Verbal tantrums of a writer & an anxious spectator of life.

Month: August, 2011

“Hope Through Music” by Mekaal Hasan Band

Ten years ago, I believed my calling to be guitar playing. I convinced my parents, that after my classical dancing, classical singing, swimming, tennis, piano and other varying passions, this was it. I was going to be a guitarist. Little did I know, it takes talent such as Mekaal Hasan’s, to revolutionize the sound of each string being pulled – to create an enduring essence of sensational music.

Mekaal offered my sister and I lessons that summer. We would all sit in his studio with eager eyes, all strumming to ‘One’ by U2, testing our rhythms, pulling one string far too long than it needed! His unstoppable jokes, endearing nicknames for each one of us in the studio, smooth Punjabi sarcasm and unquestionable talent left a longing to hear the Mekaal Hasan Band play forever.

Here’s Mekaal speaking to us, through his music:

When did you begin your career as a musician? What informal and formal education and training have you received?

I started playing when I was nearly 16 and I guess you could say my professional career started around 1995 when I came back from Berklee College of Music and set up my studio. I was primarily self taught (I learnt from books and had a teacher for a short time from LAS who taught me some basic songs and how to read music) but I did receive a formal education in music at Berklee where my Major was Jazz Composition.

What have been some of the toughest moments for you:

The music business is extremely tough to survive in because there are so many variables and I guess in the case of people like myself, there’s also the issue of contending with a very unstable environment, which is at best indifferent to the arts and at worst hostile to liberal values. Realistically I always knew whatever work I’d do would have it’s challenges and I guess the realization of how tough the survival aspect is in the music business be it in Pakistan or anywhere else has pushed me to develop skills beyond the typical guitar player. I believe it will never be easy to do exactly what you want artistically and commercially, but it does pay to be well rounded so that one is always surrounded by the challenges of either making music, or by either shaping music, by it’s treatment and management.

What have been the most rewarding times?

I feel the fact that there are people out there who emotionally connect with the music and the personal pleasure of having played with some of the best musicians in the country are very rewarding. I just wish we had more opportunities to bring the music to more people more often, and it seems a shame to not have played more more often, for playing such music with such amazing musicians is a goal for me and remains a priority as such.

There seems to be an underlying Sufi theme in your music. Is this true, if so, why?

This has largely to do with the ‘traditional roots’ aspect of the band. A lot of our material is from traditional Sufi poetry and an equal amount from non Sufi poetry. The other material is made up of Classical bandishes (traditional melodies with traditional lyrics based on a particular raag) and is found in songs such as Huns Dhun, Sampooran,Albaella,Darbari etc. We also cover contemporary poets when the subject matter extends itself to such occasions such as Amreeta Pretum’s ‘Waris Shah’ which was written on Partition of the Punjab in 1947. But if I understand correctly, the sole focus is not Sufi music at all, rather just a due acknowledgement of the traditional forms of lyrics that existed in the subcontinent and which can (in some cases) be claimed to have found a birthplace in current geography of Pakistan.

Do you intend to spread a message of hope through your music to fellow Pakistanis?

 Well I sort of intended to start with just some decent music :)

What difference can that make, do you think?

I’m not sure that’s for me to say. I’m really just a guy trying to create some good music and stay true to my values, musical and otherwise. I believe music has the power to move us and make us think positively and to make us experience and bolster different emotions, and if I and the guys in the band have done that for anyone, then I think that’s a powerful influence to have. In many ways, our work today is the soundtrack to many people’s memories or moments and that’s a great feeling to experience. The quantitative difference I believe the band has made, is that it really allowed people who had immense talent to come to the public eye. People like Papu or Javed Bashir and currently, Asad Abbas, were not known to many before they came into the band. It’s just a nice feeling to have, that one actually worked with and invested themselves in the best musicians regardless of any kind of background and social stigmas and we all created something that not one of us, on their own, would have been able to do.
 

Do you encourage the youth to participate in the music industry in Pakistan? Yes, no? Why?

I would encourage the youth to educate themselves about music and art and familiarize themselves with not popular trends but with solid information about a particular styles’ history and it’s evolution. To really learn music, you must be aware of many things and exposure is very necessary in order to become an effective communicator for that is exactly what music is.
You can follow and buy Mekaal's music on the band's website: www.mekaalhasanband.com

About: White-Shoe Interview Series

Pakistan is brimming with talent.

