“Everybody’s out on the run tonight/But there’s no place left to hide.” - ‘Born to Run’ by Bruce Springsteen
There are many, many things Daniel Arthur Panjwaneey has either been a part of or a key player in. At 37, he has spent at least 20 years as a working musician, observing how the scene has evolved and being a significant part of the counterculture scene in that period.
His association has gone from being a part of a bands like Messiah to The D/A Method and my personal favorite, the anomalously spelled //orangenoise. While the years with the bands allowed him to play shows and acquire an audience, it also gave way for him to do more.
Under the stage name, Alien Panda Jury, he released solo EPs and collaborated with Karachi-based label, Forever South (FXS). FXS, which was co-founded by Bilal Nasir Khan and Haamid Rahim, began hosting events as well as released music and Panjwaneey became a regular on the roster. Collaborations and a residency in Berlin followed.
Walking a fine line between mainstream and counterculture, he also worked with Coke Studio once upon a time behind the scenes and on a season of Ufone Uth Records, with his band //orangenoise. He also contributed significantly to Lussun TV, the much-cherished indie series that ran for a few years.
The bands are no longer dropping music together but in the case of //orangenoise at least, Panjwaneey admits that it’s never say never. What is significant to note is that each of those bands gave the counterculture scene an offering of a different genre it needed but didn’t know it did.
Years later, the bands are not flying the flag or adding to the counterculture core, because there is a time for everything. Artists come and go but Daniel Arthur Panjwaneey emerged as a determined artist. In his solo musical avatars Alien Panda Jury and the more recent Kukido, he has and continues to release music.
“Many years have passed since those summer days/ Among the fields of barley/See the children run as the sun goes down/Among the fields of gold.”
- ‘Fields of Gold’ by Sting
At the moment, the conversation is steered towards Cape Monze Records, an indie-electronic record label from Karachi (Pakistan) founded by Daniel Arthur Panjwaneey with Art Director Sana Nasir, both of whom are talking to Instep from Nepal, where Panjwaneey is remotely consulting for Silent Roar Productions for the next few weeks.
It is close to 4pm in the afternoon, and Panjwaneey is happy to talk about the subject.
The idea about starting this particular record label first came to him during Covid-19 lockdowns while he was still working for A for Aleph, the state-of-the-art studio and record label, also based in Karachi. He no longer works for the latter.
This, then, is where our conversation should begin.
Cape Monze Records, begins Panjwaneey, is named after a lighthouse called Cape Monze off a beach past Karachi city limit, which was constructed around the year 1914 or so [says Wikipedia]. But not living in the 1900s, rather in the present, Panjwaneey recalls how the idea to start his own label came to him in 2020.
“The Covid-19 period was interesting because sure, gigs weren’t happening, but that period also gave us the opportunity to think and rethink how everything works, how we want to exist in this musical ecosystem and build upon it.”
But when his mother’s health started deteriorating, the idea took a backseat. Leaving A for Aleph in April 2021 was a decision that was professional but also became personal with his mother’s demise in November of the same year.
When we met the last time, Panjwaneey was working with A for Aleph. What changed?
“While I was working at Aleph,” begins Panjwaneey, “I wanted to come up with a label. Labels are not that important, but maybe in Pakistan they still are in the sense that when you have such a niche market for music that’s being produced, it also kind of helps to put people under the same umbrella sort of thing.”
When Daniel Arthur Panjwaneey started his career in music, he didn’t have any guidance on how to go about things.
CMR is where artists such as Panjwaneey, his peers and upcoming ones would, in a sense, have a home. “The idea was to do something that kind of gives back to the comm-unity.”
After Aleph, as Panjwaneey was motivated to do something, he began a home-based business immediately. “I started a home business of selling frozen burgers,” he laughs, but somewhere in the corner of his mind, the idea to start a label had taken inception and it kept coming back to him.
