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The Soul Behind the Music
Enlightened, but still Outlandish
By Miral Sattar



Outlandish: Lenny Martinez, Isam Bachiri, Waqas Qadri


The typical day for Waqas Qadri is never actually typical. His general routine, however, deals with of a little bit of everything: faith, family, and fame. His day usually starts with the sound of his alarm clock for Fajr prayer (morning prayer), and he tries his best to get up. Around 8:30am he wakes up his son, and prepares him for school. After he gets him dressed and gives him breakfast, he drops him off to the nearby kindergarten. He then spends a good chunk of the morning answering email from Outlandish fans. He works a little on some songs and beats, and then hits the studio in Copenhagen, Denmark to meet with Isam and Lenny. There the band spends the entire day, talking about how to promote their music, and having meetings and interviews (They speak to each other in Danish). After a full day as an artist, he comes home to return to his role as a family man. He goes shopping with his wife sometimes to buy groceries, sometimes to buy other necessities.

Waqas likes to try his hand in the kitchen, but both his wife and mother prefer he stay out. His experiments in the kitchen usually backfire and lead to inedible disasters. Honey in your pasta, anyone?

While heís not your biggest Bollywood or Ash fan, he enjoys the occasional outing with his wife and son to see Lagaan and other such films. In some aspects heís just your average Pakistani-Danish father, husband, son, or friend.

But Waqas Qadri is also 1/3 of the trio that makes up Outlandish. The other band members are Isam Bachiri and Lenny Martinez. What happens when you take three kids on the block growing up in a suburb of Copenhagen, Denmark who canít quite get the hang of break dancing? They start to rap instead and you end up with Outlandish: one of the hottest and most innovative groups to come out of Denmarkís hip hop scene. They fuse Asian, Arabic and Latin beats with hip hop. Youíve heard their hit song, Aicha, which topped charts all around the world and placed them on the international scene. Their long awaited cd, Closer Than Veins, launched in Europe this summer and will likely follow the same path as the albumís first single released, Look Into My Eyes, which rose quickly on the billboard charts.

Divanee Magazine was fortunate enough to speak to Waqas Qadri. He shared with us everything from their music and message to their reaction to women throwing themselves at them. Be it his hope that maybe just maybe something good can come out of the Danish cartoons, or the challenges he had to face in order to pursue the not-so-traditional career of music, Divanee Magazine has gotten the details, up-close and personal:

Fun Facts:

Full Name: Waqas Ali Qadri
Nick Name: Vicky Bhai
Age: 30
Birthdate: March, 25th, 1976
Birthplace: Copenhagen, Denmark
Hobbies: Music
Worst Habit: Picks his nose
Favorite songs: Depends on his mood but these days he's listening to "Gnarls Barkely" on his Sony Ericsson 800Wi
Favorite outfit: Shalwar Kameez (Pakistani outfit and his scarves/shawls)
Favorite phrase: Inshallah (God willing)
Favorite meal: Keema (ground spiced meat) with white basmati rice
Favorite word: Humanity
Favorite cartoon growing up: The original NARNIA cartoon. He hated the movie


DM: How did you get into hip hop?

Waqas Qadri: To this day we still wonder why we didnít just stop rapping at the youth club. I guess we had a common interest in hip hop and hip hop was always more appealing than a lot of other things. When we started to listen to hip hop we had like a public enemy; we were the people who were a bit rebellious against the society. We related to blacks as a minority and their suppression better than we could relate to AC/DC and Metallica or Def Leopard. They sang about stuff we couldnít relate to. The rappers talked about government, [fighting the power], etc. When we started writing our own lyrics we came to realize that we werenít gangsters and we hadnít been suppressed for the past 400 years. We hadnít been through slavery in Denmark. So we looked at our environment and started writing about our own lives and thatís what weíve been doing since. We talk about ourselves and focus on that rather than trying to create a picture of some gangsters. Unfortunately you have a lot of people doing that in Denmark who try to look like Tupac. But we focus on our own society and our everyday lives.

DM: So how do you think other hip hop artists perceive you?

