A Conversation with Dr. Taimur Rahman of LAAL Band
Taimur Rahman is an academic, political activist and a musician. He is the band leader and spokesperson for the music group named Laal. He graduated from Grinnell College, obtained a Masters from Sussex University and holds a Ph.D in Class Structure of Pakistan from the School of Oriental and African Studies. He has been teaching at The Lahore School of Economics and Lahore University of Management Sciences.
Laaltain: What has been your motivation for pursuing music?
Taimur: Firstly, I love music. It has always been an integral part of my life. I began to play the guitar in my teenage years and I minored in music performance during my undergraduate degree. Second, my motivation in performing progressive music was that through this instrument I could begin to address some of the issues that society faces at a much broader and mass level. Music videos are a popular form through which even unpopular issues can be taken up, especially with the youth.
Laaltain: Teaching, research, revolutionary politics and music: how do you manage it all?
Taimur: Basically, I am a workaholic and have no social life. But all this is a labour of love for me. It never tires me to do this work because all of it comes from the heart. If I was doing something I did not enjoy, I would not be able to put in one-tenth of this energy. That’s why it doesn’t feel like work at all; it feels like just being myself.
Laaltain: Could you tell us a bit about the cause that Laal band stands for?
Taimur: Laal – which means the colour red – symbolises a socialist revolution. Red has been the colour of the international labour movement since the martyrdom of Chicago workers on 1 May 1898. We named ourselves Laal because it symbolised, both in terms of colour and in its name, what we stand for. Faiz, Jalib and Faraz were all socialists. Socialism is a system where the resources of a society are used for the welfare of the people.
Laaltain: But not everyone agrees with this cause. What gives you hope that this situation will change?
Taimur: Naturally, there are many people in favour of the status quo. They benefit from the current system. Then there are those who have been duped by the ideology of the powers that be. But the vast majority recognises that the capitalist system, especially in the form that we see in Pakistan, is both exploitative and unsustainable. It can and must be replaced by a system of production that puts welfare above all other imperatives.
Laaltain: Why should music, or art & culture in a broader sense, be an essential part of any movement?
Taimur: Theory is the grey matter of politics. Art brings colour to everything. Without art, theory would be as lively as a corpse. Karl Marx once said that "art is the secret confession of every society”. Laal is our open secret confession of the desire for a socialist society.
Laaltain: One might argue that music has its own artistic merits. It should not be made subservient to a social cause, or to anything else for that matter. How would you respond?
Taimur: I do not consider working for social change through artistic expression a manifestation of subservience of any sort. On the contrary, to me it is the only true expression of being free from the fetishism of class society. Purposive art only feels oppressive to those who have no purpose in their lives beyond their own egos. Their art is an expression of the individual disconnected from society; our art is the expression of an individual who openly associates in an overtly partial way with the contradictions of society. That is, we take the side of the oppressed.
Laaltain: How would you reconcile the revolutionary slogans of communism with a broader context of diverse socio-political interest groups?
Taimur: Communism is the struggle for a classless society. As such it can only develop out of an advanced capitalist society. In Pakistan, however, we still have many stages to cross because we continue to harbor many remnants of pre-capitalist societies. Religious extremism is one example. Hence, in our context, we must make an objective appraisal of all the forces in our society and proceed from that point. That is why I wrote my Phd dissertation on the class structure of Pakistan.
Laaltain: You have been a vocal critic of religious extremism. Which course of action, according to you, should the state and we the people follow to tackle it?
Taimur: First, we have to clarify to the masses that religious extremism is the most dangerous enemy that Pakistan faces today. This threat exists as a result of decades of state support to jihadi organisations that are today out of control. Second, we must support the democratic dispensation in the country against the forces of religious extremism, especially those forces that are fighting a life and death struggle; for instance the Awami National Party. Last but not least, we must make this a people’s resistance. That means that all people must understand that we can only win this war through unity against these forces of darkness and ignorance. As the famous slogan goes, the people united shall never be defeated.