Keeping the music alive for Sabeen

Published May 2, 2015
Local band 'Shikari' playing at T2F in 2012. —Photo by Shameen Khan/
Local band 'Shikari' playing at T2F in 2012. —Photo by Shameen Khan/
Whatever the genre, Sabeen made sure any musician who needed an outlet or the exposure, got it. —Photo courtesy: Flickr
Whatever the genre, Sabeen made sure any musician who needed an outlet or the exposure, got it. —Photo courtesy: Flickr

There isn’t much I can write about Sabeen Mahmud that has not already been eloquently expressed by people who knew her much better than I did.

I was still at a point where I was utterly awestruck by her. Every time I met her, I would say to myself, 'God, what an inspiring woman.' She was everybody’s friend; a ray of sunshine on a low day, always smiling and always full of encouragement.

Someday, I thought, I would get around to telling Sabeen, who shared my love for Jim Morrison and The Doors, about the significant role she played in shaping my life. I wish I had gotten the chance to do that.

Ever since I was a child, I was drawn to music like a moth to a flame; it was all I ever wanted deep inside. When I was a teenager and the music scene began to die, Karachi felt hopeless as ever, until the day I came across T2F and witnessed Sabeen's love and commitment to music.

Sabeen made me feel like I wasn't crazy for caring so much about something like music at a time when its fortunes were in the pits; when people thought of it as mere entertainment. I didn’t know many people apart from her who genuinely cared about promoting live music in Karachi. It wouldn't be incorrect to say here that half of the reason we currently have something close to a 'music scene' is because of Sabeen.

Whatever the genre, she made sure any musician who needed an outlet or the exposure, got it.

New York City had Hilly Kristal and CBGB, we had Sabeen Mahmud and T2F.

Witnessing her efforts instilled a drive in me to promote Karachi’s music scene in every way I could.

So, I started writing about it.

I learned from Sabeen how to persevere and not give up on something that means the world to you, no matter how many people tell you it’s over. In T2F, I always found solace because of the music I discovered there, especially at a time in my life when nothing else felt right.

The last time I had a one-on-one conversation with Sabeen was in fact at an album launch; the rest ended up being random sentences on Facebook chat that I couldn’t stop scrolling over the night after her funeral.

She was the first person to ever introduce me to other people that night as a journalist, when I didn’t even know I was worthy of that title.

I keep wishing I had greeted her on the night of that session last week, but I didn’t because never in my wildest nightmares had I imagined this would happen to someone like Sabeen, someone who personified love.

When I saw her at the funeral; when it finally began to sink in that she will never return, there was a strong urge to talk to people – musicians mainly, whose lives she touched and who were denied a chance to tell her that.

Zoe Viccaji:

“I think a lot of musicians will agree with me when I say that Sabeen opened her doors to all of us, and gave us a place to show our art. I remember feeling like T2F was one of the few places where I could sing my most personal pieces, and meet people who appreciated the kind of writing that I had kept off the more public forums.

“And it isn’t just us, Sabeen had a very personal and caring relationship with many of the artistes who showcased their work at T2F. She was part of our journey on a very personal level and I can’t really think of many other people who played the role she did in our artistic endeavours.”

Sara Haider:

“She was kind to me at a time when I was all alone. She changed my whole life just because I happened to walk into her café one day. She put a mic in my hand; she put an awkward shy 18-year-old on stage and told her she had a super power than no one could take away from her. They killed a force for change, they killed a beacon of hope and love, yes, but they also killed my friend. And Im never going to see her again. Someone who literally changed my whole life, without any selfish agenda or motive. That was just Sabeen’s thing.”

Daniel Arthur Panjwaneey (//orangenoise and Alien Panda Jury):

“I don't know if Sabeen ever realised how much she did for me ... for us ... all of us as musicians. She had one fantastic problem with all of us, the inability to say 'no'. Every time I inquired about having a gig or doing something at T2F, the reply would always be 'Ajao, karo, send me a date'.

“My last conversation with her 2 months ago involved a lot of plans for getting gigs back on in Karachi. We both got really excited with how it would all work out. I (and hopefully a lot more people) will do everything that can be done to achieve that. She worked really hard to give so many people a place to express such creative freedom, silently nurturing the music scene as it exists. We cannot and will not let that fizzle out.”