Waqas Qadri: Basically we were one of the first groups who looked like the way we do. Hip hop artists were usually people who migrated from Africa, or they were Caucasian Danish. When we came into hip hop we were doing something different. We were not part of the hip hop society. I was influenced by Pakistani music, Lenny by Latin music, and Isam by Arabic music. Our music is really melodic; it was natural to mix that melody with the hip hop. And people couldnít diss us because what we were doing was original. At the same time they were like, ĎYeah but that is not the way we do it.í The other artists would take a break beat and sample from Marvin Gaye or old jazz . The samples often came from records their parents used to listen to. So I went home and went through my parentsí record collection and I couldnít find Marvin Gaye and other artists like that. All I could find was Mehdi Hassan or Lata Mangeshkar. I talked to Isam and Lenny, and Isam found some Arabic and Lenny had de Mercedes Sosa. So we said, ĎWhat the heck, letís try thisí and decided to put it all together. We picked up a record and took it to the studio. The producer was like, ĎWhat the hell are you doing? You canít mix hip hop with Asian music. Or Latin music. That wonít work; bring me some Stevie Wonder or something like that.í From the start we were forced to do a lot of things on our own, like producing. We found some individuals who we still work with who understood our way of thinking. Now Asian music and hip hop fused together is such a big thing. To me, hip hop is about representing who you are. You can do it through a song or a rap. It doesnít matter to me. Many people may disagree, and if they want to say Outlandish is not hip hop, itís fine with me. Iím doing music. The music I find interesting, Iíll do.

DM: What type of image does Outlandish want to portray to young teens in Europe?

Waqas Qadri:  Itís funny because we donít focus so much on having an image. We just try to be as good humans as possible. Along the way we fail. We stray many times. Thatís just part of being human. I often tell fans and people who like our music, ĎLook, if you want to call me a role model. Be my guest. Do that.í Alhumdullilah, Iíll be happy; my job is done. But I want them to remember I am a human being. I have anger. I get jealous. I have an ego in me. I have all these things. Iím working on it but Iím not a perfect human being. And we all three of us are not perfect human beings. Donít put us on this platform and start to worship us and assume we canít do anything wrong. Because when we do make a mistake, all your dreams crash and burn. I donít idolize people. Iím not fond of idolizing people. There are people who do good things. You take the good things they do and you let that have positive influence and give you strength in your life. Outlandish as a group consists of three different humans beings. Me, Lenny, and Isam. We have a common goal: Itís to spread humanity. We live in a society thatís like a global village now. There are people who tend to put certain groups of people in boxes and see what type of box everyone fits in. People see someone with a beard and assume they are Muslim, and then they categorize Muslims. Are you fundamentalist Muslim? Or are you a moderate Muslim? Or you a democratic Muslim? Ok, you fit in this box. Then someone sees a blond girl. Are you a slut? Or an intelligent girl? Ok, you fit this box over here. This is what weíre trying to break. Weíre all different individuals. Sometimes the media portrays all immigrants as the same. Theyíre all just a bunch of criminals. Theyíre all just a bunch of rapists. Thatís dangerous. They say all the Muslims do this or that but not all Muslims are the same. Thatís what we try to reinforce in our music--that weíre all individuals. I think the world would be a better place [if you werenít] concerned about what other people were doing. You should work on strengthening yourself and becoming a better human being.

DM: So you guys have had lots of hits. How do you prevent yourself from developing an ego sometimes? Itís inevitable, no?

Waqas Qadri: Thatís true. Itís an awkward situation. We all come from families who are quite humble, middle class parents with educational backgrounds. Our parents always taught us to treat other people as weíd like to be treated. As I became more into Islam and spirituality, I learned things along the way. We didnít get into music to gain wealth. We donít want to talk about all the bling. We donít want to degrade women. Thatís not what our parents taught us. Thatís not what our religion teaches us. Knowing that has helped us a lot in keeping our feet grounded. There are so many negative sides of this business. Women are portrayed as sex objects. No clothes in the videos. We all have women in our family. We all have been taught to respect women. Iím married; I love my wife. The characteristic I hate most in people is arrogance. Especially, since I come from a country where social status matters so much. Are you from India or Pakistan?

DM: Pakistan

Waqas Qadri: So you know what Iím talking about, ĎAre you Rajput? Are you Rana? Are you Chowdhury?í The more education and more wealth people have, the more they are worth. And those people treat other people like crap. Iíve seen this my whole life and Iíve always hated it. We touch upon these issues in our new song Kom Igen. The song is about breaking the ego. The hook line is Ďbreak your ego.í

DM: How do you react to women throwing themselves at you?

