Thank you for the music

By reveling in the ugliness, we ignored the stark beauty of what made Amy Winehouse unique and great — her music.

George Fulton July 27, 2011
Thank you for the music

Here’s a tricky question: What is the best-selling jazz album on the biggest-selling music retailer in the world, iTunes? Is it (a) a new Miles Davis retrospective, (b) the latest work by Jamie Cullum or (c) a Pakistani orchestra made up of local musicians from modest backgrounds reworking jazz standards? For those who guessed (c), you are indeed correct — five points to you. Yes, the BBC ran a wonderful feel-good story this week about the Sachal Studios Orchestra based in Lahore. Founded by Izzat Majeed and Mushtaq Soofi, the Sachal Orchestra is now providing a livelihood for many of the musicians whose careers were destroyed by the decline of the Pakistani film industry in the 80s. The state-of-the-art Sachal studios provided a space for these musicians to express themselves, collaborate and innovate. The result is some groundbreaking interpretations of jazz standards, using traditional Pakistani instruments, which have propelled them to the top of the jazz charts.

This wonderful album (I highly recommend it) and its music remind us of the transformative power of music. Music is what feelings sound like. It provides us with solace, hope and serenity for our turbulent lives. As Victor Hugo famously put it, “music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent”. But, all too often, we forget the music. Instead, we focus on the artist.

Long before the crack addiction, the alleged early onset of emphysema, the drug-dealing boyfriend, the incoherent performances and the tabloid nicknames, there was, of course, Amy’s music. But it took, I am ashamed to admit, Amy Winehouse’s death on July 23 for me to be reminded once again of that glorious sound. Motown, jazz, British soul, R&B, it was all there with Amy. Yet, whilst the sound on her breakthrough album Back to Black may have had a 60s retro vibe, the lyrics were very much contemporary. Delivered with that distinct, smoky voice, her songs wittily charted the confusions and contradictions of a 21st century woman. Listening once again to “Rehab” or “Love is a losing game”, one is reminded of her sublime talent, as well as the power of music to transport and speak to us like no other medium. But why had it taken her death to remind me of her talent? Because, for me, like so many other petty moralists, Amy Winehouse, the artist, had long obscured her art. She had become tabloid fodder. And we followed her doomed story arc with salivating, almost prurient, interest. The overdoses, the bleeding feet where she injected heroin, the scratches and bruises from quarrels with her lover, we lapped all this unattractiveness up — and in the process only added further fuel to her mental anguish. And by reveling in the ugliness, we ignored the stark beauty of what made her unique and great — her music.

But Amy wasn’t the only one. For too long I have been unable to detach the art from the shortcomings of several artists. Be it Michael Jackson or Roman Polanski. Even artists who failed to share my worldview were roundly dismissed; their talent and music obscured. Take Junaid Jamshed for example. I have long sneered at the ex-member of Vital Signs. The beard, the active proselytising on behalf of the Tableeghi Jamaat, the naat recitation, the opportunistic ‘J’ brand of outlets selling modest clothes at immodest prices, Junaid Jamshed had, in my opinion, sold out. Squandered his talent. What a waste of that voice. That genius. When he politely told me over the phone that he couldn’t come as a guest on our show because his beliefs forbade him from sitting on the same sofa as a strange woman (my wife), I further mocked him to my friends.

Yet the day after Amy Winehouse’s death, a friend was around at our house and began to play the guitar. After a few songs, he suddenly played “Aitebar”. It was stunningly beautiful. I cried. But I realised I wasn’t just crying at the beauty of the song, but at my understanding that all along I had been angry with Junaid Jamshaid. He had done nothing wrong, but I had scorned him for all these years for his treacherous decision to give up music. That night I did something different. Instead of sneering at him, I silently thanked Junaid. I praised him for his voice, for his talent and for bringing us one of the great love songs.

So thank you, Junaid. Thank you, Amy. Thank you, Sachal Orchestra. Thank you for the music.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2011.


Khurshid Khan | 12 years ago | Reply

Great great work George. Keep it up.

Amna | 12 years ago | Reply

This is an awesome piece by you George...truly appreciate your effort....Sachal Music has done a great job we need more people like them in Pakistan.... Speaking of Junaid Jamshed yes i think he had a good voice n he was an asset.... @ayman Music is haram ? Really !!! Get a life woman ? It's cuz of weirdos like you that we're known amongst the most orthodox societies in the world, who have no knoweldge and connection with art n music whatsoeva !!! Please leave our music alone !!!!

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