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Rock Musicians 'Carry On' in Pakistan

Rock and roll never really died in Pakistan. But it did fade away.

Pop and rock bands used to play in clubs across Pakistan in the more liberal 1980s, but have largely receded from the public eye. One band is still playing and reaching out to other musicians, though, in an effort to keep Pakistani rock and roll alive.

Drummer Allan Smith of the band "RockLite" says 20 years ago there were dozens of bands playing in clubs, discos and parties across the country. Now he says there are only five.

"A lot of people went abroad from Pakistan. And, we have this whole new group of people that have come into Pakistan and have changed the idea, you know - totally believe that this music shouldn't be played, that you shouldn't have this outfit, you shouldn't have long hair, and we usually do get pressured by that. We've got nothing to do, we simply play music," said Smith.

Rising intolerance

Pakistan’s increasing conservatism and threats from some extremist groups have led sponsors to pull out of rock concerts. TV channels rarely promote bands.

The shrinking audiences for Western-influenced music are part of a broader trend against diversity, said university professor and human rights activist Farzana Bari.

"There is an increasing intolerance, there is lack of acceptance for plurality and diversity of thoughts, so I think that is increasingly what we feel. If I think, even myself, when we were growing up, I think our society was far more tolerant and secular and accepting of all kind of diversity," said Bari.

Rocking hard

Even though they cannot play in public, the musicians still jam in private homes, or play house parties like this one. They say performing is still fun.

Indonesian DJ Balqis Natasyrah, who sings with the band, said Pakistan’s art and culture is much richer than the violent images that frequently make the news.

"In the end, I feel like Pakistan is not what you see on TV - it is full of artists. There is a lot of potential here. And, that is what I would like to show to the world, instead of war and conflict and bombs, I would like to introduce Pakistan as what I see in my eyes right now," said Natasyrah.

Musicians like Smith survive by playing in several bands. "I keep telling our musicians, don't give up hope. It could get better," he said.

Until then, he said, let the good times roll and have fun.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

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