Longtime musician Mekaal Hasan is set to perform at the South by Southwest (SXSW) 2015 music festival in Austin, Texas today.
His eponymous band, The Mekaal Hasan band, is one of the acts part of the Pakistani showcase at this year's festival, joining the likes of Haroon, Thar's Mai Dhai, Peshawar's Khumariyaan, Sialkot's Sain Tanveer Brothers and Poor Rich Boy (PRB).
Though the Mekaal Hasan Band (MHB) is looking forward to their performance, Mekaal had a few important points to make before taking center stage. Here, he answers our questions:
1) This is the first time Pakistani bands are performing at SXSW. Why so?
Mekaal Hasan (MH): The Pakistani government provides no funds for supporting performing arts. The reason we are playing at SXSW is because the US State Department is supporting the funding and has created a grant to allow Pakistani musicians to interact with a major US festival.
It is a matter of deep concern that our own government does absolutely nothing to spread Pakistani culture and the Americans are the ones who are more concerned about bringing our art out to their country.
2) How did the selection for SXSW take place happen?
MH: MHB was first noticed by Todd Puckhaber (the gentleman who runs SXSW) in 2007 and over the next three years Todd kept in touch and wanted us to play. When the opportunity to come and scout bands for his festival arose, Todd asked for us to be at SXSW as he had wanted us on there for a while.
3) What kind of turnout are you expecting?
MH: SXSW is a festival where the entire city of Austin hosts music of all sorts. As such the venues range from intimate club settings to theatre styled venues. We are expecting a full house on our performances simply because the Pakistan Showcase has been advertised and promoted well by the US companies here.
4) Do you plan on having jam sessions and collaborations with other musicians at SXSW, and are there any musicians you're looking forward to meeting at the festival?
MH: We have already conducted workshops at University of Texas, Austin, and are hopeful that this will lead to more interactions between us and the musicians here.
There is a staggering amount of artists and bands out here so we are all keeping an ear out for anything which catches our attention and of course our friends here locally have their own recommendations which we will follow up on.
5) What does being able to play at SXSW mean for you as a Pakistani band?
MH: Playing at SXSW is a big step up professionally for any band. It's an internationally recognised festival and it adds to one's resume.
I personally do not see it helping us back home, and it's sad we end up playing away from Pakistan more than in Pakistan. The apathy towards music and art in Pakistan has driven all serious dedicated musicians away and it is something for the companies who have the resources to do events to think about.
Interestingly, none of the names who have been doing the rounds on certain popular TV-based music programmes were even called to perform at SXSW.
6) Any specific reason why Humera Channa will be on vocals for MHB at SXSW and not Sharmista?
MH: Humera Channa is singing for the Pakistan version of MHB, Sharmistha for our Indo-Pak version. Since this is a Pakistan showcase, our all-Pakistan line up was chosen which has Amir Azhar on bass, Kami Paul on drums, Ahsan Papu on flute and Humera Channa on vocals. We also wanted to play music from Balochistan and Sindh and Humera is excellent at that material so we have expanded our writing style by including more folk numbers with the inclusion of Humera Channa. She is a superb artist and I am honoured that she's now part of our line up.