Karachi’s vinyl speakeasy puts a new spin on old records

Karachi’s vinyl speakeasy puts a new spin on old records
Muhammad Hussain plays a vinyl record at his music library in Karachi, Pakistan, on May 25, 2022. (AN photo)
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Updated 01 June 2022

Karachi’s vinyl speakeasy puts a new spin on old records

Karachi’s vinyl speakeasy puts a new spin on old records
  • Muhammad Hussain’s record library is home to 25,000 discs, likely the largest private collection in Pakistan
  • Hussain’s father was forced to close his music store in 2006 after the digital revolution sounded the death knell for records

KARACHI: To reach Muhammad Hussain’s vinyl library in Karachi, visitors must make their way through a congested neighborhood teeming with motorbikes and rickshaws until they reach a nondescript off-white building on the edge of Violet Street.
Once there, they climb a staircase to the fourth floor and walk down a dusty hallway to a door that bears no sign that beyond it lie 25,000 vinyl discs — likely the largest private record collection in Pakistan.
The three-bedroom apartment-turned-library is full of wooden shelves lined with albums, some still in plastic wrapping, others labeled with post-it notes marking them as rare. Wooden crates and cardboard cartons overflow with soundtracks and “best of” collections, and antique radios and gramophones in different shapes and sizes sit atop tall piles of records.




Records of legendary Pakistani and Indian singers are seen at Muhammad Hussain's collection of vinyl records in Karachi, Pakistan, on May 25, 2022. (AN photo)


And the music is always playing: The hugely popular ghazal and folk singer Malika Pukhraj’s famous rendition of “Abhi to mein jawan hoon” (“I am still young“) could be heard last week.
“I came to know how rare and precious these things (records) are, how important their existence and maintenance is,” Hussain told Arab News at the music library as he thumbed through some sleeves to find a record. “This is an asset of Pakistan.”
The music library was once the warehouse for Rhythm House, a record store run by Hussain’s father on Karachi’s famous Tariq Road that was forced to close in 2006 after the digital revolution sounded the death knell for audio tapes, discs and records.
Six years later, aged 20, Hussain, who regularly listened to old Pakistani vinyl records while growing up, decided to explore the remaining collection of family tapes and records. Cleaning records at the warehouse and browsing titles on the internet, he soon realized that he had a treasure trove on his hands.
What began as a quest to arrange thousands of records, cassettes and CDs left behind from Rhythm House led Hussain to what is now his life’s work and passion: Vinyl records.  
Today his library of 25,000 records boasts 4,000 LPs, around 10,000 singles of qawwali and ghazal masters, major pop names from the 1970s and 1980s, and some rare releases from the 1950s.
“I started listening to music from Nazia Hassan’s (records),” he said, referring to a Pakistani singing sensation from the 1980s who has been called the queen of South Asian pop. “Then, gradually, I moved on to Noor Jehan, Mehdi Hassan, Iqbal Bano and Farida Khanum,” he added, listing grand masters of the ghazal form.




An old gramophone stands among thousands of vinyl records in Muhammad Hussain's collection in Karachi, Pakistan, on May 25, 2022. (AN photo)


Hussain is well known among the community of record collectors, and often gets calls from people wanting to buy and sell albums.
“When I find records in other parts of Karachi, it takes a whole day to travel there,” he said. “To go there, go back, sort out the records, bring them back and clean them and do the whole processing, it takes me two or three days just for a few records.”
Orders to buy and exchange records come from across Pakistan, as well as other countries.
“I have received a lot of messages and calls from all over the world, from many other countries, saying we want these records,” he said. “When I have extra copies, I give them away and help people complete their collections.”
Hussain refuses to put a value on his “precious collection,” but said records could go for as low as 2,000 rupees ($10) to as high as 50,000 rupees.
His collection is not simply about making money, but also being part of a community of vinyl devotees. “We have kept this (business) alive for passionate people. It is our passion to collect these items and get them to those who care about them,” he said.




