Zahra Paracha
Zahra Paracha

Lahore's set to get musical this weekend with the Music Meet (LMM), which is now in its fourth year.

Stretching over today and tomorrow at the AlHamra Arts Council, the fest sees more underground artists entering the spotlight than ever before.

Images speaks to best friends and LMM founders Natasha Noorani and Zahra Paracha to get the scoop - what should LMM attendees bring with themselves, who can they expect to see, who will never make the LMM cut (Natasha definitely thinks the audience won't see eye-to-eye with Tahir Shah. Bummer.)

Natasha Noorani
Natasha Noorani

Here's what they shared with us:

How have you updated the festival’s format this year? What would you say is ‘new’ or ‘special’ about LMM 2018?

Natasha: This year showcases a few additions to our format. We have cut down most, if not all, of the panel discussions as that seems like a format that isn’t fruitful for discussion and instead have placed our focus on finding superb storytellers and adding more masterclasses.

We have also decreased the number of sessions we have as we came to realise the opportunity cost that people would face upon having to choose between a plethora of artists.

Zahra: This time around we decided to cut down the number of sessions that we have normally in order to help curate it better and improve the quality of production of the event. We are now allotting a lot more time to the all-day performances outdoors and are trying to ensure that artists get more time to showcase their talents.

Apart from this, in LMM2017, we began to produce acts or encourage underground bands to perform indoors as our main showcase. This year, we are carrying on that idea by putting Sikandar Ka Mandar and Takatak as our headlining acts.

One of our main concerns for LMM has also been that we have not been as representative of genres as we hoped to be. This year, however, we are finally getting a Qawwali group, folk artists and rappers which is a new addition for LMM, but a very necessary one.

Can you describe one or two moments that you believe were extremely special in the previous editions of LMM?

Natasha: One of my favorite moments was during the first LMM, when a blues band was playing at our outdoor showcase and a few girls got up and started dancing to the music. Suddenly, an entire crowd of uncles, aunties and young girls and boys were up and about and having a fantastic time. It really validated the work we had put in, especially since during the first LMM, we were not sure of how people would react.

Scenes from LMM last year
Scenes from LMM last year

Another wonderful moment was when Mai Dhai was performing, Tina Sani got up from the audience and sat down on the stage for an intimate daastangoi with Mai herself. With Moharram, Mai’s son translating and a cosy setting in Hall 2, it really warmed up my heart to see such two brilliant songstresses interacting with each other.

Zahra: I remember in LMM2016, we had Attaullah Esakhelvi performing as our headlining act and the crowd was going crazy. We were actually concerned at one point because we had no idea how to handle a situation like that because we didn’t expect it.

Another brilliant moment was when Javed Bashir performed at LMM2017. In 2012, when Natasha and I were still in college, we were both doing photography and videography for a Mekaal Hasan concert where we heard Javed Bashir sing Lal Meri Patt. Both of us were in awe of him, and when he sang the same song at LMM2017, it felt unreal in the most amazing way possible.

Who is your favourite artiste in this year’s line-up? Are there any artistes who will feature for the first time?

Natasha: Mauj! We’re getting Mauj at LMM. 10 years ago, if I could tell my 15-year-old self that Mauj would be performing at a festival I put together with my best friend, I would have never believed it.

Zahra: My favourite artists in this year’s line-up are Akhtar Channal, Fareed Ayaz & Abu Muhammad Qawwal and Mauj. I grew up listening to songs by all three and am so excited to have them perform at LMM18.

Apart from these acts, I’m also extremely excited about some of the new acts that we have chosen like Sunny Khan Durrani, Sami Amiri and Zohaib Bilal. These guys have an amazing portfolio and I’m excited that we are able to finally feature them for the first time at LMM.

Do you have any tips for someone coming to the festival for the first time?

Natasha: Bring your ears and an open mind. Also, bring your friends and family. We try to create the experience such that it rings back to old Gymkhana concerts and melas in Lahore where everyone, young and old, would gather in a safe space to listen to their new favorite artists.

Also, make sure to pick your sessions early. Memorise the schedule so you don’t miss out on any of the masterclasses or storytelling sessions.

3 things that you would recommend all LMM attendees carry with them to the festival?

Natasha: i) Your phone! Although, I still advocate getting things autographed, a selfie can have just as much value. You’ll definitely notice a lot of stellar musicians just chilling out around the venue. Make sure to add #LMM18 so we can share your musical moments.

ii) An instrument! There’s an entire dedicated jam space courtesy of our partners Jambro, so if you have any musical inclination, bring your musical goodies with you. And you can get it signed by your favorite artists.

