Aki Nawaz from Fun Da Mental: 'Ask me some difficult questions!'

By Mat Ward

Most musicians baulk at being asked difficult questions and some have even asked Green Left Weekly to "make the questions less heavy". 

But Aki Nawaz of British Asian soundclash provocateurs Fun Da Mental is no ordinary musician. When GLW asked him about doing a Q&A, he said: "Make it as difficult as you can and as honest as you want - so I find it a mind-fuck to answer - I enjoy it that way and sure readers do!" 

Being a Fun Da Mental fan, I'm probably not the best person to play devil's advocate, but here goes...

You say you've named the new Fun Da Mental album A Philosophy Of Nothing because you speak to people of all politics and find their philosophies crumble after talking to them for a while. A lot of our readers would probably take issue with that. Tell us about it.

"A Philosophy Of Nothing" is a thought that has had a personal journey for me. It is not an absolute position, but I find it has resonance across many experiences of meeting people of all ilks and identities, from victims to aggressors, from those that have power to those that do not.

Firstly, to put it into context, it is not a cynical observation and can be seen as a positive or a negative. It is borne out of a yearning to listen rather than rant-dictate or challenge a hardened position immediately. Let people be heard, unburden their immediate fears or prejudices or ignorance, then slowly chip away with some form of reasoning if at all possible.

On this path I chose in my work of not only making music but also political/social documentaries, it dawned on me that many positions were fragile, even in extreme cases, and if anything just had a relevance in terms of the context of that particular person or the reality of a situation.

I came across politicians who were in the main just interested in their “self” promotion and egoism, justifying their positions on issues, which were causing conflict, but standing by them purely out of stubborn jingoism. All their positions had hypocrisy written from beginning to end, they were just towing a “given” party or tribal line of thought.

When questioned not from a journalistic position, but just a human level, most of them were either irate or became silent in anger because they had exposed themselves according to their prescribed ideology.

I was making a documentary about Guantanamo prisoners and met a few in many places across the world. Though most of them had just been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time or were just pawns for the mathematics and fear factor for the War of Terror, it became evident that they were just innocent or had not really thought about the actions they had taken. The romanticism of conflict was a pull factor until they saw the reality of war. The noble rules of defence were broken and an all-out savagery mostly based on the aggression directed towards them had taken over. Both sides were therefore as guilty as the other, both sides as extremist as the other, both with the same ideology.

The painful documentary I made in the Balkans, for me, exposed the futility of human thought process. It brought to the forefront the nationalism and false aspirations inspired by political entities to create division, ferment hatred and then without any conscience let barbaric acts take place.

The men and women I met who had experienced mass rape, families butchered in front of their eyes, neighbours involved in murder without any hesitation against people they played and laughed with yesterday - and many other atrocities - just hit hard in the stomach. It was unimaginable what had occurred and all under the watchful eyes of the political establishment, physically sickening and worse than any nightmare.

In Srebrenica, I picked up dried, dead, screaming bones from mass graves in the hills and all the stories told by the survivors of their journeys to escape were chilling and burdening in the imagination. Children playing football with previous friends' severed heads. Those hills shed tears every day and night for many - the stench lingers.

In 2008, I made the journey with about 40 other activists of all backgrounds including Holocaust survivors, Christian nuns and anarchists to break the siege of Gaza. This had never been achieved, the last mission laid to rest, with blown up ships by Mossad agents in previous years.

A seven-day expedition turned into four weeks of nightmares and obstacles on the high seas of the Mediterranean. When we now talk about refugees dying at sea, I can envisage the journey, the painful experience knowing that death is literally a split second away.

I had that in two forms. Once, when I felt so seasick I just wanted to throw myself into the sea just to get some easing of the pain as others lay wasted on the ship. The other was when the IDF gunboats circled us with an impending bombardment expected. The thoughts are easy to bring up - the fear transcends any notions of your strength or bravado.

We eventually managed to break the siege and witnessed a population living in hardship and suffering. Every conceivable human right had been taken away and replaced with unthinkable oppression and a caged philosophy by people who had themselves suffered a great tragedy.

