SPOTLIGHT: ‘MUSIC, MUSIC ABOVE ALL’

March 22, 2020

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The director of the All Pakistan Music Conference Ayla Raza -Photography: Arif Mahmood/White Star
The director of the All Pakistan Music Conference Ayla Raza -Photography: Arif Mahmood/White Star

I phone Ayla Raza, the director of All Pakistan Music Conference Karachi, and tell her that I would like to write about her experiences of convening events featuring classical music during the last 15 years.

“Seventeen, not 15,” she corrects me only to add that she has much to communicate. We fix an evening. “If you don’t mind I will visit you at 5pm because the place I go for my yoga lessons is closer to your house than to mine. I have to go there at 6.30pm,” she adds. I am game. She rings my door bell on the dot.

Tall and slim Ayla, which is how she is known, finds a seat. She is served dahi phulki, a delicacy the lady of the house excels in preparing. Ayla loves it and digs into the bowl more than once. Her response is one-worded “Yummy”.

More about the conferences later, for the moment one would like to say that she and her husband, filmmaker Asim Raza, have more in common than parenting two girls, Maryam and Zainab. Both the husband and wife studied architecture but switched over to different fields. He loves music too and his movies have strong musical presence.

The 1971-born Ayla Raza met Asim at Dawood Engineering College in Karachi, where both were studying architecture. But in the late ’80s, when Karachi was plagued by student unrest and classes were suspended every now and then, Ayla had to move to Lahore where she got admitted to the National College of Arts (NCA).

Holding the Karachi chapter of the All Pakistan Music Conference for 17 years continously is no mean feat. Here, Ayla Raza, the director, speaks to Icon about her experiences of convening events featuring classical music under the APMC Karachi banner

During her stay in Lahore she got the opportunity of attending sessions of the All Pakistan Music Conference (APMC), organised meticulously by the late Hayat Ahmed Khan. Ayla approached him and sought his help in holding similar events in Karachi. “Hayat sahib was kind and encouraging. He put me in touch with some classical music enthusiasts in Karachi, and also attended our inaugural event in the city. Organising APMC functions in Karachi has been a very demanding job in terms of time and effort. I must say that a good number of people have been most helpful from time to time,” recalls Ayla.

“Such as?” I query.

“The list is too long and there is the fear that I may forget some people. You can, however, mention that the entrance to all our events is free. No cards are distributed. We send information by email. The print media, notably the paper you write for, also carries our announcements and subsequently cover the functions,” says the director of APMC Karachi.

“What about your organisation’s monetary position?”

“Ah! You have touched a raw nerve. It is difficult to find sponsors. Also, you must have noted that the APMC’s office has been shifted from Zamzama in Clifton to my residence because we cannot afford to pay the ever-increasing rent,” comes the reply.

Apart from classical and semi-classical music, there are qawwalis and classical dance performances. A programme featuring dance recitals by young Kathak exponent Aman Chaudhry and Bharat Natyam by Suhaee Abro, held in January, was widely appreciated.

A young vocalist at the APMC | Faysal Mujeeb/White Star
A young vocalist at the APMC | Faysal Mujeeb/White Star

Ayla regrets that in all these years the audience hasn’t changed much. Even though announcements are made that cellphones ought to be switched off, some people don’t. People are also advised not to talk to each other during the performances because it disturbs the performers. But not everyone pays heed to the advice. Those coming late should wait for a gap between recitals before entering the premises, also those who wish to leave are supposed to wait for a gap, laments Ayla.

“Why was the last day of the 2020 APMC annual festival in early March called off?”

“The Commissioner’s Office didn’t give us permission for Sunday the 8th of March because of a political party’s threat to Aurat March which was being organised around the venue,” says Ayla.

“How come APMC Karachi doesn’t get musicians from across the Wagah border?” is the next question she has to answer. “That’s not true. We believe that music has no boundaries. We got noted Dhrupad exponent Wasifuddin Dagar, noted vocalists Ashwini-Bhide Deshpande and Shobha Mudgal and Dhrupad singers Gundecha Brothers, to name a few. I only wish we had the monetary resources to get more such stalwarts from India,” rues Ayla.

The APMC has designed a programme to inculcate appreciation for our music among the young through schools. Initially, it has engaged students from five leading schools and the result is quite rewarding.

A step in this direction was a two-day concert for children at Rangoonwala Hall which drew raving reviews. It was in collaboration with the French World Ensemble Stracho Temelkovski Quartet, which featured one Macedonian, one Italian, one Frenchman and our own sitar nawaz Ustad Ashraf Sharif Khan, who is based in Germany.

About her inheritance in the field of music Ayla says her paternal grandfather was into classical music. He played on the tabla, while his wife played the harmonium. They were both amateurs. Ayla’s father, General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf, one-time President of this country, has been more into ghazals and light music. Music is still a binding factor in the family. While she listens to classical music her daughters enjoy Western music for which Ayla has a ear too.

Ayla is fond of reading both fiction and non-fiction. Her bedside table is laden with books. She reads more than one book at a time. Sometime ago she took a six-monthly course in Persian. “What a sweet language it is!” she enthuses.

“Hayat Ahmed Khan left his daughter behind to run the show. Who do you think will be your successor?” is my final question.

“Well, my guess is as good as yours. Why don’t you find one for me,” she retorts, pushing the ball back into my court.

Published in Dawn, ICON, March 22nd, 2020