“Hope Through Music” by Mekaal Hasan Band

by Aanya F Niaz

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