I had made friends on the journey with Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian activist and human rights observer who stayed behind as we left the same route we came (the British Embassy had refused us protection to leave Gaza). Vittorio escorted us on our way out and returned to Gaza to help families and fishermen with their daily lives. His demeanor was love for humanity, but he met a tragic death by beheading by some dark forces in Gaza. It is the imagination of his brutal murder that lives with me.

Other natural tragedies such as the earthquake in Pakistan and the extreme floods made me experience destruction not imaginable until you actually see it. The miserable poor suffered due to political corruption and embezzlement, NGOs sitting on mountains of money while driving around in the latest 4x4 SUV, months after nature spoke loud. Businessmen touting and begging for big contracts while offering kickbacks to government officials.

As the War of Terror continued, I saw with my own eyes, duplicity of all powers as they engaged in the art of mischief and mafia politics, then to return to the UK to hear the lies and deceit of how the West has some moral rules that it abides to. Their foreign policy was and is a main player in the conflicts that affect us all.

Some may say, "Well, this is what happens." But this is usually from a distance. When you see all of this in real time, it is not something you can keep silent about or brush off - you either become a part of it, or use what tools you have, to air it.

From top, Fun Da Mental's Dave Watts, also known as Impi D, and Aki Nawaz, who says the West's foreign policy "is not something you can keep silent about".

This all forms part of the title "A Philosophy Of Nothing". Much of the grandstanding is just an illusion of tribalism and ignorance, a need to belong to some thought process which anchors you to a sense of loyalty to something which is all but an illusion, a short-term justification of existence and purpose.

But take away that comfortable false philosophy and you realise that all humanity has value and purpose. No one part of the world is any more civilised than another. Technology and modern living is no more a value than someone who works the land and creates the resources that make your life better. They, too, deserve recognition, dignity and a right to life.

When I sit debating with some right-wing politician with a privileged background (all the opportunities of a secure life they have enjoyed) hammering on about immigrants, refugees and displaced people, I know this human has not even for a moment contemplated anything outside their social and safe circle of life. They are just clamouring for a space in the madness of media celebrity soundbites and invites to socialising among the elites of society. Their words of arrogance and bigotry may carry them currency in the media, but they have no value in the real world.

I found the left wing of the past (maybe it will change with Jeremy Corbyn, whom I admire) to have deserted the ethics of life for the most needy and vulnerable. Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher destroyed social cohesion and divided us along the lines of “capitalistic value” and “warmongering” rhetoric filled with fear of the other.

It should be evident that when we begin to think in terms of “us and them” we all become extremists on all sides in all scenarios, whatever the identity is. They drag us to this landscape with a negative narrative, which does not have hope, but fear to drive us deeper into the abyss of conflict.

I, as an immigrant, a foreigner, a dark person, have never had a let-up of the demonisation of society all my life. Constantly attacked, always the outsider. This has been magnified by the new “left” politics and then the question of integration or multiculturalism. Its parameters - always dictated by those that have no understanding - are imposed on us. Yes, we have continuously rejected them, but that is a struggle of “time wasted” because of a society's arrogance.

These are just part of the philosophies that are put upon people and we need to break the back of this kind of dictatorship politics.

Carcasses are targeted from Mali to the caucuses
 The killer focuses upon the thriller stalker
 The war hawkers overwhelm the poor talkers
 The door's awkward as it slams behind the mind
 Stand behind the times droning on the land mines
 Prone to dam times alone to land crimes
Lyrics and video: Fun Da Mental's "Remote Control" from A Philosophy Of Nothing

You're outspoken about your Muslim faith. Zoologist Desmond Morris argues in his book The Naked Ape that as apes evolved into humans, they had to make their communal groups less hierarchical so they could co-operate better when hunting. He says religion reflects our need to still have that "chief monkey" in our lives. What are your thoughts?

Firstly I am not outspoken about my faith as I really do not see myself as a good practitioner of all of its tenets. I am not bad, but I am not really into conformity for many reasons. But also I do not "judge" religions by their followers.

However, I do know much about Islam and confidently consider myself a Muslim, not proud or patriotic about it - just comfortable. I understand its nuances and reasons for some practical rituals. I go beyond the obvious and see other values to them in my thought process that some Muslims would find objectionable.

