How did your musical journey start?
It started with listening to my father’s tapes of Jimmy Cliff, Tracey Chapman, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, Pathanay Khan, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I got from them wonderful, socially-conscious poetry and music connected with various grassroots movements in Latin America, Africa and Asia. I minored in western classical music and classical music under Ustad Naeem Abbas Mehdi. My activism, my search for progressive alternative and the means to communicate it came together in the form of Laal.
How did you infuse rock music with revolutionary poetry?
I grew up listening to the socially conscious poetry of Faiz in the voice of Iqbal Bano and Nayyara Noor, the qawwali of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, sufi and folk music. As a grassroots activist in Pakistan I was looking for the means to communicate my ideas to people. I participated in street and stage plays that revolved around music. I’m not a purist in terms of music. If something went with the mood of the poetry, irrespective of the genre, I was happy to play.
Have music labels ever tried to influence your creativity?
No, I use my study as a studio. I record the whole album myself first and then take it to the label. Both Geo and Times Music have never asked us not to include a song. If they try to censor me then I can always use Facebook, where Laal has over a quarter million fans.
Tell us about the inclusion of traditional Sufi songs like Lal Meri Pat in your repertoire?
Various aspects of the Sufi movement contain revolutionary humanist elements. In Pakistan, there is a closeness between the progressive cultures and Sufi traditions. Ali is a symbol of resistance for both Shias and Sunnis. We sing these lyrics with the same spirit of resistance.
What is it like being an atheist in Pakistan?
I am unorthodox in my religious views. I believe in the philosophy of ‘live and let live’ and freedom of practicing religion the way one wants. I oppose religion being used to oppress people but I have enormous respect for all the great prophets. They were great revolutionaries leading class struggle and political revolution. Our’s is a continuation of their great work.