For nearly four decades, Muhammad Ahsan Pappu has done nothing but practice the flute. At times he would spend as much as 20 hours a day playing the instrument. This dedication has earned him the title one of Pakistan’s best flautists. Sadly, the fingers that once shifted swiftly along the flute, playing beautiful music, are now scarred and stiff.
About two months ago, Pappu was admitted to Mayo Hospital in Lahore to receive treatment after a bout of psoriatic arthritis during the Mekaal Hasan Band’s (MHB) tour of India. The incident, in Pappu’s words, “shocked” him, but the zealous artist is determined to make a full recovery. “I was practicing the flute for about 14 hours a day. I literally could not play the same flute that I had put away at night,” Pappu recalls.
Given his undying love for the instrument, Pappu says he tries not to think about the possibility of not being able to play the flute again; he instead focuses on strengthening his muscles. Pappu was his own motivator in troubled times. “I thought that if I continue to practice in this condition and work on my fingers, then no matter how much pain there is, I would be able to play the flute again.”
Pappu’s journey began when he ventured into the film industry as a playback flautist between the ’70s and ’80s. He also had a long-term association with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and other famed artists such as Alam Lohar and Attaullah Khan Esakhelvi. “The film industry once played an important role for thriving music in the country. Gradually, people who did not come from a film-making background joined the industry, in order to get fame. That became the reason of its decline,” says Pappu.
However, the industry’s decline could not hurt the demand for Pappu’s skill. Even today, he is booked to play with the country’s leading musicians and artists.
The demise of Pappu’s father in his early life pushed him to do something to sustain himself — his choice was music. “I never felt overburdened. You can never feel overburdened by music,” he says.
As a flautist, Pappu is known for his breathtaking solos, which can be traced back throughout his extensive playback career. He feels that the industry lacks quality flautists and that the government does not provide any support to bring out new talent. “There was a time when there were platforms where one could learn and play the flute. Now, due to the absence of such spaces, people have started to learn through alternative means, such as the internet. However, one can’t learn until there is a watchful teacher to guide them,” says Pappu.
Pappu, the oldest member of the Mekaal Hasan Band, met Mekaal during the Pete Lockett tour in 1999. After that, the two decided that they should form a band which would focus on making fusion music comprising sufi and rock genres. “Our sound has always worked with two types of boundaries — sufism, with extensive use of different tunes and poetry, and rock,” says Pappu.
Pappu says that the band’s third album, Andholan, will be a treat for MHB fans due to the amount of flute and guitar solos in it. “When it hits the market, people will enjoy the flute and guitar solos. The audience will hear how lengthy and improvised the parts are,” says Pappu.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2013.
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