Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Aag that Fizzled Out

The Jang Group's music channel Aag broadcast over new year's eve a 12-hour concert "telethon" grandiloquently dubbed "the Woodstock of Pakistan." Titled "Aag Alive '09" the multi-performer concert was shown on the channel from  2pm on December 31, 2009 till 2am on January 1, 2010. This is how it was hyped on the channel's own website:

In the spirit of the famous events such as Woodstock and Live Aid that simply made the art of live music more popular all over the world, we present to you… Aag Alive ’09, the first ever music festival of the youth in Pakistan. The festival Aag Alive 09 will be geared to a big celebration of music in all It’s genres and forms for all ages and audience scopes. From Live acts, to DJs, rock bands to solo artists, everyone will together on a single pedestal for one purpose of celebrating and enjoying live music. 
Except, of course, that Aag Alive '09 was NOT live and did not take place in Pakistan and turned out of be pretty much a damp squib! (So much for the "youth of Pakistan" camping out in a spirit of revelry! -  but more on that later.)

Yeah, those crowds were not really there in the actual event

Keen observers may have caught on to the fact that when you can see promotional clips of the concert BEFORE the actual transmission, it's a sure sign that the performances are not being beamed to you live. But what went on behind the scenes is a story and a half in itself. Apparently the concert was such a disaster financially and logistically that an internal inquiry has been ordered within the Jang Group to ascertain how it all went so wrong. Sources say not only did Aag manage to lose a hefty chunk of cash in the process, a lot of sleazy internal recriminations have been the result, with the head of Aaj 'Content Head' Wajahat Rauf now on the chopping block.

Some may remember that this project has had a truly fitful history. First planned for Karachi almost as far back as August 14 (if memory serves me correctly), it was shifted to Lahore in October out of security concerns only to see that city beset by triple terrorist attacks (Manawan et al) in the space of a few days. That took the wind out of the sails of the Lahori Woodstock. Here's what the plan had been:

Then, amid speculation that the concert might be shifted back to Karachi - with Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta also being pretty much out of contention because of the perilous security situation there - it was suddenly announced that the 'Woodstock / Live Aid of Pakistan' would take place in Dubai on December 11. Surreal as it may sound - that a live concert meant to involve the young people of Pakistan be held among the sand dunes of the United Arab Emirates where only expats and Arabs could be the live audience - that is exactly how the brilliant minds of Aag think.

But if the basic premise seems wonky, this was only the beginning of the disaster that followed. Over 150 people, including musicians, Aag channel veejays, producers, technicians, Jang Group corporate types and a few journalists (only from the Jang Group of course) were flown into Dubai for the event in early December. Things did not get off to a smooth start for the organizers. First there was the cribbing from the stars - some male veejays were asked to bunk with camera crews to save money and claimed they were promptly forgotten with respect to food; musicians were handed cheap packed lunch boxes in their hotel rooms (also to save money obviously) and rebelled at their shabby treatment, with Hadiqa Kayani and Immu of Fuzion calling up Dr Akbar Yezdani of Fire Records (another Jang Group company) and apparently throwing fits. Then once it was discovered that Atif Aslam had been provided the royal treatment - in contrast to the rest - Shafqat Amanat Ali promptly announced he was walking out of the show and caught a flight back to Pakistan.

Atif Aslam gives the finger to the other musicians

In fact, of the 22 performers initially touted to perform at the event, there was no sign of the following in the concert that was eventually broadcast: Shafqat, Jal, Shiraz Uppal, Rahim Shah, Karavan, Aaroh, Siege and Mauj. Strings, who you can see in the promo above, had mysteriously disappeared off the roster earlier.

The initial line-up for Dubai

The main concert was to have been preceded by what had been billed as "Camp Night" which had been explained in the following words on the Aag website:

The idea of the Camp Night is to encourage bonding between the artists and their fans. Let your hair down and feel absolutely free to don your wackiest clothes and strum guitars or beat your percussions as much and as loud as you want. Since the night belongs to you the spot light will be on you, there will be no questions asked. All we expect is some pre concert decorum (spell mayhem). AAG will be there has to come from you. For the uninitiated Aag Alive’s camp night will be a memorable experience because never before in the history of pop culture in Pakistan has any Tv  channel or record label camped out for the connoisseurs of music. Get your bag packs, sleeping bags and tents ready because Student participants will be allowed to camp the night before in an environment that will be purely music and freedom of expression oriented. Live jam sessions in front of bonfires, DJs, dance floor to all the trivia that makes up for a perfect start for a festival shall be there at the camp day session a night before the big day.