But the main reasons I appear to be outspoken is firstly people ask me, as many do not have those connections in the community - especially in my field of work. So all I do is pass on the knowledge in a pacifying manner unless I hear pure ignorance or prejudice based on mainstream propaganda. Then I will take a route of similar provocation back, because I, too, have the tools to do that. I will reframe their ignorance against the life that we have lived, as each part of our identity has been brushstroked with similar approaches all our lives.

Society needs to wake up and get with the times or forever burn bridges. I cannot tolerate being patronised by media or intellectuals who speak about issues they have no knowledge about.

In terms of evolution, if the concept is true, I believe there is a creator to it, be it whatever you call it. In all aspects of development, there must a "thought" to imagine the next phase of development. In my humble opinion, I think it is impossible, considering our life cycle, that it could develop in such a manner.

If we are to take the “survival” theory, then I believe animals and nature would have nurtured as quickly as possible in developing a “thought” to communicate as being vital to survival, so everything would have developed communication with each other right across living matter.

I always wonder what thought process would have been created in wanting to eventually become a “banana”. Yes, a silly thought - but what process would have to develop to that eventuality of existence? What we are and what surrounds us has some magical reasoning. You cannot take apes as the reason for humankind, because we still have apes. Other than their magnificent intelligence for their existence, they remain apes. Humans have their own space and their own emotional dilemmas and challenges. Yes, we develop, but that is because we have an inbuilt thought process which allows us to - and I do not think we have developed that “thought process” of our own accord.

I read that you're often criticised by Muslims. Do you ever doubt yourself and start to feel your work is doing more harm than good to the Muslim community?

To my knowledge and in general I have not been ridiculed or criticised by the Muslim community. I have a large part of my life immersed in those surroundings and to this day, no one has said anything to me which would have me in a sweat or a sleepless night - bearing in mind that I was at times in the hotspot of media attention and very dangerous times.

I do accept there are uncomfortable thoughts in relation to my career of choice, the manner in the way I do things - that is, I see myself as a free person to write my own narrative and life choices, without imposing those rules on others.

I do not agree with the conservative approach in dealing with issues of political or social importance. I think we have the right to engage on an equal level and not from a position of submissiveness based on past colonial or imperial times, or allow others to dictate the parameters. I sincerely believe the stage we are at in relations is due to our community not standing up for itself.

However, the truth of the matter is also that I cannot represent a populous which has its own rules based on its cultural or various religious identities. I am too punk for them or very uncompromising in my style of debate. I understand their position and will speak up for them if I know they are being demonised along the same lines as racists attack people of colour or that some aspects of their identities are sacred and not open to abuse - even if that abuse does not necessarily affect me.

You've been pilloried for your provocative art that tries to make people think about the roots of terrorism. How much effect do you think you've really had?

In the real world, I believe I have had none. That opens up a bigger debate for other people, not me. When I have lived my life on the frontline and in the frontline of struggles and abuse, I know that I know the causes and it is evident in my work if you rewind to the first album we released, Seize The Time.

There have been no silver spoons or easy options for me in my choices. I rebelled at the age of 15 and while still at school I saw the Sex Pistols, The Clash etc, tore up all the dreams my dear father had of a prosperous future, rejected my cultural restraints and also British cultural expectations and immersed myself in the religion of punk, when it was at its height. We were subjugated to hatred and violence by mainstream society.

I neither alienated myself from my community or parted company with it. I just entrenched myself in it, but on my own terms. So I still had a footing on many thoughts that affected people growing up, their political opinions and struggling with an establishment that had not quite got to terms with changing demographics. We did not have the luxury to think about only local issues, as we were fully aware of the injustices carried out by the West on countries inside and outside the Muslim world.

We protested and we screamed, but were made to be helpless, told to be peaceful while the system supported murder and violence. Our blood boiled as we saw the double standards and the hypocrisy against people that we considered just part of the human race with a right to life. As the years passed by and the injustices were magnified by the new era of media, we too became more and more determined to fight against the injustice and saw pro-activism as the only option.

Had it not been for my career in music circles, I know I would have travelled to places I should not. The rage and the reasoning was there in full flow. The injustice in the Balkans was enough to pull me there, but my paths were not connected, so we used the platform we had to express the feelings and emotions of young people who were livid at the situation.

