The hilarious video for The Kominas‘ new song “See Something Say Something,” is a masterclass in satire that captures the “post-colonial punk” band’s aptitude for humor that hits hard. It depicts the racist paranoia of a white subway-goer riding a train filled with brown passengers (including The Kominas) who he imagines as a horde of vampire terrorists. When he says something to homeland security, agents in gas masks descend on an innocent passenger heading to a Brooklyn picnic with just enough realism to make you stop laughing.
That kind of subversive political humor is laced throughout the new Kominas album, “Stereotype.” The tight ten-song collection—which has hints of grunge, dancehall, and surf—takes on Islamophobia, police brutality, and racism inside and outside the punk scene with wit, urgency, and power. We spoke with three of four of The Kominas: vocalist and bassist Basim Usmani, guitarist and vocalist Hassan Ali Malik (“Sunny Ali”), and guitarist and vocalist Shahjehan (“Shahj”) Khan about the new album. Drummer Karna Ray rounds out the group but was not present for the interview.
EMMETT FITZGERALD: What’s an underrated city you like playing in?
Sunny Ali: Providence!
Shahj Khan: We have had great shows in Providence every time we played there.
What does an ideal Kominas show look like?
SK: One with lots of people of color, women, and uncles and aunties.
SA: In the beginning it was 4 brown guys and a bunch of white people. Now it’s four white guys and a bunch of brown people.
One of my favorite songs on the new album is the last track Against the Wall. It’s dealing with police brutality in a way that feels heavy and desperate, but at the same time hopeful. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired that song and where that hope (if it’s there) comes from?
Basim Usmani: It’s bittersweet whenever people mobilize around a tragedy–it shouldn’t take these events to have people notice injustices committed by the State. I feel like the lyrics deal with being against a wall of apathy, as well. Like, why are you so angry/pissed, or why are you so depressing? I feel like it’s hopeful, like being in a group of people discussing a similar trauma is hopeful.
SA: “The heart is a thousand stringed instrument. Our sadness and fear come with being out of tune with love.”
I feel like the lyrics deal with being against a wall of apathy, as well. Like, why are you so angry/pissed, or why are you so depressing? I feel like it’s hopeful, like being in a group of people discussing a similar trauma is hopeful.
You’ve been writing music that directly confronts issues like racism, police brutality, and Islamaphobia for almost ten years now. Have you noticed any changes in that time in the way audiences react to your politics?
SK: Our FB page is an interesting microcosm of the way white America either acts as an ally or feels threatened by our lyrics or what we post. Islamophobia, Homophobia, Raceophobia, or really any “Otherophobia” is much worse than when we first started, which is why it is critical for us to keep doing what we do.
How do you handle a crowd of mostly a-political bros who just want to rock out and not necessarily engage with the content of what you’re saying?
SA: Probably crack jokes at them between songs. Or tell them to stand in a corner.
SK: We play music first and foremost, so if people enjoy the show that’s fine. However if they don’t like what we have to say, then fuck them, we aren’t about to change it. Not engaging is a privilege that the four of us don’t have the choice to do because of who we are, so we can’t really relate to that attitude.
When I first heard about The Kominas they were described to me as a “Muslim punk band.” How do you feel about people labeling you that way, and how have you navigated the music media trying wrap its head around you?
SK: It’s been a ten-year ride with a lot of attention right away, which taught us lessons about the importance of controlling your own destiny and narrative. We are primarily a South Asian (or “Salvation” as NPR hilariously fucked up) band that has written Muslim Punk Songs, but it does our music–and our members–a disservice to label us that way only.
I think one of the hardest parts about being in a band is just keeping the train moving forward. What have you done to keep up the momentum over the years?
SK: We’ve given each other space when we needed it and done our best to remember that it’s a band, not something to stress over like a 9-5.
SA: We all live in different cities so missing each other helps. Regular calls and texts and emails.
What are some your major non-musical influences?
SK: For me, my father and mother, Jon Stewart, Hanif Kureishi, Riz Ahmed.
Sunny Ali: Currently reading bell hooks, uhhh drugs, turning 30, the internet.