Well, suffice it to say, it didn't quite work out. Understandable, since the Pakistani youth were all sitting sulkily thousands of miles away. All that Aag showed of that night of supposed bonfires, bag packs (sic) and revelry was a low-key two-hour taped show on December 11 at the time the concert was to have been aired.

Things unravelled fast after that. As the main concert was being set up, UAE decided to have a freak rainstorm. As buckets of water fell from the sky and electrical equipment began to blow up, it was discovered that Aag Alive 09 actually did not have permission to broadcast live from Dubai. And apparently Mr. Rauf - whose contribution to Aag programming includes the right-wing conspiracy nutjob programmes Iqbal Ka Pakistan (with Zaid Hamid) and Thori Si Siyasat (with Zaid Hamid protege Ahmed Qureshi) - was not even aware that he needed such permission. In that sense, the rain disaster was a sort of blessing for the ill-prepped production. Last minute hectic manoeuvrings by Geo TV in Dubai managed to secure the requisite permissions but by then it had become fairly obvious that the concert could not take place as sheets of rain continued to fall and the streets turned into rivers.

Meanwhile, the poor veejays and musicians were being told every 15 minutes or so that the show was about to go on air, so continued to remain in a state of on-air readiness for almost about 8 hours. By then, Jang Group CEO Mir Shakilur Rahman - who had stepped in to 'oversee' over the phone what was going on in the absence of his son Mir Ibrahim whose baby Aag is but who is currently in the US for a post-graduate degree - had lost it. He told Wajahat Rauf in no uncertain terms that, having spent such a fortune, he'd better have something to put on air.

Wajahat Rauf (r) with Geo President Imran Alsam (c) and Fire Records chief Dr. Akbar Yazdani (l) in the background

Mr. Rauf did what any man in his position might have done. He promptly had a "nervous breakdown" and was rushed to hospital. Jang Group executives were led to believe he had suffered a "mini-heart attack". But their sympathies soon evaporated when they discovered that the rest of the senior Aag team decided - instead of putting their heads together to try to figure out what to do about the flailing production - that they would rather attend a party thrown by former popster Fakhr-e-Alam who now resides in Dubai. Some sources claim even Mr. Rauf and his wife eventually landed up at the same party.

The next day, with everything in disarray, some of the female veejays decided to bail and caught flights back to Karachi. However, another stern warning from Jang management lit the fire under Rauf and others and they drove off to Sharjah, where they managed to find some sort of warehouse / wedding hall in which to film the "biggest youth music festival of Pakistan" with whatever they had left. Although still fairly slick production-wise (for what it was), you can tell how much space and audience was on hand from the following clip:

So, the "live" concert taped, they headed back to face the wrath of Mir Shakil. Meanwhile with the onset of Moharram, there was not enough time to edit the taped programme for the broadcast and it was finally decided, despite Mir Shakil's displeasure, that the programme would go on air on December 31, just three days after Ashura and, as it happened, after 44 people lost their lives in Karachi in the attack on the Ashura procession. At least one of the main sponsors of the "telethon" by then had had enough and pulled out, while the other two slashed their sponsorships, pointing out rightly that they had been promised a live event which would now be a taped broadcast.

Jang Group and Aag executives went into damage limitation mode immediately and pleaded with all involved not to speak publicly about it. Of course, no Jang Group reporter ever wrote anything publicly either, though one Jang reporter did write an internal email describing the event as a "disgrace" to the reputation of the Jang Group. Mir Shakil is reputed to have been long unhappy with the money-losing Aag and according to Jang Group insiders would not be unhappy with the channel being shut down completely. This disaster would not have exactly encouraged a change of mindset.

