As any casual follower of the Washerman’s Dog knows I happen to believe that Pakistan is one of the world’s underappreciated musical khazanas (treasure chest). It should come as no surprise really. It is a great expanse of land dissected by mighty rivers and home to the world’s longest continuous civilisation. Its soil is soaked with the blood of Greeks, Persians, Arabs, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Europeans and Turks (to mention just a few) all of whom fought for possession of this rich land and its sacred sites.
Much has been made of this history of constant conquest. Some say it explains why democracy can’t exist there: because grabbing what you can and stealing it away before the next marauder comes along is a more natural (and appropriate) way to live. Pledging your allegiance to whoever has the biggest sword is just too ingrained. I once had a Pakistani professor explain to me that because of this brutal history modern Pakistan could aspire only to be the world’s ‘best second rate country.’
One thing is beyond debate. Mixed in all that blood and mud lies some pretty damn rich culture. Every conquering tribe left behind a bit of itself and over the millennia huge invisible stalagmites of music, poetry, religion and art have emerged out of the land that so many call mera qaum (my home). They may not be visible these giant pillars but everyone knows they exist. And that they are to be held in deep respect.
Tonight’s post is a contemporary interpretation of and homage to some of that ancient culture. And weirdly enough it comes to us via the good people at Coca Cola! I’m still shaking my head but over the past few years Coke has sponsored and indeed created a platform for Pakistani musicians of various genres, eras and sensibilities to come together and create new music. Or reconfigure the old stalagmites. Abida Parveen with electric keyboards and guitars. Old Sufi poetry put to amazing new beats. Straight ahead Pakistani rock and roll.
And I have to say some of the stuff I’m sharing tonight is about the most exciting music I’ve heard in a long time. Especially the work of Arif Lohar, son of Alam Lohar, arguably Punjab’s most revered folk singer. The way in which he has been able to reimagine an old Sufi devotional song Mirza Sahiban as a roaring 21st century rock anthem is amazing. Even more astounding is that in the process neither he nor the music has lost a shred of its spiritual intensity or integrity. Similarly, his reworking of one of his father’s most loved songs Jugni is exhilarating. But the pièce de résistance is his mournful acoustic prayer Sal-e-Alla. It sends shivers down the spine and ranks with one of the best spirituals of all time. Of any tradition.
|Zeb and Haniya|
In between are beautiful pieces by the female duo Zeb and Haniya who sing a gorgeous interpretation of a Turkish song Nazar Ayele. Karawan do a moody slightly jazzy number Kaise Mumkin Hai. And Atif Aslam, the hottest singer on the subcontinent shows up with a nice Punjabi pop ballad.
So successful has this Coke Studio concept been that this year it has migrated to (or should I say conquered) India. I can’t wait to hear what comes next from either side of the border.
01 Mirza Sahiban (Arif Lohar)
02 Nazar Ayele (Zeb and Haniya)
03 Hori Way Niwan (unknown)
04 Haq Mojud (Amanat Ali and Sanam Marvi)
05 Kaise Mumkin Hai (Karawan)
06 Jugni/Alif Allah (Arif Lohar and Meesha)
07 Raah Takdi (Unknown)
08 Sal-e-Aala (Arif Lohar)
09 Rona Chadta (Atif Aslam)