Faris Shafi- Lessons in lussun

Photo art by: Notaqaluf (Manizeh Karim)

Jab tak aap karein tashreeh iss nazm ki, Faris hai yahaan se rawaan.

(By the time you interpret this poem, Faris has left the scene)

Faris Shafi recently shared a Tiktok on his Instagram, showing a teenage girl grimacing at the camera as his music played in the background. The videos’ caption read; ‘why are u so weird Faris’? Frankly, the number of times Shafi mentions lussun (garlic) in his songs would make you think the same thing. But this is exactly the lyrical nonconformism that Faris Shafi fans relish. The real tarka in his music is the irony that drips from his words. Take his recent release ‘Introduction’ for example. The rap starts with a mocking caricature of ‘the good life’ in Pakistan:

Ehsaas-e-kamtari ki misaalein ban chuki theen

(They had become examples of an inferiority complex)

Alfredo Fettuccine, aur red ho Lamborghini

Aur aik dabba shahi Supaari ho..’ (and one box of Shaahi Supari)

In the minimalistic music video for Introduction, Faris stands on tall barren rocks, doing yoga, and talking to the camera. With this spiritual aura, he identifies how our society exercises its ehsaas-e-kamtari; through our wallets. The aspiration for ‘the good life’, he seems to say, is often just a desire for rich people shashkay. A sexy car, elite-class mingling, and a hot bod- surely these would soothe our aching sense of inferiority? The Redditor ‘Kalakawa’ shares an interesting point on the Shaahi Supari line that illuminates this verse further:

Aur aik daba Shahi Supari ho’, he claims, is in reference to an 80’s radio jingle by the brand Shahi Supari. The jingle goes like; ‘Achi See aik Gaari ho Larki Usme Pyaari ho Aur Aik dabba Shahi Supari ho’ (A nice car, with a pretty girl in it, and a box of Shaahi Supari.. is the dream). For Kalakawa, this verse is a commentary on the role of advertising in creating an inferiority complex for a whole generation of Pakistanis.

In another allusion to lussun in Introduction, Faris says;

Nach (dance) in a summer collection

Mein neh parh liya (I have studied) double semester

Mein mei seekh liya sabaq lesson’ (I have learned my lesson)

Mein ne cheen liya saba ka lassan (I have stolen Sabas garlic)’- Introduction

Our need for clout has catalysed in todays world, where our own lives are projected like advertisements on the internet, and we perpetually feel the gaze of our audiences. The consumerism fuelled by this is a global phenomenon. But the ubiquity of lawn summer collections, upper-class eateries and foreign degrees, is specific to our poor-with-rich country. The growing shaadi industrial complex, for example, is one symptom of the consumerist one-upmanship we are engaged in, where the mantra ‘if you got it, flaunt it’ is taken very seriously. And despite our quality ‘sabaq lessons’ and foreign diplomas, we enthusiastically pursue these trifling games, saying Alhumdulilah all the while. Of course, Introduction may not be as meta as this. Perhaps Faris is actually poking fun at himself or an acquaintance. Maybe he would read my commentary and mock it by saying; ‘Phone pei meray Plato ki beti (On my phone is Platos daughter)… Faris got them all debating-Introduction. And he really has.

No one can make political subversiveness funny like Faris Shafi. In the music video for Awaam, where he takes a jab at Pakistani politicians and media, there is a hilarious scene where him and Mooroo are interviewed by an apparent TV anchor. There is a sudden transition from the serious ‘mazhab ke masle, ghazab ke jalse, Pakistan ko lag gaye lassan ke tarke’, the song stops, and the TV anchor gets to the real crux of the matter ‘ Aap dono mein se behtar dancer kaun hai? (who’s the better dancer between you two?). It’s a clever prod at the competition of ratings and views that the news industry is immersed in, where only the flashy and ridiculous is aired on screen. This is why it rings so true when Faris says ‘Inteha pasand ke hain ham sab, aur humaray mansoobe saaray’ (We are all extremists and so are all our schemes- Jawab).

I wonder though, can the Awaam hear the irony in Shafis lyrics? Can we hear his faint laughter at the joke that our society has become? Maybe the posing of this question is my own elitism coming to the fore, and I shouldn’t underestimate Faris Shafi fans in particular, who relate to his words for a reason. Perhaps my own inference of his lyrics is biased to fit my pre-existing political beliefs. ‘Meray lafz (my words) just seem to be a reduction. A collection. Of blocked emotion’-Introduction.

An area where Shafis humour and irony is easy to miss, however, is his hyper-sexualised references to women. I will confess that I cringe severely when I hear ‘I’m on a trip to Venus, she wants to lick the pe***’ (Molotov) or ‘Saari bachiyaan geeli, papiyaan geeli, just imagine’ (Introduction). For the latter verse, it would only be consistent with the rest of the rap that this is a dig at Sando-wearing laundas and their locker-room talk. But is satire even satire if the audience fails to see it? For young Pakistani men, who hear Faris use the same misogynist lingo they use with their boizz daily, I’m sure all irony is lost.

Objectification is not new in rap, it’s been historically employed by rappers to give words to covert male fantasies. And it’s difficult for me to see how Faris’s lyrics aren’t doing the same. Perhaps satire only works for issues that are already commonly understood to be a problem. A social issue can only be mocked with such subtle irony when there is already vocabulary for it. And with regards to misogyny and female sexuality, this vocabulary is for from mainstream in Pakistani culture or the rap tradition.

On a different tangent, there’s no talking about Faris’ music without mentioning drugs. In Molotov, he puts it at its most relevant when he says; ‘Meri jawaani lun lag gayi (my youth got fucked) smoking all this marijuana’. If a large portion of our Charsi Awaam (druggie nation) inhales more hash than they do fresh air, surely it should be part of a mainstream social dialogue? Apart from that one scene in Cake when Sanam Saeed lights a joint, this national habit has been discreetly swept under the carpet. There is a lot to be said about our self-administered escapism, why we do it, and where it is taking us mentally and physically. But its safe to infer that the need for this national escape route is deeply connected to everything else Faris raps about; the many issues festering in Pakistani society. He takes this escapism to another level in Molotov, citing chemical compounds unheard of, and linking them up with keen lyrical dexterity.

What is unknown to Faris’ audience is how hard drugs, chars and psychedelics relate to his personal experiences. Lets face it, Faris Shafi as an individual is a mystery, and his frequent appearances on Pakistani television makes it harder to decode him. Did the smiling red-kurta-adorned man on Kabhi band Kabhi Baaja really release a song called Molotov? I mean.. I’m definitely here for it.

Faris Shafis’ rap is unrivalled in Pakistan; he says it like it is, and he says it in layers. Two of Faris’ songs, Muskura and Jawab De, have previously been taken down from Youtube for being too ‘controversial’. But like a true poet, he panders to no one. This is not an easy feat when you’re a rapper in Pakistan, and your content directly impacts your financial success and personal safety. But this commitment to authenticity is why Faris Shafi is a rare gem. To Faris I would say; Nazar na lag jaye d3ar! (Just saying, thank you Allah).