The Dawn: June 19, 2015

PUNJAB NOTES: Sachal: Fresh sound of music from Lahore!

Mushtaq Soofi 

Lahore has been and still is one of the great cultural centres of Pakistan and Northern India. Its contribution in literature and music remains unmatched when we look at the cultural evolution of sub-continental society. Lahori saying ‘satt din tay ath melay, Ghar jaawan taan kehday waylay (seven days in a week and eight festivals! When shall I find time to go home?) can give us some measure of the incessant socio-cultural activities the city generates. This ancient city has undying love for music. It loves to create music and knows how to enjoy it. The music can be as much serene as it can be thrilling. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Mohammad Rafi in the near past represented the soul of Lahore. The former with his unparalleled magical melody painted landscapes of aesthetic serenity and the latter thrilled millions with full throat ease in a manly voice that was vigorously expressive.

But Lahore, the city of music, had to suffer an incalculable cultural loss over the last three decades due to the spiritual terror unleashed by the dictator and bigot, General Ziaul Haq, who was supported to the hilt by ‘culture conscious’ USA and the West in their last and decisive battle against erstwhile Soviet Union that had blundered into Afghanistan in pursuit of a political dream gone haywire. Political pundits ensconced in think tanks invented the notion of ‘political Islam’ to trap the bear. The move ultimately bled the soviets to a point that they felt compelled to end the occupation. Religious ideology used as a political strategy worked but devastated our dynamic cultural ethos with its crippling restraints. One high profile causalities of such an obscurantist policy were music. Anything that could yield aesthetic pleasure was forbidden in the name of religious piety by the state and the then ruling clique. Film music which was an integral part of our films, gasped for breath as the film industry came down tumbling.

One good thing about destruction is that it instinctively creates an irresistible desire in man to fashion and construct something new from the debris of what has been destroyed. One cannot live in a wasteland for long if they have to survive as humans. Lahore, the heart of the Punjab which is a rock-bed of sun-continental civilization, despite the mayhem and the pillage it suffered at the hands of invaders and philistines has always bounced back showing unsurpassed resilience. Resilience first expresses itself in the doings of individuals who have the courage to dream in a dreamless world and start something small that had hidden potential of growing big.

One such individual is Izzat Majeed who is a poet, intellectual and above all a connoisseur of music. His passion for music in fact borders on obsession. He, unfettered by commercial constraints, started building a team in 2003 with the express purpose of producing music that reflected our traditions while capturing the contemporary experience, local and international. Initially, commercial studios were hired for recording which proved to be little more than home studios, unable to give the quality of sound that he craved for. So he came up with the idea of having his own studios, purpose-built and state of the art, equipped with producing music of international quality. The budget, which of course was huge, never bothered him. He hired an accomplished music professional and sound engineer from London to take care of acoustic requirements and install high quality equipment. Such a venture was not going to be commercially viable but that never was the intention. He was happy to spend huge sum of money to realize his dream; the sound that haunted him. “Sachal studios was born to produce the music of melody, acoustic harmony and rhythms that rock the heart,” he says. “Mercifully, the cacophony of digital and electronic sound that alone defines music in the subcontinent was not the essential requirement in creating Sachal Studios. The business of music has become the music of business. To escape this, Sachal Studios has endeavoured to create sounds that make us enjoy music as music and not a passing commerce-driven bandwagon.”

Sachal Studios has so far produced a large body of music. More than thirty albums are already there. All the great composers, vocalists and musicians have worked for Sachal including composers such as Ustad Nazar Hussain, Akhtar Akhian, Mian Sheheryar, Wazir Afzal, Qadir Shaggan and Mujahid Hussain, and singers such as Farida Khanum, Reshman, Mehnaz Begum, Gul Bahar, Humaira Channa, Tarnum Naz, Fariha Pervaiz, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan (Gwaliyar Gharana), Hamid Ali Khan, Hari Haran, Riaz Ali Khan, Shafqat Slamat Ali Khan, Ali Raza and Ali Abbas. Sachal music is marked by the sophistication of compositions, lyrical beauty of verses and richness of orchestra. The whole production of music is driven by a desire to share it with everyone who cares for mysteries of sound which is concrete in its abstraction.

Some years back Izzat Majeed came up with the idea of interpreting jazz standards in the context of our music traditions. To begin with, Sachal Studios selected Dave Brubeck’s iconic ‘Take Five’ that has been interpreted by so many musicians. When Dave Brubeck heard the Sachal’s recording he wrote ‘it is most interesting and different interpretation of Take Five that I have ever heard’. It was in deed a great complement by the Jazz legend. Sachal’s Take Five topped the international charts being number one on ITunes. Hence it went viral. Sachal’s ensemble has performed in UK, France, USA and India, and has won accolades.

We need a few more like Izzat Majeed with passion, imagination and resources if we desire to create new audio landscapes with the reverberations of the dreams we dream.

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