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—Image courtesy of LLM’s Facebook page
—Image courtesy of LLM’s Facebook page

A couple of years ago, when I first started regularly writing on underground musicians in Pakistan, I realised that all my pieces were ending the same way. Each time, I would be admiring the commitment and resolve of extremely talented musicians trying to make music in the face of a non-existent music scene.

Despite the repetitiveness of this approach, there was little else which could be said. A deteriorating security situation, a tanking economy and a collapsed music industry all meant that despite the influx of quality music and musicians, it was difficult to talk of a sustainable future.

Indeed, the situation had become so chaotic that it felt like there was no way of saying what the mainstream was, or who the main stars were.

Despite booms in the fashion, film and theater industries, there was little consensus or initiative for something similar for music.

At the same time, the advent of the internet and the ability to replace studios and instruments with computer programs had meant that there was a lot happening at the fringes. Youtube, Facebook and Soundcloud were becoming both record labels, as well as concert spaces, connecting fans and musicians from across the planet.

In many ways, it was becoming increasingly difficult to talk about the music scene in Pakistan in a general or all-encompassing sense. Things were falling apart, and the center was not being able to hold.

—Image courtesy of LLM’s Facebook page
—Image courtesy of LLM’s Facebook page

So when I first heard about next month’s Lahore Music Meet (LMM), it felt like the most obvious first step towards tackling the music industry’s problems.

The template for the event, as well as how it plans to engage with the audience, has already been laid out by the wildly successful ‘literature festivals’ which are now annual fixtures in the larger cities across the country.

The LMM will similarly be organising panel discussions and storytelling sessions on various themes related to Pakistani music, and inviting renowned and influential figures to speak at these.

In addition, it will also be holding a ‘music mela’, which will serve as a marketplace for musicians, as well as instrument makers to sell their artworks. There will also be various workshops where established musicians will be providing tutorials for various skills, instruments, as well as recording software and equipment.

In the words of the organisers;

The LMM is dedicated to the celebration and critique of music in Pakistan, and it aims to bring together enthusiasts, artisans, artists, patrons, industry representatives and academics to initiate dialogue on the developments in music and their shortcomings.

What makes this initiative unique is that unlike many other approaches which have sought to reinvent the wheel, its aim is far more modest, and far more practical.

Bringing together the richly diverse and disparate strands of Pakistani music reminds us of the integral place it has in our society, and also creates opportunities which are failing to occur otherwise in society.

Indeed, when one sees the kind of money that various corporations lay out for promoting the same five-six artists, it becomes painfully obvious that the money-men need to be exposed to a more diverse and contemporary vision of Pakistani music.

Perhaps the best example in recent times was given by Coca Cola’s campaign for the World Cup. The cola giants first released an all-star commercial featuring the most famous musicians in the country (who all appear on the company’s Coke Studio show) which felt anodyne and even flatter than the team’s faltering start to the tournament.

Around a month later, the company released a ‘fans’ version, which began with a clip of the “Justin Bibis”, two sisters who became a viral sensation after someone uploaded videos of them singing Justin Bieber songs.

The charm which both of them exuded onto the song within a few seconds was a small vindication of the feeling that the music industry’s talent is not restricted to the same people who were big a decade ago.

An event like LMM could finally give a chance for the executives to be forced to confront the larger diversity of Pakistani music.

Hopefully, the LMM will also serve as a means of redressing this myopic approach, within audiences as well.

Without concerts or album sales, there is an increasing sentiment amongst musicians that audiences have gotten used to accessing music from their screens, particularly via the big-budget television shows which air a select few songs.

—Image courtesy of LLM’s Facebook page
—Image courtesy of LLM’s Facebook page

Lazy or not, there is a real concern of music fans losing out the social spaces and experiences which marked previous generations, and going out to talk, listen and learn about music is an excellent way of recreating those bonds.

So, on the 4th and 5th of April, head on down to the Al Hamra Arts Council (Mall Road) in Lahore, where you can spend two days revelling in one of the things that makes this country great – its music.

For more details on the LMM, check out their Facebook Page.