ISLAMABAD: On an otherwise quiet Sunday night, young Islamabadis who decided to come to the National Art Gallery’s auditorium were treated to traditional American music courtesy the US State Department.
And even though the all-women country band Della Mae were able to entertain the crowd with their blend of blues, jazz and country, the organisers seemed fairly cognisant of local tastes and tunes and had pop artists Natasha Ejaz and Abbas Ali Khan in the line-up for fusion tracks.
Formed in 2009 in New England, the Della Mae group works in bluegrass, a genre of country music, and has Kimber Ludiken on the fiddle, Jenni Lyn Garden on the mandolin, Shelby Means on the bass, and Celia Woods-Smith and Courtney Hartmann on the guitar.As the evening started, it was clear that a large chunk of the audience was not familiar with Della Mae’s work, but kudos to the group for proving to be great entertainers who invigorated the crowd from the first pluck of the mandolin.
Jenni Lyn Garden drew in her audience every time she performed the solos on her mandolin and Celia Woods-Smith did wonders with her fingers on her guitar’s fret board. And Shelby Means was enthralling with her rare moments of magic on her upright bass instrument. They played their music with control, and the resulting sounds had a captivating clarity.
The audience warmed up, and joined in, could be seen swaying and clapping to renditions of “Spider Bit the Baby”, “Heaven’s Gate”, “Walk Softly” and “Letter from Down the Road”.
Backstage the organisers from the American Embassy – who believed that this sort of cultural exchange would help the people of the two countries understand each other better – kept saying that the show would keep getting better.
And indeed it was towards the finale that some of the best highlights of the night came when Natasha Humera Ejaz collaborated with Della Mae, and performed the Nazia Hassan's cover, “Boom Boom”.
The song generated a lot of excitement. Then the six artists on stage took the audience by complete surprise when they performed “Lab pay aati hai dua” to mark Allama Iqbal’s birthday.
Later, tight musicianship shone when Abbas Ali Khan of the two-member band called Ravish came on. Khan fused traditional subcontinental music with American bluegrass rhythms. The result was tonally beautiful, as each player floated in and out of the melody and accompaniment roles of the song arrangement.
It is worth pointing out that Della Mae Bluegrass Band has been in Islamabad for the last few days and had performed on different venues earlier. According to the US Embassy, “Della Mae is in Pakistan as part of the ‘American Music Abroad’ - a cultural exchange programme initiated by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which aims to engage with people across the world through music.”
The group will visit six countries, out of which only Pakistan is in South Asia. The other countries are in Central Asia - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Islamabad was the band’s first stop of the six-nation tour.