How aware do you think Britons have become about their government's long collusion with radical Islam, particularly since the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London, which your son narrowly avoided?

Firstly "terrorism" has no exclusive home nor religious identity - the word itself is subjective. When a military force engages in a war thousands of miles away, based on lies and deceit, and bombs and murders thousands upon thousands of people at the whim of a small number of political leaders who just want themselves written into history, that to me is the ultimate in terrorism.

Any backfire from that as a response is miniscule in comparison, albeit that I agree it is still defined as terrorism of the same definition and as tragic to the loss of life. I do not even believe the term “radical Islam” has any legitimate standing - and if it has, then we could also use the term “radical democracy”.

There is a long narrative to all these issues and it all depends where you wish to start, or - for some - dictate the timeline. The Muslim world has been a playground for far too long for the bigger powers and blame can be proportioned equally to the political Muslim world on many fronts and in many forms. Palestine is and remains a big source of inspiration for many.

The diversion to other fields of conflicts has somewhat diluted the cause and contaminated it. A lot of engineering has been done since the victory over the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Those that once slept with the Americans were energised to deal with other misgivings, especially dictatorships propped up by the West, but the transgression began to set in as the powers fought for control.

What steps, if any, have you taken to ensure your son hasn't been indoctrinated by the education system in Britain?

The education system might believe it's winning a propaganda war to divert young people away from the truth of conflicts, setting up programs such as the Prevent Policy. But I know it is not working and has no substance. Young people are puzzled by it, because more than anything it exposes itself as being just plain stupid and hypocritical. I do not need to say much, because I think young people can see through the lies and are able to arrive at their own conclusions. Government policy is just a smokescreen and job creation for those that have no wish for resolution but tribal positions.

I see your most controversial album, All Is War (The Benefits of G-Had), still isn't available on some streaming services. Is that because the directors from your label's parent company, Beggars Banquet, never approved it?

The directors did eventually resign and that was fine with me, although we remain close and respectable towards each other. That whole episode is far more complex than the simplistic approach the media took. The directors actually thought it was a very serious and intelligent album. However, new legislation brought in could be used against their company and also they had to weigh up Fun Da Mental and the rest of the label's artists, so they took the best decision for their interests. I will very soon arrange to have the album available on the internet.

All Is War is a soundtrack to our times. Just as films, books, plays, documentaries are made, that’s what the album is. Ironically, those that called for my arrest to "incite" were the same people who voted for wars and legislation so that they could continue their deceptions.

Because you deliberately provoke a backlash to start conversations, I'd imagine you put yourself through a lot of mental anguish. If so, do you ever think, "I must be mad to do this?"

I cannot be madder than the people who actually sanction war, who have blood on their hands, who divide and create chaos, who want makes things difficult for the poor or the victims.

The only issue that bothers me about these issues is that we do not have a credible platform to discuss in detail the subject matter. I see myself as a bridge-builder and not a bridge-burner. But the bridges have to be built on equal terms, or they are forever fragile.

If you take it all in your stride, do you ever get the feeling that you must be some sort of unfeeling psychopath?

I am battling psychopaths. I think I am no more passionate than other activists and if anything slightly annoying to them, because I have never really been part of any organisation, which is usually a prerequisite to moving up the ladder.

I am not really into "absolute or manifesto" theory. I personally find them very restrictive and slightly obedient to parameters of a “acceptability”, which is usually dictated by the people who do not follow their own rules, hence the reason you are fighting or struggling with them. I would say it does affect me in many ways and the only platform is music, which helps me with my thoughts, which are naïve and innocent but, nevertheless, sincere.

Southern Death Cult, from left, Ian Astbury, David "Buzz" Burrows, Aki Nawaz, Barry Jepson. "We never attacked white folk," says Aki. Photo: Erica Echenberg 

You were originally the drummer in Southern Death Cult, whose singer, Ian Astbury, went on to form multimillion-selling rock band The Cult. I first saw Fun Da Mental open up for The Cult in London. It seemed the audience were thrilled, confused and appalled in equal measure. Is that the kind of reaction you were hoping for?

