The stage was set, the decor complete and some 100 artists were gathered back stage at Alhamra Cultural Complex for the opening ceremony of the four-day long 9th International Mystic Music Sufi Festival on Thursday.
The festival, which had capacity of entertaining 5,000 people every night, however couldn’t kick off as the organisers, Rafi Peer Theater Workshop, had to take the painful decision of cancelling the event.
This probably is the first cultural shock that Pakistan has suffered after the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Organisers had planned the event much before OBL’s killing in a US operation in Abbottabad. However, it became impossible to go ahead with the festival in the wake of the current security situation.
“This is a large festival that is publicised across the country. We tried our level best to go ahead with this till the last moment, but there were threats and we couldn’t put hundreds of artists and people at risk,” one of the event’s organisers told The Express Tribune after announcing the cancellation of the festival.
Ironically, the festival that had to be cancelled due to security concerns, aims to promote peace through Sufi and devotional music which is exclusively attached to Pakistan.
“Our greatest regret is that the festival couldn’t go on despite all the preparations. Some 350 artists who were scheduled to perform at the festival have reached Lahore and are residing in different hotels. Some 100 artists were present for the opening of the festival on Thursday. We even thought of starting the festival without audiences, but that couldn’t work and we had to cancel it,” Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop’s Creative Director Faizan Peerzada told The Express Tribune. A visibly disturbed Peerzada, who has been holding this festival for the last eight years, said, “I don’t want to blame anything for the cancellations. There were threats, but the government didn’t ask us to cancel it. We did it own our own. Everything had been finalised, the stage was set, the decoration was complete and the invites had been sent. The artists were ready to perform when we had to cancel it. The financial loss is huge and there was no sponsor for this festival, but the much bigger loss is its cancellation. The festival couldn’t go on. It’s gone, and that is what disturbs me the most”.
The white curtains, that symbolise peace and the spirit of the festival, are still hanging on the outer walls of Cultural Complex. “This place seems sad once again. This is the second time that Cultural Complex is sounding so sad to me. First it was in 2008, when cracker blasts disturbed the World Performing Art Festival and now, once again, the Sufi festival has been cancelled,” an employee at the Cultural Complex said.
When asked about the future festivals, Faizan Peerzada said, “The level of insecurity is very high. Now we will have to think about organising any such events. There were some 250 policemen who were standing outside the Cultural Complex to guard it on Thursday but these festivals are not the pseudo festivals. We have to open our doors to people and if people don’t come, then there is no point in holding such festivals.”
“Many are celebrating the death of OBL, but this is the first thing that we have sacrificed after his death: A grand Sufi Festival,” said a famous Sufi singer who has performed at the last eight Sufi festivals.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2011.