The I Am Karachi music fest reminded me that Karachi's love for music never died, we just need someone to feed it to us — Photo by Pi Studios
The I Am Karachi music fest reminded me that Karachi's love for music never died, we just need someone to feed it to us — Photo by Pi Studios

People often make sweeping statements like 'music and art can save the world', but how does that actually happen? We don’t know. But the fact is that we could really use a saviour in Pakistan, even if it is in the form of rapturous enjoyment at a first-of-its-kind music festival in Karachi.

The I Am Karachi Music Festival, held at Port Grand on August 8-9, was not like your ordinary go-to weekend event. It started off earlier in the week with two days of panel discussions on all things music — which is rare when it comes to forms of entertainment in Karachi.

Organised by I am Karachi, MAD school and acclaimed band Fuzon with the help of guitarist/producer Mekaal Hasan, the festival gave Karachiites something to anticipate on a weekend that didn’t involve their aunt’s husband’s sister’s engagement or food poisoning from that new restaurant that just opened.

Panel discussions

Although quite a number of discussions spanned over two days (August 4 and 5) and it would be difficult to sum up all of them, the basic theme weaving through the panels remained the same — it’s okay to take music seriously. Sessions ranging from Music Appreciation and Importance of Music Education shed light on how music affects us all on different levels.

What made the two-day panel discussions inspirational is the little bursts of insights gleaned from the musicians' talk of their experiences; some delved into the technical aspects of musicianship while some talked about their musical role models. Experienced artists such as Humera Channa, Omran Shafique, Shallum Xavier, Tina Sani teamed up with the young guns still making their way to breakthrough into the mainstream and provided an experience for the audience and aspiring musicians to learn from the best and relate to them.

These panel discussions were not just a bunch of musicians in a room, boasting about their experiences. Many made the effort to bring pieces of their inspiration or work for show and tell, be it a song and different variations of it or a mini musical demonstration, and it is important to mention here that when it came to demonstrations, drummer Aahad Nayani stole the show.

Aahad Nayani got energy levels pumping before the late night sessions on copyright issues — Photo courtesy IAKMF Facebook page
Aahad Nayani got energy levels pumping before the late night sessions on copyright issues — Photo courtesy IAKMF Facebook page

The inspirations

For singer/producer Natasha Ejaz, it was jazz that influenced her life since she was a little girl and for Coke Studio's Sara Haider, the music of Stevie Wonder, Abida Parveen and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan all had one thing in common — god and transcendence — which inspired her journey as a musician.

Meanwhile drummer Sikandar Mufti simply talked about what makes the Beatles the best band in the world as Jimmy Khan talked about folk music and growing up with parents who listened to eastern film music, which inspired him to bring the two styles together in his songs. Such were the discussions that took place during a session on music appreciation. Shallum Xavier of Fuzon fame talked about finding inspiration in fusion music and urged people in the audience to take music seriously, because once you do that, music automatically starts making sense.

Artists shared their musical role models in the talk on appreciation of western music — Photo courtesy IAKMF Facebook page
Artists shared their musical role models in the talk on appreciation of western music — Photo courtesy IAKMF Facebook page

Making music look good

But it wasn’t just the musicians who inspired the audience. Director Sohail Javed, who has countless music videos to his credit, took us on a trip down memory lane to a time when watching music videos on television was a significant part of a music lover’s life.

Sohail Javed talked about making musicians look good at a time when music videos had promotional teasers and campaigns before release and this culture also motivated musicians to create better music. Due to the thriving music culture in the '90s and early 2000s, he said directors like him had work because musicians regularly put out music and he stressed the importance of bringing music back.

Read more: Music critics wonder: did television kill the classical music star?

The lost art of music recording

It was interesting to see the turn out in these Karachi Literature Festival style dialogue sessions on music. Although low at first, people eventually started filling in. During the sessions on recording music, there were many in the audience interested in knowing the art of what goes into creating music. Producers and sound engineers from the industry such as Faisal Rafi, Emad Rehman and Kashan Admani — who have experience producing and recording the likes of Junoon, Ali Azmat, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and other musicians from the industry — gave insight to music lovers on what happens in a recording studio and the extent to which the art has changed as the world shifted from analogue to digital.

