Music Freedom Day is a globally celebrated event intended to pay homage to the singers and musicians who suffer censorship, bans, life-threats, financial constraints, stereotypical treatment, and other constraints for being a part of the music industry. The Music Freedom Day is also dedicated to those who spend their lives serving music, yet, cannot come to the spotlight. Life is made difficult for artists in most of the under-developed countries, such as Mali and Pakistan. According to a human rights organization, Freemuse, 19 musicians were killed, 7 abducted and 17 were imprisoned in different countries in 2013 alone.
This and many other startling statistics reassure the importance of expressing solidarity with artists. To my delight, I happened to attend one such event held at Lok Virsa, Islamabad, under the title “Music Freedom Day: Music will not be silenced”. The auspicious event conjured Pakistani musicians from different parts of the country, representing the colors of their respective culture. As soon as the musicians started performing, the overall ambiance became so cheerful and exciting that it’s pretty hard to put all those feelings into words. But to give a clearer picture of the event: a number of Pakistani artists having expertise in different music genres came over Islamabad to express their love and reverence for music and to entertain us.
Akbar Ali, hailing from Lahore, is a well-known young classical singer and younger brother of legendary singer, Javed Bashir. Akbar Ali arrived on stage amid round of applause and sung an excerpt from Rag Madhuvanti. His bassy voice coupled with skillful blending of saa-ray-gaa-maa notes just took me to another world, I sat wonder-struck. He then sung the ever-green Ranjha Ranjha Kardi Ni Mein. His performance was extremely exciting and highly becoming of a pure classical singer.
The event featured some emerging talented artists as well. Maqsood Ali, from Lahore, was one of them. His youthful and vigorous vocals dispelled the assumptions with which the upcoming artists are usually welcomed. Maqsood Ali, a semi-classical singer as I inferred, sung his favorite (as he said) song, O rangrez, from an Indian movie, Bhaag Mikha Bhaag, and a kafi (mystical song), Rabba Mere Hall Daa Mehrum Tu. Maqsood sung so well that I could not resist admiring him back-stage and through online messages. When Maqsood finished his songs and rose up with huge round of applause, I was left with a desire to listen him ‘once more’.
I savored my aesthetics to an extremity when Khumariyan, a band of young instrumentalists led by Farhan Bogra, arrived on the stage and performed some superb instrumental songs using Shenai, Qataghani, Bela and Tamasha. Khumariyan the band is a group of highly skilled instrumentalists with strong power to to move the listeners through wonderful renderings of folk instruments. The band hails from Peshawar, a group of skilled instrumentalists that aims at promoting the art and culture through music. Their dedication for preserving culture and heritage cannot be admired enough.
Music has the power to transcend and transform you to another world. Alan Faqir Junior just did that. The famous Sindhi folk musician sung the evergreen Tere Ishq Main Jo Bhi Doob Gaya. Talk of Sindhi folk dance, dresses, language or the peacock-tailed Ajrak turban, Alan Faqir Junior appeared as one-in-all, a treat to eyes & ears and cheerful memories for the minds. His energetic voice and dancing revitalized the entire ambiance. His performance lasted for over 15 minutes along with non-stop clapping. It would be unfair not to mention the Pride of Performance-winner Akber Khameso Khan, probably one of the rare double-flute players in Pakistan. Typical of its kind, Khameso’s double-flute rendition was amazing as well as amusing.
During these wonderful performances, Arieb Azhar entered the hall. No sooner was he invited to sing – indeed, to play a role on a profoundly meaningful occasion. With his brittle vocals, Arieb sung one of his famous sufi songs, Aey Husn-e Haqiqi Nur-e Azal on a guitar. His arrival was probably the best thing that happened on that occasion.
Taimur Khan, professionally an MBBS doctor, is a Sarangi player, who, with a melancholic excerpt from Rag Multani took us to another world. I must not forget to mention the Tabla maestro, Sarfraz Khan, who accompanied all the aforementioned artists.
But there is a darker side of the picture…
The Sarinda player Sachu Khan, whose presence was no less than an honor, performed brilliant instrumentals representing the Baloch culture. One bows head with embarrassment to know that Sachu Khan and his family were expelled from their hometown in Balochistan because they served music. This and many other sufferings, yet, did not deter his passion of music. Sachu Khan and his sons continue to perform across the country.
Other performers included Amir Gul Ustad, and Zainullah Ustad who represented diverse cultures and celebrated the freedom they deserved. Amir Gul lives on a mere PKR 1500 a month. These artists are dejected by the society and are forced to live like a lowest caste. Unfortunately, other than a handful of NGOs and civil society activists, there is no government support for these artists.
The Music Freedom Day, I believe, added much cheers to their memories. I congratulate the organizing team of this memorable event; BOGRA, Ally Adnan, Lok Virsa, Folklore Society of Pakistan and the US Embassy for holding such a praiseworthy event. But let’s not forget there are many more heartrending realities that our artists are facing. Pakistan tops the list of artist harassment incidents in the world. Thus, there is a dire need to change the stereotypical mindset. The government has to extend its support for artists as immediately as possible.
I dream a Pakistan that officially celebrates Music Freedom Day.