Natasha and Zahra at LMM17
Natasha and Zahra at LMM17

iii) Jacket/shawls/blanket! It’s Lahore. It’s January. Bundle up.

Zahra: I would recommend that LMM attendees carry a copy of their CNIC, money for food and LMM merchandise, some extra layers of clothing because it’s freezing this time of year.

LMM usually takes place in February or March. Is there a reason why it’s taking place earlier this year?

Natasha: Alas, we have day jobs which we have to work around to put this event together. I’ve been lucky enough to have bosses who give me leave for something like a music festival but we kind of need to plan our lives around the festival and this year, this was the most convenient time for Zahra and I.

Which artist would you rate as the perfect 10?

Natasha: Someone like Attaullah Esakhelvi is really someone who stands out. With a wonderful story of gaining virality in a time when the word didn’t exist alongside destroying high-brow assumptions of folk music, he really is a powerhouse. Also the tone and timbre of his voice is something that is such a rare gem.

Zahra: I would rate Javed Bashir as the perfect 10. He was absolutely on point with his vocals, he was able to engage with the audience perfectly and when he did the dhamaal, everyone lost their minds in the best way possible.

What’s the worst song you have ever heard?

Natasha: Oh man. Back in the day, one Younis Jani released his version of 'Papi Chulo'. It was uncomfortable to watch but I must say the video was an absolute treat!

Zahra: There are so many songs I can put down for this from the local scene but I’m bound to offend someone. The most recent one I can think of is 'My Moment' by Hash. I even remember watching the video as a kid and having a problem with the fact that the guy’s guitar was not plugged in.

What song is on repeat on your playlist?

Natasha: The title track of Sikandar Ka Mandar’s new album 36 (Chattees). And the whole album, to be honest.

Zahra: Right now, I’m listening to 'Tu Bol' by Sahil on repeat.

This year's LMM invites featured these cool cassettes!
This year's LMM invites featured these cool cassettes!

Name one artiste whom you would rather not invite to LMM.

Natasha: Tahir Shah. I think it would be so interesting to see what his musical process is but unfortunately, I feel the audience wouldn’t take him seriously enough to give him a chance to relay his experiences which I think are worth delving into. It would be an unfortunate disaster

Zahra: Shabolonna for sure. But on some level, I want to be her friend and ask her all the questions that came to my mind when I heard the Eid Mubarak song.

What is the most Lahori thing about LMM?

Natasha: The venue. Al-Hamra Arts Council is such a lush location with its gorgeous architecture and green lawns nestled in the heart of Mall Road. Nothing more Lahori than making your way through oodles of traffic to get to a festival.

Zahra: The most Lahori thing about LMM has to be the mahaul. We utilise a lot of colours and jhandiyan for the outdoor décor. I grew up in Karachi so I never really had a chance to witness Basant, but Natasha has described that the Basant aesthetic has seeped into the LMM aesthetic in terms of feel and look.

If you could invite one politician to LMM, who would it be?

Natasha: Dr Ishratul Ebad. Purely because I’d love to see him rip out a guitar solo on the LMM stage.

Zahra: Altaf Hussain. I want him to have a solo session where he sings his favourite songs. Maybe a Salman Ahmed type fellow can join him with an epic guitar shredding solo.

As founders of a music festival, you get to interact with a wide cross-section of the music industry. What do you see in the future of the industry?

Natasha: The future is bright, for sure. There’s no doubt that the last 5-7 years a new crop of musicians have come up that are redefining what Pakistani music is. I have trouble with words like indie and mainstream because I feel the music being produced from every corner of the country is beyond such binaries.

A lot more work needs to be done in terms of archiving and promoting content that predates the digital age alongside promoting local folk music beyond just token performances but it’s definitely in process. I also don’t take kindly to people saying the music industry is dead. The music is very much there, we just stopped listening.

The industry itself, from the back end, is still fragmented which poses many problems but with time and concentrated effort, it can really be brought together to fill in the missing pieces to get to what we need to really call it an industry.

Zahra: Initially, we thought that the older and more experienced musicians would be willing or able to help the younger ones in filling the void that the industry faced for years. Unfortunately, over the years, we realised that this was not going to be the case. However, at the same time we found that the younger generation is still responding really well to the concept of LMM and are using it to help better their musical talents and bring their bands to the forefront where they belong.

The future of the industry depends upon the musical fraternity realizing we are all part of the same struggle and we can achieve a lot more together than we can separately. The younger generation seems to understand this and it reflects in their work and attitude, so I feel like the future is definitely promising.

Lahore Music Meet is taking place today and tomorrow at Al-Hamra Arts Council.