March Issue 2016
Interview: Ayla Raza
I have always been interested in classical music. In 1994, when I was a student at Lahore’s National College of Arts, I used to attend concerts organised by the All Pakistan Music Conference (APMC) and the Lahore Music Forum. Some years after graduation and settling in Karachi after marriage, I came across Hayat Ahmed Khan (founder of APMC) at a dance festival. I asked him why he did not organise concerts in Karachi. He told me that he could put me touch with others in Karachi who shared a similar interest. He did, and that’s how the first concert by APMC Karachi materialised in 2004.
Do you get any help when organising an event or do you end up doing it mostly by yourself?
We have a small staff hired mainly on a part-time or contractual basis, who help out. In the earlier years, when our financial situation was better, we employed a small full-time staff.
Is it more difficult to organise a concert now, as compared to the earlier years?
In terms of logistics, it has become easier as we are familiar with some of the tasks which are repeated every time. However, financially it has become more difficult as our funding is reduced. Nevertheless, the publicity and credibility we got in the earlier years has helped us to continue.
What are your sources of funding?
Incidentally, APMC’s constitution stipulates that all our performances be free. So it is mostly corporate sponsors and some individual donations.
Unlike health and education, music does not fall under the scope of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Hence, there is no money available with the corporations for cultural causes with long-term, intangible aims. Even so, we do have repeated corporate sponsorship, so they must like what we are doing.
However, we cannot compete with popular music concerts for funding, as our attendance cannot possibly match theirs.
We collaborate with the Alliance Francaise for holding four events annually. Two are for highlighting young performers under the aegis of NauTarang and two for screening films on music and dance. Also, the Pak American Cultural Centre and the Pakistan Arts Council give us discounted rates for using their venues.
Do you get any funding from the government?
We did get funding in our initial years but now there isn’t any. Frankly speaking, we have not even approached them for funding. We do, however, believe that for any substantial and meaningful improvement in the classical music arena, governmental collaboration is necessary. Somehow, this has not happened.
We also feel that a great deal of transparency is required if we use public funds, and presently APMC Karachi is not equipped to handle such funding.
Occasionally, you invite performers from India, as well. Is it becoming increasingly difficult to get them to come to Pakistan?
No. There is a lot of interest among Indian artists to come and perform in Pakistan. Other than the bureaucratic complexities of arranging their trip, there is also the issue of limited funding; hence, we cannot invite more of them. Even so, just this year we had the very well-known Gundecha Brothers perform in Pakistan.
Are your concerts drawing more listeners than before?
No, the numbers have gone down. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, since we have had to curtail publicity on TV and in the print media, given the present security scenario, our publicity is done mainly through mail to both members and non-members. Secondly, the law and order situation in the city has partially kept the audiences away. Fortunately, we have never had any law and order issue at our concerts.
We hold the performances irrespective of the attendance, as we feel that this is something important and needs to be done.
Also, it appears that there is a general trend towards smaller audiences for classical music concerts. Even in India, the organisers say that the attendance has declined over the years.
Do you see a decline in the quality of performances today as compared to the earlier years?
We have been holding concerts for the past 11 years and I feel it is too short a time frame to gauge any definitive decline or improvement in performances. But I do feel that there has been a decline compared to the 1960s, part of the reason being that the number and quality of the audiences has also gone down. This feeling is shared by the Indians. Today, there are very few listeners who can catch a mistake or appreciate a finely sung note. This has also had an effect on the effort the performers put in.
Are you optimistic about the future of classical music in Pakistan?
As they say, “Gari chal rahi hey” (things are moving along). For us, it is something that we need to continue doing. Hopefully, it will lead to a better future for classical music. There seems to be a general trend in the world towards expanding the horizons of music and spirituality, and one hopes that these trends will help classical music in Pakistan.
This interview was originally published in Newsline’s March 2016 issue.
The writer is an engineer by training and a social scientist by inclination.