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Pakistani Jazz Album Tops American and British Music Charts

Pakistan's Sachal Studios Orchestra, named after Sindhi Sufi Saint Sachal Sarmast (1739–1829), has topped iTunes jazz charts in America and Britain with its interpretation of Dave Brubeck's Take Five that blends classical violins with sitars, tablas and other South Asian instruments, according to British media reports.



It's the first time Jazz is being played in Pakistan in a big way since Jazz greats like Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington and other jazz legends performed in the country in the 1950s. Brubeck, 90, told reporters that it is "the most interesting" version of Take Five he's ever heard.

Sachal Orchestra's first album, “Sachal Jazz,” with interpretations of tracks like “The Girl from Ipanema” and “Misty,” and of course “Take Five” is available on iTunes. It's been produced, financed and directed by a wealthy British Pakistani Jazz enthusiast Izzat Majeed.

Inspired by the Abbey Road Studios in London, Majeed and his partner Mushtaq Soofi have worked for the last six years with Christoph Bracher, a scion of a German musicians’ family, to design and set up Sachal Studios in Lahore where their albums have been recorded.

In addition to Sachal's jazz interpretation, there are now other signs of revival of uniquely Pakistani music. An example is Coke Studio. Sponsored by Coca Cola Pakistan, Coke Studio is a one-hour show that features musicians playing a distinct blend of fusion music that mixes traditional and modern styles. Helped by the media boom in Pakistan, the show has had dramatic success since it was launched three years ago. The popular show has crossed the border and inspired an Indian version this year.

Here's a brief video clip of Sachal orchestra performance:


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Tags: Jazz, Music, Orchestra, Pakistan, Take5

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 20, 2011 at 9:16am
Here's a Dawn report on Ari Roland Jazz band performing "Dil Dil Pakistan" in Karachi:

KARACHI, Sept 16: An evening of jazz is what one usually gets to enjoy. A jazz morning is an unusual occurrence. But it happened on Friday when the Ari Roland Jazz Quartet from the US visited the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) to perform and conduct a brief workshop for the academy`s students. The morning turned out to be worth skipping one`s breakfast for.

The quarter comprises Ari Roland (double bass), Chris Byars (tenor saxophone), Zaid Nasser (alto saxophone) and Keith Balla (drums) and is in Pakistan for a five-day workshop. They kicked off their Napa visit with a number demonstrating the basics of the jazz genre. During the performance Keith Balla played on just one head of the drum because his drum set hadn`t arrived. It was a nice beginning to the (mini) gig as all the four musicians showed their skills during their solo acts in the composition.

Once the band was done with the song, Ari Roland explained how the quarter played jazz. He said while playing, the four musicians stuck to the same structure (chords etc) however, each one improvised a new melody. Replying to a question, Ari Roland said “if we don`t remember the melody, we can`t remember the harmony”. Since it was Zaid Nasser`s birthday, the quarter then presented the traditional happy birthday tune in jazz dedicating it to their saxophonist. They literally and figuratively jazzed up the number which was pleasing to the ear.

The band members told students and journalists that the last time they were in Pakistan they learned a word `jugulbandi`. According to them, the word is now commonly used in New York`s music circles.

Following up on the jugulbandi theme, the quarter played the famous Pakistani national song `Dil Dil Pakistan` (by Vital Signs) imparting it a completely jazzy feel. It was a unique experience listening to the song as Zaid Nasser and Chris Byars played the melody on their saxophones and Ari Roland created the correct rhythmic pattern on his double bass.

Then Ari Roland talked about the quartet`s drummer, Keith Balla, saying he was the youngest of the lot therefore had more energy. This was amply proved when the next song was performed. Keith Balla, who now had received his complete drum set, played with great vigour, control and passion earning a hearty applause from the audience.

Napa student Saima requested to play the guitar with the quarter, which the band gleefully accepted.

They played in B-flat key and despite the student`s nervy performance she was appreciated by her senior colleagues. This encouraged another Napa pupil, singer Nadir Abbas, to join the four American musicians for an improvisation of raag charukeshi.

