Residents of the twin cities were treated to an Art Langar on the weekend of Dec 2 and 3 at the Rock Musicariam, which is a secluded open air venue on the edge of the Rawal Lake.
“This is a langar like any other. We take no more than what we need and we give back wholeheartedly to the culture that nourishes our soul,” said the organiser of the event, Arieb Azhar.
The two-day event was one part art exhibition and one part a concert. In its entirety, it was a celebration of the diverse art and culture in Pakistan.
The mystical vibe began as one began to approach the venue on the narrow road leading to the middle of nowhere and people were greeted by a giant ragdoll inside the entrance.
The various stalls contained art and crafts from across the country including traditional bags, caps and other items. On the other end of the field were food stalls and a bonfire to keep those attending warm in the chill of Islamabad.
The music festival was started off by Shah Jo Raag Fakirs of Bhit Shah with a prayer and they were followed by Mai Nimaani, Saakin & VIP and their rendition of the song Saaqi was particularly popular with the audience.
“The sound on stage was one of the best we’ve had and the crowd was very kind to us. It was an amazing feeling to perform to our home audience in Islamabad,” said Ali Hamadani of Saakin.
Gulshan Jahan got the crowd on their feet with her Punjabi folk songs. However, Jasim Haider and the Pindi Boys proved to be the first crowd pullers of the night.
People abandoned the food stalls to hear the Pepsi Battle of the Bands competitors play their hits, 'Co Corina' and the street anthem, 'Pindi Boys'.
“It was an honour for us to share the stage with so many esteemed performers of Pakistan and for an artist of the stature of Mekaal Hassan to handle sound on his own. It is always wonderful to play in front of Islamabad’s crowd, who give us such a loving response,” Jasim Haider said.
The Bakhshi Brothers capitalised on the fired up crowd, their nostalgia-laden 'Khalis Makhan' resonating with the emotionally bound crowd.
The rest of the night proved to be a rising crescendo with each act outdoing the one before.
Malang Party received a raucous applause when they left the stage.
However, it was for Arieb Azhar that the crowd bestowed special veneration, climbing up the platform, hanging on to his every word. What set the Art Langar performances apart from other concerts was the zealous response from the crowd and the smiles on the faces of everyone on stage.
Art Langar had also set up a donation box on the first day, the proceeds of which went to arranging a meal for the Mashaal School for street children early on the second day.
Despite the late hours and biting chill at the venue, the audience danced the night away to Farhad Humayun and Overload, who were performing for the first time since 2011 in Islamabad, a hypnotic performance after which the audience screamed for an encore.
The two dhol walas from Daska put on the dhamal, swirling with as many as three drums simultaneously hanging around their necks. The night ended with legendary Balochi singer, Akhtar Chanal Zehri, who kept the crowd in a state of trance till the closing hours.
The setting felt intimate despite a crowd well into the hundreds, and the connection performers felt with the crowd spurred them on to exceed their given time on stage.
The second day continued in the same vein, with performers Sattar Jogi, Irfan Ali Taj, Krishan Lal Bheel and Shajr doing what they do best.
The show stealers, who would eventually be called back for a second performance, proved to be Khumaariyan, with their cover of the Game of Thrones theme throwing the crowd into a frenzy.
Sarkash connected with the crowd with their songs. Sketches made the crowd sway to the tune of Main Sufi Hoon, which was followed by the Lewai Makrani dancers breathing fire to awe the audience.
The artists called on all the participants to harbour peace and harmony and not give in to hatred.
The works of Sufi saints were invoked to reinforce the message of brotherhood and tolerance.
The man at the helm of the soundstage, Mekaal Hassan, took to the stage for the first time in what seemed like ages, and rolled back the years, with Humaira Channa taking on the vocals, a treat to witness.
Mai Dhai took to the stage at the magical midnight hour, with the crowd staying strong into the late hours dancing and rejoicing.
The biggest surprise came when as the closing act, Pappu Saaien came on stage as part of the Langar Jam.
The beat of the dhols and the crowd fused together in a pulsating end to Art Langar.
Originally published in Dawn, December 9th, 2017