If you ask me, it all sounds fairly commonplace for events organized in (or out) Pakistan and especially those organized by media houses with their fingers in too many pies. We have all heard of the production disasters at things like the MTV Music Awards and the Lux Style Awards. And that is not even the point. To be sure the concept was very ambitious to begin with, things always go wrong in productions and some of the problems that beset the production (such as the rain!) were obviously not within the control of the organizers. However, isn't it about time Pakistani event organizers begin to get a little professional about their work (if only for the sake of the poor people involved)? And isn't a policy of fair disclosure (e.g. that what you are hyping as a live event is not exactly that) a basic requirement now for our media?

Of course, there is the other big problem, which I have referred to in earlier posts, and which is the main reason for taking the time to blog this: with media owners now spreading their wings in all sorts of businesses, who is going to write about / report on them, when any negative publicity of these businesses is forbidden in the media house's own publications? Can we then call it really independent and free journalism?


Ahsan said...


Jaydev said...

Yes. But in a funny kind of way.

Anonymous said...

Dude i saw the concert on tv and it seemed pretty good. Dont really care about what happened or did not happen. Also i think you work for the tv channel or a rival channel and are bitter about something. Your story is like a bad gossip column and why I say that is because it has too many unimportant and uninteresting details. If you call yourself a journalist you should have called or written to the organizers (seems like you know them pretty well) and asked them to comment. Im sure there's another side to the story. But i really dont care. Just surprised by your negativity. I know you wont post this but i know you will read it. My advice to you is: try to be more positive than negative as I for one certainly appreciate the effort and intention behind the concert. Have you sir, done or ever tried to do something like this yourself? Now you can write another negative blog or you can start doing something worthwhile yourself. All the best

Faisal.K said...

The fact that the person who wrote this post lists his name as xyz shows me he is within this organization coupled with the inside info he wants all of us to believe as true.

Are we supposed to just inhale this and go...yeh he must be right. What a crock of shit..does the author have absolutely any credible evidence other than the rain to convince us that all of the above did actually take place?

This is pure charecter assasination and defamation at its best, the owner of this blog should know better than to engage in libel like this as it is covered in blogspots policy guidelines.

Ahmed said...

XYZ?? people use this outdated acronym when they leave a baby outside edhi... i mean ive read blogs but how personal is this thing ?... either the guy or girl writing this has just been fired from aag or is Skahilur Rehman's best friend since he seems to know how many times each musician even went to the loo and did not have enough toilet paper... which i'm sure he's not ... This is the single biggest event to have hit our already dimishing music scene ... you write about the treatment of stars ... ever been to the local music awards ???? Instead of appreciating and commending the effort put in by the aag team you are just venting personal venom against aag and there head of content ... WAJAHAT RAUF AND FIRE & AAG WELL DONE ... and XYZ if you have any balls or the lack of them please at least write your name ... This is the single best thing which has happened for the musicians of PAKISTAN IN THE LAST THREE YEARS. I infact challenge you to a para by para debate of what you've written..
In short XYZ get a life step out from behind the curtain and comfort of anonymity ...
Next time use the acronym shady chambali , sounds better than XYZ and if youre a girl use xoxo .. far more creative. I HOPE YOU HAVE THE GUTS NOT TO DELETE THIS AND PUT THIS ON AS WELL...

XYZ said...

Ooooh, touchy aren't we all here.

@Anon1202 / Murtaza: Dude, what I don't understand is, if you really don't care, why you're spending so much time commenting. Secondly, sir, this is a blog, not the Instep pages which should have covered the concert journalistically. For the record, though, I did say that the production of the concert was slick for what it was. Just that it wasn't what it was supposed to be.

@Faisal.K: "Are we supposed to just inhale this and go...yeh he must be right. What a crock of shit..does the author have absolutely any credible evidence other than the rain to convince us that all of the above did actually take place?...This is pure charecter assasination and defamation at its best"... Yeah, whatever dude. Go ask the people who were there. Let me know if they say it was all otherwise. Also let the Jang Group management which is holding the inquiry know, since they're also pretty much buying into the same "character assassination and defamation."

"XYZ?? people use this outdated acronym when they leave a baby outside edhi..." Really? Sounds like you left one and that you're a yuppie from Defence.

"I infact challenge you to a para by para debate of what you've written.." Go ahead, I'm all ears and this is what the blog is supposed to be all about. But please do refrain from using lines like "This is the single best thing which has happened for the musicians of PAKISTAN IN THE LAST THREE YEARS" as evidence to rebut what has been written, since it's not even what the point was. And do try not to overuse caps: it doesn't make your argument stronger.