Waqas Qadri: Thatís not something you can master. Itís not up you. If a woman thinks youíre sexy, hot, whatever...you canít help it. I canít take a knife and start cutting my face. But we always tell women who start getting crazy that weíre not like that. We tell them take it easy. And we never attend after parties. With award shows, we get there, do our thing and leave. People know we arenít like that, and they should know not to throw themselves at us. Listen to the music. In some of the songs I talk about my wife and how it is to be married, so people know Iím married. But of course there are always individuals who donít care about that and say, ĎOh I love you.í And we say, ĎOk thatís good for you, but listen, itís not about me. Itís about the music.í Outlandish is not about three people. Itís about the message, the music, and the lyrics.

DM: When was the moment you knew you made it?

Waqas Qadri: Our first album was released in Denmark. Then the second album was released in Europe and the song Aicha spread in Germany and the Middle East. The success didnít come quickly; it was gradual, and our work is still spreading. Sometimes weíre like, ĎWhoa okay, people know us in South America.í Thatís surprising. My cousin once said to me, ĎYaar you are superstar.í I said, ĎListen the day there is a pirated copy of my CD in a place in Karachi called Rainbow Centre, the day my CD will be there, I will believe Iím a superstar.í [laughs] Two years ago I went to Rainbow Centre and my cousin was like, ĎLook! There it is! Now you made it!í And I was like, ĎYeah ok, Iím a superstar whatever.í [laughs]. I had a dream that one day my CD would be in Rainbow Centre in Karachi, and it actually happened. I bought a few copies for 60 rupees a piece and gave one to Lenny, one to Isam and kept one for myself.

DM: On to the politics. What were your reactions to the Danish cartoons as an artist.

Waqas Qadri: Well I would rather say it as a human being. The cartoons came out so many months before they blew up outside of Denmark. I saw them on the Internet and in newspapers, and was like, ĎAw man, why do they do this? This is stupidity. It is just for the sake of provoking.í I was really saddened that the cartoons were created, but at the same time, when people reacted by burning down embassies, I was even more saddened. People should think about how their actions will affect the other innocent people living in that country and the tribulations they would have to go through. I know the Prophet would never react this way. We should follow his example. He went through so much. People would spit and kick, and he always remained peaceful. He was always reasonable. I didnít like the violent reactions to the cartoons. I prefer dialogues. If someone criticized the Prophet, one should explain that he was not as they say. People can argue back and forth, but only verbally and intellectually. So I was saddened by both sides. This is not because I live in Denmark, but because I am a human being. We have the royal family here in Denmark. The citizens respect them, and I also like them. I would never do anything to harm them. I would never draw the queen as a prostitute or her son raping a little child. Thatís disrespectful. For me that just takes common sense to figure out. The same goes for the drawings that hurt the people who cherish the Prophet. It was sad to see these drawings, as well as the reactions to them. But I hope something positive will come of this. Maybe people will start learning more about each other, in a constructive intellectual way. I hope we can spread more positive knowledge about the Prophet.

DM:So, I guess the next question is how was it growing up with two cultures in Denmark. How did you balance being Muslim, Pakistani, Danish.

Waqas Qadri: Growing up, I wasnít focused on being Muslim. I wasnít as aware or interested in learning more. I went through a phase during which other things were more important: friends, parties, etc. And it was difficult to balance the two cultures. At home I lived according to the Pakistani culture and mentality. As soon as I stepped out, I lived according to the Danish culture and mentality. I didnít have much knowledge about my culture or my religion, and it was hard to balance what I did know about it all within one mind. So sometimes that can bring about frustration. People sometimes develop anger towards their Danish side or their Pakistan side. I have friends who have turned their back on their Pakistani side and said, ĎIím a Dane;í they just got fed up because they couldnít balance the two cultures. Alhamdullilah, I learned to balance through music. I channeled my anger and frustration through lyrics. You can hear that on the first album. I was angry, and thought of myself as stuck between two cultures. Now I know who I am. Iím a human being. Iím a Pakistani, Iím a Dane. IĎm a Muslim. Iím a father. Iím a husband. Iím a son. Basically, a human being. Iíve reached a balance. Itís important that parents support their children and integrate all of the cultures in them. And for myself, I couldnít just take the good parts of Danish culture and the good parts of Pakistani culture; I have the good and the bad qualities of both a Pakistani and a Danish person.

