Festival melodies

Updated 11 May, 2016 12:14pm

Natasha Noorani, a 24-year-old graduate of the Lahore University of Management Sciences, decided earlier this year to hold a music festival. She called it the Lahore Music Meet. With only a shoestring budget, she went into it with great resolve, aided mainly by social media as she had no money for advertising. In collaboration with a group of equally spirited friends, she pulled off an impressive three day event which, according to her own estimation, attracted around 10,000 people.

 “When I was researching for my college thesis it was heartbreaking to discover how little was out there on Pakistani music or musicians,” Noorani said, when asked why she wanted to hold the festival in the first place. “And there was no space for discourse on the subject either.”

She wanted to explore Pakistani music without help from corporate sponsors and aspired to promote a variety of music styles and musicians, who had little chance of making it to commercial platforms such as Coke Studio. She and her co-organisers invited as many musicians – including young and upcoming bands, soloists, instrumentalists – as they could, convincing them to share their music and experiences at the festival. 

Multiple interactive talks by various music-related personalities were held inside the Alhamra halls on The Mall and, sunset onwards, live performances were held in the lawns outside. Noorani admitted there were thinner audiences at the talks.

Inviting instrument makers to display and sell their instruments was another very good initiative. Many people showed keen interest in their stalls. 

For the organisers of I Am Karachi Music Festival, money was not much of an issue; they had a host of sponsors enabling them to advertise heavily and hire people to help as well. All good, except the format: the festival had a number of musicians talk about their work but not perform much. When you think of a music festival, you think of stage, musicians and singers; but that only happened on the last two nights. The attendance at the talks was unsurprisingly low.  

Such talk sessions may be a bit premature for our audiences. People, at large, are not likely to be interested in a topic like ‘How to make music into a full-blown business’. These issues must be discussed, but with an initiated audience.

The festival did culminate in a grand music gala at Port Grand and, as expected, it was hugely attended. There were multiple performances happening simultaneously on different stages around the venue. Many in the audience were left wishing they could attend them all.

A better way could have been to offer all performances from a single stage. Coming from a single-television channel generation, I believe it is not such a bad idea to expose the audiences to a bit of everything. Pakistan Television is the reason why my generation grew up not only knowing pop but a bit of folk, qawwali, classical and ghazal as well.

Islamabad’s Music Mela was the brainchild of musician Arieb Azhar. Supported by a number of sponsors including the American Embassy, it was held at the Lok Virsa grounds. 

Azhar was happy to see large crowds who had come to attend the festival, not only from Islamabad but from neighbouring Rawalpindi as well. He, however, wished the event attracted people from different sectors of society, including the kind of people who go to, say, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s urs or Mela Chiraghan in Lahore. In short, he wanted the festival to have the old-world mela look. His wish can come true if next time he can involve more folk musicians. 

We saw this happen when the Faiz Aman Mela started in Lahore, around 1984. Every year, it would have two venues — an enclosed one at Alhamra, where singers like Iqbal Bano sang, and a public one at some open-air venue, where performers like Tufail Niazi, Abida Parveen Arif Lohar, Shaukat Ali, Tahira Syed and Humera Channa sang to the delight of thousands of people. The audience – a heady mix from all walks of life – would momentarily forget all class barriers and sway seamlessly together with the music. 

Photo: Pappu Sain performs at Islamabad’s Music Mela, April 2015 | Tanveer Shahzad, White Star

This was originally published in Herald's Annual 2016 issue. Through a selection of photographs, the Herald took a look at some of the events and developments that were extremely significant in 2015.To read more, subscribe to Herald in print.