A point that Faisal Rafi made, which stuck with me, was that when it comes to recording music today, there is no concept of non-linear editing or recording. He enlightened us about a time when performances meant everything in music, so much so that when albums were recorded the bands actually performed the songs as opposed to recording their parts separately. He said that the essence of performances in recording music is dying, which he referred to as the lost art of music recording, and while recording in layers may work for certain genres like rock, our local folk music is not recorded in layers. The essence of that music is only experienced when played in a troupe.

Music and visuals

A session on form and structure of music discussed the significance of visuals — Photo courtesy IAMKF Facebook page
A session on form and structure of music discussed the significance of visuals — Photo courtesy IAMKF Facebook page

In today's world, music isn't just restricted to audio and the significant impact of music on visuals was summed up perfectly by filmmaker/musician Babar Shiekh and producer/musician Azaan Sami Khan during a session on form and structure of music.

Babar highlighted as humans, our ability to visualise has existed since childhood when we try to imagine a story being read to us. As music listeners too we sometimes have our own visuals for the songs we listen to which is why we don't always agree with certain music videos that we see because it may not be how we had imagined the song. Unfortunately, sometimes we get so visual that the audio side gets ignored but the visual expanse in general can benefit from the right sound.

Azaan Sami Khan summed up the power of music in films by saying that although people don't talk about music when it comes to films and focus on production style, if one is asked about wardrobe of a certain film, or lighting techniques, you would not be able to identify what film they are from. However, if a melody from a film is played, not only would you remember which film it is from but also the scene... "and that is the power of music," he said.

Studying music

The importance of music education was also discussed in one of the panels — a topic I personally always had an interest in — with Tina Sani, ToffeeTV's Rabia Gharib, Faisal Gill from CAPA who is also a sound therapist and Taansen Academy's Kashif Zafar.

Rabia started off by talking about how there is a lot in the world that can be taught to children today, when it comes to dealing with people and how to be human. This is where music education also comes in. Faisal inspired the audience by speaking about pursuing what you love, even if other people aren't doing it, you should do what brings peace to your heart.


Musicians are mechanics, Faisal Gill said. It does not do to merely show off your tools, you have to use your tools to fix things in order for people to take you seriously as a mechanic.


Musicians are mechanics, he said. It does not do to merely show off your tools, you have to use your tools to fix things in order for people to take you seriously as a mechanic.

Tina Sani's session was the most interactive — Photo courtesy IAKMF Facebook page
Tina Sani's session was the most interactive — Photo courtesy IAKMF Facebook page

From all the panels I attended this had to be the most interactive one, and the way Tina Sani spoke about music, how to pursue it, and what it is like to pursue it as a career, she made it very easy to relate to. Tina started off by asking a very simple question: how many of you like music?

We all raised our hands and she went on to talk about education and work. "Parho wohi jo job karni hai," she advised. She said that if you truly love something but you're doing something else, "dimaag phat jaiga". She said that music and art has suffered a lot in Pakistan because it was taken as a joke, not a passion in Pakistan.

Suddenly, she asked the audience, "Aren't you tired of hearing people talk all the time? Lets sing!" And for the next few minutes, Tina had the audience on their feet singing after her different variations of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. After this little music session, she asked, "Did that make you happy? Then why don't you do it?"

The weekend party

That was the end of panel discussions for me and for the next two days I waited anxiously for the weekend to attend the actual music festival, which were the performances at Port Grand. As someone who makes it a point to attend as many live shows as possible (which are very few in number, I might add), I had high hopes from this event as Karachi barely gets to witness live music on such a large scale, that too with indie and big music industry names sharing the stage.

On both days on the modern stage, the show started with some indie musicians — Janoobi Khargosh on Saturday and Kaya on Sunday. Although being the opening act is rotten luck since people don't start turning up until an hour later, both acts did a commendable job in setting a fun, upbeat mood for the little crowd that had gathered to watch them. Janoobi Khargosh, in particular, attracted a few people who were curious to see them live after hearing Khargosh's music online.


The most admirable part of the music festival's performances was the line-up: bands that have become an integral part of Karachi's current local music scene were not sidelined.


The line-ups on both days for the modern stage did provide an experience for every kind of music lover ranging from The Beo Cheo's experimental space rock to Faraz Anwar's prog-rock shredding. From the signature traditional music by Sounds of Kolachi to Sindhi fusion music by the Sketches. From Rushk's electronic rock to Zoe Viccaji's contemporary pop. And let's not forget, Shahzad Roy and Fuzon.

