The Dead Bhuttos Is Bringing Punk Rock to Pakistan

The Dead Bhuttos, from left: Basmin Usmani, Hassan Amin, and Sheraz Ahmed. Courtesy of Dead Bhuttos

Naming a band after the slain members of the Bhuttos, one of Pakistan's leading political families, is bound to attract attention in the country, and that’s exactly what the members of Dead Bhuttos were going for.

“It’s such an evocative family,” guitarist Basim Usmani told NBC News. “From [former prime ministers] Zulfikar and Benazir to even writer Fatima Bhutto, they’ve been hugely influential and evocative.”

As a member of the South Asian American punk band The Kominas, Usmani spent much of the summer touring in support of the Kominas latest album, “Stereotype.” In September, he was ready for a change and decided to take a trip to Lahore, Pakistan, to revisit the city of his birth and childhood, he said.

“I’m always looking on YouTube for Punjabi and Urdu music, and I’m always looking for punk that translates,” Usmani said. “So I came across some bands and I got in touch with them and as soon as I landed, Hassan [Amin, a member of the band Multinational Corporations] said ‘I live right by the airport. I can pick you up.’”

Fellow Multinational Corporations member Sheraz Ahmed joined the two and the newly formed Dead Bhuttos began playing together. “We were just jamming out in [Amin's] room,” Usmani said. “It was a really productive time, and it was nice playing bass with some young Pakistani punks. We collaborated so easily.”

The band is currently preparing to release three new tracks that were the result of those creative sessions. “They sound really fluid and natural,” Ahmed told NBC News in an email. “We had fun recording them and we can sit and listen to them repeatedly without getting bored, so yeah. That's what matters the most for us.”

Amin described the songs in much simpler terms. “It’s a raw unrelenting, unadulterated, desi punk attack,” he said.

All three members said that their new music is inherently political in a way reflects the city in which it was recorded. “The culture in Lahore is definitely people sitting around and drinking chai and talking about politics,” Usmani, who was born in Pakistan and moved to the United States as a teenager, said. “It sounds so natural. There’s that feeling when you’re sitting in traffic in Lahore, and there are people calling out trying to sell things while you are trying to get out of traffic. I always thought it would be great to capture that.”

While Lahore has a long history of being a center of political discussions, there is not much of a punk music scene, according to the members of the Dead Bhuttos. “Me and Sheraz’s crust punk/grind core band Multinational Corporations was the only real punk band here since 2011,” Amin said. “Before that, people used to think playing Green Day and Nirvana covers with spiky hair was enough to call themselves ’Punk.’ It’s changing, however.”

The name “Dead Bhuttos,” is also a play on the 1970s American punk band Dead Kennedys, Usmani said. “I do wonder what kind of questions Dead Kennedys had gotten in the 1970s,” Usmani said, laughing. “But just because we called the band Dead Bhuttos doesn’t mean we like the other political parties. They are just so much like the Kennedys. There was so much wasted potential there.”

As for the Pakistan-based Amin and Ahmed, they say that they simply ignore fellow Pakistanis who may be offended by their band’s moniker. “Some people tend to take life a bit too seriously. It doesn’t really matter to us,” Amin said.

While Usmani said the Dead Bhuttos are more of a Pakistani band than a Pakistani American one, he notes that migration and collaboration have always been common in music. “For someone like me, who grew up in both Pakistan and the United States, our experiences necessitate going to new places,” he said. “Music is really the closest thing to stasis.”

All three new Dead Bhuttos songs are in either colloquial Urdu or in Punjabi, Usmani said, two widely spoken languages in Pakistan. But Usmani said there is plenty about the tracks that will attract listeners from all over the world – even if they do not understand the lyrics.

“Punk is one of those places where people are down to listen to a band from another country,” Usmani said. “You don’t really need to know what someone is saying to know what the feelings are behind it.”

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