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Pakistani music in India amidst the turmoil?

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The Mumbai traffic does have its boon! Traffuked, as the new slang goes, provides for an ideal opportunity to listen to the ‘Radio’. While been stuck in a massive traffic jam one evening, a remake of an old classic ‘Jab Koi Baat Bigad Jaaye’ sung by Atif Aslam immediately helped soothe the nerves down. The fellow is melodic to say the least. This led to an animated discussion with the driver of the cab. The guy listens to the radio non stop for almost the entire day! Well, he could even predict the line ups with 90% accuracy! Intrigued, I asked him what kind of music he liked? His reply left me gobsmacked! Mr. Sardesai, the cab driver, was a fan of ‘Naya type ka Jugalbandi’ or Fusion music as it is called now. I connected my phone to the car’s music system and played some Coke Studio for him. He had heard the songs courtesy his 24 year old son. “Yeh Pakistani log gaana achha banate hai” Ok, An Indian praising a Pakistani Music has never been rare.

We all have a favourite Atif Aslam, Rahat Ali Khan song. Most of us have a friend, who after 4 drinks will croon a Nusrat or Ghulam Ali creation, with the rest lending the chorus. That the present scenario is restricting Pakistani music into India is a sad thought. Atif Aslam and Ali Zafar took Bollywood by storm. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan has created a niche for himself amongst the Indian fans. Artists like the sister duo of Zeb and Haniya, Ali Hamza, Ali Noor from the band Noori, Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan are very popular with the current generation. Even before the internet age, artists from both the countries have been collaborating. Artists like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen, Mehdi Hasan, Ghulam Ali have been popular in India since their arrival in the 1970s. The popular Sufi rock band Junoon and the melodic band Strings, still have a large following. But the current political scenario has put an end, or tried to, to these collaborations.

I contacted Mannu Kohli to understand the current scenario. Based in Delhi, Mannu who is the Proprietor/Owner of Sound Village, manages the work for Pakistani artistes, the likes of Shafqat Amanat Ali, Javed Bashir in India, said,

“Well they are not coming to India for now. They are however singing for movies and other projects.” Are they still able to maintain a connect with their fans here? “End of the day artistes connect with their audiences through their music no matter where they are in the world.”

Mannu Kohli

(Pic: Mannu Kohli)

Despite the present turmoil, there have been numerous inquires for Pakistani artists.

“People have short memories. They don’t remember that artistes have not been coming to India for a couple of years now.” Said Mannu.

If there are enquires, there has to be an audience for it. Where is this audience and whom do they want to see perform?

“We get a lot of enquiries for Shafqat Amanat Ali and other artistes from there for shows here. These also include college shows during college festival seasons.” Adding that she often needs to inform them as to why Pakistani artistes are not coming as some seem unaware of the current situation. Her replies are often countered with a question asking, “What does music have to do with anything?” Well only if that had an answer!

The advent of internet has helped overcome this stalemate in a way. Artists from both the countries are still collaborating using the internet. So how do these collaboration work? Are they economically and technically viable?

“Most artistes are following one of the following two options. For bigger projects the music producers and the artiste travel to a common location such as Dubai to record the music or shoot a video. But technology has also made this very easy. For stand alone songs and movie songs, often the producers send the tracks and lyrics to the artistes, who then dub their vocals after taking a brief from the producer.”

Speaking specifically about Shafqat Amanat Ali, Mannu added that Shafqat ji always dubs a few versions of the songs and sends so that the producer has enough takes and options to work with and can marry different parts from different takes. This helps to minimise the limitation of geographical boundaries.

Shafqat Amanat Ali

(Pic: Shafqat Amanat Ali)

A lot has always been written and said the bonhomie and camaraderie between the artistes from both the countries and their willingness to perform Live with each other. Mannu, a witness to many such performances said,

“Live shows outside India have always been a lot of fun and great energy. For the artiste, the boon is that they get to perform in front of and interact with fans from the whole sub-continent, i.e. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh all under one roof. It’s a known fact that people from these three countries live in clusters as close-knit communities overseas and are united by their common language and cultures. Music is another great unifying factor. Artistes get to see them all together when they perform overseas. And the joint energy is exhilarating. As far as audiences are concerned, they love seeing their favourite artistes live. Nostalgia is big among overseas audiences as they are otherwise cut off from their culture and such music shows gives them a chance to re connect. Also – seeing their favourite artistes live and sometimes even interacting with them is a huge high for music lovers.”

But no good initiative can go undisturbed or without any hurdles. Government permissions, consent of the venues or the overall atmosphere. The toxic thinking of elements have made sure that most such events face a lot of obstacles. Mannu, having faced such situations, broke into a chuckle,

“Haha. You would need an interview dedicated exclusively to this question alone. I have been managing Shafqat Amanat Ali for the last 9 years and working with him for over a decade now. We have faced a lot of interesting situations over the years and some not so interesting ones more recently, bordering on unpleasant, to put it politely. However, I have to say that after having gone through everything, the passion to work with good musicians has not diminished. At the end of the day good music wins.”

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