December Issue 2015

By | Music | Published 2 years ago

Cultural exchanges seem to have become the backbone for fostering relations in our fractured world. Babar Tajammul certainly adheres to this belief, maintaining that music is one language that connects us all and transcends borders. And so, the media mogul and Honorary Consul General of Austria is setting in motion a programme that could go a long way in promoting the arts, and exposing Pakistani’s rich musical heritage to an international audience.

“Over the years, assorted musicians would be scheduled to visit Pakistan, but at the last minute they would find an excuse not to come. ‘My great aunt has died in Dubai and my dog is sick or something or the other, so can you come to Dubai instead?’ they would say. Of course, we knew they wouldn’t come here because of the law and order situation. So we thought we should try and cross this bridge,” he says.

And cross it he did, with support from assorted sources. Through funding from the Austrian government, Renald Deppe and Jo Aichinger, two renowned musicians from Austria, recently came to Pakistan and performed at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) in Karachi, the National College of Arts in Lahore and in Lok Virsa in Islamabad. They also met Ustad Hamid Ali Khan and Abida Parveen and reportedly received a basic education in Sufi music. And Sufi music is exactly where Tajammul wants to begin. “The folk and Sufi disciplines of music are what we are focusing on,” he says.

Tajammul’s proposed programme has two parts. Part one is to send various musicians to Austria to perform at the World Music Festival, and simultaneously entice more Austrian musicians to come to Pakistan. Following this is a plan to transport 15 to 20 Pakistani artists to Austria to learn from the best there, and perform at various music festivals in the spring of 2016. Deppe and Aichinger will return to Pakistan, travel around the country and select the participants for this purpose. According to Tajammul, the reason the Austrians get to select is because only they know what will appeal to Austrian audiences. These Pakistani musicians will then “dip their toes” in classical music, specifically in Krems, “the Mecca of music,” a kind of musical haven, with ongoing musical galas, concerts, museums and galleries, where Tajammul hopes a residency will be provided to them. The hope is that Pakistani and Austrian artists will collectively be able to create some interesting new-age fusion music.

And what of the financial viability of such programmes? Tajammul acknowledges this is the tricky part. Abida Parveen, who was asked to participate in the programme and perform in Austria, for example, allegedly asked for an amount in the neighbourhood of six-figures as remuneration. “It is a lot of money considering that music festivals are not ticketed, so there is no income with which to pay the musicians. We are hoping for sponsorships to keep the programme going,” says Tajammul, who is also seeking funding from the government and help from the national carrier to fly the musicians to Austria.

The economics of such a venture are of course the bottom line. But also, programmes like these must be accessible to a cross section of society. Pictures from a musical evening at NAPA held in September clearly demonstrated how such events are largely peopled by those in the upper echelons of society. I couldn’t help feeling as I heard the beautiful rendition of the national anthem performed on the clarinet, sax and sitar, that this kind of music, indeed all music, should know no boundaries.

This article was originally published in Newsline’s December 2015 issue.