Breaking barriers: Artistes from Pakistan cross the border

  • Soumya Vajpayee, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Nov 16, 2014 15:27 IST

A few decades ago, veteran Pakistani artistes like Ghulam Ali and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan paved their way into the Indian music milieu and created a niche for themselves. They still continue to exemplify genres like ghazals and Sufi music.

While it is widely believed that Pakistan is still hanging on to Sufi and classical music, that’s not entirely true. Contemporary genres like EDM, jazz, blues, and rock seem to be ruling the roost in the country today, and artistes pioneering them have also started collaborating with Indian artistes. We look at three acts that represent this creative association.

Mekaal Hasan Band

Indian venture: Released an album with Sharmistha Chatterjee, Sheldon D’Silva and Gino Banks

While Bollywood welcomes actors and singers from across the border, the Mekaal Hasan Band (MHB) is an initiative to create interaction between musicians from India and Pakistan. It includes Pakistani guitarist Mekaal Hasan, Pakistani flautist Mohammad Ahsan Papu and Indian artistes like vocalist Sharmistha Chatterjee, bassist Sheldon D’Silva and drummer Gino Banks. MHB has recently released an album, Andholan. "It celebrates the power of musicians as communicators, and how they don’t let politics get in the way of humanity and values," says Hasan.

Interestingly, the band is known for performing fusion rock and jazz rock with Sufi kalaams and classical twists. "We explore traditional music forms through a style that embraces the energy of rock and the sophistication of jazz," explains Hasan, whose band has been touring in India since the past few years. "I love the reception we get here so much that I decided to set up the band in Mumbai. Taking that kind of step — even when I am aware of the tensions between our countries — was possible because I believe that musical maturity is possible only in a place that has embraced change," adds Hasan.

Sachal Jazz Ensemble

Indian venture: Performing at the NH7 Weekender in Delhi on November 29

Be it collaboration with the nine Grammy Awards-winning composer-trumpeter, Wynton Marsalis, or making tracks for Pakistan’s film industry, the Sachal Jazz Ensemble is known for bringing together accomplished classical musicians to play jazz compositions. They will be performing in India for the first time, and plan to present plain jazz standards and other raga-based compositions in the structure of jazz. Izzat Majeed, the producer and co-arranger of the group, says that Sufi is not the only genre that is received well in Pakistan today.

"The Sufi mix is at best arranged as a pop song. Jazz is growing among the younger generation." While the group has collaborated with popular orchestras in the world, they are also keen on performing with the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI). "We will be thrilled to collaborate with the SOI when we come back to India next year for a five-city concert," says Majeed. Talal Qureshi

Indian venture: To collaborate with the Delhi-based band, Nucleya

Known for his eclectic beats, Talal has earned the reputation of being one of the most promising electronic music producers in Pakistan. He has received considerable admiration outside the country as well. Talal is set to collaborate with multiple Indian acts and has already started working with the Delhi-based heavy bass act, Nucleya. An ardent lover of electronic music, he feels the genre is evolving in Pakistan. "Many young artistes now understand the essence of it, and are refining their skills by producing tracks to the best of their abilities," says Talal.

However, he reveals that the importance of Sufi and classical music in Pakistan can never be negated, the genres are being exploited and recycled. Talal says, "Everyone keeps talking about the fact that Indian music is dominated by the Bollywood sound. Though it’s somewhat true, the actual music scene in the country is amazing. There are upcoming bands that are incredible. Artistes like Karsh Kale and Nithin Sawhney are famous all over the world."

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