A black makeshift curtain kept the light out of one tiny part of Studio 146 in Karachi last Saturday. It kept out light, attitude, egos and stardom. More than 25 high profile artists brought nothing but pure humanity through that blackened entrance on Ali Zafar’s call that day, coming together for a moment of heartfelt lyrical inspiration. As Sahira Kazmi said, it was Ali’s good will that brought everyone together at a phone call. Sajjad Ali added that he knew Ali wouldn’t be calling them for something trivial. From Mahira Khan to Meesha Shafi and Marina Khan, Sajjad Ali to Shoaib Malik, Fawad Khan to Ali Azmat… they came and left in two separate sessions held in Karachi and Lahore.
A recording session similar to Karachi was organized in Lahore two days later, culling another two dozen veterans from all genres. Ali Zafar managed to bring over forty stars together for ‘Urein Ge’, an anthem he had written for the children of the Army Public School in Peshawar. One man with his heart in the right place and the vocals to serenade a cause, an unprecedented supergroup of stars and finally, a song that had the potential to become an anthem of hope. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that history was being made in Pakistan.
“I wanted to revisit my musical side but I couldn’t find it in my heart to sing until and unless I addressed the issues that are haunting us today,” Ali shared, between takes. It took him a week to write ‘Urein Ge’, which comes as the first song he has written in four years. “I’ve never made clichéd patriotic songs but this is a cause that I felt we had to talk about. That cause is the future of our children. The cause is to not let Pakistan be sabotaged by one destructive mindset. To create a Pakistan where people can coexist peacefully, where people from all religions can live peacefully and respect each other. We are living in these times because of some of the mistakes that the previous generations made. This is not the Pakistan that we wanted but now it’s up to us to change things for our children.”
“Urein ge uss aasman main
Jahan dard ka koi mara na ho
Beghar koi besahara na ho
Kissi maa se bichra koi dulara na ho
Siva ishq ke koi chara na ho…”
(“We will fly in a sky
Where no one will quiver in pain
No one will be homeless or helpless
No mother will be separated from her child
Love will be the only option”)
Very Lennonesque in its approach, ‘Urein Ge’ does bring out the Sufic side of Ali Zafar, the side that also brings out the romantic in him.
“This is what Lennon said back then and the thought is Utopian but then I’m an idealist and a romantic and I aspire for perfection,” he agreed. “I also feel that there’s too much negativity in society right now and we have to counter it. Turn the TV on and people are fighting, they’re lying, they’re arguing. This has to change.
“The real Ali Zafar is a musician with a sense of responsibility,” he continued. “I feel music is closer to my heart than acting. I’m taking a break from Bollywood to come here and make films here. The next year is for Pakistan.”
However, he hastened to add, today and ‘Urein Ge’ was not about him at all.
“This is the best I could do,” he said with a streak of resignation running parallel to his determination to contribute to the cause. “Music goes a long way; when words fail, music speaks. Music goes deeper into the soul and has long lasting impact. This song is aspirational and is intended to give hope. And people will remember that at a time which was so difficult, so many icons came together to put across a message. The message is that we will not forget what happened; we will not forget the children. I think what happened in Peshawar is the worst of the worst of what has ever happened in Pakistan. Innocent children were targeted, and the idea is to go to the school and sing for them. That is the plan, depending on the sentiments there. We want to wait for the right time.”
Until that right time comes, ‘Urein Ge’ will play on the airwaves and keep the memory of December 16 fresh in our memories. Because we do have a tendency to forget. We also face one crisis after the other, each more horrifying than the last. Recording an anthem may appear to some as a superficial opportunity to show some celebrity empathy but what a movement like this does is document an incident for generations to come. It doesn’t happen so often in Pakistan but it’s common for artistes to come together for a cause elsewhere in the world. The difference is that songs for a cause usually come with a benefit or fundraising capacity.
‘We Are the World’ is the best example of how one song became a super hit charity single. Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie in 1985, it brought over 30 stars together in support of the USA for Africa project and the single sold over 20 million copies, managing to raise over 60 million for famine-stricken Africa. The proceeds were distributed in Ethiopia, Sudan and other impoverished African countries. A new version of ‘We are the World’ was recorded on February 1, 2010 to raise funds for Haitians dealing with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake.
The Band Aid classic, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ put together by Sir Bob Geldof and Midge Ure is another example of how 3.7 million copies of a single were sold to raise eight million for famine relief in Ethiopia. New versions of this song have been recreated over the years, the fourth and latest being one dedicated to raise funds for Ebola victims in West Africa.
‘Urein Ge’ may not be selling and raising millions for charity and relief work in Pakistan but it is a step in the right direction. Perhaps it isn’t even too late to organize a Live Aid kind of concert for a cause or simply to raise awareness against the evils that are infiltrating our society. There certainly is no dearth of causes in Pakistan and the stars are obviously onboard. ‘Urein Ge’ should be the first step to a flight for change and reform. This may all sound too Utopian but then dreams always are. And so it is just as important to keep dreaming and keep those hopes alive.