The media is saturated with violence.

What a pickle, really.

Therefore, the purpose of my interview series is to highlight the ‘good’ that is being done by fellow Pakistanis, at home and abroad. To reshape the perspectives of the ‘outside’ world, of the vibrant positivity oozing in Pakistan’s ‘inside’ world. After all, these artistic, lively and capable minds are singing:

All We are Saying.. is give Peace a Chance.

White-Show Interview series featuring the best of the best:

1. Moin Khan – Young man from Lahore, Pakistan, motorbiking his way from San Francisco to Lahore

2. Mekaal Hasan – Leading Pakistani musician and record producer

3.Sudaif Niaz –

Thank you for your time!

“Motorcycle Diaries of a Pakistani: Moin Khan from the US to Pakistan”

Interview with motorcyclist Moin Khan

A friend from Lahore, the shy, proud Pakistani boy, Moin, has taken a colossal leap of faith, shed his shy demeanor and taken up a task that will surely offer him enduring exhilaration. His family, friends and fellow Pakistanis are behind him, all the way!

I have the privilege of knowing this young chap from several years ago. He was always a free-spirited daredevil. His humble nature enthused me to interview him of his incredible and unprecedented journey from the United States to Pakistan on none other than a motorcycle. Currently he is in Toronto, Canada on his bike, eager to make his way to the homeland without any prescribed itinerary. “There is no Plan B, so there is no Plan A”, says Moin. That’s just how he rolls.

Moin informed me: “I haven’t written this elaborately for anyone else up till now. Not even for NBC” 

From San Francisco, U.S.A to Lahore, Pakistan

1. Did this start as a personal desire or was it always rooted in wanting positive change for Pakistan?

I was actually thinking about a motorcycle ride within the US. Maybe a trip from San Francisco to Alaska or something. I didn’t even start planning for this yet and the bad news about Pakistan kept getting worse and worse. Everyday I was waking up to bbc.com, dawn.com and other news media showing only negative stories about Pakistan. It was just torture to read this stuff every single day. Not a single positive perspective on Pakistan for almost half a decade since I arrived in the US. I started thinking, there has to be at least one person who can do something positive that would make it on the headlines. And then we students here can be proud of it. After a few months I decided to change my plans of riding to Alaska and just move back to Pakistan and look for a job there, and I thought I would go on my motorcycle. I never planned on being on the news though. Till the day of my departure on July 10th, 2011, I had not called or even told anyone about this journey. Not a single news channel, not a single media person. It just went out of control after I uploaded the first set of pictures and videos on my Facebook fan page and it was then that I realized I WAS THAT GUY. Well, at least I would like to think that.

2. How old were you when you sat on your first motorcycle? Have you received any formal training?

I don’t remember how old I was when I first sat on a motorcycle but what I do remember is that I was 11 years old when I stole my family carpenter “Younis Bhai’s” motorcycle who came to our house for some wood work estimates. It was an old Honda 70cc 4 speed single cylinder that I rode all around Lahore. The freedom, the danger, the overwhelming feeling of going between cars and swerving in and out of traffic, it was just something I had never experienced. I smiled from ear to ear for maybe a week.

3. How do you intend to use this journey, exactly, to shed positive light on Pakistan?

The introduction video does answer this but I’ll say it again briefly. The idea was to talk to people on the road, complete strangers, tell them about Pakistan, answer any questions they might have about Pakistan to the best of my ability and show them that we Pakistanis are as peace loving as the rest of the world. We can also ride motorcycles around the world, be adventurous and take up challenges many just dream about.

4. How do you intend on crossing the waters? I understand in your interviews you claim spontaneous thought to be your leading light, but have you thought of crossing the water yet?

Being spontaneous is the key ingredient to ADifferentAgenda, I didn’t book a single campground or a motel and that was because ‘what if I meet somebody and they say, “oh, that one city you’re going is boring go south and hit that other spot,” then I’ll be stuck because I’m booked somewhere else. So the main idea was to be free, be free without a deadline, without a schedule. However, I did do my research about the logistics, paper work, transportation over water, visas and a bunch of other stuff.