I do not think the audience at the gig understood Fun Da Mental at all. They were there for The Cult in all their rock'n'roll glory and that is fine with me. I had no issue with it and did not care as it exposed more about their understanding about some of the subject matter Ian spoke about.

I am fully aware that we push the limits of political discourse to uncomfortable areas and the music arena is not always the best place for it. As a perceived "black" band, I realise we might not have the same privilege on the same platform. But we are what we are and we do not like to contemplate going on our knees or diluting very serious subjects.

These issues need to be addressed and not rinsed for another generation to contend with.

Because Astbury is a white man who is passionate about Native American culture and politics, were you ever apprehensive that Southern Death Cult were opening themselves up to accusations of cultural appropriation?

Well the only "Indian" in the band was I! I was immersed in my own struggles of racism and the reality of my presence in a white society, in a white musical culture. People often do not understand the amount of violence which was directed at the band because of the colour of my skin and do not understand how grateful I was that “white punks” were protecting me or fighting on my behalf, which in hindsight was right – racism was a white problem - we were victims all our lives and so it was correct that whites fought whites, it was their poison, not ours.

We never attacked white folk, we never made white folk feel less, we never patronised white folk. On the contrary, we extended our arms out in friendship and opened our doors. It was the way we were brought up by our parents, who had been born during colonial rule and were victims of that system.

Yes, of course, we were stealing Native American culture, no one can deny that.

I would have been equally happy taking pictures or images of colonial atrocities either against Asians or Africans.

In terms of passion, it's a very loaded word and you would have to ask him about his passion. What does the word mean? Passion to me means many things and I would say he is a spectator/observer/historian after the genocide of Native Americans. His heart is in the right place, but he is irrelevant to the struggle of those people. Ian is passionate compared with someone like Adam Ant when it comes to Native American issues, though.

Were you frustrated that Astbury would be applauded for talking about Native American culture, yet when you talked about your own culture you were maligned?

Well there is an answer in your question - does it not smell rather hypocritical? The short answer is yes, but I also see something very deep and disturbing because it's not exclusive to me. Many activists of colour are always maligned. I do not think it’s intentional, but some form of misunderstanding. I am sure if you were to ask a Native American about their concerns, how it is consumed is very different to if Ian speaks about it. Now that is something to contemplate and see the irony - and find your own answers.

You've also contrasted the reactions to your boundary pushing with that of people like George Galloway and John Lydon. What dynamic would you say is playing out there?

It can only lead to one that has played an overwhelming part of our and your lives too - "racism". Not just in my context, but for many others. One only needs to reflect on recent history and any denial is part of the problem.

I have always said that “radical” activists have answers for the ills of society and if you ignore them or push to the side, for whatever reason, you will never solve the problems. I have brave old activists who sit in despair at how little has been achieved when it could have been overcome so much speedier with less torment, anxiety and victims.

When we wrote the song “White Tongues”, this is precisely what it was about and if you read the lyrics there is no better explanation. It is not about us wanting anything more in society but also accepting nothing less than equal. If this is not allowed, you have perpetual conflict.

Infographic: ukaction.wordpress.com

Tell us about the planned Southern Death Cult album with Ian Astbury. I'd imagine a lot of Cult fans will be excited about that.

There has been talk of doing new recordings and touring only after new material. However, it looks like a distant dream. All our planets are not lining up and maybe some of them are spinning relatively slower than they did. Ian is hectic and until he decides, if it's not too late, then nothing can be done, that's the answer.

Youth from Killing Joke did a fantastic, awesome mix of [the Southern Death Cult song] "Moya" and it's sitting there gathering dust because people cannot get their shit together. It’s annoying as I spent a lot of time pulling it off. I am tempted to just put it out there and make sure it generates money for some charity purpose. I will make an "extreme punk move" at some point.

I think Ian’s roots in Southern Death Cult never completely blossomed and there is a part of his special creativity that only belongs in Southern Death Cult and he must decide if he wishes to revisit. There is no desperation as a unit to do it also and I like that approach, too.

You're also a documentary film-maker. Tell us about some of your own favourite documentary work.

There are no favourites in that sense as it's all very emotional and draining. There are some documentaries I did that never saw the light of day for various reasons, but it's what I pick up as an observer that helps me come to some very confusing but realistic opinions.