The Sketches gave a stirring performance — Photo by Pi Studios
The Sketches gave a stirring performance — Photo by Pi Studios

But the most admirable part about the line-up was that bands that have become an integral part of Karachi's current local music scene were not sidelined. E Sharp, the band which is known in the city for their Beatle-covers, although did not perform at the festival, performed before one of the sessions during the dialogues.

Other famous Karachi musicians such as Sikandar Ka Mandar, Natasha Ejaz and Ali Suhail, which play a huge role in Karachi's indie scene, left their mark on the festival with their powerful performances. Although the festival was no Coachella, fans made sure to sit down on their favourite spots around the stage and indulge in the free bag of chips and soft drinks we got on our ticket, while some took a stroll around Port Grand as they waited for their favourite acts to come on stage. However, some indie acts were cut short due to mismanagement of time at some point in the festival and their fans were left wanting more.

It later became evident who the crowd was really there for on Saturday when Aamir Zaki walked on stage and the crowd went wild as soon as he played the first intro. I had forgotten how much people in this city actually like music until I saw the crowed react to Zaki's performance as he played songs like 'Mohabat Blues', 'Badnaam' and 'Mera Pyar' — at which point almost everyone was singing along.


When it comes to open-air performances, the sound system is key. This time, I loved the fact that Mekaal Hasan was on the mixer himself, working continuously with the sound guys.


When Aamir Zaki is followed by Mauj, who played live in Karachi after many years, one could have expected nothing else from the audience but to completely get lost in the experience. With Mauj and Zaki back on stage, it was like getting transported back to the 90s and early 2000s. Fans sang along to Mauj's 'Khushfehmi' and 'Paheliyan' like nobody's business. Omran, who was accompanied by Sara Haider and Natasha Ejaz on backup vocals, exclaimed, "I am Karachi, you are Karachi, we are Karachi!" towards the end of his set as the crowd cheered.

Aamir Zaki and Mauj's Omran Shafique gave highlight performances at the festival — Photos by Pi Studio
Aamir Zaki and Mauj's Omran Shafique gave highlight performances at the festival — Photos by Pi Studio

When it comes to open-air performances, the sound system is key. Many live experiences in Karachi in the past have been dreadful experiences for fans despite how rocking the line-up may have been, just because the sound was terrible. This time, I loved the fact that Mekaal Hasan was on the mixer himself, working continuously with the sound guys, ensuring a great audio experience, considering nobody's ears were bleeding during Faraz Anwar's gnarly shredding.

Meanwhile, the traditional stage was a whole new world all together. Although the energy levels of the crowd at the modern overshadowed the traditional stage and the host of the evening Rubya Chaudhry had to remind people every now and then to visit the traditional stage as well, it provided the audience with a number of different local genres to choose from, including classical, rajasthani folk, ghazals and instrumental music.

As I walked back towards the traditional stage, I realised how grand Port Grand really is. It was impossible to hear the modern stage anymore as you grew closer to the traditional stage and a feeling of calm and serenity encapsulated you. The traditional stage had notable musicians that serenaded a crowd slightly older than those jumping around at the modern stage. However, it would be wrong to say that the turnout at the traditional stage was low as it had its fair share of fans and families sitting together to enjoy classical and folk music with soulful performances by Thar's Mai Dhai, Bhitshah's Jumman Latif and his troupe and Naseeruddin Sami with a closing performance on day two by the fervent Humera Channa.

Humera Channa closed the traditional stage of the festival with a stirring performance — Photo by Pi Studios
Humera Channa closed the traditional stage of the festival with a stirring performance — Photo by Pi Studios

There were moments when I was torn between the two stages, unable to decide whether I should skip a performance at the modern stage in order to see a set at the traditional stage or vice versa. Yet, those who missed out on the traditional stage didn't exactly miss out on that experience all together as bands like Sounds of Kolachi — who stole the show on day one — Chaand Taara Orchestra and the Sketches added that element of local music at the modern stage.

All in all, this music festival was like a reminder for the people of Karachi that the culture of live music, which was an integral part of city life in the past, can be revived again if only such platforms are provided on a regular basis.

The festival taught Karachi how to fall in love with music again and go home feeling a sense of nostalgia for the good times. Perhaps it would inspire others to organise more festivals so that we don't have to wait a year for the next I am Karachi Music Festival. The way people lined up at the gate of Port Grand to attend this event shows that Karachi's love for music never died, we just need someone to feed it to us.

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