The story of a lesser played raga and intrusive cameras

Published November 19, 2023
Ustad Mumtaz Sabzal, along with Aaron Mulvaney and Ustad Bashir Khan, performs at the event.
—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Ustad Mumtaz Sabzal, along with Aaron Mulvaney and Ustad Bashir Khan, performs at the event. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: The National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) played host to a concert by distinguished banjo player Ustad Mumtaz Sabzal who entertained music lovers at the Zia Mohyeddin auditorium — which had a sparse attendance when the show began but gradually got better — on Friday evening in his usual free-flowing style.

He was accompanied on stage by Aaron Mulvaney (banjo) and Ustad Bashir Khan (tabla).

Introducing the show to the audience, head of Napa’s music department Hamza Jafri said it’s a special and unique performance. He called Ustad Sabzal a master banjo player and credited him with defining the instrument. He also introduced Ustad Bashir Khan as a ‘living legend’ with countless radio and TV recordings under his belt.

Ustad Sabzal came to the stage along with his fellow musicians against a black backdrop. It was so black that one felt that the ustad was going to play a raga evoking melancholy. That didn’t prove to be the case. He told the listeners that the raga that he’d chosen for the evening was marva which he lamented is not played as often at gigs as it should. He added ragas sohni and puriya have similar notes, which is why artists need to be careful in maintaining the ‘structure’ of marva.

Ustad Sabzal played the raga well, despite the fact that he didn’t seem to be happy with the audio levels of the sound system. The thing that one is required to take note of at such events is the audiences’ reception of the performance. On Friday, they enjoyed it.

But it was utterly distracting to see a couple of cameramen (one is not sure whether they were representing television networks or were privately filming the programme) climbing the stage in the middle of the concert and almost became a part of the musicians present on stage. One of them in particular had no clue, nor did he seem to care, that he was standing smack in front of Ustad Sabzal blocking the view of those sitting in the front seats of the auditorium and sometimes going behind the ustad to take an over-the-shoulder shot. Concentration is essential for every classical musician’s work, especially during a live act. Surely, the organisers of the event knew/know about it. A mechanism should be put in place beforehand to make cameramen film from a distance.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2023

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