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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UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders

UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders
Updated 58 min 7 sec ago

UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders

UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders
  • In spite of Zelensky’s appeals, there is no chance of the Security Council — where Russia holds a veto — reaching a united stance on the annexation move

UNITED NATIONS, US: The UN reaffirmed its commitment to Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” on Tuesday, as pro-Moscow authorities in several parts of the war-torn nation claimed victory in annexation votes condemned internationally as a sham.
“The United Nations remains fully committed to the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognized borders,” Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo told a meeting of the UN Security Council.
Addressing the meeting by video link, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky once more denounced the ballots hastily organized in Russian-occupied regions — Donetsk and Lugansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.
“There’s a very cynical attempt to force the male population in occupied territory of Ukraine to mobilize into the Russian army, in order to send them to fight against their own homelands,” he charged.
Taking aim at Russian leader Vladmir Putin, Zelensky warned that “annexation is the kind of move that puts him alone against the whole of humanity.”
“A clear signal is now needed from every country in the world,” he said.
In spite of Zelensky’s appeals, there is no chance of the Security Council — where Russia holds a veto — reaching a united stance on the annexation move.
Nevertheless, the United States intends to submit a resolution condemning the “sham referenda,” urging member states “not to recognize any altered status of Ukraine and obligating Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine,” said the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
China’s statements and vote on the resolution will be monitored closely for signals of any changes in its stance toward Russia, which it has yet to condemn over its invasion of Ukraine.
“Our position and proposition on how to view and handle the Ukraine issue is consistent and clear,” said Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun on Tuesday.
“That is, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected.”
In February, just after Moscow’s forces invaded, China chose to abstain on a resolution deploring the action, which was nonetheless vetoed by Russia.
Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s UN ambassador, made clear that Russia would wield its veto again, criticizing the move as “temper tantrums of the Western delegations.”
“The referendums were conducted exclusively transparently, with upholding of all the electoral norms,” Nebenzia argued, adding that the West’s only aim was to “weaken and bleed dry Russia as much as possible.”


All honest people recognize global warming is real, says Pakistani envoy

All honest people recognize global warming is real, says Pakistani envoy
Updated 28 September 2022

All honest people recognize global warming is real, says Pakistani envoy

All honest people recognize global warming is real, says Pakistani envoy
  • Munir Akram told Arab News his country is proposing the creation of a financial facility that would be permanently available to compensate countries for the effects of climate change
  • He said he is ‘disappointed’ with the rights record of the Taliban in Afghanistan but added it would be counterproductive to break off from talks with them and isolate the government

