SXSW 2015 March Music


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3 2 S X S W o r l d | M U S I C M A R C H 2 0 1 5 | S X S W. C O M How much time do you have?" Mekaal Hasan asks rhetori- cally. The leader of the Mekaal Hasan Band is explaining the descent of his homeland, Pakistan, into the turbulent, militant country westerners see on the news, and how the situation goes back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. "People think the world changed on 9/11, but it changed in 1979," he says of his first- hand experience of growing up in latter-day Pakistan. The truncated explanation he gives is a Charlie Wilson's War-style situation of who did what and who did not do enough, with culprits ranging from Saudi Arabia to the United States Senate. "People here have a certain nature, and I don't think it's an extremist nature," he says. "It's not that kind of country." Perhaps it wasn't that kind of country once, and maybe in some parts, it is still not that kind of country, but Pakistan has become a place where traditional culture is suppressed, and musicians, even Pakistani folk artists who speak no English, can be accused of being western agents. When artists travel to gigs, they run the risk of harassment, or even abduction. Yet like most ardent musicians, Hasan would much rather talk about music than politics. He is a keen Weather Report and Bela Fleck fan who manages to earn his living as a musician because he has a recording studio and two bands. His Indo-Pak band, which includes Indian musicians, travels and plays regularly. His group consisting of Pakistani musicians, Mekaal Hasan Band, plays less often but has made the trip to SXSW. Last night's inaugural SXSW Pakistani Showcase included artists playing a cross-section of the country's music: ancient and modern, regional and global—from easternized pop to indigenous Sufi styles. "Pakistan is a very diverse country with four different provinces, which have four different languages and, I would say, four different cultures," says Zeejah Fazli, director of the four-year-old nonprofit Foundation for Arts Culture and Education (FACE), which worked with the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad to bring the showcasing artists to Austin. "The showcase has the whole spectrum of Pakistani culture and sounds. There's Mai Dhai, a folk artist lady who lives in a desert area, and Khumariyaan, which incorporates an indigenous instrument called rubab. There's Sain Tanveer Brothers, who are Punjabi drum masters and have heav y percussion: it's very dancy. There's Mekaal Hasan Band, a fusion band that will play all local tunes. Then there is another side of Pakistan: Poor Rich Boy, an indie rock band, and Haroon, which is totally modern pop music." "I want to bring folk music from all of Pakistan," says Hasan, who is excited to honor his native culture. "We're going to do a Balochi number. The Balochi people adopted the toy banjo as their instrument, so there's a sort of Japanese influence to the music. I want to do one Sindhi tune from where Karachi is; I want to do a Punjabi tune from Lahore, which is where I am from. I want to bring some Sufi stuff. It will be an overview: flavors of what Pakistan is about. I think people will love Pakistani music because the grooves are really cool." In the early '90s, Hasan studied jazz composition at Boston's Berklee College of Music. He also played in Manhattan in 2010, and that same trip brought him to Austin to visit a friend: "Austin has great musicians. Some of my favorite guitar players are from there: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Johnson—I've seen Eric Johnson on Austin City Limits." Unlike Hasan, most of the Pakistani artists will be traveling to the United States for the first time. FACE worked with the musicians to prepare them for western culture and make sure the experience is beneficial. "A couple of people who are coming from villages are not used to the lifestyle, but they are relaxed and accepting," says Fazli. "One of the dhol players, who doesn't speak English, was asked, 'What are you going to do in the U.S.?' and what he said translates as, 'I am going to show them I love them, and I'm going to find out if they love me.' " Given the turbulence of western relations with the Middle East, the cultural exchange of this effort is enormously important, of course. But in order for these musicians to work and their art to sur- vive, the economic exchange is equally valuable. "There is the educational aspect also," says Fazli. "One of the ideas is to educate our artist community on how to promote themselves here. They will connect with the bookers and promoters and enhance their opportunity to make their livelihood better. Our objective at FACE is to make this cultural exchange with America happen again, and again, and have it be sustainable." "For most of them," concludes Fazli about the showcasing artists, "it's a once in a lifetime experience to interact with Americans and let them know what our culture is like besides the news they hear, which is quite disturbing sometimes. They could get to know the other side of Pakistan, which is really sweet and exotic." Th e " Pa k i s ta n M u s ic S ce n e" p a n el w il l b e h eld to d ay ( Thu r s d ay , M a rch 1 9) a t 2p m in Ro o m 1 8 D of t h e A u s t in C o nve n t io n C e n te r. F o r t im es a n d d a tes fo r a r t i s t s h owca s es , v i s i t s ch e d ule. s x s m o r u s e t h e SX S WG O a p p. Pakistani Acts Offer Diverse, Exotic Sounds by Linda Laban " K hum a riy a a n M a i D h a i C O U R T E S Y O F I PA C

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