Responding to one question about eminent Hollywood director and actor Woody Allen`s ability as a jazz player, Chris Byars said it was neither good nor bad. He also narrated a couple of amusing incidents related to Bill Clinton`s go at the genre.


http://www.dawn.com/2011/09/17/dil-dil-pakistan-jazz-style.html
Comment by Riaz Haq on June 10, 2012 at 5:51pm

Here's Indian writer Aakar Patel in FirstPost on Indian version of Coke Studio:

Why did Pakistan produce the lovely Coke Studio music series and not India? Why is Pakistan’s Coke Studio more popular with many Indians over the new Indian version? Is it because Pakistan’s musicians are better or more creative than India’s?
----------
One evening Ifti, who is sadly no longer with us, took me to the Waris Road residence of Masood Hasan, later to become a fellow columnist of mine at The News. We had a few glasses of the good stuff with some other guests, and then Hasan took us to a part of the property where his son Mekaal had built a studio and was playing with his band.

This was when I first heard the music that is now so distinctively the sound of Coke Studio. I would define it as a folk song or raag-based melody, layered with western orchestration. This included a synthesizer wash, guitars, a drummer, a bass punctuating the chord changes, and backing vocals and harmony. Essentially it was traditional Hindustani music made palatable for ears accustomed to listening to more popular music.

Mekaal did this very well and his band’s first album, Sampooran, is as good as anything produced by Rohail Hyatt at Coke Studio later.

Indeed, many of the musicians Mekaal worked with, eventually ended up at Coke Studio. Gumby, the Karachi drummer on Coke Studio’s first four seasons, played on Sampooran. Zeb and Haniya, the stars of Coke Studio 2, were originally produced by Mekaal.

The first-rate Hindustani singer Javed Bashir who adds depth to the singers who are not classically trained, used to be lead singer with Mekaal’s band. The great Ghulam Ali was on a flight with me from Ahmedabad to Bombay once and I told him I was friends with Javed. “Mera hi bachcha hai,” he said with great pride.

Lahore’s Pappu, Pakistan’s best flutist, has played flute for Mekaal’s records.

Gumby and I went to a concert next to my house where guitarists Frank Gambale and Maurizio Colonna played. Gumby says Colonna’s playing brought tears to his eyes. Javed and I have drunk a few places dry, and been banned from one. Mekaal is of course a dear friend, as are Zeb and Haniya.
--------
Now to understand why India did not produce Coke Studio but Pakistan did. The reason is linked to what I said earlier – that Coke Studio is a popular interpretation of India’s traditional music.

India’s talented musicians and producers have a commercial outlet:Bollywood. This is where money is made and this is where Pakistan’s singers who want commercial success must also come.

Their talent, however, is spent on making music that is purely popular, because that is what they are paid big money for. Indian musicians like Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Kailash Kher can make
Coke Studio’s sort of classical-popular mix of music easily if they set aside a couple of months for it. They choose not to however, because their working day is spent making music
that makes them rich (Kailash, whom I’ve known since before he sang for Bollywood, today charges Rs 20 lakh for a two hour concert).

In Pakistan there is no commerce in music, and even the most talented musicians must do something other than sing or play to get by. Mekaal for instance, rents out his studio. The disadvantages of not having a commercial outlet for your talent are many. The only advantage of this is that musicians are free to make popular music that is still non-commercial.

Fortunately for all of us, whether Indian or Pakistani, Rohail Hyatt and his team have used this space to produce the music that we love so much. The reason why Coca Cola produces it is that the Pakistani public will not directly pay for it, unlike Indians and Bollywood.

It is cruel to say this, but it is true.

http://www.firstpost.com/living/why-pakistans-coke-studio-beats-ind...

