Sound of new Pakistan in Mekaal Hasan’s music
By Madhusree Chatterjee
He is a musician with a soul – his pulse firm on the traditional classical sangeet from the subcontinent and Sufi music that he blends with jazz and rock to carry forward the world music and sounds-of-the-soil tradition. Meet Mekaal Hasan, the young Pakistani contemporary fusion jazz musician, who is on an eight-city tour of India with his band. The Mekaal Hasan Band performed in the capital and NCR last week. The band was formed in 2001 in Lahore when Hasan returned from the US after a three-year collaboration with drummer Billy Cobham and subsequently with percussionist Pete Lockett. Once back in Lahore, he decided to use the experience he gathered in the company of Lockett – a multi-discipline percussionist with knowledge of Carnatic rhythm – to put together his band. ”You can call my music Hindustani classical with rock and jazz influence. My band comprises musicians from the filmi-folk background and builds music around the traditional aspects of eastern classical music with a western jazz-rock approach,” Hasan told IANS. Hasan, who began to work in Lahore, was dabbling in production work – mostly recording music – when he ran into his flautist Mohammed Hasan Papu. ”He was one of the sessions guy in Lahore who played for Adnan Sami and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan saab before him,” Hasan said. In the same way, he met his vocalist, percussionist and mandolin player, who doubles as a guitarist. The musician relies on his band members to “fine-tune his traditional arrangements and lyrics”. Hasan said his decision to merge “eastern music with western jazz was more of a social enterprise”. ”After working in Lahore at the beginning of the last decade, I realised that local classical and film musicians were not treated on par with pop stars with international training. I thought it was social injustice,” he said. The human spirit reflects in Hasan’s music. ”We have composed our music around Punjabi poetess Amrita Pritam’s lyrics (kalam), Waris Shah (Aj Aakhan Waris Shah Nu). The lyrics are loaded with political relevance… Violence is inherent in society and people are going to suffer because of political expediency,” Hasan said speaking of his music. ”We have experimented with Sufi saint Bulle Shah’s lyrics and 15th century Indian bhakti poet Bhagat Kabir’s lyrics in our track ‘Chal Bulleya’ (the first track in the band’s album ‘Saptak’) to showcase the music of the subcontinent,” he said. The musician, a student of the Berkelee College of Music in the US, played at the SAARC Bands Festival last year – and has since been a frequent visitor to India. For Hasan, “music and cultures are great people-to-people bridges”. ”But people-to-people contacts are influenced by how the two governments (India and Pakistan) are interacting,” he said. ”That’s what happened to us year before last. We were supposed to perform at the Rajasthan International Folk Festival in Jodhpur but we could not make it because we did not get our visa clearance,” he added. In the last year and a half, there has been a shift in relations between the two sides, Hasan said. It has helped musicians and performers. “The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) has set the pace for cultural exchange in South Asia,” he said. The musician said: “Pakistan could learn a lot from India on how to respect traditional values and the realisation that we (India and Pakistan) have more things to celebrate than to divide us. I wish there would be less bureaucratic influence in culture.” If given a wishlist, the musician would want a South Asian panel of culture activists and performers for the sharing of ideas. Comparing the style of music between Pakistan and India, Hasan said: “The fundamental difference was that difficult social and political conditions gave Pakistani music a kind of intensity while Indian music was overshadowed by Bollywood.” ”You guys are overlooking your traditional music… you have so many brilliant musicians,” he said. He lamented the “lack of government support to musicians in Pakistan”. Hasan is working on his new and third album “Andolan” – which “means a style of gayaki and also revolution in Hindi”. He had earlier made “Saptak” (2009) and “Sampooran” (2004).
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