Also, once you get over the obsession with the monikers, you might want to say something of pertinence to the post. I don't know why but I get the distinct feeling this has touched a raw nerve with you. Were you involved with Aag Alive '09 by any chance?

Desi Handi wala: said...

Hey Loosers alway wrote this kind of stuff .... Himat hai to khul kay bool ... tu hai kaun disaster management ... lagta hai tera credit nahi chala thats y u wrote on 2nd December otherwise tu 15 december tak likh chuka hota ... aur yeah bhi bata dun main tujhay pehchan gaya hun ... yeah 2 log hain aik lamba dusra lambay balon wala ... hehehehe ... Loosers aisay hi hotay hain !!!! jahan ki naukri karta hai wahan ki namak harami karta hai ... zalilo kay sardar

2 Tok said...

Aur "Handi" toot gai:)

Well done! Cafe Pyala - You are writing a new chapter in the textbook of Investigation reporting in Pakistan. Excellent work. But may be AAG TV meant LIVE for those anchors and not for the Show - but they should have cleared that.

Raza said...

Dont know why everyone's so mad at you LOL You have the right to say whatever you want since it's your blog and your space. Secondly i didnt find it offending neither for the musicians or for geo. you communicated quite well how mismanagement can ruin even well thought out ideas. Although I do give credit to geo for always trying to think big. Hopefully, these are lessons learned and they wont repeat the same mistakes in future.
And by the way, its not just jang group but the psyche of our people to judge other people based on their status or treating them like crap -- like giving royal treatment to atif and completely ignoring all low key personals. Every human being deserve self respect regardless of social status. And even more so since all of them were geo's guest in a foreign land. Sad.

Anonymous said...

Dude I am a resident of Dubai, I went to the camp night and was there at the main day, 11th December 2009. I am quite aware of the fact how things were going on. There was nothing the management could do due to rain. Try hosting an event against God's calamity. The only decision the management could take was to cancel the event. But then again they made the artist sing live in front of the audience. We are civilized and educated people of Pakistan, we perfectly know in such conditions no one can do anything. The announcement was made that the show will go on day after tomorrow. Although it was a working day and it was raining like crazy a lot of people turned up in Sharjah Golf Club. If you are a critic, I am sure you weren’t there at the event. The concept which I take from Aag Alive was that all the singers would sing live rather than playing music on dat. All of them were live. You should have checked Atif ,Noori’s, laal, and hadiqa’s performance, the crowd went wild. My friends drove all the way from JBR in the heavy rain to be part of the historical event. You say it was not historical. Having so many Pakistani Artist together in one concert was a memorable event. Truly Historical for us Pakistani.
I have attended a lot of concerts here in Dubai but having so many Pakistani artists here was one of the most historic event ever.
A real good show put up by Aag tv.

Hats Off....

Pakistani in Houston said...

Looks like the writer has some differences with the head of aag tv, wajahat rauf. Its so obvious. Writer grow up. The show looked really good on tv. It served it purpose. It was a peace concert. Nothing happened on the date it was aired. They were doing the concert to put across a message to the world that we are a peaceful country. Criticising is negative. Don’t know the owner of the blog, but it seems you are loser as we are promoting a better picture of Pakistan to the world and people like you are dumb ass, screwing away our image by criticising on small issues.
People like you are the one to be targeted when suicide bombers, blow themselves up, not the innocent ones. Sorry to say but you are one loser Pakistani..

Ahsan said...

"People like you are the one to be targeted when suicide bombers, blow themselves up, not the innocent ones. Sorry to say but you are one loser Pakistani.."

Wow, you've really touched a nerve XYZ.

shahbaz said...

right-wing nutjob conspiracies:

not everything falls comfortably within 18th century french definitions of left and right.. this over-simplified and narrow-minded political spectrum may be convenient to bracket people as communists or fascists, but it certainly does not address the notion put forward by islamic democracy - the anti-secular, yet anti-clerical, parliamentary system that is rooted in social welfare.. i wouldn't call that right-wing at all.. zaid, ali and wajahat may be nationalists, even islamists, but i'm pretty sure they support the forces of change, not the forces of status quo.