For centuries music, arts and dance has been a way of keeping up the status quo. Gatekeeping the talent. Making it extremely difficult for the uninfluential ones make through the cut. But whatever happens, true art makes its way. It breaks through the barriers of the society and the culture that has been carefully set up to guard the elitism of the rich.
Such was the case with hip hop and trap music. It originated in the Bronx in the 1990’s and later on infiltrated the mainstream pop, becoming one of the most listened to genre as a representative of the African American community.
When the government sidelines a whole people, they rise from the very stereotypes they have been notorious for: hence, trap music was born out of the drug deals that were made in the ‘ghetto’.
Everyone who knows what it means to be the black sheep or the bad blood to its very authority figure starts to relate to trap music and it slowly becomes their jam. The hip hop movements turned into uprisings and the resistance became popular, as a way of life.
Such is the case with Abdur, a DJ based in Saddar town, in the city of Karachi, a microcosm of chaos. Navigating through the multiple streets of concrete jungles, climbing through an elevator that has been sealed for whoever who has not made the payments, a 24-year-old budding music producer calls this his home.
It is a humble neighbourhood where Abdur originates from, and that reflects in the aspirations he has from life. “I grew up with the dream of owning flamboyant cars. I would unscrew two remote control cars and assemble the parts together as one,” he said, and to achieve that, he wanted to make music.
The love of lumbering shiny automobiles have been far associated with hip-hop styles of music, so Abdur wanting a Pitbull-esque life isn’t out of the blue. For instance, Dr. Dre flashes a Rolls Royce, P. Diddy has a thing for Phantom, Post Malone drives a vintage Chevrolet and so the list goes. What is perhaps just a show of wealth for one, might as well be a life-long dream for another, and this is where the struggle of a go-getter comes in.
The beauty of belonging to Karachi is that you get to experience a multicultural upbringing, you come into terms with a million realities by the time you start directing your own. The streets have their own lifestyle, the nights are the same for all socio-economic backgrounds and the mornings come to life a little later than the usual as compared to the other cities of Pakistan.
Abdur and his friend Murtaza, who goes by the screen name of Qalax, hopped on to the music-on-the-go wagon and dropped a collection of compositions in 2017. “We would just get up in the middle of the day and randomly drop by at a coffee place, carrying only a small piano and my laptop. As we played the notes, we put them together, and voila! Out came what I call one of my most favourite works up till now,” he smiles.
With chains in his neck and a baggy style charcoal coloured t.shirt, messy hair in an almost side parting, Abdur does have the panache of a street style artist.
It might seem like he would give the bullies a tough time but at the same time, he’s soft spoken, reserved, takes a moment to respond and doesn’t recklessly let anything flow in conversation. His composure does speak volumes though. He has just graduated as a bachelor in filmmaking but doesn’t want to look for a fulltime job in media production, because he would rather be focusing on his own music and sound design gigs until he enrolls for a master’s degree.
As a man who wants to move forward in life at whatever he does, Abdur also translates it into his subscribed genre of progressive trap and relates to it the most.
“I learnt how to draw music from YouTube tutorial videos but then realized soon enough that I can’t just put a comma to my growth and so started my musical theory training at National Academy of Performing Arts.”
Abdur has been composing music since 2009, but this is the first step to his formal training in musicology. This is still, all just a labour of love, as he thinks that underground musicians in Pakistan barely get by to be able to support their families. Some of his brethren from the same circle work shifts at call centers to be able to run the house and some never get married because they feel like the responsibility of running a family is not up-to them. “I might want to have my own chai dhaba at some point in life, for my own reason of fondness for a place that brings people together and also seems like a viable earning option in a city that never sleeps.”
It is strange to know that a talented young musician can not even dream about making a life out of his love for the music he wants to explore. Abdur often gets irritated at the mention of mainstream DJs. “I have seen people play the same mixes at weddings and parties both. How do you add a beat drop to Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You for a typical desi wedding? How to you mix a morose break up song for a party with high energy university students, peaking on the serotonin of life?”
But he is still hopeful and his eyes gleam as he opens up a beat battle video, which he has carefully browsed in his phone, even before the topic comes up, and suggests the changes that could be made to it to turn it into a viral digital media campaign that promotes young Pakistani artists.
Subsequently, Abdur also did his film thesis on the struggles of underground musicians and it explores the journey that each one of them has to go through. “Sometimes people call you and after spending more than 12 hours in the studio, you realise you will never be compensated for the time and skill you have invested in this track.”
This is one of the most bitter realities, because just like any other form of performing arts, in trap music also, the established artists tend to cash on the talent of younger ones, without giving them enough credit for the labour. It is considered to be a path that every one has to take to reach to the top, which kills a lot of spirits before they even climb half way up.
Music is just the most beautiful way of bringing people who can relate to it, together.
He no longer seems frozen now, he is at ease, relaxing on the sofa in his drawing room, a window on the right that opens to the chaos of an intense rush hour Saddar evening, the sun going down as the orange melts into the lilacs of the night. Which is exactly the same as the thumbnail on his YouTube album called 1995- The Beat Tape.