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 asExcept, 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.)
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 Woodstock . 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. Pakistan
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?