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'One Pound Fish': A Pakistani Man's Passport To Fame

Jan 1, 2013
Originally published on January 8, 2013 2:19 pm

There's a new Internet video that might give the Web sensation "Gangnam Style" a run for its money. It's for a song called "One Pound Fish," and its unlikely star is a 31-year-old Pakistani man who until recently was a fishmonger in London's Upton Park.

This is Pakistan's first brush with Internet fame; ordinary Pakistanis are loving it — and the man who has put them on the viral YouTube map: Shahaid Nazir.

The song that is getting in everyone's head is a little ditty he made up while working at a fish stall at Queen's Market in London. The words are pretty simple (and repetitive): "Come on ladies, come on ladies... one pound fish..." goes the refrain. Just to be clear, it's one pound sterling for Nazir's fish.

Nazir's virtually overnight fame is a testament to the powers of social media. When he left Pakistan a little over a year ago, he had never sung professionally before. Today, if you type "One Pound" into Google, the first result is Nazir's video. Warner Brothers has already signed him to a contract, and the song is available on iTunes in the U.K.

When Nazir returned to Pakistan last week, he was greeted at the airport by hundreds of supporters. In his hometown of Pattoki, about two hours outside of Lahore, banners in the streets welcomed the local hero, dubbing him "the One Pound Fish Man."

Perhaps the best part of this story is that the song grew out of Nazir's reluctance to yell. His boss at the fish market told him he had to shout to get customers' attention.

Instead, Nazir says, "On the spot, God put the idea in my mind, I started on the spot... 'Come on Ladies, Come on Ladies, one pound fish.'"

It had the desired effect — people started flocking to his stall.

"Even the customers said, if you don't sing the song, we will not buy the fish," he says.

A freelance Web designer filmed Nazir's song and put it up on YouTube. The rest, as they say, is history. Nazir found out from a friend that he was a YouTube sensation.

"He said, 'Shahid where are you?' and I said, 'I am at home,'" Nazir said. "And he said, 'Go to YouTube and just type One Pound Fish.' I said, 'What one pound fish?' He said just type it. So I type it and it is me — and within one week, 50,000 views on the YouTube."

Nazir had arrived in the U.K. this time last year to live what he called "the London Dream." He got the job as a fishmonger and never expected to emerge an entertainer.

Over Christmas, he found himself up against the winner of the X Factor competition for the coveted Christmas No. 1 spot in Britain — he got to No. 4. Now the rapper Timbaland has done a "One Pound Fish" cover, and Nazir is hoping to cut an album next.

Not surprisingly, Nazir's four children, who have been living in Pakistan with their mother, have memorized the song, with various degrees of success. Around town, they are called "The One Pound Fish Man's Kids." Nazir is hoping to go to Paris for the song's French release early next year.

Ironically, Nazir's 16 million views have been almost entirely without the help of his countrymen. The video is available almost exclusively on YouTube, which has been blocked in Pakistan for the past four months.

So Nazir's fame at home is largely through word of mouth. The Pakistani government started blocking YouTube in the fall, after an anti-Muslim film posted on the website sparked deadly riots here.

For several hours last weekend, Pakistani authorities lifted the ban. But when they discovered that the anti-Muslim film was still posted on the website, they shut it down again.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Warning: We're about to give you a musical earwig fresh off the Internet. Not "Gangnam Style" - no, that is so 2012. This is from the video to a hit moving song called "One Pound Fish."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE POUND FISH")

SHAHAID NAZIR: (Singing) Come on, ladies. Come on, ladies. One pound fish. Have a, have a look...

CORNISH: You heard that right, "One Pound Fish." It is now stuck in your head. This song has made an unlikely star of the 31-year-old Pakistani man who worked as a fishmonger in London's Upton Park.

He returned to Pakistan recently to a hero's welcome, as NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE POUND FISH")

NAZIR: (Singing) Come on, ladies. Come on, ladies...

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: This is Pakistan's first brush with Internet fame. The man at the center of it all is Shahaid Nazir, and the song that got him there is a catchy little ditty he made up while working at a fish stall at the Queen's Street Market in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE POUND FISH")

NAZIR: (Singing) Have a, have a look, one pound fish. Have a, have a look, one pound fish. Very, very good, one pound fish...

TEMPLE-RASTON: Nazir's virtually overnight fame is a testament to the powers of social media. He has never sung professionally before. But today, if you type One Pound into Google, the first result is Nazir's video. Warner Brothers has signed him to a contract, and now the song is available on iTunes in the U.K.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE POUND FISH")

NAZIR: (Singing) One pound fish...

TEMPLE-RASTON: When Nazir returned to Pakistan, just before the New Year, he was greeted at the airport by hundreds of supporters. In his hometown of Pattoki, banners in the streets welcomed the local hero, calling him "The One Pound Fish Man." All of this grew out of a reticence to yell. Nazir's boss at the fish market told him he had to shout to get customers' attention.

Instead, Nazir said, God put another thought in his head.

NAZIR: God put the idea in my mind and I started on the spot: Come on ladies, come on ladies, one pound fish.

TEMPLE-RASTON: It had the desired effect, people started flocking to his stall.

NAZIR: Even the customers said, if you don't sing the song, we will not buy the fish.

TEMPLE-RASTON: A freelance web designer filmed Nazir's song and put it up on YouTube and the rest, as they say, is history. Nazir found out he was a YouTube sensation from a friend.

NAZIR: He said, Shahid where are you? I said I am at home. He said, You go to YouTube and just type One Pound Fish. I said what one pound fish? He said just type it. So I type it, so it's me. Within one week, 50,000 views on the YouTube.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Nazir had arrived in the U.K. to live what he called The London Dream. He got the job as a fishmonger and never expected to emerge as an entertainer. Over Christmas, he found himself up against the winner of the "X Factor" competition for the coveted Christmas number one spot. He got to number four. And now, the rapper Timbaland has done a "One Pound Fish" cover.

Not surprisingly, Nazir's four children, who have been living in Pakistan with their mother, have memorized the song, with various degrees of success.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD 1: (Singing) Come on, ladies. Come on, ladies, one pound fish.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD 2: (Singing) Have a, have a look, one pound fish. Very, very good, one pound fish.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD 3: (Singing) Very, very good and very, very cheap. Six for five, four...

TEMPLE-RASTON: Nazir is hoping to go to Paris for the song's French release soon. His video is almost exclusively on YouTube, so his fame at home is largely through word of mouth. That's because the Pakistani government started blocking YouTube four months ago, after an Egyptian-American posted an anti-Muslim film that sparked deadly riots here.

Soon after Nazir arrived home, Pakistani authorities lifted the ban. But when they discovered that the anti-Muslim film was still posted on the website, authorities shut it down again.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, Islamabad.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE POUND FISH")

NAZIR: (Singing) One pound fish. One pound fish. Come on, ladies. Come on, ladies, one pound fish. Come on, ladies. Come on, ladies, one pound fish. One pound fish. One pound fish. One pound fish. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.