Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pakistan Day in Tokyo, 2012

This past weekend the Pakistani Embassy in Tokyo organized Pakistan Bazar 2012, a 2-day event to celebrate March 23. It was held at Yoyogi Park in Shibuya, right in central Tokyo. With a program lineup that included a Mr Handsome Pakistan contest, Cute Pakistani, Dancing King of Pakistan, as well as a qawwali performance and a show by Pakistani-Canadian band Swaras, this definitely wasn't an event to be missed.

The weather on the first day unfortunately wasn't too cooperative. It rained throughout the morning, starting as a slow drizzle but then picking up as it went along. As a result rather than sit in the open in front of the stage most people took shelter under the tents set up beside the various food stalls. Which was good for business but not good for the poor performers braving the cold and rain.

Among these was Swaras. The band was represented by their lead vocalist Asad Q, who came on stage with three other Japanese musicians. Given the conditions they did the best they could to get the crowd pumped up but lack of audience participation coupled with sound trouble meant they only played four songs. Set consisted of a cover of Dil Dil Pakistan, an original song Jo Tum Kaho, cover of Aik Alif, and a cover of Jazba-e-Junoon.

Asad Q of Swaras

How can he slap
This was followed by perhaps the most bizarre scenes I have ever witnessed in my life. The organizers had invited former professional wrestler Antonio Inoki to the event. Inoki-san brought with him a legion of dedicated fans and the number of people present tripled almost instantly as he arrived, all cheering him on to the stage. He spoke for a while - a little about his legendary fights with Akram and Jhara Pehalwan and his time in Pakistan in general. After that, the announcers asked if people wanted to come on stage and suddenly everyone started cheering loudly and had their hands raised in the air. My Japanese isn't quite good enough yet and I thought they were talking about a photo opportunity. But no, it was something else entirely. And well, I have a video of it, and it is just really and truly weird.

Yep, that's people lining up to get slapped by the wrestler Inoki. It's called a slap of respect and it apparently confers upon its recipient increased virility and strength and energy and power etc etc. Pakistanis, Japanese, men, women alike lined up. It was just bizarre to see people get slapped and then bow down in respect and shake hands with the guy. One of the dudes though (around the 0:50 mark) did seem a little taken aback, maybe at how hard he got slapped? Anyway at the time it was one of those lost in translation moments where I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I had to ask one of my Japanese friends later on. But yeah apparently it's a big and well-known thing. Here for example is Inoki setting some sort of a world slapping record in 2000.

Mr Handsome Pakistan
By this time it had stopped raining and the weather was a bit nicer. Perfect timing for the Mr Handsome Pakistan contest then. Around 20 guys including a handful of Japanese dressed in their finest shalwar qameez lined up on stage. I had also convinced a friend of mine visiting Tokyo these days to sign up, which promised to be interesting since this dude hasn't shaved in 6 months and came wearing jeans and really worn sneakers. And well the organizers almost didn't let him participate as there was a strict 'traditional dress only' policy, but then ultimately had a change of heart.

The contestants

The judges

After initial voting in the first round, which consisted of dancing/walking down the red carpet to Awaz's Ae Jawan, the 20 got whittled down to 10. These 10 then came and individually said a few words to try and woo the girls into voting for them. Here the people who could speak Japanese were clearly at an advantage. Although the emcee did his best to translate for the ones that couldn't, including my friend, who amazingly made it this far.

Anyway, then there were three...

 And finally, the winner: Nausharwan Mir, a Japanese citizen of Pakistani origin.

Mr Handsome Pakistan 2012

He turned into a bit of a celebrity almost as soon as he won, with people (i.e. mostly the girls who voted for him) waiting to get their pictures taken with him. As the winner he gets to keep the sash and wear it to official events at the Embassy (khe khe khe) until handing it over to the next winner in 2013.

Day 2: Badar Ali Khan Qawwal
The next day I had to miss the morning session and actually was really only interested in coming for the afternoon anyway as that was when the qawwali would be on. The qawwals were the Badar Ali Khan Qawwali Party, a family group consisting of five brothers. These guys also performed on the first day as one of the opening acts and were really good. But it was a pity that due to the early start and the rain not many were around to hear them.

Day 2 was a different story however. It was warm and sunny and a sizable Sunday afternoon crowd had gathered. Unlike the day before where they had to sit a bit further towards the back of the stage due to the rain, this time they set up right at the edge in order to get as close to the crowd as possible.

They started with a couple of Nusrat covers, warming up with Ali Da Malang and then Tumhein Dillagi Bhool Jani Paray Gi. This was followed by Meray Maula Varga Koi Na. Twenty five minutes in they had drawn even curious passers-by towards the stage with their energy, and it became quite apparent that they'd exceed their allotted 40 minutes. Wise move then by the organizers to merge the next event - Dancing King of Pakistan - with the qawwali as more and more people got up and danced.

Aaj Rang Hay was supposed to be their finale but in the middle of it requests started pouring in for them to continue, which led them back to Ali Da Malang and then Teray Mast Mast Do Nain, before finally ending with Rang again.

All in all a fabulous show. The whole event was free to the public but this was something I would've gladly paid money for. I don't know if the intensity of the performance carries through on video but it was unlike any other show I've been to, where the crowd literally took over the stage, and the qawwals happily carried on. I remember thinking at the time that in that moment with the multitudes gathered in a park in central Tokyo so mesmerized by the music that there couldn't be a better advertisement than this for Pakistan.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Children of the tsunami

From the BBC, an extremely heartbreaking documentary. It's the story of last year's March 11 earthquake and tsunami - nearing it's 1st anniversary - as told through the eyes of children. It's beautifully done but at times was very hard to continue watching.

Narrated by Dominic West, better known as McNulty from The Wire. Thanks to Barry Lancet for sharing this.