Behind the dhol dhamaka and halla gulla of every Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) sit-in and rally, behind the spectacle that makes all dance to the tune of party chief Imran Khan is one man: DJ Butt.
Anointed as the “official sound engineer” by none other than Imran Khan, DJ Butt — whose real name is Asif Butt — is a classic rags-to-riches fantasy: hailing from a low-income household, he worked his way to becoming a “millionaire,” a sought-after disc jockey and café owner.
Butt’s first meeting with Imran Khan was in 2011, he tells me, soon after greeting me with a hug as I entered his office in Model Town, Lahore. It was a life-defining moment for him. “Khan Sahib and I met for the first time in April 2011, a couple of days before his massive sit-in in Peshawar and discussed how we’ll go about it. I was given two tracks about the PTI, and the rest was up to me,” he says.
“Those are not any other instrumental tracks. They were finalised after a lot of research for all kinds of emotions. Khan Sahib agar drones ki baat karain gay to mein sad music play karoon ga. Agar unity ki baat karain gay to national song daal doon ga,” Butt goes on while showing me a folder in his laptop that had all the songs and clips he plays for the PTI. “People started crying when I played a sad instrumental track while Khan sahib was talking about drones and the people killed.”
Thanks to DJ Butt, PTI leaders manage to conveniently address large crowds. He is the man who sneaks in national and devotional songs during speeches: from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to Junoon to Ataullah Eesa Khelvi to some tracks especially created by Yousaf Salahuddin. He even plays some of the music as we talk. This, he says, is a pre-planned strategy though no speaker knows at what point they’d be cut off.
Oh, and the playlist is not the same every time, mind you.
Butt is a larger-than-life personality. He sports long locks, and on the day I met him, he was clad in a white shirt, a black biker jacket and cowboy boots. A ‘DJ Butt’ pendant hangs from his neck, almost to emphasise his quirky nature. Not to forget his yellow-coloured Honda Civic, a parrot green Suzuki Mehran, and a red Siera — all with ‘DJ Butt’ number plates, parked outside the coffee bar.
Before I could ask him why he was so dressed up, Asif informs me that he has just returned from an appearance on a private channel’s morning show. We sat down on black and red rexine sofas, with multi-coloured disco lights hovering over us. I guess I underestimated the “office” of arguably one of the most popular DJs in Lahore. But clearly, DJ Butt loves his little kingdom — an office that doubles up as a coffee shop, named Butt Coffee Bar (BCB). The sound equipment business is booming: Asif Butt sells and rents out sound equipment, while his brother produces and assembles all equipment. All this has come with years of experience, and “meri maa ki duayen”.
Butt has his many mobile phones and a laptop, all set on the table in front of us. As soon as we’re seated, he Googles himself to show me how much he has been written about, and that “Google toh sab janta hai”. He has a Facebook presence, he is on Twitter, and he keeps a constant check on what the media is saying about him. He also shows me the morning show episode he had just returned from. The guy is quite tech-savvy, let me tell you. I was impressed, I must admit.
Things weren’t always as glamorous or expansive for DJ Butt. I recall seeing his shop from afar whenever I would visit the market as a teenager, since we used to live in the area some years ago. I decided to ask DJ Butt about his “very humble beginnings”. Turns out, DJing wasn’t the beginning of his story.
Asif Butt worked as a helper at a coffee shop in the same market in 1996, after which the owners sold the machines to the Butt brothers and they started their own little coffee corner called BCB. Asif was a typical Lahori youngster, biking around with his “gang of bikers” in the day and selling coffee in the evening.
“I used to play music at the coffee shop, which a lot of my customers and shopkeepers around liked. They encouraged me to become a DJ. Then there was a wedding where I was asked to play. I just took my entire collection from the shop, rented a music system, and played there. In no time, I had DJed at around 20 weddings,” he recalls.
“It was in 2004 that I bought my own imported system. That’s when “DJ Butt” — the company — was born. I had also mentored one of my boys by then. We had our own equipment, MashaAllah, and were doing weddings, parties, launches, all sorts of events.”
So, how did he clinch this ‘life-changing’ deal with PTI, I ask him.
“I was introduced to the PTI by a friend of Captain Hassan Bilal, an assistant of Imran Khan’s brother-in-law Saifullah Khan Niazi, a few days before the 2011 sit-in in Peshawar. Capt Bilal then set up a meeting between Khan Sahib and me, and that was the beginning of my journey with the PTI,” he tracks his path to instant superstardom.
DJ Butt says he has managed all of the party’s big dharnas and rallies, from the one at Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore to the recent anti-drone sit-in in Peshawar. “Log kehtay hain DJ Butt music kyun bajata hai speeches nahi sunnay deta (People ask me why I play music and not let them listen to speeches). But Khan Sahib became very popular because of this trend.”
We are interrupted by a call on DJ Butt’s mobile phone, that he cancels, and visibly distracted, offers me something to drink. Not being able to resist the urge, I tell him that since he runs a coffee business, I won’t leave without sipping the coffee they brew.
Satisfied with my response, Butt turns to the March 23 PTI rally at Minar-i-Pakistan.
“Mera 14 saal ka career aik taraf aur vo din aik taraf,” he says, with a glint in his eye. For Butt, that one day gave him recognition of a lifetime. He then summons one of his “chhotas” and asks him to bring another of his many laptops, on which he shows me pictures of the Minar-i-Pakistan rally.