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Sunday, January 22, 2006

A memorable evening ...

As a Founder Member of the Board - although I resigned from it a year later - the APMC (Karachi) really means a lot to me. Along with the KaraFilm Festival (more about that in another post), the APMC Annual 3-day event has breathed new life into Karachi. Free, open to all, it attracts a crowd that spans the entire spectrum of demography. And the atmosphere is joyous ... something that Karachi hasn't been able to really be since an attempt at its Beirutization began.

Yesterday was the 2nd day of the 3rd Annual APMC Conference by the Karachi Chapter. A really tightly packed audience in the beautiful Hindu Gymkhana that now houses the National Academy of Performing Arts run by Zia Mohyeddin his team, sat through 7 hours of everything, from the opening performance by Karachi High School's delightful tiny tots (some as young as 6) rendering a classical bandish, through brilliant perfrmances by Classical Music Maestros (what a lineup!) to the much awaited Mekaal Hasan Band. Yes, folks, the APMS finally has expanded its range and feels, rightly, that good fusion must be highlighted, too, so that it opens up a path for many younger listeners to experience classical music.

Now to the performances. The cute and promising Naujavaan Fankaar were, well, as expected, cute and promising. Nazeer Ahmad, on the tabla, although a well established artiste, had obviously never accompanied these kids before and did so terribly! Nothing else describes it. It did throw off the children in the beginning but, by the end of the pieces, things worked out. This was followed by a technically well-performed, but rather long and soul-less, piece on the Harmonium by Niaz Ahmad, an old stalwart and composer. My mind wandered back to the days when W. Khan (as Masood Bhai was known to most in the musical circle) played the kind of dazzling hamonium that has never been heard before or after him - and I say that despite having heard ustaads Habibuddin and Sadiq Pindiwalay. Of course, adding to Masood Bhai's performances was that unique tabla player, Ustad Shahamat Ali. Only those who have heard that bearded, always-smiling muazzin-cum-musician (what a long way we have sunk since then) know what an experience that was. Sadly, recorded pieces of this magnificent duo that remain are rare and of poor quality. To be fair to Niaz, he does not often perform this role - and, in any case, most of the listeners were fascinated by being treated for the first time to a solo rendition on an instrument that is used for accompaniment.

Ikhlaque Husain, son of Ustad Imdad Husain, visiting from his new homeland, the US of A, appeared next. Prior to his departure, Ikhlaque, a really hardworking young musician, played well but sounded like the angry young man he was. Acknowledgement and accolades in the US - and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you will be financially rewarded for your work and not have to live from day-to-day - has brought maturity to his style. He now has a thehrao that is nearly as beautiful as his father's. His playing was marred, though, by 3-4 very long interruptions to tune the sitar, making the piece less cohesive. I would also suggest to him to make his performances, at events such as this, shorter and crisper. Bashir's tabla sangat, usually subtle, was also rather overpowering.

It was the next artiste who set the course for the evening: Sarah Zaman. A teacher at the Department of Music in Lahore's NCA, held us enthralled with a long piece that complemented the performer's grace. The audience wanted more. In fact, so did she and requested a litttle more time, but was - rather aggressively, many thought - refused a bash at even a small follow-up piece. Sarah is, without doubt, among the better of our singers and, with age and passion on her side, she will ceratinly continue to thrill a whole new generation. She more than disproved Anwar Maqsood's dictum that a female classical vocalist can't be good-looking and perform well.

Following Sarah would have been quite an act for anyone other than a real ustaad … and Naseeruddin Saami certainly lived up to the status. His rendition of Daiyya Kahaan Gae Voh Loag was replete with some of the most complex taans that retained beauty despite their difficult demands. Like all members of the Agra Gharana, and of his own Dilli Gharana, Saami makes each taan seem easy and pleasant, smiling throughout - unlike some of our other ustaads who seem to believe that facial contortions add to the performance. In fact if you turn off the TV volume during some performances of such singers you may be pardoned for thinking that they were impersonating an attack of gastroenteritis. By the way, Saami's son, Urooj, who accompanied his father with exquisite supporting vocals, was lovingly dubbed Tan Sen by his nana Munshi Raziuddin. He is an incredible solo performer in the making. Watch this space!

Tari, the tabla-navaaz whose performances remind one of the jazz drummers of the 50s, was next. Generally, tabla solos are meant to last 10 minutes or so (and, as several classical purists complained yesterday, that's the amount of time for which one can usually bear them). However, Tari is anything but usual. A powerhouse of skills, technique, knowledge, and showmanship, he had the audience - including the musicians who had huddled together in the front row to hear him - in his grip. Bursts of cheers during his performance and the numerous discussions of his wizardry later on in the evening proved that he had won the audience's heart. Yes, the performance did go on for too-o-o long, but it got all the newly converted even more involved ... and that's one thing that is part of the APMC agenda. So, despite being a very critical and often intolerant listener, I am glad that Tari did not get the Sarah Zaman treatment (although, I do believe, she could as easily have been given the extra time with no harm done).

Ustaads Fateh Ali & Hameed ali, nephews of the late Ustaad Ummeed Ali Khan, followed and, once again, showed that even Tari's exhilerating act could not prevent real ustaads from establishing an immediate rapport with the audience. They are excellent singers and I always enjoy thair madhya lae expositions - but their crescendos have never been my cuppa. However, a quick glance around showed that most people disagree with me and were swinging to their drut. It was particularly pleasing to see that several teenagers, arriving in time to hear MHB, were truly enjoying this and, at least one section of 5-6 young girls were straining at the cultural leash to get up and dance.

Finally, after a break, probably to let some senior citizens - specially those with a disregard for all things new - leave, MHB made their entry amid roars, claps, and wild cheers. The performance and its effect on such a mixed audience was beyond expectations! Mekaals' forays and improvisations were remarkable, as always. The drumming was consistently good and the brief appearance and the accompaniment by Gumby proved even more fun for his fans. The flautist, Pappu, was briliant and his improvisations thoughtful. Javed Bashir's vocals (despite a discernable imbalance in the sound volume where I was sitting, making him sound just a trifle muffled) were breezy, tight, and clearly indicative of a classical (perhaps qavvaali) background. I'd rather let someone else - Insiya, perhaps - write more about this part of the performance, since I am only a recent initiate to this group's sound, having been captivated by the Darbari on their first CD.

The session ended at 4 AM and everyone still seemed full of life. Karachi: we need a lot more of this and a few all-night Espresso joints to go to afterwards.

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Blogger bluecheese said...

I'm in Lahore and will sadly miss the APMC annual festival here, but reading your extensive writeup makes me feel like i was almost there! I literally laughed out loud at the gasteroenteritis analogy ;). Very well covered. I'm envious you got to listen to Tari.

23 January, 2006 20:39

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

23 January, 2006 22:00

Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow...just wonderful! now i dont feel soo bad:)

24 January, 2006 17:17


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