Updated 29 Nov, 2016

Even in the hardest of times, art finds a way to thrive. Who says music is dead in Pakistan?

With the platform for distributing music changing from television channels to the world wide web, from CDs to downloads etc the ‘power’ to decide who will listen to what has shifted from channel heads and record labels to a direct link between the artists and the people.

It is this link that musician and producer Hamza Jafri hopes to work on with his latest project: Braadri Broadcast.

East meets east

Although he is following a tried-and-tested format of bringing together musicians from different genres to play together, he aims to do it with a twist. “There is all this East-West fusion music happening, but no cross-ethnic fusion,” says Hazma, “Pakistan has such rich musical traditions from its provinces. It would be amazing to create a fusion between them, such as mixing Punjabi folk with Balochi, Sindhi with Urdu, Pashto with Shina, and so on.”

He soon realised that the reason why this had never been experimented with before was because “there isn’t much harmony between ethnicities. People tend to stick within their own community. Even cross-ethnic marriages are uncommon.”

The Braadri Broadcast is an acoustic, cross-ethnic 15-piece orchestra that plays 10 original songs in 10 different languages spoken across Pakistan — Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi, Pashto, Seraiki, Marwaari, Hindko, Brushaski and Shina

And hence Braadri Broadcast was born: an acoustic, cross-ethnic 15-piece orchestra that plays 10 original songs in 10 different languages spoken across Pakistan — Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi, Pashto, Seraiki, Marwaari, Hindko, Brushaski and Shina.

The main composer and music director for the project is Akram Raja, the videos have been produced by Rola, audio recorded by Bilal Nasir Khan and costumes designed by Yousuf Bashir Qureshi. Hamza’s bandmember from Co-VEN and Coke Studio percussionist Sikandar Mufti is the tech head and creative associate. And Hamza’s wife, theatre director Nida Butt with whom he’s collaborated on her musical productions, is the creative director of the project.

Making it happen

Finding musicians of this diversity sounds like quite a task. How did Hamza and his team manage it? It turns out the solution was closer to home than one initially thought. “We mostly met musicians through other musicians,” responds Hamza, “Once we started talking to people in the traditional scene, it was like entering a whole new world: we met so many artists that play all sorts of instruments: from the Chung to the Chimta to the Mutka.”

“We started by calling up the few good singers we already knew in Karachi and asked them what their ethnicity was. One of them was from a Hindko speaking background, another Brushaski and another Marwaari. Karachi is incredibly multicultural, and if you go around asking people what their ethnicity is you’d be surprised how many different cultures exit in the city. They are all here, ready for us to mix together.”

“And there’s something magical about listening to acoustic instruments live. You feel the sound waves caress you. I’ve felt my general health improving over these past few months just being around listening to them,” he says.

Surely, working with so many artists and that too from such diverse backgrounds, must have been challenging. “Actually the most challenging part was getting the poetry right,” says Hamza. “Finding the right poets for Brushaski, Shina, Marwaari, Hindo, Seraiki etc and then getting them to work together and write something that complements each other.”

The plan

One of the songs that they plan to release is based on the philosophy of the recently-deceased philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi. Hamza wants to stress, however, that the song isn’t meant to lament the loss of Edhi, but rather to celebrate his vision and ideology. There’s also a song called 'W11' based on the route that the public bus numbered W11 takes in Karachi across M. A. Jinnah Road — owing to the fact that this route passes through the most ethnically and religiously diverse area of the city.*

The videos for Braadri Broadcast will be released online, on radio and talks are underway to have them be shown on television as well. The first song up for release? An Urdu and Punjabi number called 'Karma Walay' which is going online on Monday, Nov 28.

The music of the Braadri isn’t limited to just videos. The musicians will be performing live as well — in fact, at the time of writing this article, they have a few times already. In theory this collaboration sounds most interesting, only time will tell if the music lives up to the incredible story that it tells.

** There is an earlier song 'W11' by Musadiq Sanwal as well, used as a theme song for a TV series.*

Originally published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 27th, 2016