NEW YORK CITY: Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, Munir Akram, remembers the day the recent floods that would eventually submerge a third of his country began.
“The extreme heat melted the glaciers,” he said. “We have 7,000 glaciers in the mountains of Pakistan. This resulted in flash floods. And then the extreme heat led to high precipitation, which resulted in the massive torrential rains that came.
“It is perhaps difficult to imagine the magnitude of the disaster and this became clear to all of us, and to the world, as the waters ran over the rivers into the villages, towns, fields, destroying 7,000 kilometers of roads, 300 bridges, over a million homes, seven million acres of standing crops.”
During a visit to the country this month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the situation in Pakistan as “climate carnage.” He had never seen anything like it on this scale before, he said, as the flooded land covered an area three times the size of his own country, Portugal.
This disaster of monumental magnitude has resulted in more than 1,400 deaths, and caused damage estimated at more than $30 billion. A catastrophe of hitherto unimaginable proportions, it has once again propelled the issue of climate change to the top of the international agenda, dominating every discussion during the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN General Assembly in New York this month.
“This is the consequence of climate change, of global warming,” Akram told Arab News on the sidelines of the UN event. “And the supreme irony is that Pakistan is not responsible for global warming; we emit only 0.8 percent of global carbon emissions and yet Pakistan is the most significantly impacted country by this.
“I think the (UN) secretary-general has spoken eloquently about that when he visited the affected areas and he has called for massive assistance to Pakistan, not only as a humanitarian gesture but also as part of, like, climate justice.
“It is unjust that Pakistan should face the consequences of the actions of those who are the largest emitters and have been the largest emitters for so many decades.”
China, the US and the nations that make up the membership of the EU are the three largest global emitters of greenhouse gases, which cause the Earth’s surface and lower atmosphere to warm.
Guterres has for years called for the biggest producers of greenhouse gases not only to lower their emissions but also to finance the response to the effects of climate change in less-wealthy countries and regions — such as Pakistan, drought-hit Horn of Africa, and the Small Island States that are also particularly vulnerable to flooding — when they face extreme weather events resulting from those emissions.
“I think that all the honest people around the world recognize that global warming and climate change is a reality and that it is having very enormous impacts around the world, especially on developing countries,” said Akram.
“Therefore there is a growing support for the proposal of the developing countries that at least $100 billion should be provided annually for climate finance, that at least half of this should go to adaptation — so far, it’s only 20 to 25 percent of those (funds that go) for adaptation — and that when countries such as Pakistan (are) damaged so grievously, to the extent of 10 percent of the gross domestic product, that there is a responsibility on the part of the international community, especially those who have a historical and current responsibility for having the highest emissions, to provide support in the recovery of countries which suffer from the impact.”
Pakistan is putting forward a proposal for the creation of a financial facility that would be permanently available to compensate countries for the effects of climate change. This is in addition, Akram said, to Islamabad’s suggestion that climate-adaptation efforts, often deemed the “orphan child” of climate talks, should receive at least 50 percent of all climate financing, along with an increased emphasis on the importance of speeding up mitigation efforts, “especially by those who are the highest emitters and who have been historically the highest contributors to global warming over the last 150 years.”
Turning to the situation in neighboring Afghanistan, the Pakistani envoy expressed “disappointment” at the human rights record of the Taliban in the year since they took over the country by force following the withdrawal of Western forces in August last year.
“We are all disappointed that some of the promises that were made with regard to human rights, women’s rights and counterterrorism have not been fulfilled and it remains a priority for us to promote those objectives,” Akram said.
However he added that it would be counterproductive to disengage from talks with the Taliban government or to try to isolate and punish it. He said such actions would condemn the entirety of the Afghan population to further suffering and starvation “and that is certainly not the objective of the international community.”
Akram urged the global donors to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and engage in the economic revival of the country, including improvements to its banking system. He also called for the nation to be allowed to use the resources available to it, including the release of overseas assets currently frozen by the international community. Pakistan is actively engaged in this process, he added.
Calling for “a pathway for normalization” as a major weapon in the fight against terrorism, Akram urged the Taliban to “take effective action not only against (Daesh), which is of course the major concern for the international community, but also against terrorist organizations such as the TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan), which is not only threatening but actually resorting to cross-border attacks against Pakistan.”
The plight of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban is another topic that has dominated discussions during the UN General Assembly, with Afghan women living in exile making the case for their compatriots in a country that is the only one in the world that actively denies women the right to an education. They have called on world leaders to label the regime’s actions against women as “gender apartheid,” in the hope the term will become a catalyst in Afghanistan for change in terms of the treatment of women, just as it once did in South Africa on issues of race relations.
Pakistan’s foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, told Arab News last week that the plight of women in Afghanistan should be an issue not only for the wider international community but for the Muslim world in particular because “Islam is what gave women their rights. Islam is what protects women’s rights.”
Akram believes in pursuing “a strategy of persuasion” with the Taliban on the issue.
“We need to convince the Taliban that their position on this issue is out of step with the requirements of human rights, Islamic law or Islamic practice as such, and we are fully behind this,” he said.
“All we say is let’s do it in a way of persuasion, of trying to convince them through (for example) illustration of best practices in the Islamic world of how women are treated and how women are contributing to the welfare of the nations.
“And perhaps the Taliban — at least those who are younger, educated and know the world — will soon come to be convinced that this is the right way to do it. And hopefully, Afghanistan will then emerge into a stage of development that is more consistent with international norms.”