CDs are displayed on shelves of Muhammad Hussain's music library in Karachi, Pakistan, on May 25, 2022. (AN photo)


Many connoisseurs visit the library, some looking for a particular record, a rare find, while others just want to browse and listen to music for hours — a guilty pleasure.
Recalling a recent visitor from Lahore, Hussain said: “When he saw my library, believe me, his six hours here passed like he had spent just 10 minutes. While leaving, he said, ‘I have been searching for these things for the last 15 years.’”
Hussain understands the enthusiasm. “This is a passion which won’t let you sleep when you come to know that there are some records,” he said.
“It is devotion, a passion and craze.”
What makes records so different from other storage formats is their audio quality, which Hussain believes is superior to anything that modern, widely available technology can offer.
“The sound quality you have in original records cannot be found on YouTube or any other digital format,” he said. “The sound quality of the record is such that when you listen to it, it will feel as if the musician is singing right in front of you, and its clarity is so beautiful that you will be lost in it while listening and before you know it, the whole record has ended.”
Asked how he felt about owning possibly one of the largest collections of vinyl records in Pakistan, Hussain smiled. Behind him, a record player began to spin a blue disc: “Best of Noor Jehan Vol. 1.”
“Music is like a huge ocean; this is a passion that can never be fulfilled, no matter how passionate a person is,” he said.
“There is such a huge library just in Pakistan that no one person has a complete collection.”

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Late Sultan’s heirs ask Dutch court to enforce $15bn award against Malaysia

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Updated 30 September 2022

Late Sultan’s heirs ask Dutch court to enforce $15bn award against Malaysia

Late Sultan’s heirs ask Dutch court to enforce $15bn award against Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: Heirs of a late Southeast Asian sultan filed a request in a Dutch court on Thursday to recognize and enforce a $15 billion arbitration award granted to them against Malaysia’s government, their lawyer said.

The petition was filed in The Hague Court of Appeal, said lawyer Paul Cohen, a lead co-counsel for the sultan’s heirs from British law firm 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square.

“This filing in the Netherlands will soon be followed by other enforcement actions, of varying types, in multiple jurisdictions. This may include immediate, direct attachment of specific Malaysian assets in The Netherlands and elsewhere,” Cohen said.

Malaysia’s government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the petition.

Reuters was unable to immediately verify the filings with Dutch court authorities.

A French arbitration court in February ordered Malaysia to pay the $15 billion sum to the descendents of the last Sultan of Sulu to settle a dispute over a colonial-era land deal.

Malaysia has obtained a stay on the ruling pending an appeal, but the award remains enforceable outside France under a United Nations treaty on international arbitration.

Malaysia has said it did not recognize the heirs’ claim and would take all steps to uphold the country’s sovereignty.


Afghan women rally in support of Iran’s anti-government protests

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Updated 30 September 2022

Afghan women rally in support of Iran’s anti-government protests

Afghan women rally in support of Iran’s anti-government protests
  • Demonstrators gathered in front of the Iranian Embassy in Kabul chanting ‘women, life, freedom’
  • Rally was soon dispersed by Taliban security forces, who fired into the air

KABUL: Afghan women rallied in front of the Iranian Embassy in Kabul on Thursday, joining global protests over the death of a young woman in the custody of Iran’s morality police.

Mahsa Amini, 22, was detained in Tehran on Sept. 12 for failing to cover her hair in a manner deemed proper by the authorities. Women who were arrested along with Amini have said she was beaten inside a police van. Three days later she died in hospital after falling into a coma.

Public anger over her death has prompted days of rage and protests across Iran, in what has been the largest manifestation of dissent against the government in over a decade.

Protests have also spilled into other countries.

A group of about 25 women who gathered in front of the Iranian Embassy in Kabul carried placards that read: “Beautiful Mahsa, your blood is our way and inspiration,” as they chanted “women, life, freedom” — the phrase that has been used by demonstrators in Iran.

A 24-year-old university student who participated in the protest told Arab News she had attended the rally in solidarity.

“Women in Iran and we are facing the same oppression. We wanted to show that we can amplify the voices of our sisters in Iran while highlighting our own concerns for freedom and dignity,” she said, on condition of anonymity.

“The widespread protests in Iran supported by men and women also inspired us to continue our fight for the rights of Afghan women in Afghanistan. Afghan women have been brave enough to defy the Taliban’s restrictive attitude. We will not be silenced and we will rise again.”

The rights of Afghan women have been limited since the Taliban took control of the country after US-led forces withdrew from the country in August last year.

Although they had previously promised a softer version of the harsh rule during their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, women have already been ordered to wear face coverings in public, banned from making long-distance journeys alone, and prevented from working in most sectors outside of health and education.

Since September last year, permission from the Ministry of Justice is required to organize a protest. Slogans used during rallies must also be approved by authorities.

Soon after Thursday’s rally in front of the embassy began, it was dispersed by Taliban security forces, who fired into the air.

