Music that transcends borders — Sachal’s concert in New York

Whether one remains within the classical framework or invents something totally new, experimentation helps push boundaries

Music that transcends borders — Sachal’s concert in New York

Pakistani jazz band Sachal enthralled the United Nations General Assembly Hall on Pakistan’s Independence Day.

Sachal is an experiment and result of devotion to conserve our traditional music, musicians and gel it with newer genres particularly jazz.

Experimentation is at the heart of creative fields. Whether one remains within the classical framework or invent something totally new, experimentation helps push the boundary and separate a creative individual from every day re-production mills. Izzat Majeed, the force behind Sachal initiative, has tried to preserve instrumental music by making it more attuned to a global audience by using jazz.

Izzat Majeed, the force behind Sachal initiative, has tried to preserve instrumental music by making it more attuned to a global audience by using jazz

Majeed has done that by marrying classical music with Jazz because he sees similarities between the structure of classical music and jazz. Especially the part when musicians improvise by going off script and then return to the track – a feat relished by all who enjoy music. In jazz, Luis Armstrong perfected the solo improvisation.

Over the years, access to music has drastically changed from the times of limited availability of LPs or cassette players. With no easier options to copy music owning a good album meant a privileged existence among friends and relatives. Now we are in the era of social media, with unlimited access to music streaming from around the world. It allows for easier listening and greater opportunities to experiment.

For singers the barrier of language is a challenge when playing to foreign audience. Pakistani musicians and singers have been playing to newer galleries whether in the region or beyond. Both contemporary and classical singers have successfully moved foreign audience. Mehdi Hassan brought the genre of ghazal to masses and South Asian Diaspora. Nazia Hassan hit pop charts in South and North America. And Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan took it to a different level collaborating with Peter Gabriel on different projects and sowing the devotion of qawwali across different frontiers. This year we mark the twentieth death anniversary of the legendary qawwal.

Izzat Majeed’s exposure to jazz took root in Pakistan of the 1950s when some of the leading jazz musicians came to play. He listened to Dave Brubeck playing his classic “Take Five,” which became a fascination for Majeed. Decades later, Sachal’s desi rendition of “Take Five” became the source of fame in the international market. It was uploaded on YouTube and got over a million hits. Pakistani American painter and film director Mumtaz Hussain points out that what makes Sachal different is that the band is not doing fusion but playing original music. However, the different renditions of famous compositions by Sachal like “Pink Panther”, “Stand by me”, or “Tere ishq nachaya” in the concert did leave ones ear at a loss to either be tuned for jazz, classical or instrumentals of popular desi songs.

Sachal Studio CEO Nur Fatima has been trying to organise an elaborate US road show for the band, which will start this autumn. As an effort to save traditional music she plans the studio to release some of the works they have recorded with Reshma, Mahnaz and composer Mian Shaheryar in the last days of these great artists.

Some appraisers of music believe that more needs to be done to save what used to be orchestral music in old Pakistani films where the instrument though western and brought by British in colonial times had been played in local tunes by Pakistani musicians. The revival of film industry raises some hope for that. Sheraz Haider a music connoisseur laments that loss of full orchestra and emphasise that Sachal needs to promote Pakistani sangeet to foreign audience and not only playing jazz on desi instruments to them. He further thinks that the band should “compose more melodic expressions in native music”.

The Independence Day concert had been organised by Pakistan Mission to the UN. It brought a new dimension of Pakistani music to the audience and Pakistani jazz to the country of origin of this genre of music. Jazz was evolved in the United States, as a medium of expression for joys, anguish and severances of black Americans. It is rooted in the African American struggle for societal and individual emancipation. Despite their star status, almost all African American jazz players of American segregation era had their personal struggles like the artist Billie Holiday, who had to use the service elevator of a hotel where she performed and was made to leave and enter through the kitchen because of complaints by white patrons.

Playing of jazz music with its history of emancipation in the US on Pakistan’s Independence Day had a certain resonance with the struggle of millions of Muslims of the subcontinent for their independence, identity and a separate homeland to exercise their aspirations.

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