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Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery

Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery
Updated 27 September 2022

Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery

Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery

KABUL: A mass grave found in southern Afghanistan has sparked calls for justice, as locals recalled atrocities committed against civilians over decades of conflict.

The remains of 12 people were recently found by residents of Spin Boldak, a town bordering Pakistan in the southern province of Kandahar, which had been the site of intense fighting between forces of the Western-backed government and Taliban fighters for the last two decades until the group took over Afghanistan last year.

Video clips, shared on social media by locals and Taliban officials, showed villagers gathered around piles of bones.

Bilal Karimi, the Taliban’s deputy spokesman, said the grave was from around eight or nine years ago, “when the area was under the control of the former administration.” He added that investigations were ongoing.

Taliban officials said the killings took place when Gen. Abdul Raziq was Kandahar police chief under the previous government.

Raziq was allegedly involved in torture and kidnapping, and was known for his fierce stance against the Taliban. He was killed in 2018.

A number of mass graves have been found in Afghanistan, many containing the remains of civilians killed in the decades of war before the US-led invasion in 2001.

More than 47,000 civilians and around 66,000 of Afghanistan’s soldiers and police officers died in the post-2001 conflict, according to a Costs of War report by Brown University.

Afghans called for justice for the victims in the latest discovery. “A lot of kidnapping, disappearing and killing was happening in Kandahar,” Abdul Kabir Mukhlis told Arab News on Tuesday.

Mukhlis, who now lives in Zabul province but studied for several years in Kandahar, recalled years of living under the threat of violence and brutality.

“I swear to God I haven’t had a single day in peace because of the ruthless Raziq and his allies,” the 28-year-old said.

“I couldn’t go anywhere in the city. I’ve seen many such incidents. My friends disappeared, they were killed.”

Mukhlis called on the Taliban to bring the perpetrators to justice, especially those who remain in the country.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan should bring all of them to justice. I don’t expect justice from the international community because they supported these criminals,” he said. “They knew about the atrocities but didn’t do anything.”

Hekmatullah Zaland, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Regional Studies in Kabul, told Arab News that the past two decades had seen powerful military figures committing “severe human rights and legal violations” to retain power.

“In the name of security, many innocent people were killed in the south in ways that are known only to those who did the atrocities. The recently explored grave in Kandahar could be just one example of the many similar incidents across the country,” Zaland said.

“On the pretext of the war on terror, both Afghans and their international allies have caused so much harm to innocent people that can’t be compensated. Justice is what could heal some of the wounds of the Afghan nation and the families of the victims.”

Esmatullah Afghan, a university lecturer from Helmand province, told Arab News that families of the victims often had to wait years to find out their fate.

“The injustice done to Afghans by their own countrymen and by foreigners is enormous,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the current government and an ethical obligation of the world to ensure justice to victims of cruelty, injustice and war in Afghanistan. 

“Afghans have been suffering mainly due to wars initiated by foreigners. The guilty must be punished.”


Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster

Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster
Updated 27 September 2022

Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster

Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster
  • Death toll has risen to 67 as of Tuesday afternoon, local official says
  • Boat accident is the worst waterway disaster to hit the South Asian nation this year

