Interview: The Kominas on being a Muslim punk band, Taqwacore, and bridging the gap of consciousness between cultures

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Silvers: Is Punjabi Indian?

Usmani: Yeah, well it’s both. Punjab is a providence. It’s Pakistani as well. Basically India and Pakistan got split up in 1947, and so half is in Pakistan and half is in India.

Silvers: So you guys speak?

Khan: yeah we speak both Urdu, which is kind of like the Portuguese of Spanish and is the national language, and Punjab. On our second album we have a lot of songs in Urdu and Punjabi.

Usmani: Yeah and for us it’s kind of like, you know when metal bands stop growling and they start in with clean vocals, and stuff like that? And then their fans are like “what the fuck?” Like for us, that’s our relationship with Urdu, Punjabi, and English. Where it’s like earlier on, especially our second album, it was just filled with tracks that were Punjabi, and now we kind of steered away from it. Sometimes now, we give them the sugar, and sometimes we don’t. But again it’s a privilege.

Khan: We get a lot people that are like, you know your first album was kind of rough, but then we show them the new stuff and they’re like yeah, yeah. They love it.

Usmani: Yeah I mean “Tunnn” is a song that is written in Punjabi. I was on acid actually at the time when I wrote it in Toronto. That was probably our biggest hit in Pakistan. But, then again, you know it’s a privilege. That’s why it’s so great to be who we are, you know, we get to make a viral hit in Pakistan.

Khan: But then, we also get to record a Bollywood song, which also went viral in Pakistan

Usmani: It went viral in India, too. Then we also get to write songs, like for the King Khan/Black Lips crowd. You know, it’s like, it’s something that we’re very pleased, or thankful for.

Khan: I think, at least for me, especially after I wasn’t in the band for four years, that I now get to see all of the different parts of everything kind of adding up, and being like shit, this might actually work out.

Usmani: We have all of these kids, like the Muslim Student Association kids who love our politics, but then we also have the Indian and Pakistani kids that might not even like that part, but you know they have the same culture as us, and then we have the white kids, the political Punk kids. We have just like a mix and it’s great.

Khan: Yeah, it’s cool. We can go to a different city still, and have people come. Like when we were in Philly. When we were in Philly there was a Pakistani girl who was like “I followed you guys!” That means a lot. Like to say “I followed everything you put out there for four years” Then we also have Anthony, a 45-year-old dude who is doing his thesis on Taqwacore, who has been following us for a long-ass time. So to have, I think, organic fans of all places, and you know it’s not just Desi kids, but it’s awesome.

Usmani: I feel like there is a case to be made for the Kominas and how we kind of said we’re 10 years ahead. We’re kind of like the face of what it “will be,” in 10 years. But, we are also the face of what America is today, too. Really, like I had the luck of growing up in Lexington. I mean I moved there from Pakistan when I was like 15. Lexington is like 30% Asian, 10% Jewish, it uh, you know, it’s a little bit ahead of the curve compared to the rest of the country. Now the country is dealing with that demographic almost everywhere. It’s way more mixed. Outside of places that are historically, or notoriously known for being WASP-y. So, we were at a place where people didn’t really get us ten years ago and now we’re interacting with young kids, that are younger than us, but are on our wavelength already.

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Khan: It’s also musically that way. Not to be immodest but we’re definitely better now, just like cohesively as a band, and I think we put on a much better live show and have more material, do you know what I mean? More interesting material. It just has dynamics, and you know…we tune our guitars from time to time.

Silvers: What is the plan for the future then, with your new music?

Usmani: Tons of videos.

Silvers: No full-length releases, anytime soon then?

Khan: Maybe at the end, but for now it’s just videos, as many as we can afford.

Usmani: Yeah, I think this is more I think my fault. I worried about making videos earlier on because they were not a punk thing to do, you know what I mean? I was still for that first four years concerned about, is this kind of a brand like thing? But then I realized…

Khan: I’m sorry to cut you off but…

Usmani: No go ahead.