By September 2021, Cape Monze Records found its footing. But as Panjwaneey thinks back, he says things come together when you’re working towards one common goal.
“I remember I had signed up with a UK-based distributor for our first release and literally within a day or two before our first release, we were told there’s an error in our submission, something about Urdu text being in the artwork. I contacted Waqas Almas - who runs Silent Roar Productions. He had been coming to our shows for years and I had never paid much attention to such things before.”
Almas invited Panjwaneey to his office and within 24 hours, they had the first release up. Why though, I ask, purely because there are other labels as well.
“For me, it was like 20 years of doing independent music in Pakistan, and learning how the world works, how you can create certain opportunities and use all those networks of the past 20 years and put them into this label and build upon it, not just for myself but future artists as well.”
“Waqas Almas and I have a similar mindset in how we work. He’s been teaching me a lot about the business side of how things work.”
Collaboration is key with Cape Monze Records where Boiler Room – Pakistan edition emerged because CMR had an open-mindedness and a willingness to work with others. They’ve worked with Karachi Community Radio, British Council, Sine Valley (in Nepal), the present Good Scene Festival (which recently had a successful run in Islamabad for a second edition), Bridging the Gap and Oscillations PK. It is a determining factor as Panjwaneey speaks about each of the projects. Rather he throws the credit to many individuals without whom these projects may or may not have happened.
Somewhere between this conversation, Sana Nasir is able to join us. It is still one frame, but Panjwaneey, like Cape Monze’s collaborative element, let’s her take the questions and there are many.
The Art Director at Cape Monze Records, Sana Nasir is also an artist in her own right. Between discussion on Boiler Room, Sine Valley, Oscillations PK and Good Scene (held for a second year in Islamabad in 2023) – all projects where Sana Nasir has designed the artwork - it’s interesting to learn that she’s had a talent for art her whole life, which flourished as her father encouraged her. Sana never took the easy way. For her undergraduate degree, she didn’t step into the world of fine art, she studied communication design, and holds digital art in as high esteem as previous generations would hold for drawing and designing on paper.
Nasir amusingly enough calls herself a “nerd”, but it is her knack to seek out and/or converse with others that has led to such diverse work. Her respect for the late Sabeen Mahmud and work during those days means as much to her as it did when she was not such a well-established name. Like Panjwaneey, Nasir respects other artists as well including prominent names like Samya Arif and Shehzil Malik rather than holding a grudge against their success.
She deliberately reminds me that she is an illustrator and having seen her work, there is no rational reason to dismiss digital art as something less than.
“I am a huge nerd and I love folklore. It is lacking in parts of the country so researching it is like collecting evidence as well.”
She confesses: “I do a lot of research and I talk to a lot of people about local folklore. We have this culture where a lot of imagery is blocked because it is perceived as an affront to [religious sentiment].”
But when it comes to art and illustration, Sana prefers having some form of context that makes the work Pakistani. And there is no pretense that she is the ultimate name or a game-changer. The humility found in Panjwaneey is also common to her, which perhaps makes them a beautiful couple, adding different hues to the art and music world of Pakistani pop culture or counterculture.
“You can’t just leave something in a dusty museum and expect someone to suddenly discover it. I’m very interested in still exploring this. I’m still experimenting. I still don’t have a very clear idea of where it’s going. But I know that our folktales and myths reveal true desires and fantasies as human beings, and I think it’s so important for them to live on through my work.
You can’t just create culture once and forget about it, because then you will be replaced by a stereotype.”
Why is this aesthetic important?
“We’re struggling to be seen as human. We’re struggling to be seen as people who love, who create, who love music and art. We are striving to be seen as real artists.”
Right now, we’re debating whether certain artists are good or bad based on diabolical notions of knowledge of art and music. But within Pakistan, when people like Daniel Arthur Panjwaneey and Sana Nasir continue to push forward the work of others as well as themselves while trying to uncover our folklores and why they are important, the counterculture movement will probably grow as beautifully as it started.