DHAKA: Almost as soon as the boat started moving to take passengers to the other side of the Karatoya River, where many Hindu devotees were heading to celebrate the Durga Puja festival at a popular temple, the small vessel began to tremble.
The 15-minute journey to cross the river in northern Bangladesh that Sunday afternoon quickly turned into a tragedy, taking less than four minutes before the boat began to sink.
“There had been a huge rush of passengers, and people were all in a hurry to get on the boat. Not a single inch of space was empty,” Ramesh Chandra, a 40-year-old farmer from the northern Panchagarh district, told Arab News on Tuesday.
Chandra, who boarded the boat with his 35-year-old wife Shyamoli Rani Shimuli and his 11-year-old daughter Surovi Rani, said it had all happened suddenly.
“Soon after the boat started moving, it was trembling because of the overload,” he said.
When Chandra realized the boat was sinking, he took his daughter’s hands and swam toward the river bank. But his wife, who was wearing a traditional sari, did not make it.
“My wife knew swimming very well, but she unfortunately failed to manage it as she was wearing a sari, which wrapped her whole body immediately when it got wet,” Chandra said.
He is now left alone to raise his daughter and 13-year-old son Saurov, who had been at home when the incident occurred.
“I don’t know what to do now, how I will be able to raise my children alone without their mother,” Chandra said.
Shimuli’s body was recovered on Sunday evening, and she was cremated the following day. As the family mourns the tragic loss, they also have to grapple with other losses in the extended family.
Chandra said his niece and sister were also killed in the accident, and authorities were still searching for his nephew on Tuesday.
The worst waterways disaster to hit the South Asian nation this year had killed at least 67 people as of Tuesday afternoon, comprising 30 women, 20 children, and 17 men, Mohammad Jahurul Islam, Panchagarh district administrator, told Arab News.
“Our divers are working to trace the (missing) bodies. Rescue operations will continue until we can address the last complaint reported,” Islam said.
Islam said aid was given to the families of the deceased victims to cover expenses for the funeral rites.
Dipankar Roy, who heads the committee investigating the accident, told Arab News that they have conducted interviews with eyewitnesses, survivors, and other concerned parties.
“Our investigation over this tragic incident is almost over. We hope to submit the report by 10 a.m. on Wednesday at the latest,” Roy said.
Hundreds of people die each year in ferry accidents across Bangladesh, as accidents commonly occur due to lax safety standards. In April 2021, at least 35 people were killed after an overcrowded ferry collided with a cargo vessel and sank on the Shitalakhsya River outside the capital Dhaka.
The villages along the Karatoya River were overwhelmed with grief, as many residents mourn the deaths of relatives, friends, and neighbors in the boat accident.
Tarun Kumar Barman, a 35-year-old farmer from Panchagarh, said his village alone had lost eight people to the tragedy. His nine-year-old niece and 48-year-old sister were among the victims.
“All of them were from the Hindu community and had intended to make offerings in the temple on the occasion of Mahalaya,” Barman told Arab News, referring to the beginning of Durga Puja celebrations.
“The whole village is overwhelmed with mourning now. People forgot their daily routines. We are extremely shocked,” he said. “It’s a dead village now. We cremated the bodies one after another. None of us was ready for a situation like this.”


Moscow says will not seek extradition of Russians fleeing draft

Moscow says will not seek extradition of Russians fleeing draft
Updated 27 September 2022

Moscow says will not seek extradition of Russians fleeing draft

Moscow says will not seek extradition of Russians fleeing draft
  • Neighbouring countries have seen Russians arriving en masse since the draft was announced last Wednesday
  • On Tuesday, Central Asian nation Kazakhstan said around 98,000 Russians entered the country since Wednesday

MOSCOW: Moscow said Tuesday it will not request the extradition of Russians traveling abroad to avoid being called-up to fight in Ukraine, after thousands of military-aged men crossed into neighboring countries.
“The Russian ministry of defense has not sent any request to the authorities of Kazakhstan, Georgia, or any other country for the alleged forced return to Russian soil of Russian citizens, and it is not planning to do so,” the ministry said in a statement.
Neighbouring countries have seen Russians arriving en masse since the draft was announced last Wednesday, with hours-long queues at border crossings.
On Tuesday, Central Asian nation Kazakhstan said around 98,000 Russians entered the country since Wednesday.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev vowed to protect the safety and welfare of Russians fleeing a “hopeless situation” on Tuesday.
Russians have also headed to the neighboring Black Sea nation of Georgia, which saw the number of Russians arriving daily nearly double since the mobilization announcement.
On Tuesday the local interior ministry in a Russian region that borders Georgia said the situation at the border was “extremely tense.”
The ministry added that a mobile mobilization office will be set up at the border in the “near future.”