It has taught me a lot about the many things that I talk about. I do not sit there and read books or talk about issues from a distance - it’s the real life experiences. Some of those experiences can never be written down - or we can say "people" that do write books do it as a profession, so they may miss out key elements, which might just undermine their purpose and pull the rug from underneath their feet. We cannot deny that professions have agendas and motives and some of them have to protect those professions from exposure to the “real”.

You appeared in US comedian Bill Maher's film Religious, in which he takes the piss out of all religions. Maher's mother is Jewish, however, and the Jewish faith gets off relatively easily with a light ribbing rather than the attacks he metes out on other religions. How did you feel when you saw the film?

Firstly, I did not know who Bill Maher was. I think at the time he was not very well known in the UK or I just did not watch TV that much. Secondly, it was a total stitch-up from beginning to end. All their contacts with me, of which there were many, were about how they felt that it was not fair that I had written a worthy album and how I had been demonised. There was not one sign of what they were doing in terms of humor etc.

After a while, I got pissed off and their scheduling for filming changed. But while I was on a break after a very grueling time, they phoned me and insisted that my part was very important in the film and begged me to appear. I drove 500 miles to help them out and it was New Year's Eve in a freezing London. They kept me waiting for hours and then when Bill finally turned up, I was not allowed to even meet him or talk to him, which was very bizarre.

The cameras started to roll and from a dark corner in the subway they began filming. It was really surreal. Even the director was some kind of weirdo or pretending to be eccentric, which lost its appeal because it was not funny with all the time I was kept waiting.

So Bill met me, all smiles and very nice, and started talking about the album. I was freezing and attempting to talk with bloody frost bite. I realised there was something very dodgy because he kept on interrupting, asking a question and then talking over me as I explained things to him. He was just warming me up for the soundbite they wanted. It was all well-rehearsed and just part of the drama of the film.

If you watch closely you will see editing. I never attempt to answer with one-liners. I always try to give some sort of context and a deeper understanding. Anyway, he dropped his question and was slightly caught out. But even when I attempted to answer, they were not interested. They had captured my expressions.

It was all a load of bollocks to be honest - and not only that, they ripped me off by not entirely covering my expenses for the trip and then, without permission, they used some material. When we approached them after the film was released, they just took this very "pass the buck" attitude and to this day never resolved it. But I don't mind - in the bigger picture they were stitching everyone. And that’s the media profession in general.

You have another album coming out very soon. Tell us about that.

I will not be at the forefront of the project as a new singer will present his views etc, so until the album is done I would rather just say the project is called "Son Of A Punk" and I feel it has given me areas of creativity that helps me work in another area.

I read that your mother was one of the leading activists for Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party in Pakistan. Today, Pakistan is seen as the biggest threat to world peace after the US, with votes from India no doubt affecting that sentiment. What are your thoughts?

Actually it was my father who was part of the organisation in the UK. He was press secretary and one of the front-runners of the party. The irony was my mother was completely illiterate, a village woman, but she carried the flag from the frontline and engaged with activities with Benazir and no one realized her uneducated status. She was a very strong woman with hidden elements that in normal circumstances people of the calibre of Benazir usually do not entertain and if anything dismiss - that is, just a peasant from a village.

As for Pakistan and its status, well, it possibly is a very dangerous state to mess with if you know the inner workings of society and its aspirations, its neglect, its poverty, its passion. There are many factors to consider including the “anarchic” attitude of the populous, which is due to political corruption and the fact it's a very savage and brutal state, if it chooses to be.

In saying that, the geo-political landscape of the region is about playing games, propagating nationalism and playing the fear card from all the countries. It is a playground for many actors and those include US, which I feel is the most dangerous country in the world in terms of getting what it wants at any cost.

I spend a lot of time in Pakistan and it's a very complex and confusing society, but no different to India or anywhere else. It's all about interests and not justice. The US is the template that all powers attempt to follow to manipulate situations in states which are not as accountable, or where the structures are very easily demolished to serve national interests.