I found a company called CIS – Carex International Shipping, and I booked a spot for my bike with them in one of their cargo ships. Two days before departing out of San Francisco I received an email from Mike (the customer service representative) stating that they have stopped shipping motorcycles internationally due to some silly reasons. I didn’t have time to look for another one, so I left the house without any booking of any sort. I found some other options, I emailed these companies couple of days back, haven’t heard from any yet but hopefully I will soon and it will all be a breeze. I’m very positive about this whole journey, there is no plan so nothing can really go wrong. There is no plan B as there is no plan A.

5. When the going gets tough, what keeps you going?

Well I knew from the start the US-Canada leg will be easy, the European and the Asian leg would be tricky. So up till now,  everything is pretty smooth, the bike did fail a few times but I’m glad it did because it makes the journey a bit more interesting. I don’t want everything to go perfectly, it wouldn’t be fun then. A few hurdles here and there and that’s when the real fun begins.

6. Whose support has meant the most to you and why?

Nadir Minhas (www.wikisanjose.com) and Ali Khan (www.khan-artist.com) are two of my biggest supporters, they help me update the website and the Facebook fan page. They also helped me with a lot of the pre-ride preparation.

Thomas Evans’ support (www.StuntRide.com) has meant a lot to me. Stuntride.com helped me before I even started the ride, they were with me when I didn’t have a website or a Facebook Fan page. They believed in me and ADifferentAgenda from the start and that’s what matters.

Novelty Software also helped me with the website and they still update it everyday whenever I send them footage. Great guys, keep up the good work.

7. Were you aware of the media attention you would receive when you first started your incredible journey?

I was not. I had no clue this would turn out to be something this crazy. I thought the website would be just for my close friends and close family. I thought I would get maybe 20 clicks per day but it’s a different story right now. Im confused but excited.

To follow Moin, check out his website: http://www.adifferentagenda.com/

Abandoned Under the Water

It is the one year anniversary of the worst floods that hit Pakistan last summer, 2011. Nobody was prepared for the waters, which claimed hundreds of lives and thousands of livelihoods. As media trickles into the lives of the traumatized, we are reminded that for them, the nightmare is not over. In fact, one year later, the water is still pouring in.

“Nothing has changed in the months…” (BBC News, Southern Punjab, Pakistan). According to the official UN report, 20 million lives are affected, 722,000 houses damaged and over 30,000 people evacuated. To make matters even worse, 6 million people do not have access to clean water and 3.5 million children are at risk of contracting deadly water-borne diseases. The UN further establishes that over 6 million people are in need of food supplies. Indeed, the basic necessities for survival are not available to the masses of Pakistani citizens, that await, day after day, night after night, for some Government assistance to feed themselves and their families. Women are suffering even more, since they are busy feeding their husbands and children, leaving little or no food for themselves.

With the War against Terrorism gaining tide, relations between Pakistan and the US taking a downward slide, it is evident that the Government of Pakistan has different priorities. In fact, the political elite are busy establishing new political parties, making empty promises, winning loyalties and hope on a farce while the people of Pakistan have no food, electricity, shelter or water. Needless to say, the water shortage will hit Pakistan sooner than they realize. Some media claim that the next India-Pak conflict will be over water shortage. The Foreign Policy blog dictates that there has been a 50% drop in renewable water resources since 2005, and it is likely that if the situation continues, by 2015 Pakistan will have another crisis at hand since most of it’s industry is based in Agriculture.

The reality is that the private sector is managing the crisis. Organizations from the US and inside of Pakistan are rampant and continually engaging in post-trauma activities. However, it is not enough and rarely sustainable. The funds pouring into these organizations do not enjoy permanence, therefore, unless the government takes over the reigns and designates a certain amount of the Annual Budget, the disaster will only exacerbate.

I ask the Government, in fact, I plead: Please do not silence the poor, the needy, the deserving. These are our brothers and sisters, who work 18 hours a day on the field, providing us with our basic crop. They are not sending their children to school to work on the farms, sowing seeds, cultivating fruits and vegetables, growing wheat and rice, raising cattle – all for us. If we take their lives away, we’ll take away our own. So wake up, because if you don’t, it will be too late.