Calling the world’s response to floods in Pakistan “pathetic,” British rock star Peter Gabriel has agreed to a collaboration with Pakistani star Salman Ahmad to raise awareness of the tragedy.
The English-language version of Open Your Eyes with Gabriel’s distinctive voice over music by Ahmad, founder of South Asia’s biggest band Junoon, became available this week. All proceeds from sale of the song go to Pakistan flood relief.
It’s been three months since floods ravaged an area the size of Britain in Pakistan. Millions of people are still displaced and aid agencies fear they will run out of basic food aid by Christmas. “This is a huge tragedy and maybe because of the worst association [with] terrorism with Pakistan there’s been a pathetic response,” Gabriel said Thursday in an interview with CBC Radio’s Q cultural affairs show. “These are people suffering in extraordinary ways and I think we’ve failed terribly.”
A long musical career
Gabriel, best known for his work with Genesis, said the Open Your Eyes song and video is an attempt to get “some airtime and attention to the issue.”. “This is Salman’s song and I contributed to the English version. You put your own soul into it and hope it touches people,” he added.
Ahmad, speaking from Rockland County, N.Y., where he lives, said he spent some time searching for a star without “compassion fatigue” to record his song. “I’m hoping someone like the great Peter Gabriel comes together with the Pakistani people and there’s genuine emotion in the song,” he said. “One song is not going to change anything in the face of colossal tragedy, but it does open doors and then people have to walk through those doors.”
Ahmad, a UN Goodwill Ambassador whose memoir is called Rock ’n’ Roll Jihad, recalled what an inspiration Gabriel was in setting the direction for his band Junoon.
Gabriel was involved with world music as early as 1980 and recorded with the Pakistani musician Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, known for his Qawwali or Sufi devotional music.
“There was a natural overlapping of East and West,” Ahmad recalled. “That gave me the inspiration to take my band Junoon in a new direction … My career has been about building bridges.”
Ahmad said he first met Gabriel three years ago through a mutual friend, but the offer for help on the Pakistan project came “out of the blue.” Gabriel, who has been involved with humanitarian efforts such as Feed the World (Do They Know It’s Christmas) said he took up the cause because he’s been struck by how quickly the world turned away from the Pakistani tragedy.
“It needs more than just one song, it needs government action too. There are dangers for the West, besides the lives involved. To cold shoulder Pakistan in a time of need is not a strategic political move,” he said. Proceeds from the sale of the song will be handled by the Salman and Samina Global Wellness Initiative, started by Salman Ahmad and his wife Samina.