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East, West and music

January 07, 2017

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KARACHI: It is not easy to describe the difference between Eastern forms of music and their Western counterparts. Both differ in tonality, in melodic structures and scale progressions. So any effort to fuse two genres that represent entirely different cultural milieus is not an easy undertaking.

However a collaborative performance by musicians from the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) and members of the Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music, University Texas, Austin, on Friday evening at a concert titled ‘Sangat’ in the academy’s in-house theatre accomplished that goal by hitting all the right notes, almost.

The show got off to a lovely start with an improvisational track based on a thumri. The shorter notes coming out of Ustad Nafees Ahmed’s sitar and the longer notes of the cello (played by Julia) created a kind of confluence of two mellifluous streams.

The mood shifted to an entirely different ‘feel’ with a tune composed by the young guitarist Arsalan titled ‘Karachi to Austin’. It was a funky little effort which is difficult to categorise. It has to be said, though, that the lilting flute-sax combination reminded one of the famous band Jethro Tull. Kudos to the young musicians!

This was followed by a triptych. The musicians presented, by virtue of their brilliant instrumentation and vocal harmonies, three phases of time — morning, sun of the 10th and moon of the 15th. It was the highlight of the first segment of the gig.

The inherent chirpiness in the ‘morning’ section was a delight to listen to. But the second and third parts of the piece were a technical triumph. One has to commend all the vocalists for doing justice to the rather intricate rhythm patterns of the compositions. Nadir composed the first bit, Intezar did the second and the third was a combined endeavour.

The classical mould was then broken by the soft, mushy track ‘Tum’. It began as if it was a reggae-inspired song, but soon morphed into a melody-heavy number. It had delectable romantic overtones and has the potential for being used in a commercial enterprise.

The last item of the first segment was ‘Hansadhvani’.

Earlier, Sonya Seeman, who directed the event, said she felt she was more of a facilitator than a director. She said it was wonderful to be able to bring the students of Napa to the University of Austin and to collaborate with them and Napa faculty.

Kamran Ali, who teaches anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin, informed the audience of experiences from the time when the first group of Napa students landed in Austin. Highlighting the importance of our creative self, he also recited a verse from an Urdu poem:

Ay dost hum ne tark-i-muhabbat ke bawajood

Mehsoos ki hai teri zaroorat kabhi kabhi

[Friend, after parting with you

I have often thought about you]

John Warner, Public Affairs Officer at the US Consulate, filled in for the US consul general who is out of the country.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2017