Pakistan Part Two: Gora Munda

24th January 2014

Wednesday begins with another rehearsal with Sajid (sitar) and Haroon (tabla), we’re developing some more material for our concerts which take place on Friday and Saturday (click here for a live stream for the Saturday show). Inspired by the different raags (a raag is a little like a scale but not quite, see here) I’m hearing, I start playing an arabic oud tune that I learned in Bahrain on a previous British Council collaboration. Sajid looks excited and tells me the tune uses the same scale as one of the Indian classical raags, exclaiming ‘That’s a morning raag!’* As a result I learned that particular raags are associated with different times of day, different seasons, different emotions. What a beautiful idea. My Pakistani counterparts are also pleasantly surprised to hear a western musician play in an odd time signature (7 in this case). We decide to work this tune up into an arrangement and it provides a great platform for Sajid and Haroon’s improvisations.

After the morning’s rehearsal it’s back in the armoured car for a trip over to PTV World (Pakistani TV Network) studios to film a talk show featuring host Sidra Iqbal. The show is probably as close to ‘This Is Your Life’ as a folk musician is ever likely to get, Sidra has clearly done her research I’m quizzed on music, creativity and the outlook for musicians in the context of the current economic climate. Also on the show are Haroon and Sajid, who give their views on the same subjects. We then give our first performance together, after 2 rehearsals, on one of the most watched Pakistani national TV channels; a version of ‘Jack Hall’ which we’ve fused with another Indian raag. In the evening I’m treated to a meal out by the lovely people of British Council Pakistan – Talha Mufti, Tazkia Abbas and Sumbul Kahn – who are jointly responsible for bringing me here and have made me feel very welcome. It’s a great opportunity for us to get to know each other and chat at greater length after the busyness of the last few days.

Armed guard in armoured vehicle.

Armed guard in armoured vehicle.

It’s an early start on Thursday morning for another TV appearance, this time we’re live on a show called Aaj Subh on AAJ TV, hosted by Nusrat Haris. There’s a zumba demonstration, someone calls in to share their talent by singing down the phone, and there’s live cooking. We perform live again, then I get to eat the Chicken Pilau and give my opinion. It is indeed very tasty. During the filming I learn I’m affectionately referred to on set as ‘gora munda’ which means white gentleman.

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Cast and crew of the Aaj Subh TV show

We then head back to the hotel for another rehearsal. This time I introduce an Irish melody ‘South Wind’, it sounds very much at home on the sitar and makes a great basis for Indian classical improvisation. In the evening I’m taken out for dinner my Sharif and Malahat Awan from the Tehzeeb Foundation, joint funders of my collaboration here in Pakistan. We talk about the music scene in Pakistan, the various difficulties facing musicians here, and how this differs for musicians in the UK. I get the impression that Indian classical musicians here really have their work cut out for them but great initiatives like the Tehzeeb Foundation are helping to make sure that the music is promoted and the musicians are looked after.** Sharif and Malahat are kind enough to present me with their fantastic Indus Raag box set, a mind-boggling 12 CD collection of south Asian classical music. Very excited to get to know this music during the downtime here.

Thursday is our final day of rehearsal ahead of the upcoming performances, but before that I’m paying a visit to NAPA, to give a songwriting workshop for the music students there. I play some of my songs and talk about the way I combine traditional and original material in my own compositions and repertoire. It’s great to have this interaction with local musicians and I start to get a sense of the cultural differences between our respective music scenes and how we perceive them. I field lots of questions about the difference between English folk and other types of English music, and I surmise that to Eastern ears there probably isn’t that much difference, certainly not between traditional and original songs in my own repertoire. The musicians seem keen to know how the fusion of traditional and non-traditional plays out within and around English folk, and I’m also asked the difference between traditional folk and Western classical music (again, I pick up from this question that perhaps they’re not as easily distinguishable to Eastern ears as they might be to us in the west). These are all pretty incisive questions that pick at our differing ways of seeing music, and I had fun trying to field them and find my way.

Tomorrow brings a welcome morning of rest before our first show in the Crystal Ballroom at the Marriott Hotel here in Karachi.

Meeting music students at NAPA after the workshop

Meeting music students at NAPA after the workshop

The NAPA Building (formerly Hindu Gymkhana)

The NAPA Building (formerly Hindu Gymkhana)

*In western terms I’m playing the Phrygian Dominant; the fifth mode of the minor harmonic scale. In Indian Classical terms this is known as Basant Murkhari. Interestingly in conversation with Sajid and Harroon I created some confusion by relating Basant Murkari in D back to what we’d consider to be the the parent scale – G minor harmonic – and so learned that the mode or raag is considered as an independent scale in its own right rather than derived from a parent scale.

** There’s no equivalent to our PRS royalty scheme out here and government funding is extremely limited.