I've met locals in south-east Asia who were wearing Osama Bin Laden T-shirts, so it resonated when you mentioned meeting people in South America also wearing Bin Laden T-shirts. You went on to suggest Bin Laden could become a commodotised folk hero in the vein of Che Guevara, resulting in the song "Che Bin" on the All Is War album. One person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter.

The whole Osama Bin Laden and Che Guevara issue was very interesting to us, especially at the time before 9/11. We were actually debating the issue in left-wing circles and on university campuses. It was not a no-go area, but one that had substance and attracted activists to the discourse. In general, the conclusion was that there were similarities, but one was a socialist thought process and one was religious-based, which overlapped into the socialist arena. Both were resistance to imperial forces, be they Soviet or American. A Cuban historian who had converted to Islam was the front-runner in the conversations - he knew everything about both thought processes.

It was during this time that I took a trip to the Amazon and stayed in the jungle for about 12 days. On arrival, I was greeted with open arms by the indigenous people - for some reason, being Muslim seemed to open me up to certain privileges. After a few days, the rest of the tourists from various parts of the world left and I was left on my own. It was this space that became far more interesting as I built relationships with the people. They suddenly opened up on the politics of their region and the interaction with the US and its mischief in the region. Its tentacles reached deep into their environment and were affecting their politics.

For them, Osama Bin Laden was a hero and they were backing him against the struggle against the US. As I was the first Muslim they had met in years, they openly talked about their support and how their knowledge of his resistance - not terrorism - was something that had inspired them. They would shout "viva Bin Laden" and it echoed through the trees. It just dawned on me that it was not just some Muslims who supported his cause, but others who were also victims of Western imperialism. So this just became another narrative for me to drop into conversations with people or media as an experience or an observational point. Of course, once again, the media only needed the second part of my sentence to portray an interesting observation in its real context. Both parts of the track are the words of Che Guavara and Bin Laden – it is their words. Wrongly or rightly, it was a test for the media to judge those words, not mine.

It must also be pointed out that in 1996-7 we travelled to Pakistan during the composing of the album Erotic Terrorism. We had finished the album but we wanted to feature Osama Bin laden on one of the tracks via a direct interview with him. At that time it was “cool” to get an interview with him. As we got to the Afghanistan border, after things were arranged to interview him, the border was shut down due to some external security issues and we knew that there was no point attempting to go as it was too dangerous and turned back. We were so close!

All Is War also featured the song "Cookbook DIY", comparing a terrorist building a bomb to a Pentagon scientist building a missile. Inevitably, it was all misunderstood by the mainstream media. You've been maligned by Rupert Murdoch's British tabloid The Sun and your track "Man's Gotta Do" on the new album takes on the voice of a tabloid journalist. Was there any particular publication you had in mind when you wrote it?

It's not specific to any particular paper. It’s just a general take on most journalists and the art of deception - that’s their job. It's also about many journalists from within our communities who are in high positions, but they do nothing to alleviate the chaos and they participate in magnifying the hatred that policy makers in the power structure attempt to impose.

They are just spoons to their masters and I know how they function, in a very duplicitous manner. They do anything to please their paymasters and yet pretend that they are concerned about issues which affect the common man or people who have different cultural needs.

During the All Is War controversy, the mannerisms of the journalists were noted and the insincerity of their reporting was observed. I was not naïve - I was more shocked at how much they tried their best to change the stories. So it's not just the story of the song that needs translating - it’s the deep understanding of how the media functions and its general purpose.

Tell us the meaning of the lyrics to "Writing On White Walls with White Pens":

Writing on white walls with white pens
The air in these hands pale like the heart
Veins hold like waves never falling
The colour of rage has become unseen

I actually wrote these lyrics after I went to Gaza. It's got nothing to do with "whiteness" – it was just the invisible nature of what we did that concerned me. Here we are constantly talking, saying, crying, screaming, shouting, but it has no value. However, in time it comes to fruition, not just for us but for many.

The truth of issues can only be hidden for so long, albeit the consequences are dire in every sense - especially for the victims - but they have a sell by date. It's really saying that “our thoughts curse you”, directed at those that cause mayhem.

