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The Kominas Bring Taqwacore, Islamic Punk, to Gardner

According to drummer Abdullah Saeed, if the Philadelphia-based punk band The Kominas was an animal they would be a “Teflon eel chilling in the weeds.”  The meaning of this is unclear, but that’s the point.

The Kominas, composed of Saeed on drums, Basim Usmani on bass, and Imran and Hassan Malik on guitars, have the defining sarcasm and irreverence of all punk bands. One needn’t look further than their name (which translates to “the bastards”) or their songs titles (a lot are akin to “Sharia Law in the U.S.A” and “Suicide Bomb the Gap”) to see this. What does separate them from other punk bands, however, is that the band is composed of Muslims and Hindus. Though this is a fact that they are helping to change.

The Kominas are one of the main bands in a Muslim subcultural movement called “Taqwacore.” The etymology of this term reveals the heart of its message.  The prefix “taqwa” translates roughly from Arabic into “piety” or “religious consciousness” and the suffix “core” is a common ending to many music genres such as “hardcore.” The term was coined by Michael Knight in his 2003 novel “The Taqwacores,” which is about a group of Pakistani Muslim punks living, playing music, getting drunk and having sex in New York. Though the book was conceived in Knight’s imagination, it has since helped codify young Muslims in America and abroad in forming a tangible punk-Muslim subculture.

Part of this development occurred when The Kominas played in Pakistan for two years before settling in Philadelphia.

“[Our] reception [in Pakistan] was good,” Saeed wrote in an email. “It was nice to see people slam dance for the first time. Now that there are ‘real’ punks there, people are going to get mad self-conscious at shows.”

Grinnell has been host to the major players in the Taqwacore movement since Thursday, when Knight gave a reading of his book in Faulconer Gallery. Earlier today there was also a panel discussion hosted by Knight, The Kominas and Omar Majeed. Majeed is director of a documentary called “Taqwacore: the Birth of Punk Islam,” and a screening of his film followed the discussion.

The members of The Kominas grew up on a unique combination of sounds. On the one hand, there were typical rock influences such as Motorhead and Dick Dale. They contrast with artists similar to Mohammad Rafi, an Indian playback singer. This cross-cultural influence was compounded by the fact that they are all Pakistani-American.

The group’s multiculturalism is clear in their sound and lyrics. They have also been in a unique social position where they have a platform to talk about whatever they want. And indeed, so far they have put this visibility to good use. “Rumi was a Homo (But Wahhaj is a Fag)” was their first released song. The song’s lyrics call out Siraj Wahhaj, the former leader of Muslim Alliance in North America, for making homophobic comments. However, other songs that they write are culturally specific. “Kuj” is an interpretation of the late Punjabi poet Munir Niazi’s poem sung in Punjabi.

It would be a mistake to fit The Kominas into one box, whether that box is “Muslim,” “Punk,” or even “Taqwacore.” This means that the dudes are a little hard to describe, or even understand at first listen. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and like the Teflon eel chilling in the weeds, the one sure thing is that the show tonight at 10 p.m. in Gardner will be full of affirming multiculturalism and thrashing.

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