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 14, 2013 at 9:48pm

Here's an ET story on the use of music in cola wars in Pakistan:

Promoting a brand through sponsorship of music, it seems, has become an important marketing strategy for the world’s largest beverages manufacturers, at least in Pakistan. After phenomenal success of Coke Studio, a television music series sponsored by Coca-Cola Pakistan, the archrival PepsiCo has launched its own music show, Pepsi Smash.
The Pakistani subsidiary of the world’s largest beverages company successfully positioned itself as a higher-end aspirational brand through its sponsorship of Coke Studio, now five seasons old. Starting in 2008, the music series helped the company’s flagship soft drink gain a significant market share in Pakistan – the world’s sixth largest consumer market, dominated by market leader PepsiCo.
According to a Wall Street Journal report of July 2010, Pepsi has lost significant market share to Coca-Cola because of the latter’s sponsorship of Coke Studio. As of July 2010, Coke claimed 35% of all cola sales in Pakistan while Pepsi’s market share was 65%, down from a dominant 80% in the 1990s that it mainly gained by sponsoring cricket.

Optimistic about future growth prospects, Coca-Cola announced this March that it would invest $379 million in three new bottling plants – one each in Karachi, Multan and Islamabad – that is in addition to another $172 million investment it announced in 2011.
The expansion plans come on the back of a strong growth in the company’s topline and volumes. Coca-Cola’s Pakistan arm earned over Rs50 billion in revenues for the financial year ending June 30, 2012, a 55% increase when compared with the previous year.
The improvement in distribution system and focus on consumer activation as well as promotion resulted in volume growth of 23% in the year 2012, according to Coca-Cola Içiçek, Turkey-based partner that has a 49% stake in Coca-Cola Beverages Pakistan – the Pakistani subsidiary of the US-based parent company that sells the product.
Coke Studio has helped the company dent Pepsi’s lead in cola wars, however, the latter still remains the largest player in what it sees as one of the top 10 non-US markets in the world.
“It is safe to say that PepsiCo is Pakistan’s most popular cola brand,” Pepsico spokesperson Mohammad Khosa said. The company has a lot of other exciting brands including Mountain Dew, 7Up, Mirinda, Slice, Sting and Aquafina that are doing wonderfully, he said.
Khosa refused to reveal the exact revenue or market share, but sources confirmed that revenues of PepsiCo Pakistan and its eight bottlers stood at a combined Rs82 billion for the financial year ending June 30, 2012, up 19% compared to the previous year.
Coca-Cola declined to comment on Pepsi Smash. Critics, however, see it as a sign of vulnerability of Pepsi’s lead. As opposed to the critics’ view that PepsiCo is copying its rival’s marketing strategy, Khosa said Pepsi Smash was launched to build on the brand’s longstanding association with music....

http://tribune.com.pk/story/552055/coke-and-pepsi-bank-on-showbiz-t...

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 11, 2013 at 8:04pm

Here's a WSJ blog post on Izzat Majeed, a British-Pakistani music philanthropist:

The millionaire-investor-turned-philanthropist and music mogul will mark a milestone when his Sachal Studios Orchestra of Lahore releases its second jazz album later this year. The first, Sachal Jazz: Interpretations of Jazz Standards and Bossa Nova, went on sale in 2011. It shot to the top of iTunes rankings in both the U.S. and U.K. and drew comparisons to Ry Cooder’s Buena Vista Social Club album, done with Cuban’s biggest traditional musical legends, some of whom had been out of the limelight for decades.

The first Sachal album featured a version of “Take Five” that even Brubeck is said to have liked. Brubeck died late last year. The tribute to his quartet was played on both Western stringed instruments and traditional Eastern instruments, like the sitar, and was also done as a slickly cut, but somehow still-quaint music video.

The orchestra’s second album, Jazz and All That, has a decidedly different feel, Majeed said.

“For the second album, I’ve done two things. The entire structure of rhythm has changed. Also, I have brought in Western instruments that would create enthusiasm, rather than in the previous album, when the contribution of Western instruments was minimal,” he said. “That gels well with the sitar, the sarangi (a fiddle-like instrument)…It gives it a sound I really like.”

Sachal Studios, which also has produced several dozen albums from individual artists since opening, released a teaser video of the orchestra playing an East-West fusion version of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts.”

