KARACHI: The city is a safe haven for people belonging to all races and ethnicities, and this cultural diversity was celebrated at the Music Mela-Folk at the International Theatre and Music Festival of the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) on Tuesday.

The festival’s first musical offering this season, Music Mela brought to the fore artists with distinct flavours of the different provinces.

Among the several acts, the performance by the band FEW representing Chitral was a big hit. The band is known to perform folk songs with an Eastern and Western twist, and the lead singer Syed Zulfiqar Ali Shah began his performance with a patriotic song. Despite the language barrier, his interactive performance with the audience had the desired effect. The band performed different ballads and folk songs and had the crowd grooving along. Shah also wished the audience a Happy Nauroz.

Directed by Haider Ali Chao, the performances allowed different corners of the country to connect and be on stage at par with each other, letting go of all differences, both perceived and real.

Almost all the performers who were part of the mix were former or current students of Napa, and had been shortlisted after auditions. Though care had been taken to make sure that the Mela represents different cultures of Pakistan, the vocals were not much of a priority. The singers were competent, but most of them were not outstanding. And therein was what was lacking in the evening.

Also, it would have been more interesting had efforts been made to scout out regional performers already contributing towards this craft in a bid to encourage budding and neglected artists.

Ahsan Shabbir, a faculty member at Napa, sang a beautiful Kafi of Khawaja Ghulam Farid and his melodious voice was a soothing antidote to the stresses of the day. The tempo of the evening was immediately charged up by Azhar Ali’s Sindhi performance. Balochistan was represented by Islam Abbas who sang of how a poet is praising and expressing his love for his beloved. Palwasha Mehmood’s performance of a Punjabi song left much to be desired. Ayaz Lakhani’s performance in Gujarati, however, salvaged the evening a bit.

Ustad Nafees Ahmed Khan, head of the music department at Napa, spoke about how the musical performances were carefully crafted and curated to encourage the “meeting” of cultures and people.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2017