TAQWACORE – The Birth of Punk Islam” by Omar Majeed, 2009
Ok, I’ve just finished watching TAQWACORE and what’s better than penning down my fresh opinions in Monkeyrockworld? Nothing, especially as this is so much up my alley of interests. I do not want to be annoying retelling stories you may read elsewhere on the net, but in a nutshell, Eyesteel Films produced the documentary on the explosion of “Taqwacore”: what the heck is that? Muslim punk rock baby. Yep… if you can get more controversial than that, please try to explain it. Named after the famous novel “The Taqwacores” by Michael “Muhammad” Knight (which is another movie all to itself, not to be confounded with this one), TAQWACORE is the first wave of American punk bands (and well, all spectres of punk as we go from the almost ska outbursts of the Kominas to the full-on crusty sludge of Al Thawra) who earned a reputation for bringing it out on a quite impressive coast-to-coast American tour. This movie documents that trip on the “Green Van” of Taqwa (the Muslim concept of God consciousness), the reception from the American Muslim punks, a paradoxical road trip ending with a real punk performance at Chicago’s American Muslims conference. The Taqwacores really bring a spark of excitement in the otherwise dull, middle-class, plastic American punk contemporary scene by bringing new lymph into the movement. It is definitely interesting.
As a musician who has extensively toured the USA, I can relate to most of the episodes and I can say that it was not this first part of the movie who got me. Even now in this movie, America looks so flat, and dumb. I honestly cannot believe how I would have sold my mother to land a green card and live there, just 5 years ago. You don’t have to be a Muslim Islamist punk to raise the attention there, as it looks like by only flatulating you would probably get the same effect. It is extremely funny how the Taqwacores use this “paranoia” to make fun of the media and their attention to this new “revolution”. This makes everything look so inspiringly “punk”, to me, today. Also it looks quite indicative that the movie has been produced by a Canadian company… as if the subject matter would be good to be touched, but only with a stick.
Anyhow, the BEST part of the movie is actually when two of the Kominas‘ guys leave the USA to relocate to their ancestors’ land, PAKISTAN. The images of the country are beautiful, and may prove to be extremely shocking to the average American or Western viewer, but not for me, not anymore. Well, the guys form a new band, they fly Michael Knight in, and they manage to organize a show on top of one of Lahore’s city center buildings avoiding South Asia’s cast differences, and giving it back to anyone in the truest punk movement of the whole movie. Seeing Knight screaming “Bush is a son of a bitch” in Urdu, however quite jaded elsewhere, looks pretty apt here.
My critics are essentially two, tough: firstly, it seems like these Kominas guys cannot do anything but getting high on excellent Pakistani hash and slurping weed milkshakes before Knight’s arrival. Although I’d probably like to taste the same stuff, I just think this makes the whole “movement” appear idiosyncratic just to the lowest form of punk “rebellion”. Getting high is great, but takes you nowhere, especially in a country with zero punk history such as Pakistan. Second, this Michael Muhammed Knight, doesn’t have the grip I imagined. As a Muslim, and as “Imam of the Taqwacores”, he loses his discourse into too much portrait of Americanism I guess he originally tried to distance himself from by writing “The Taqwacores” . Although he is a brave young man carrying on a torch and making an impact, I am unsure how to explain myself; my feelings come from years of observation of behaviors totally embedded in most American rock musicians, of all passes of life, which I sensed in Knight. I though he, once in Pakistan, should have left ol’ Sam’s ghost back home… instead, I could really feel it was still there, haunting the grounds.
Anyhow, you HAVE TO watch this movie as it is a document and a proof that something, in rock and American society, is moving and changing. Hopefully I’ll be able to follow up the investigation on music in Pakistan as I plan to visit next year. Any information, query or contact regarding Pakistani bands, musicians or artists, please send them my way.