“Welcome to Lahooti Music Ashram,” beamed Saif Samejo to the audience gathered in the hall that is reserved in his home for music related activities and events called Lahooti Live Sessions. Samejo, a jovial person is the founder and lead vocalist of Pakistani Sufi / folk / rock band ‘The Sketches’.

After around 40 minutes, the American bluegrass band Kentucky Winders arrived and entered the hall where audience were waiting to listen to the Western music on the horizon of Sufism — Sindh.

The audience which included students, writers, poets, friends, newspaper editors, etc. were enthralled and excited when the Kentucky Winders touched the strings of the violin, banjo and guitar and the hall echoed with intoxicating songs like “Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase”, “Milwaukee Blues” which is about a homeless person riding trains around the country.

The US Consulate General Karachi chapter had invited the Kentucky Winders to Pakistan to perform in the concerts organised at different places of the country like the National Academy of Performing Art (NAPA), Karachi and at Lahooti Music Aashram, Jamshoro.

The Lahooti Music Ashram, situated in Jamshoro, was established to spread peace and harmony through music, poetry, songs by local and foreign singers who come here to perform.

The city of Jamshoro, located on the right bank of Indus River, approximately 18 km northwest of Hyderabad, is known for the academia and houses the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, University of Sindh and Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences.

The Lahooti Music Ashram is dedicated to spreading peace and harmony through music

In this climate of academia, Lahooti Music Ashram is also working for the development of humanity; the only difference is that it is making use of music and musical instruments like guitars, tabla, sarangi, banjo, piano and harmonium, etc. Many national and international folk singers have performed and played here for the sake of promoting peaceful and social interaction.

“The objective behind establishing the Lahooti Music Ashram is to provide a platform to those musicians and the singers who have never come out of the poverty-stricken villages of Sindh due to lack of opportunities and it is to let them perform with respect and moral dignity,” says Samejo, initiator of the Ashram. “It is a bridge between different cultures like you have experienced here. However, technically there is no difference between Western and Eastern music: it is the same.”

After a sumptuous lunch, the event kicked off. To the query why has the institution been named Lahooti Music Ashram and what does it mean? Samejo answered, “To me, Lahooti means a traveller — but not a tourist — who has no destination until he reaches the truth; in other words, Lahooti is a researcher who is in search of truth. Music is my passion, while an Ashram is a place where everything is free whether it is living, eating, learning, or whatever. So, Lahooti Music Ashram is a place where anyone (human, bird, insects, etc. actually all) can come and feel free, without any gender discrimination, and listen to or learn music of different types from around the world, especially the sort that promotes Sufism.”

When asked, the reason for not placing a signboard outside his home, Samejo said, “Signboards are for commercial places and this Ashram has no commercial objective. However, today you have come, had lunch, have you paid something for entry? No. This is what we aimed for — to spread peace, respect for all, and music for all. Everything is here without any cost just to raise the importance of human without any discrimination of religion, race, caste, etc.”

“This is the first time I am visiting the Ashram which is a beautiful place. The people are very good-natured and give you love, care and respect, we like it. The audience have showed love for our music that we have presented today. The environment is friendly and the food delicious. Samejo is doing well for the promotion of music and peace and such events promote cultural unity. We believe that music is power which can be an instrument for the sustainability of peace, cultural unity, brotherhood and the exchange of musical programmes,” said Nikos Pappas, the lead singer of the Kentucky Winders. He is also the assistant professor of musicology at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Enthralled audience. — Photos by writer
Enthralled audience. — Photos by writer

Instrumentalist Jesse Wells who plays guitar and Sindhi banjo, said “I like the hospitality at the Ashram. They are very caring people, who know about music. We love each other through music.”

Manzoor Mirani, in-charge editorial section of daily Kawish, who was among the audience, in his soft and friendly voice said, “Art has its own strength while music is a bond between people.” When asked how media can play its role in promotion of peace through music, he explained that “Media can play a very instrumental role in making peace through music.” Talking about the Ashram, he was of opinion that “The music which is played here has attraction and variety, I think it is the quality of music that attracted me to join this event. There are few places in the region where you feel peace of mind and this Ashram is one of them.”

Apart from verses of different poets, Samejo also sings the message of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai; while expressing his opinion about Bhitai, he said, “The technical attribute of Bhitai’s poetry is that it can easily be sung unlike some poetry which can only be read and not composed as songs.” While defining Bhitai he said, “Bhitai is a jungle not a garden. In garden you can see everything in an organised way that gives comfort to feelings, while in a

jungle you need to go deep in the search of solutions to survive. Bhitai encourages logic and thinking through his poetry and it is full of rich imagination.”

The love that Kentucky Winders shared with the people gathered at Lahooti Music Ashram is etched in the memoirs of many. “They loved the place and the hospitality that we provided to them. They are willing to visit this place again,” said Samejo. When asked about the future plan of The Sketches band or Lahooti Music Ashram, he replied with an enthusiastic look and a smile, “Another music album is soon to be released and I want to make a movie based on the importance of education, empowering women and other such social issues pertaining to our society.”

The writer tweets @furqanppolicy

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine November 22nd, 2015