The Road Is My Song
Seven Eyes diaries
Pakistan – Part 1
Arrival Lahore 8:00am
Lahore’s distinctive personality embraced us in the misty morning air as we stepped out of the doors of international arrivals and met our driver, 26 year old Yunis Khan who greets us warmly, takes our bags and sets us on our way to where we would stay for the duration of the Faiz Festival at Gymkhana Club on Mall road.
The city was still waking up as we drove through the streets. Shop owners opened their shutters. A butcher carried cages of live chickens into their shops. Men squatted on concrete steps, wrapped in beige woollen shawls and traditional pathani hats. It was our first time to Pakistan and Paulo and I gazed out the van windows in silence, taking it all in.
The Faiz Festival is an annual event that takes place in November, which kicks off the festival season after a long hot summer of apparent little social activity. Having met both Moneeza Hashmi, daughter of Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and her son Adeel in London earlier in the year, we discussed our activities and were assured by Adeel that ‘you will not experience more love from an audience than you will at the festival, take my word for it!’.
Our first evening in Lahore included a rehearsal with Lahori musicians whom we would perform all our concerts in Pakistan with. We drove to Faiz Ghar to met them; Akmal Qadri on bansuri, Javeed Iqbal on violin, Mehmood Hassan Jagan Khan on tabla and our music director, Mujahid Hussain. We went through our set, song by song, which included Urdu ghazals penned by Faiz, Gulon Mein Rang Bhare and Ye Dhoop Kinara as well as much loved Pakistani songs like Aaj Jane Ki Zid Na Karo, Mun Kunto Maula, O Lal Meri. Moreover, we performed some of our original compositions from The Seed album, including Jupiter, a song that focuses on the Syrian migration crisis across Europe bringing together Sufi sentiments in Urdu mixed with French. We also rehearsed a traditional Irish folk song, Craigie Hill, greatly enjoyed by everyone as its ornamented melody in the pentatonic scale weaved beautifully with raag pahadi played beautifully by the bansuri player and tabla, bringing the two distant cultures closer together.
As we approached the Alhamra halls we were welcomed by a host of volunteers wearing matching red T-shirts, who handed over our goodie bags containing gifts and a weekend schedule of the Faiz Festival. Paulo and I were impressed by the scale of organisation and host of activities to enjoy from viewing a Palestinian art gallery exhibition, to attending dance or music programs and a variety of talks on culture, history, poetry and the arts.
Our performance was scheduled for Sunday afternoon preceding with a interview/ conference at 12pm which went really well. Paulo and I discussed the inspirations behind our music, the creative process and our vision for Seven Eyes being about exploring multiple perspectives and cultural syncretism. The audience asked probing questions which we happily answered and ended up singing a little of Mun Kunto Maula after an audience member requested to hear it.
Faiz International Festival, Alhamra Hall 1
By the evening Hall 1 was already packed. People stayed in the hall from the previous performance keeping their seats for our follow up program. It was daunting to set up the stage and do a quick soundcheck before a full seated audience. They all looked like a towering wall of faces before us. The music for Faiz’s Gulon Mein Rang Bhare began, the audience applauded recognising the melody, propelling me to begin with alaap in raag jhinjoti. Away we go…
We ended the set with an upbeat O Lal Meri which the audience applauded, expressing their delight as the chorus came in and throughout. The atmosphere was electric, nothing I had ever witnessed performing before. The hall graced us with a standing ovation to end.
After the show was done Adeel came up to me ‘You see! I told you! Didn’t I tell you?’ ‘Yes, you certainly did.’ I smiled. My body still buzzing with that energy of having been on stage.
My favourite part of the show was singing Mun Kunto Maula and O Lal Meri. I could feel the devotion of the songs reciprocated by the audience. Here we were in Lahore, Pakistan, the land where Sufi saints had spread their messages of love and unity with the Divine. As we performed, singing the praise of Hazarat Ali, my body was covered in goosebumps and my heart swelled with emotion. I doubt we will ever forget that overwhelming experience.