Yousaf Kerai (Tarz Group):

“Tarz Group started from the gallery space at T2F and it continued to receive Sabeen's support over the last five years. Today, we can boast about eight major shows and countless other workshops and performances through the platform that Sabeen and her team provided.

“In addition, Sabeen paved the way for my guru, the tabla doyen, Ustad Khurshid Hussain, to be recognised amongst the younger generation as a living legend and enabled him to share his art with students through the tabla classes offered at T2F. In fact, in many a class, Sabeen would walk in, sit with Ustad jee, listen to him reciting some poetry or telling a story, delight in some tabla phrases played by him, and then go off to continue being there for all the others awaiting her support and advice.

“I often wondered how she managed to stay involved with so many projects and how she championed so many causes; it gave me strength to push on against all odds and continue the struggle to keep our musical heritage alive.”

Usman Riaz:

“Sabeen was an incredible human being. You could see how much she loved helping artists. She gave me and so many people around me a platform to share our work. She created such a nurturing environment with T2F, it was a place where art and artists could feel safe and welcome. Her loss will affect us all. It will be very difficult for anyone to fill her shoes.”


Take a 90 minute break from TUQ/IK/NS. Come hang out with us at The Second Floor (T2F) and watch the musical documentary "Making Waves & Creating A Ruckus". Chat with the ultra talented TEDGlobal Fellow, Usman Riaz. If you hang around after the screening, you will be treated to a percussive guitar performance.Sunday 31st August at 7:00 pm #CrowdFunding

Posted by The Second Floor (T2F) on Saturday, August 30, 2014

Natasha Ejaz:

“2012 was the first time I ever had a public performance in Karachi,” Natasha said on her Facebook page.

“Fresh out of college and having met Sabeen and Zaheer Kidvai back when I was still 17 or 18 years old, ‬T2F was kind and accommodating and had it not been for them, no one in Karachi would have even known my name.

“But the house was full, and Zaheer, Sabeen and Insiya sat right up front, reigniting the faith they had in my musical journey – they made me feel like they'd seen this coming years ago, and were just waiting for me to come into my own. This was also the first time I realised the great talent that is Imam Hamdani, and so began a brand new beautiful musical friendship that to date, I hold dear.”

Nadir Shahzad (Sikandar Ka Mandar):

“It was always very easy to set up a concert and pull off shows (sometimes even two-day events) at the T2F. It got a lot of the current indie acts noticed. SKM started off playing shows at the T2F. It is a home for all independent musicians. She liked all of our music and often talked to us about it. We owe the beginnings of our careers to Sabeen and the T2F. The best part is, she hardly asked for anything back. Over the years, our deal didn't change at all – 100 rupees of each ticket sold was to be given to T2F. That went on for almost 5 years. So yeah...she impacted all of our lives. Big time.”

Ali Suhail (Jumbo Jutt, Joomi Experience, Ali Suhail solo project):

“I didn't know her too well, mostly we just exchanged a smile and a nod of hello whenever I was there. But I always respected her. She was at the front lines whenever something for the arts, or culture or free speech needed to be done. Honestly, whatever little musical career or fan base I have, I owe most of it to her and to T2F. It wouldn't have started had it not been for T2F. She let us use that space whenever we wanted. Someone got it, someone strove for it. She was that someone. I just hope that we have the courage to follow the example that she set.”

Ahmed Zawar (E Sharp):

“E Sharp was nothing until it got to know Sabeen,” he said on the band’s Facebook page.

“Sometimes it was really unbelievable for us to comprehend how she would just support any gig we wanted to do at T2F knowing that financially, she did not have much to gain from it. That was just her love for a progressive Pakistan where artists, writers, actors, musicians could take to the stage and express themselves. Nothing more. We remember when T2F declared that it was running out of money and could be shut down, we all panicked. We messaged her saying that we're ready to do a gig and she could take all the proceeds from it.

“But she said no and told us about the greater plan she had to raise funds. The Creative Karachi Festival happened and we all saw how the city turned up to support T2F, because we just couldn't let it go.

“How can we let go Sabeen then? She's no more and that's the tragic reality, but if we all want to keep her legacy alive, we have to make sure that we keep speaking; keep expressing ourselves; keep trying to make Karachi and Pakistan liberate itself from all the negative shackles. The show must go on.”




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