KARACHI, Jun 28: One of the most unexpected tributes to Michael Jackson after the superstar’s sudden death in Los Angeles came at a session of the provincial assembly of Sindh, Pakistan’s southern-most province on Jun 27.
‘Sindh Assembly approves Rs327 billion budget’, ran a prominent headline in the Karachi edition of daily The News the following day, sub-headlined: ‘One-minute silence observed for Michael Jackson’.
The report detailed information about the budget, with a brief postscript on the ‘one-minute silence for Michael Jackson, the famous pop singer who died in Los Angeles, USA.’
Assembly sessions in this Muslim-majority South Asian nation routinely begin with a recitation from the holy Quran, followed by a dua, or prayer led by a Muslim priest. Here members can move a motion requesting the priest to include any deceased person in the dua.
On the morning of Jun 27, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) minority member Salim Qureshi Khokhar, a Christian, asked the house to “observe a minute of silence for the entertainer Michael Jackson, internationally acclaimed in Pakistan,” as Gibran Peshimam, City Editor of The News, Karachi, told IPS.
What followed was even more unexpected. The Minister for Local Government Agha Siraj Durrani got up to state that since Michael Jackson was a Muslim, he could be included in the prayer, related Peshimam, who regularly attends assembly sessions.
“Jackson’s brother may have been a Muslim but there’s no confirmation about Jackson having converted to Islam,” Sindh Minister of Information Shazia Marri interjected, said Peshimam.
“They then settled on minute of silence but it was probably just about 20 seconds. Five minutes later, the atmosphere became tense they began discussing the finance bill.”
News about Jackson’s unexpected death hit Pakistan early morning on Jun 26, too late for the morning papers — the South Asian nation, currently observing daylight savings time, is 13 hours ahead of Western Pacific Time where news of Jackson’s death broke after 5 pm on Jun 25.
As elsewhere in the world, Pakistani blogs and tweets were soon abuzz with the information and expressions of shock and sadness. Many uploaded Jackson’s videos on Facebook profiles, weblogs and other internet sites or sent links through cell phones and emails.
Over the last decade, cell phone and internet usage has risen rapidly in this nation of over 160 million. Over fifty per cent of the population have their own cell phone, according to the World Bank’s booklet, “Bringing Finance to Pakistan’s Poor”. This includes women with access to a cell phone and rural areas (two-thirds in urban areas).
Internet access, available in Pakistan since the mid-1990s, while not as common is growing rapidly. The broadband internet subscriber base had crossed 170,000 by December 2008 and Pakistan is ranked fourth in terms of broadband Internet growth in the world.
While Michael Jackson’s music has rocked parties in urban Pakistan since the 1970s, his influence goes beyond the English-speaking elite.
“There was a time when – irrespective of your economic and social class – the way to be ‘tich’ was to be like Michael Jackson,” recalls Adil Najam, who grew up in Pakistan and teaches International Relations at Boston University
“From Saab ji’s son to Saab Ji’s driver’s son, if you were ‘in’ you had to be MJ: the hair, the walk, the white socks, the tight pants, the persona at large. And no stage show from Peshawar to Karachi would ever be complete without the ‘performance’ of a Michael Jackson clone,” Najam wrote recently in a tribute to Jackson on his popular website All Things Pakistani (www.pakistaniat.com).
The Jackson magic even made it to the television comedy series ‘Fifty Fifty’ which had huge mass appeal in Pakistan in the 1980s. One wordless skit, ‘Disco Chor’ (Disco Thief), features a thief (the popular comedian Ismail Tara).
The action is set to Jackson’s hit ‘Billie Jean’ as the masked thief sneaks in through a bedroom window and moves rhythmically through the room mimicking Jackson’s trademark dance moves. The music is clearly in his head as the room’s occupant sleeps through this foray.
Frustrated at finding nothing of value the thief wakes up the sleeping man and mimes his disgust before dishing out some money to his potential victim and exiting as Jackson’s Billie Jean fades out.
The video continues to have viewers in stitches through an online posting at YouTube
“To those not familair with the Fifty-Fifty mystique or with the music of the time this may not seem all that funny,” commented Najam, who uploaded the video on his website in 2006, “but when these were first telecast the whole country – quite literally – were talking about them.”
Jackson’s influence in this part of the world is more widely evident in the slickly choreographed synchronised dance sequences that are a standard feature of ‘Bollywood’ films, as movies made in India’s film capital Bombay, now Mumbai, are called.
“Entire Bollywood, and then naturally Lollywood, dance sequences copied Jackson’s style,” commented Jaleel Akhtar, a television and producer in Karachi who managed Pakistan’s first rock band in the 1980s.
Bollywood openly copies Hollywood and is in turned copied by Pakistan’s film industry, ‘Lollywood’ in Lahore.
“That form of dance simply didn’t exist before,” said Akhtar. “Now we have our own version of Michael Jackson!”
He was referring to ‘Sonu Jackson’, a young choreographer who has shot up in Pakistan’s entertainment industry over the past few years. “He is phenomenal, does a lot of improvised stuff.”
“He is the first Pakistani artist who performs in Michael Jackson’s style,” the choreographer’s manager Lubna Ahmed told IPS.
Born Imnan Ahmed Shah, Sonu first came across a Michael Jackson video in 1999. “I was a normal student until then, but when I saw him, it was like something awoke inside me. I became obsessed. I started teaching myself by watching him,” he told IPS.
This self-taught dancer and singer from a humble background began calling himself Sonu ‘Jackson’, a surname that he changed to ‘Dangerous’ after releasing his first album ‘The Dangerous’ in 2007.
One of Pakistan’s most sought-after choreographers for music awards shows as well as film sequences, he is rehearsing for seven Michael Jackson numbers that will be shown next week on a private entertainment channel here.
He also plans to tour the USA in early July to perform in tributes to Michael Jackson at different shows.
Edited version ‘PAKISTAN: An Unexpected Tribute to MJ’ – http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=47414
Filed under: Music Tagged: | Adil Najam, Agha Siraj Durrani, Disco Chor, Fifty Fifty, Gibran Peshimam, Ismail Tara, Jaleel Kuchu Akhtar, Michael Jackson, Pakistan-India, Politics, PPP, Salim Khokar, Salim Qureshi Khokhar, Shazia Marri, Sindh Assembly minute of silence for Michael Jackson, Sonu Dangerous, Sonu Jackson