Khan: There’s some guy online, he’s a friend of ours, I’m not going to call him out by name but, he said something about you know it’s so not punk rock to mix, or do fucking over dubs: like when you do a studio session, or produce your stuff. So there are some kids that are literally too punk to do a guitar over dub. But, when you listen to the Clash or the Sex Pistols they did that in a studio, with like really nice equipment. There is nothing un-punk about sounding good.

Usmani: I mean, people just get knit picky.

Khan: Yeah, it’s just like anything you’re passionate about.

Usmani: It’s usually the death of a scene when people start getting like that. You know, it’s happening to rap right now. Well, it’s been happening in rap for like the last 10 years. People get so hung up on the smallest things.

Silvers: Are you worried that the punk scene is dying?

Usmani: I mean it’s already been through this multiple times; it’s died and come back, dyed and come back and come back and come back, so it’s like whatever. When I was young I used to resent documentaries where they ask people what is punk? And then they go into this whole thing about community and being yourself, but now I love it. That’s exactly what it is. You know for me, I like the lowercase p-u-n-k. Be yourself. The artists that I love, like thinking about them: Nina Simone, Old Dirty Bastard, and Ozzy Osbourne, they all were just themselves. For example Enrique Iglesias’ new song: that song gets stuck in my head all of the time. You know what I mean? We have no judgements. This is also again the privilege we have. There are pale, Irish kids in Boston who have to pick a tribe, and be like “Oh, we have studs in our leather, we’re into Discharge and punk rock and are deviant.” Or “Oh no, we’re metal kids and we’re into black metal.” But, because we’re not, because we’re outlandish in this town no matter where we are, it’s like we love Reggae-ton, dub, R&B, classic rock, metal. I feel like punk should also be like loving pop music, like loving bad pop as well.

Silvers: So do you think kids today, still have to pick a “tribe”?

Usmani: No, I think kids today are eclectic. I’m really happy about that. I’m really happy that people who listen to Ricky Martin also love Metallica. You know what I mean? They love all of it. It’s less strict then it was. We grew up with that last era of CDs, and the people back then, they had hang ups, stupid hang ups. I mean nowadays people, they are into everything, and I like that. I’m all about that.

Silvers: How do you deal with half of your band here, and the other half spread out in other cities?

Usmani: Well, I guess it makes it more deliberate when we get together. Because we set aside time. I think back in the day when the whole band lived in Boston, it was so difficult to just round everyone up. Now, it’s just like everyone is focused. Also I love playing in Philadelphia as well. I’m glad that one of our main guys is in Philly and that we have a chance to just go out there and play. I mean the East Coast, because you’re Californian it’s different. I mean the East Coast is really just like one big state. It’s not like separate states. There are some cool different sides to it.

Silvers: Tell me about your upcoming Halloween show, and why the Ramones?

Usmani: Oh well, the Ramones are so fun. But, we love a lot of different bands, but Ramones is probably the easiest to pick up. We can probably learn a set pretty quick, and we’ve been thinking about covering Ramones songs for years. Like, since we began. We don’t know why it took so long. We’re playing from 11:10 pm to 11:50 p.m.

Silvers: Who else is playing the show?

Usmani: I can tell you what bands they are impersonating. There is a Salt N Pepa cover band, There is an all girl Rage Against The Machine band, and I think there is a Primus one to. So it’s pretty random, and we’re super psyched. T.T. The Bear’s’ is a really cool venue too. So we’re psyched to play there too. The city has been showing us a lot of love in the past year. When we started out we would always try and go elsewhere because we thought we were being received better. It’s cool to finally have a home town advantage. We’ve been looking for that for a long time.

FUNKIN’ PUNKIN’ HALLOWEEN with KOMINAS as THE RAMONES + LORD ALMIGHTY as TURBONEGRO + THE BATTLESHIP COMETH as RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE + MUMRA as PRIMUS + SOLO SEXX as SALT-N-PEPA :: Friday, October 31 @ T.T. The Bear’s Place, 10 Brookline Ave., Cambridge, MA :: 8:30 p.m., 18-plus, $10 :: Advance tickets :: Do617 event page

Kominas Ramones

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