It is very important for the youth of different countries to connect as they are our future leaders. Recently, there was an impalpable buzz in the air as the youth of Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and USA came together at the International Young Alumni Conference (IYAC) 2013, ‘The Faces of Change, the Changes we Face’, where they discussed intellectual, democratic and cultural values.
Representing Pakistan’s art and culture were four young ambassadors from the music and entertainment industry who displayed their unique skills to the international and local guests. These included multi-talented jazz musician Asif Sinan, Waderai Ka Beta famed artist Ali Gul Pir, versatile guitarist, keyboardist and singer Usman Riaz, and noted comedian Danish Ali.
The Express Tribune caught up with these four attendees in a quick-fire chat regarding their experience at the conference, its impact on the youth, US-PAK relations and much more.
Tell us about the event, how did it happen?
Asif Sinan: I have been lucky to be the only Pakistani musician to be a part of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) of the US State Department. After this event, I was reaching out to the younger alumni, to share my experience as a cultural ambassador of Pakistan — how I promoted Pakistan in the West and what learning I brought back from there. The event was super charged with a jam-packed auditorium consisting of the alumni of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan!
Usman Riaz: I was selected for the OneBeat programme (it brought 32 musicians from all over the world to make music and tour the US). So I was eligible to attend this wonderful event that brought all sorts of talented people selected for similar programmes together to share their work.
Ali Gul Pir: Various alumni of US programmes got together and performed for the young alumni from various countries. The show was great as it was for an international audience, which included people from India and other countries across the border.
Danish Ali: The US State Department representatives contacted me and I said yes. It was a great showcase for the artists who toured the US last year.
How do such events benefit US-Pak relations?
Asif Sinan: This event was hosted by the US for the alumni of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. Hence, such events go a long way in creating people-to-people contacts and in the exchange of ideas — they are great for our economy, too!
Usman Riaz: It’s great to see people working together. The media misrepresents the country and events like these show the people of the US that we all can get along and make wonderful things together.
Ali Gul Pir: It’s important to bridge the gap between the people of the US and Pakistan. Bad relations occur when there is a distance between people and lack of knowledge about each other. If we have more gatherings and shows like these, it would help bridge that gap and make relations better.
Danish Ali: At this point, any initiative between our two countries is of great benefit. Art has an effect of breaking the ice and reaching out to each others as humans beings first, which is pretty great, never mind political differences. Humanising our relationship is very important to me.
How does the youth benefit through
Asif Sinan: It’s important for the youth to have robust ideas about how they’d like their future to be. This is only possible when they listen to a myriad of people, their stories and experiences. Hence, it’s about motivating the youth and sharing some elements of wisdom with them.
Usman Riaz: The youth really benefits because they get great exposure to different ways of thinking, perspectives and thoughts on situations, art, and politics. It really helps open up their eyes to the world around them. It certainly did that for me.
Ali Gul Pir: They understand the capabilities of such programmes and learn more about working and cross-cultural environments. Such experiences can really develop and broaden the visions of young minds and make them better and more tolerant human beings.
How was the experience of performing the event?
Asif Sinan: I was the last speaker and performer at the event. So, I started out sharing my experience about my visit to the US and then moved on to performing my songs and fusion instrumentals. The song Jo Jaey Janay Do, the irony of the lyrics and the foot tapping blues song was thoroughly enjoyed by the crowd. Next, I performed Gharoli solo on the guitar. I made my guitar sound like a sitar with overlapping tones of banjo. My rendition of Pakistan’s national anthem was perhaps the most memorable part of the gig for me. Many came to me after the show saying they had never heard the guitar being played like a sitar before; there was such overwhelming appreciation from everyone.
Usman Riaz: I love sharing my work. The audience was very receptive and it was amazing to watch all the other performers do what they do best.
Ali Gul Pir: The experience was great! It was a high energy and interactive performance. I’m glad I got people on their feet and dancing. Of course, Waderai Ka Beta was a hit with the audience as expected.
Danish Ali: The crowd was great; I think I even got the ambassador chuckling at a few places, which was a good feeling.
How was it meeting the alumni of different countries?
Asif Sinan: I had not met anyone from Afghanistan before so it was pretty fantastic interacting with them. The Indian alumni connected instantly with my music so the post-performance exchange was very interesting with them. Also, in the crowd were representatives of New England Foundation of Arts (NEFA) and Lisa Booth Management so, all in all, it was quite a night to remember!
Usman Riaz: To see so many talented individuals under one roof was mesmerising. I learnt so much just from the conversations I had with everyone. It was a wonderful experience.
Ali Gul Pir: It was nice to see that so many people are travelling back and forth, involved in such programmes. I know for sure everyone has stories to tell and that’s what life experiences are all about.
Danish Ali: It was wonderful to have dinner later with Indians, Afghanis, Pakistanis and Americans. Because of events like these, young people attending will certainly have a deeper understanding of their worlds and views. This is why these sorts of events are so important — they foster future peace through understanding.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 17th, 2013.