Majeed, by the way, hesitates to call the sound of the orchestra he built “fusion,” though it blends elements and instruments of both.

“I shy away from Western or Eastern,” Majeed said. “I don’t understand ‘fusion.’ For example, I made two or three new tracks totally on our classical music, on the ragas. When you hear them, the raga is not disturbed at all…Whenever I make a composition and bring in an instrument from the West and our own instrument, ultimately, the impact, the sound that you hear, is your own music. It’s not fusion. It’s the world coming into musical harmony.”

Majeed, who is 63 and considers himself retired, splits time between London and Lahore, and does some of his album-tracking with musicians in Europe. He said he just likes the sound of the instruments coming together, and that part of his mission is to bring music back to Pakistan, even if it’s a different kind than what many of his countrymen expect.

“Everyone tells us, ‘you rock the boat all the time when you’re in Lahore, because I don’t know the music.’ We all just get together and say, ‘here is the sound. Do you like it?’ We bypass the classical structures,” he said.

Playing music that’s pleasant and interesting, as he discovered with the orchestra’s first album, attracts listeners from all over, like Japan and Brazil, as well as in Pakistan. Majeed said he started to compose the outlines of the second album as the first album began resonating with listeners around the world. It has come together at a comfortable pace and in a way where the whole orchestra is now onboard with the sound.

----

The new album features 13 tracks, including Henry Mancini’s “The PInk Panther,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Morning has Broken” by Cat Stevens, “the Maquis Tepat,” and a jazz-based classical interpretation of a Monsoon raga.

Beyond the orchestra’s music, the tale of how and why Majeed built the studio and founded Sachal is worth telling for music aficionados.

After his initial exposure to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s so-called “Jambassadors,” in 1958, Majeed, kept music close, despite a winding career.

http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2013/09/11/philanthropist-bringing-j...

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 26, 2014 at 7:49am

Here's an excerpt of an NPR story on Sachal Jazz Orchestra in Lahore:

It recently released its second album, Jazz and All That. There's more Brubeck, among other Western classics by The Beatles, Jacques Brel, Antonio Carlos Jobim, R.E.M. — all with a South Asian flavor.

The weird thing is, Mushtaq Soofi says, while the old Lollywood session men are now winning plaudits abroad, no one back home knows or cares much about them.

"Music has to be recognized, and there is no patronage for music in Pakistan," Soofi says. "That is why people are upset, musicians are upset. If you sing, if you are a singer or a vocalist, you get kind of fame and name and money, but if you are a musician, a pure musician, people don't bother much about you."

The only people who do bother about you tend to be the religious extremists, like the Taliban.

"It is very difficult for musicians, because music is considered forbidden because it is un-Islamic," cellist Ghulam Abbas says. "Yet the same people think it is acceptable to kill people."

Be that as it may, Abbas says he isn't planning to hang up his cello again.
-----------
A few decades back, Lahore had a booming film industry. Inevitably, it was known as Lollywood.

"This was like a magic age that fell apart," says Aqeel Anwar, a violinist in his 70s. He used to play in Lollywood soundtracks. "It was such an excellent time. I never thought it would end."

For many years, South Asian movies kept Lahore's session musicians pretty busy. And the Lollywood musicians were a class apart.

"In Punjab here in Pakistan, music is usually practiced by traditional musicians' families," says Mushtaq Soofi, a music producer. "They inherit it, they learn it from their parents and then transmit to the next generation."

Things started to change in the late '70s. General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq seized power in a coup, ushering in a period of religious conservatism in Pakistan that lingers to this day.

Movie theaters began to shut down. Lollywood went into decline.

Ghulam Abbas played cello in the movies. When the work dried up, he packed away his instrument and broke with tradition by deciding not to teach his children how to play. He started up a garment stall, but struggled to get by.

"When I left this work, I was very sad," Abbas says. "I thought about how I'd worked hard and invested 25 to 30 years in my music."

Now, Abbas is sawing away at the cello again — though some of the music isn't exactly what he's used to.

http://www.npr.org/2014/04/26/306874889/a-millionaire-saves-the-sil...

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