Tell us the meaning of "Wild Wild Swan":

Switch it off
Push it away
Close it down
Throw it away
It never never said anything anyway
And now they saying what you say anyway
Wild Wild Swan
Wild Wild Swan

It's just probably an extension of other thoughts. But it was written at a time that I felt exhausted and disillusioned that some white English commentator would start saying things we had said many years ago and was seen as some kind of hero for speaking out.

Although I am always happy when someone does break the fold of accepted debate or nuance, it does get frustrating that because of my colour, religion and culture I know it is not accepted.

But, yes, I get satisfaction in a perverse way when they say something that I know we spoke about years ago. I do not feel the victim here, just an observation.

The song "Remote Control" says:

Brain overwhelmed train over hell 
Genocide ride then given the Nobel 
Stripped of dignity in a Boston motel 
Blacks that don't crack and cops that don't tell

I guess rapper Shamil Khan is talking about Barack Obama and the Boston bombings here, right? Or wrong?

Too much information, passing over hell. In a ride for genocide, Obama is given a prize for his part. The Boston bomber was naked, then killed after. Black people standing up to oppression. Cops lying for each other.

My friend Daniel Simpson put you on at his chaotic music festival in Serbia and wrote a book about the whole escapade called A Rough Guide To The Dark Side. What are your memories from that experience?

Well, there were two memories.

Firstly, where we as Fun Da Mental played, there was a crowd of maybe 30,000 or more and we were near the top of the billing. The concert was going great. They probably did not understand, in the noise chaos, what we were saying, but during the middle of the set we have to make some technical changes. I made a small speech about how not to listen to nationalism and not obey your governments - especially the new generation as the past war in the Balkans had proven to be a crime against humanity.

I thought I would get a applause, but the crowd went silent - so silent it was scary and it became a very dangerous stage to stand on. But I stood there and all I could hear in the background from other members was, "Please, Aki, just press play on the sequencer before we all die." I did, but I can still visualise the atmosphere and how horrible it was.

The other was when we went back and did a collaboration with 10 Zulu singers. Again, it was a massive crowd and during the set all I saw was bottles been thrown at the stage and then one hit the DJ in the head.

There was a heavy presence of fascist skinheads and right-wing madmen and here were 15 black people on stage as target practice. To cut the story down, the promoter got his security to find some of the guys and brought them back stage. They were cursing us with racist language, but then they got a beating by the security. The irony was, we were trying to stop it, but the skinheads were enjoying the beating!

I believe you've visited the north of Australia and perhaps other parts of the country. What were your observations?

Yes we came of couple of times, for the Big Day Out Festival and then the Womad Festivals, two very different experiences.

Rock'n'roll culture has its place. Although somehow romantic and superficial, you cannot really compare it to the epic transformations it made during the '60s or '70s on many social and political levels - although certain bands carried on those traditions, like Rage Against The Machine, Public Enemy etc.

I do know on the Big Day Out, we were pushing some very uncomfortable buttons and got in trouble for stating our preferences for a progressive thought process in terms of the Aboriginal issue.

We were basically asking for the vandalisation, as a start, of the many statues of former colonial heroes - for some - but murderers of the Indigenous population. It troubled me that those symbols were still there, especially after we had gone and experienced South Africa post-Apartheid. We visited some Aboriginal communities and it was as we expected and I imagine not much has changed in terms of the status quo as I keep an interest in that issue.

The Womad experience was also interesting as it was a better platform for us to get across to a wider landscape of people. But I think we as a band were probably too much for that kind of "feel happy" atmosphere - especially when we were in New Zealand and connected to more radical Maori movements, which were a problem for the sponsors of the festival. 

You have dignitaries arriving expecting submissive and pompous welcomes and you get this punch of multicultural anarchists who are not at all interested and are hanging out with natives that are famous for challenging the system. The music industry is a prisoner of its corporate sponsors and that's the way it is. It’s all styled, manufactured and controlled for “all” of us.

Is there anything you expected us to ask, anything that we should have asked, or anything you'd like to add?

We have to move our thoughts on and stop being tribal. It's causing conflict and pain. We have to make people accountable for their mischief and double-dealings and this should not just be people of a different race or culture to the West. Westerners have to know they, too, can be in the dock of justice.

Al Wa'ed, taken from the new Fun Da Mental album, A Philosophy Of Nothing.

The views expressed in this interview are those of the artist.

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