A still from the music video of Ajj Sik Mitraan Di
A still from the music video of Ajj Sik Mitraan Di

Saakin, an Islamabad-based music act is fast developing a repertoire for doing hauntingly beautiful, spiritual music. “Saakin is Persian for ‘resident’,” says band member Varqa Faraid. “It also means steady or stationary.” In musical terms, he explains, saakin would refer to “the rests and silent parts in music because music is a combination of sound and silence.”

Although the band members that form Saakin — Varqa Faraid (currently also a member of the Coke Studio house band), Usman Shakeel, Parham Faraid, Ibrahim Akram and Ali Hamdani — have been a part of Pakistan’s underground music scene for quite some time and are known for their impeccable live performances, they only released their first studio recorded track sometime last year.

It was a rendition of Saqi-e-Bawafa, a kalaam based on the poetry of the 13th century Persian mystic and poet Shams Tabraizi. It’s a very popular kalaam in parts of Central Asia. But this wasn’t the first time Saqi-e-Bawafa has been covered by a Pakistani act. Abida Parveen, the queen of sufi soul, has also sung a version in her signature style. That is in complete contrast to how Saakin treated the song — while Abida Ji’s versions show off her vocal prowess, Saakin’s version almost whispers the lyrics, often repeating them in an almost hypnotic way.

Saakin’s rendition of Syed Mehar Ali Shah’s Ajj Sik Mitraan Di for the soundtrack of Zindagi Tamasha is a haunting, minimalist track

Fast forward to 2019 and they’ve released another spiritual song, this time for the soundtrack of Sarmad Khoosat’s upcoming film Zindagi Tamasha or Circus of Life.

According to the filmmakers, “Zindagi Tamasha [Circus of Life] is an intimate portrait of a family as well as a scorching political commentary on the little gods on this earth who police our private passions.” According to a report, it’s due for a release sometime next year. Fingers crossed.

For Zindagi Tamasha, the band has covered Peer Mehar Ali Shah’s Punjabi kalaam, Ajj Sik Mitraan Di. According to the band, it was Sarmad’s idea to cover this composition.

Ajj Sik Mitraan Di, a naat, is about an all-consuming longing for the Prophet (pbuh) made famous by the line ‘Kithay Mehar Ali, kithay teri sanaa / Gustaakh akhiyaan kithay ja larriyaan [How can Mehar Ali even dare to praise you / Where have these insolent eyes dared to gaze!]’. The music video (directed by Nirmal Bano) features the band trapped in a room where the windows and glass walls are covered by calligraphy done by Zahid Mayo. This is interspersed with scenes from the movie where the protagonist is walking through busy streets in what looks like inner city Lahore.

According to the filmmakers, “Zindagi Tamasha is an intimate portrait of a family as well as a scorching political commentary on the little gods on this earth who police our private passions.”

Saakin’s interpretation of Ajj Sik Mitraan Di follows in the style of Saqi-e-Bawafa in that it’s soft, beautiful, with a very minimalist approach to instrumentation and very moving.

One gets the impression that the band plans to work only on spiritual music. “Not necessarily,” clarifies Varqa. “In the future, Saakin intends to release their own [original] songs which will address some social issues and also a few love ballads.”

Considering that both of their previous releases have been in different languages, such as Farsi and Punjabi, did they find it difficult adapting to them? “We have a great affiliation with both the languages,” says Varqa. “We would say, it was more interesting for us, learning and developing an understanding with these two different languages.”

Saakin plans to release their next single early next year. “It’s an original song written and composed by Saakin,” says Varqa. “It’s an ode to all of the freedom struggles around the world….” That sounds intriguing. And considering the band’s previous body of work, it will likely be a treat to listen to as well.

Published in Dawn, ICON, December 1st, 2019

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