After 25 years of musical silence, Pakistan's Sachal Orchestra has brought the great musicians of Lahore together under one roof. Music lover, Izzat Majeed, has dusted the dust off these veterans' instruments, with his determined will and passion for music. Now, the musical notes are heard over the din of political rancor - the harmony of Violin fused with the rhythms of Sitar.
In a music industry, which thrives on over-the-top videos and screaming Billboard promotions, Izzat Majeed, and the Studio's innovative cover of jazz legend Dave Brubeck's Take Five went through the roof and became number one in the US and UK on the iTunes jazz charts recently. And while the world raved about it, these gifted artists from the streets of Lahore, and the man behind it all were blissfully ignorant.
"I only came to know through people telling me and looking at the chart; it just went viral around the world all over the place. I was elated and all the musicians are very happy, and they feel on top of the world," said Majeed who came up with the idea of creating music after the death of his music-loving father. Together with his dear friend Mushtaq Soofi, Sachal Studios was set up as a custom made studio dedicated to recording with the assistance of independent consulting engineers and the famous Abbey Road Studios in London.
Until now, he was just living his dream, least bothered about the number games and chart toppers. But the success has opened his eyes to their own potential. "Sachal Studios and my struggle has been to bring back the great musicians of Lahore and give them the freedom to compose and the freedom to play. We have not been very good at marketing. We are in the process of finalising the marketing contracts with one of the leading Indian companies. We are also setting up our marketing arm in Pakistan. The marketing has just begun in earnest," he revealed with newfound wisdom.
But good music has never needed PR! World-class melody and a much-valued observation by the Jazz legend and original composer of Take Five Dave Brubeck who found this cover 'the most interesting version of Take Five he's ever heard' made the sales shoot though the roof.
Basking under the praise from the legend himself, Majeed said, "Dave Brubeck's commendation means a lot to me and I am very happy and proud that he enjoyed the interpretation of Take Five. The album took off after this commendation came along. Everyone looked at it and said let's have a look and see why Dave Brubeck thinks it's a wonderful interpretation of Take Five."
In a subcontinent where Jazz isn't as popular, Majeed was always sure about doing this cover, "I chose Dave Brubeck's Take Five because it's an iconic revolutionary composition. It also has a great melody, great time structure and our musicians took to it like fish to water. They loved it and they brought it up into our own music structure without moving away from the composition both in terms of time keeping and melody.
He doesn't exaggerate.
The official video, Tribute to Dave Brubeck's Take Five shows bearded men, clad in spotless white kurtas, sitting straight-backed on chairs and playing violins and cellos, with such an effortless ease. A rare yet beautiful image of east meets west.
Bringing together extremely talented artists under one roof without any tiffs and ego hassles might seem like a task in itself, but the founder maintains that Sachal Studios is like a huge family, "There are no problems what so ever. They (the musicians) love to play together and don't forget that in a studio environment it's 'session playing' so there is no tension. The recording process is quite forgiving if you make mistakes, you do it again and again, and there is no hurry and no rush. So it is a very fraternal environment and they have great fun playing together and rehearsing."
One would think there's no dearth of talented musicians in London. What made him pick local Pakistani musicians from obscurity? And he gets disturbed, "In London, there must be no dearth of talented musicians'! There is not a single Sitar player in London, who can play at the levels that our masters play in India and Pakistan. The few musicians we have are mostly in Canada, USA and a few in Germany. But in London I don't know of anybody. And more importantly the idea is not about the musicians in London but to have the honour of playing with the greatest musicians in the subcontinent and some of them are in Lahore.
A studio, which is brimming with musical energy, always has something going on. Amidst composition of new songs, re-interpreting folk music and the second album of Jazz, the Sachal musicians are also getting ready for a tour next year.
The worldwide success of the 'Pak music outfit' has brought Pakistan back on the world's culture scene and given a new lease of life to culture. But Majeed chooses to differ, "Culture never dies, I think what we have done is to bring the great musicians together and created a lot of music: classical, semi classical and folk. The Sachal Jazz CD is just one project that we undertook that has become very successful but the cultural scene is being revived by the younger generation; it's been giving a new shot in the arm by our youth. I think Sachal Studios is a drop in the ocean yet pioneering towards creating a very vigorous and innovative cultural milieu in Pakistan."
While the success means a lot to them, the final yardstick seems to be recognition by the mainstream international community as Majeed says, "We need to struggle a bit more and get recognition although we now have Hollywood interested to make a documentary film about Sachal Studios and the musicians of Lahore."