Rhythm and Raga The Making of…2
There’s been an earthquake. I’m going. Oh no, ok yes, me too. Im going too.
That was a conversation that me and rafay had in late 2005. I was in Los Angeles recording my first album. I was out there for a couple weeks feeling very accomplished. Recording every day, composing, writing, collaborating, this was my first Full Studio Album and I was pumped about it. I was in.. like music nerd bliss. (california establishing shots) But, one day in the studio, I get this call from Rafay. He sounds worried, and he’s talking fast and… all really out of character. I mean this is really not like him. He is stoic and so calm and I have seen him under the most stressful situations. So, I am like immediately panicked. “Theres been an earthquake, I’m going. I’m going, he says. A big one in Northern Pakistan, its Kashmir and Muzzaferabad is almost completely gone. Its 80,000 people killed they said. Its really bad, 4 million are homeless, so so many with broken bones that cannot reach hospitals because landslides wiped out many roads. Relief workers are going to have trouble accessing… He interrupts himself and says Im going. Im going, we organized people from New England Baptist. He was working and teaching Harvard Medical Students as a clinical instructor, and the hospital is donating splints for legs and arms and orthopedics that they will need. They are sending tents and there are around 5 of us that are going to help.
I am standing in the studio and taking all of this in. I immediately say. Oh no. just no. Its so painful and shocking. And Im worried about his family, who he said are all safe. And I say. Yes, I am going too. I’m also going.
Two full days later we are on a plane to Pakistan. I flew directly from LA. And Rafay flew from Boston where we live with the medical relief crew, a bunch of medical doctors originally from Pakistan.
We- Rafay and I had a conversations about how I could be helpful. I am medically useless, I actually faint. I know, I am soft hearted, Im a musician we are supposed to be empathetic. So, I found a festival in Lahore the World Music Festival which was fully benefiting earthquake relief. It was a big festival in Rafi Peer Theatre, in Kadafi Stadium and musicians from around the world were coming to perform to benefit earthquake relief efforts. I was naively thinking they were sending all of the money straight to Northern Pakistan, maybe they did. I don’t know, but at the time I was too naive about all that stuff.
Anway, my management sent them an email and I was in the program. We still had our visas from our visit in the summer.
And, 3 days later, I am standing on the stage at Khadafi Stadium in Lahore Pakistan celebrating world music.
But, meanwhile Rafay was making his way to Northern Pakistan with the medical crew from Boston. The Pakistan military is transporting medical teams by helicopter, to the places that are impassable by roads. These are Pakistani crews from all over the country, and a lot of Pakistani’s abroad coming home to help. Rafay and the Boston team are in xXXX helping to set broken bones and set up tents for the millions that lost their homes.
And it feels weird to say, but it was good to be back in Pakistan. I was so glad to see amma and abbu and rafays brother and bhabi and all the bachis. It was family time, a time to remember what is important in life.
But, weirdly, also lots of photoshoots. Photoshoots with designers donating to the relief effort. Rehearsals for the live show- interviews talking about why I was there. and I loved meeting the pakistani bands, I can remember meeting Ali Zafar backstage.
There was this young band from Lahore who wanted to collaborate and record at Bahot Shai Mosque. Rafay was back to see his family and on a break from Northern Pakistan, so we all went. We thought about security obviously, but there were no major issues yet. Everything seemed good.
Well…not so much. We are sitting at night in this beautiful mosque doing the thing I love to do most, and all of the sudden the security guard fully yelling “juldi jao, juldie jao, jao, jao” We all scatter off, not knowing why or what is happening.
And 30 seconds later, I am under a blanket in the back of a two door car, tires screeching driving 1000 miles a minute out of bot shai mosque. Later on, I heard we passed a truck with 4 or 5 young guys in the back with submachine guns pointing up. They didn’t notice us. When we got home later I heard that the security guard at the front gate radioed over that this group of guys bust through the entrance at full speed and he called his friend the other security guard who was with us. I honestly believe they saved our lives. They both did, saved our lives. I never even got to thank them. I never knew their names, but I pray for both of them all the time.
The rest of the trip was such an odd combo of live performances, interviews and meeting the thriving entertainment industry in Lahore. There were so many creative people. Makeup artists, designers, new media people it was encouraging, while there were still these looming political stuff at the same time.
And speaking of which, I guess Musharaff who was in power at the time, got wind that this World Music Festival was a big hit, and invited me over to perform at the governors house. So, the next thing I knew me and rafay were on our way over to perform for the prime minster of Pakistan. My first album wasn’t even finished, I only really had one song off that album done- that was the one I did. There was no encore, no second song. I literally didn’t have another song recorded yet.
I am also pretty sure we had fully told Rafay’s parents that I was a singer. They knew I was an opera singer when we got married, but to say come tonight to see me singing a pop song… is a whole different thing. This is a family of CEOs and Chief scientific officers and you know pop singer didn’t have the same ring to it. But… all of these billboards kept going up with my picture on it, and magazines so they were seeing that this was a cultural thing and they really supported that. Everyone kinda thought it was funny actually. Rafay is the adventurer of the family, so heading off for medical relief and me singing for charity made sense.
But you know, something truly life changing happened on that trip. It was one of those moments when you realize your life purpose.
It was one of the first nights in Lahore. It was after my first live show and I was backstage at the Rafi Peer theater after my song, you know my one song, and people were coming backstage and saying hello and introducing themselves. I met a lot of famous bands that night.
But, I remember this one guy- he looked young like 17 or 18. And I remember he had this odd affect, he had bulge eyes and was so anxious. He came up to me and I went to shake his hand and he said “I don’t shake girls hands” He was very conservative I could see. Which was fine, I didn’t think anything of it.
He said “I was going to take you out”. We had been talking about lahori fish in the conversation before, so I said. ‘Oh yes, I love food street! jokingly. And then strangely I started rattling off my favorite foods.. I guess because i felt uncomfortable. I love chaat, but spicy, I will have a few bites of bhiriani. and he cut me off and said “No, I was going to take you out…but what you said it affected me. It changed me.” You are not like them.. like those Americans. You care about us. You care.” and he opened his long jacket and there was a submachine gun hidden inside his jacket, strapped to the inside.
No one saw it. Except Rafay did. and he heard him too. It was a moment when time just ends. It was actual slow motion and all i could hear was my heart beating. Im pretty sure I didn’t said anything. I just stared and him and i think it took rafay a minute to process too. But he was smiling and repeating “you changed me. You care. You care.” And he posed for a photo. And I was smiling in that photo. I still have it. I look at that picture all of the time. Because I was happy. I was happy he saw that I cared. because I do. I do care. a lot.
After that was when I finished my album and went to China. And China is where I learned how to really be a musician and how to be a cultural diplomat. And I had more than one song.