DM: So your careers are definitely not traditional. Iím not sure how it is in Denmark. But in the US parents here are, Ďbe a doctor or marry a doctorí So, Iím just curious is it similar in Denmark. Are your parents supportive of the fact that you all are musicians and hip-hop artists? And what do they think about it?

Waqas Qadri: My parents werenít that happy that I chose this path. At the time I didnít understand why they wouldnít support me, but now I can understand where they were coming from. Itís the same thing here. Be a doctor or engineer, or marry one. My parents said, ĎWhat the hell are we going to tell are friends when we sit with them?í Other parents will talk about how their son is a doctor or their daughters are lawyers and married to engineers. And my father is like, ďUh, yeah, my son is in music...í You know Pakistanis, they really care about what other people say. But eventually when they saw what we were talking about in our songs, the impact we started to have on the community, and the growth in our spirituality, they became supportive. Now they are so supportive and are proud of what Iím doing. And now when my father sits with people and they brag about their kids being doctors or lawyers, he says, ĎBut my son is Waqas from Outlandish.íAnd they say, ĎIs that true? My family is a big fan, and my kids talk about him all the time. They look up to them and the positive things theyíre doing.í So the whole picture has changed. But I can understand where they came from initially. To leave your country, language, and family behind...to break the traditions and settle in a whole new country with different goals, different everything...I can understand why they werenít immediately supportive. People have dreams and expectations for themselves and their children in the future. If their children grow up and are not successful at something they expected, the parents feel like they failed in raising them. Expectations are a dangerous thing. You should never have expectations of other people. Not even your children. You never know how they are going to turn out, or what the future might bring.

DM: There have been a lot of tragic natural disasters. How did outlandish react to the tsunami in Indonesia? The earthquake in Pakistan? Hurrican Katrina in the US?

Waqas Qadri: Itís always hurts, it really hurts whenever lives a lost, whether itís because of a natural catastrophe or not. It hurts because when someone loses their life you see what happens to their family and unfortunately I lost a few family members in the past couple of yearsĖmy grandmother and two of my uncles. When you experience the loss of someone close, you can understand the pain that others go through. I have a son. If he gets hurt just a little bit, I can feel the pain. If I were just to imagine something happening to him..I canít even imagine. I start shaking and feel really strange. What happened with Hurricane Katrina and the Tsunami and the catastrophe in Pakistan..itís more than my little brain can fathom. What happened and what these people have to go through. We did whatever we possibly could. We helped create a song with other Danish artists, and all the money went to the Tsunami victims. We were part of a benefit concert in Denmark for the earthquake victims of Pakistan. You can make a difference, just by wearing a t-shirt. Or doing things like that. And I mean we can never do enough. Pakistan now, there is need for a lot more help. A lot more help. I wouldnít say that the world community has turned their back on Pakistan; you can see that the help is not as big as it was the tsunami.

DM: What advice do you have to young American men and women. What would you like to tell.

Waqas Qadri: Peope really appreciate that we struggled our way through and didnít compromise who we were as human beings. What I would say to them is to believe in yourself and do the best you can in whatever you do. And if you donít make it, youíve still grown as a person. You can always learn from your mistakes. Donít be afraid of making mistakes; they will always strengthen you. Some people will become bitter and wonít try again. Always believe in yourself and treat people the way you want to be treated. And always remember that all human beings want to be treated well, with respect and dignity.

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As to when they are coming to the United States? They are still in the process of building up their US fan base.

Respect. Stand up. Listen. Peace and Love. Thatís what Outlandish is all about. According to Waqas, theyíre still struggling, but the struggles only make them stronger. Props to Outlandish for not compromising their morals and values, and for defying the stereotypes. Keep on keeping on. Check out their new CD at http://www.outlandmoro.com. But, remember not to put them on a pedestal. They are just three socially concious guys whose just want you to listen to their universal message.

You can purchase Closer Than Veins at www.cdwow.com. Or, if you're in Rainbow Center in Karachi, pick up a pirated copy. You definitely wonít be disappointed.

 

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