Whether or not they had an ear for indigenous folk beats, they could barely restrain themselves from tapping their feet, drumming their fingers or better yet, dancing with reckless abandon. In the crisp spring air, it felt like the natural thing to do.
This is how a wide audience unwound at a concert featuring Faqir Wahid Baksh, also known as Allan Faqir Junior and his accompanying folk musicians, and later the contemporary band Khumariyaan at the Australian Club on Wednesday evening.
From the moment he stepped on stage, Baksh’s energy was contagious. Clad in a mustard kurta, an ajrak paggar atop his head and a peculiar string of beads blinking red around his neck, his attire was as dynamic as his ecstatic, swirling moves. Clutching a tumbi with hands, he swiftly rolled offstage, encouraging the occasional guest along his way to join in the spirited step.
He, along with his ensemble of Muhammad Akhtar on vocals, Raj Muhammad on harmonium, Raj Muhammad Akram on dholak and Sajid Ali on manjira (traditional percussion instrument) — performed a litany of mystic tunes. They started off with the works of Sachal Sarmast, progressing on to Shah Latif Bhittai and ending on an enthusiastic dhamaal of Laal Shahbaz’s Qalandar’s Laal Meri, inspiring many in the audience to sing along and some to go footloose in front of the stage.
Baksh belongs to a family of Sindhi folk musicians. With this distinctive appearance of a dervish, he is recognised for his style of Sufi singing and dancing. The accompanying musicians belong to the Mir Alam family of traditional musicians of Rajasthan; they are Marwari-speaking artistes that migrated from Bikaner, Rajasthan in India, after partition.
Khumariyaan was not to be outdone. “We’re going to play for you the music of the ruins of Pakistan; the ruins of its arts, its philosophy its music and its folk culture,” announced Sparlay Rawail. “All of our tunes are inspired from different folk cultures across the country.”
They kicked off with the slow-moving Bayla which means in Pashto, the place where two rivers meet or where two rivers part. “You can take it whichever way depending on the mood you’re in tonight,” said Rawail.
The momentum picked up with the fast-paced Shenai, an adaptation of a folk song that is played in Gilgit-Balistan, Khyber-Paktunkhwa and Afghanistan.
Deviating from the traditional attire and esoteric poetry, the boys sporting leather jackets, t-shirts and jeans rekindled and improvised some traditional tunes, blending in their own modern flavor.
To an inaudible request, Rawail responded, “We’re a Pashtun band, it would be difficult to play a Punjabi song.”
With Rawail on the lead guitar, Farhan Ali Bogra on rubab, Aamer Shafiq on rhythm guitar and Shiraz Khan on percussion, the band whipped up a cocktail which was sometimes intoxicating and sometimes haunting but hardly monotonous. The percussion of ghunroos coupled with dhol created an uplifting mix, and the eclectic instruments seemed to gel.
Straddling the line between genres and cultures, shifting from eastern to western and playing around with crescendos and stop-start staccates, the band invited the audience to interact, while listening to their homegrown contemporary and folk instrumental synthensis.
It didn’t matter whether they were diplomats or locals, young or old — they seemed to be at one with the sounds emanating from the stage. This vigorous display was complemented by fairy lights sparkling in the backdrop of the lush garden, where the audience enjoyed the show seated on round dinner tables.
“I feel proud of the fact that we have such talented musicians in our midst. Surely, it is an antidote to what one normally gets to hear in the news. They truly enlivened up my evening, but perhaps a weekend would have been better suited for such an elaborate programme,” remarked a guest, Azeema.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2014.
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