For Afghan women’s rights activists like Muzhgan Noori, the protest was a “fine example of sisterhood and solidarity among women sharing the same pain and concerns.

“Afghan women have protested whenever they felt the need for it, and they should be able to do so now. The government must support and protect them instead of frightening them,” she told Arab News.

“I hope women continue to stand for each other.”


US Senate approves $12 billion in new aid for Ukraine

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Updated 29 September 2022

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  • It comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to declare the annexation of parts of Ukraine

WASHINGTON: The US Senate approved $12 billion in new economic and military aid for Ukraine Thursday as part of a stopgap extension of the federal budget into December.
The measure, agreed by senators of both parties, includes $3 billion for arms, supplies and salaries for Ukraine’s military, and authorizes President Joe Biden to direct the US Defense Department to take $3.7 billion worth of its own weapons and materiel to provide Ukraine.
It also provides $4.5 billion for Kyiv to keep the country’s finances stable and keep the government running, providing services to the Ukrainian people.
It comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to declare the annexation of parts of Ukraine occupied by Russian troops on Friday.
“Seven months since the conflict began, it’s crystal clear that American assistance has gone a long way to helping the Ukrainian people resist Putin’s evil, vicious aggression,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“But the fight is far from over, and we must, we must, continue helping the brave, valiant Ukrainian people.”
The Ukraine aid is part of a short-term extension of the federal budget, which is to expire at the end of the fiscal year on September 30 without the parties in Congress having agreed to a full-year allocation for fiscal 2022-23.
The extension, or continuing resolution, will keep the government running into December, but it has to first be approved by the House of Representatives to avoid shutting down parts of the government on Monday.


US charges ex-Army major and his wife over alleged plot to leak military health data to Russia

US charges ex-Army major and his wife over alleged plot to leak military health data to Russia
Updated 29 September 2022

US charges ex-Army major and his wife over alleged plot to leak military health data to Russia

US charges ex-Army major and his wife over alleged plot to leak military health data to Russia
  • The indictment alleges that the plot started after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine
  • Prosecutors said the pair wanted to try to help the Russian government by providing them with data

WASHINGTON: A former US Army major and his anesthesiologist wife have been criminally charged for allegedly plotting to leak highly sensitive health care data about military patients to Russia, the Justice Department revealed on Thursday.
Jamie Lee Henry, the former major who was also a doctor at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and his wife, Dr. Anna Gabrielian, were charged in an unsealed indictment in a federal court in Maryland with conspiracy and the wrongful disclosure of individually identifiable health information.
The indictment alleges that the plot started after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.
Prosecutors said the pair wanted to try to help the Russian government by providing them with data to help the Putin regime “gain insights into the medical conditions of individuals associated with the US government and military.”
The two met with someone whom they believed was a Russian official, but in fact was actually an FBI undercover agent, the indictment says.


Putin says conflicts in Ukraine, ex-USSR are ‘result of Soviet collapse’

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Updated 29 September 2022

Putin says conflicts in Ukraine, ex-USSR are ‘result of Soviet collapse’

Putin says conflicts in Ukraine, ex-USSR are ‘result of Soviet collapse’
  • In the past month, the region has seen clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and Armenia and Azerbaijan
  • Putin has regularly made nostalgic speeches about the USSR and served in the Soviet security services (KGB)

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that conflicts in countries of the former USSR, including Ukraine, are the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“It is enough to look at what is happening now between Russia and Ukraine, and at what is happening on the borders of some other CIS countries. All this, of course, is the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Putin said in a televised meeting with intelligence chiefs of former Soviet countries.
In parallel to the military operation in Ukraine, armed conflicts have returned to various parts of the former Soviet empire.
In the past month the region has seen clashes between the two Central Asian countries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Putin pointed fingers at the West, saying it was “working on scenarios to fuel new conflicts” in the post-Soviet space.
Putin spoke a day before he is due to formally annex four Moscow-occupied Ukrainian regions, in a move that is expected to escalate the Ukraine conflict.
“We are witnessing the formation of a new world order, which is a difficult process,” Putin said, echoing earlier statements about the waning influence of the West.
Putin, who turns 70 next week, has regularly made nostalgic speeches about the USSR and served in the Soviet security services (KGB).
His statement comes during an exodus of Russian men fleeing a mobilization, including to ex-Soviet countries like Kazakhstan, whose president vowed to shelter Russian draft dodgers.