to India Strings have never faced any threat being Pakistanis. Others of course have not been as lucky. Comedian Shakil Siddiqi was threatened during a shoot of Comedy Circus following the attacks on Mumbai in November 2008.
More recently, Shiv Sena has taken an aggressive stand against Pakistani children performing in Chotay Ustad, and more recently, against Veena Malik and Ali Saleem’s participation in Bigg Boss 4. However, Strings have found that “people there become more humble and courteous when they find out that we are from the neighbouring country.”
But why do Indian stars not visit Pakistan and invest in our industry too? One reason of course is violence in the country. “Terrorism and security are the key factors affecting our industry,” explains Faisal. “Our local events have cut down from say 20 to four in a year because of security concerns. When we at home are so insecure how can we expect international artists to come here and exhibit their talent?” Besides touring, Strings have been busy with their new single ‘Mein to Dekhoonga’ recently shot by the well known director Jami. This song has been termed as a sequel to Ab Kuch Karna Parega, which featured Atif Aslam. Mein to Dekhoonga as the name suggests, is another take on the conditions prevailing in Pakistan. Perhaps it’s time to look at “the man in the mirror”, to take a line from the Michael Jackson song, and work on ourselves rather than just appreciating the idea, humming the song and then forgetting about it altogether.
The journey towards peace may be a long, bumpy one but it’s not impossible; if the foundations of peace are laid between our countries, the process is worth every ounce of effort.