Rhythm and Raga The Making of…4
Flying into Karachi this time was different. It felt different. First of all it was quiet. Karachi is never quiet. But, walking out though the airport was really quiet, and then out into the heat of the Karachi night…was still quiet. Weird. We heard things have been tense and there have been riots and uprisings and it from the looks of it, people are home, everyone was home.
Rafay’s brother sent a driver to pick us up and bring us to PC but as we packed into the car- me, rafay, syra and zyan, sweaty from just a few moments outside. he informed us that he didn’t know if we could get there tonight.
The roads are closed and there are tires burning, people are rioting and its not safe.
You know, as I was looking out the window of the airplane as we were landing in Karachi, I thought I saw fires, sporadic fires, but I thought, no it was just fires from burning trash or something.
But we said we would see how far we could get. …Well not very far. We could not leave the airport. The road was closed and we could see from where our car was stopped that there were people running around acting crazy. Up ahead on the road there were stacked tires all the way across the road and they were all on fire. I had never seen Karachi like this, so it did worry me. Zyan was two at that time and we decided to see if we could check into the airport hotel. So, we turned around and still inside the airport compound, drove up to the Ramada. And, thats what we did. We checked into the hotel, got a few hours of sleep, had an awesome breakfast, we swam in the pool, it was a really nice time actually. There were very few staff members there because they couldn’t get from their homes to the airport due to all of the road closures and everything but they were managing. Everyone manages, everyone was calm and just going about their business.
It always amazes me how adaptable Pakistani’s are. This is not a country of people freaking out. It just doesn’t happen. Its such a positive trait.
And the next day we again tried to get out of the airport and start our meetings and everything but nope. Roads closed, streets impassable, there were large empty tankers blocking the roads put there to quell the violence by the military. So, it was another day of swimming, having buffets and talking with other guests. Again, it was a lovely day that was making me feel guilty, with all this unrest we were enjoying ourselves.
It was the time of the elections. There was a lot of drama, the many different parties were having rallies and there was sporadic violence, but the military was trying to take xxxxx out of Karachi,so it was a time of bloodshed.
When we finally made it over to PC hotel in the heart of the city. I stood at my window on the 10th floor looking out seeing fires at night in distant places. road closures and so much military. Check points getting into the hotel, check points with bomb sniffing dogs, large containers blocking the main entrances of hotels to block any blasts, suicide bombing attempts, and a lot of military and paramilitary with submachine guns. I had never seen the city like this.
We had planned a large scale media event at the top floor of Pearl Contiental. We planned to write with Anwar Maqsood and Ashad Mehmood and so that was what we were going to try to do. It was looking iffy though.
The next day, Anwar Maqsood called and we went over to his house. This is a national icon with a truly artistic home. There is artwork on every surface, modern paintings drawn by himself or his equally creative wife, really unique furniture and pottery and books, so many books. It is a place where so much creativity flows, I could see how for such a talent as his- so many comedies, dramas, plays and soon the lyrics to our national song are written.
We went upstairs to Anwar Maqsood’s study in a room with an ornate wood carved desk and more creative charis, and we sat together while he read us the lyrics to Pehlay hum Pakistani Hain.
As each stanza was read, rafay and Saloo bhai, our mutual cricket commentator friend sank deeper into the words. You can tell when people are being nice by complimenting poetry but this was genuine emotion. Everyone was riding the emotions of Anwar Maqsood reading the poetry he had written about his country. About each of the provinces of his country. This is a country that has been through martial law, several- many times. It has been through war, through times of great creative suppression, times of creative support, and everything in between. And Anwar Maqsood has lived through it all, not only that, he wrote about it. He was the original political satirist. When no one would dare say a word about a leader for fear of retribution, and it would be swift. Anwar Maqsood always did. He always seemed to know just how much to poke, and he always got away with it. The originator of comedic relief, always one step ahead, always too funny and too smart and too much of national icon to prosecute.
And here he was- the shakespeare of Pakistan, reciting proudly the lyrics to his national song. He still loved this nation. after everything he had been through, and it was a lot. He still had it in this heart to write these devotional poetry. It was quite a moment for me.
And, then just like that he sent us off. He said go now to Ashaad Mehmood my composer friend and write the melody to these words. And so we did. Me and Rafay went over to the National College of Arts where Ashaad Mehmood is the director and sat down in his office holding Anwar Maqsoods lyrics. And then off we went to his recording studio where many songs have been written. And we spent many hours hearing about …well history. About Fez Ahmed Fez, the great poet of Pakistan whose words are appreciated all over the world and who was a great friend to Ashaad Mehmood sab. He talked about how painful it was when he was inprissioned. He talked about the phone call that he received from his friend after hearing he had been nominated for a nobel peace prize. Oh the stories about being an artist in Pakistan. Ashaad Mehmood saab was an actor, he was an actor for some time, and began composing ghazals with Faiz ahmed Faiz.
And we sang too. We wrote and he composed a melody line just like that that was perfect for his old friends poetry.
And then Anwar Maqsood came over to hear it, to see if he liked it. And he did. And so we practiced it, over and over and then recorded it. And it was musical bliss.
These are the moments that musicians like me live for. These are what it is all about. This universal language that cuts through political unrest, cuts through language, cuts through the dramas of the day and connects. Just connects. History and present, patriotism and a foreigner, east and west, music is universal. These musical moments are universal. IT is what connects us all.
This isn’t some pop singer humming through a quick melody and throwing a beat down in a software in 5 minutes. These are musical, lyrical legends applying their life lessons, life struggles, life triumphs swirling them up and applying them into this moment. Because, you know, we all bring our successes, our training, our life lessons to our creative endeavors- thats what makes them so unique.
Thats what this is all about. Its not about me, its not about a famous pakistani lyricist, or an accomplished pakistani composer. Its not about my Los Angles based music producer, or my killer guitar playing friend from Boston Symphony Orchestra, or about the Berklee Music producer. Its not about the musicians from rural villages -from each province of Pakistan playing their indigenous instrument like they had done so many times before… its about all of us.
Its about the synergy of us all together. the collaboration of all of our life experiences into one. All of these vastly different life views, life struggles, accomplishments- putting them all together. To do that creatively and always have this thing- this product, this song, that we did together. Something that symbolizes putting all of the politics all of our differences aside and just bing human. just being artists together. Now, that is something.