Mekaal Hasan Band dominated the Pakistani music scene in the mid-2000s with their albums Sampooran and Saptak, introducing local listeners to the sound of electric guitars mixed with eastern classical music. Not only did the Mekaal Hasan Band introduce a new, refreshing take on classical and Sufi music, the band educated the younger generation on how to appreciate the eastern classical sound amidst the rise in the hard rock genre.
After a hiatus of around five years, the band has done it again. However, this time, they took things up a notch with a new Indo-Pak line up. The album Andholan was released in Pakistan at the end of Dec 2014 and in September in India. The lack of labels in Pakistan led to the delay in the release here and the band had to release the album itself and independently.
The album’s success has managed to earn the band a nomination at this year’s Global Indian Music Academy Awards (GiMA) for best rock album. For years, this award ceremony has been celebrating the maestros behind some of Bollywood's biggest hit songs as well as non-Bollywood musicians making their mark in India. Other nominees this year include the likes of A.R. Rehman.
"I am really happy that the band's work has been received so positively and it's an honour to be recognised by our peers in India," Mekaal Hasan told Dawn. "To me and my band members, the music we make is of a high standard and this nomination sets our work apart and marks the band as one which has an international standing."
For vocalist Sharmistha Chatterjee, this album is special to her as it is her first collaboration with the band.
"I feel proud and thrilled to be associated with Mekaal Hasan Band in the first place. This nomination is another feather in the cap and is special because it is my very first album with the band," said Chatterjee. "I feel happy that the music reached good ears and the music industry recognised it."
|Album art by Karachi-based illustrator Samya Arif. - Facebook
Although Andholan, like the previous albums, explores eastern and western fusion, this album has a completely different sound from the Mekaal Hasan Band sound that we are accustomed to.
For starters, the India-based lead vocalist Sharmistha Chatterjee adds a completely new essence to the album. Although the band’s previous vocalist had a raw vocal style which enhanced eastern elements in sound, Chatterjee’s flawless and refined voice adds rudiments of perfection in the album. The extent of her range is noticeable in every song, and the manner in which she carries the traditional classical melodies is a remarkable feat.
Two of the songs in Andholan – "Megh" and "Sindhi" – were also written by Chatterjee herself. Mekaal’s idea of having an Indo-Pak band now makes sense.
"It is a great learning process for me with such incredible musicians in the band," said Chatterjee. "The music is very challenging too which keeps me on my toes and I love that. I am very thankful to the audiences for their continuous love and support."
One thing in the album that is reminiscent of Mekaal Hasan Band’s signature sound are the flute solos by Ahsan Papu and Gumby’s drumming style. The two musicians have contributed to the band in the past and their sound in Andholan as well provides a sense of wholeness. However, bassist Sheldon D'Silva and drummer Gino Banks are part of the band's line-up for their shows in India.
|The band during a performance in India. - Photo courtesy: Mekaal Hasan Band's Facebook page
When it comes to Mekaal’s contribution of Western influences in the album, it sounds as though he gave Andholan his all – if compared to the previous albums where it sounded like he was limiting his style to a specific sound – specifically the song "Maalkauns", which has a very raw and electrifying guitar sound, accompanied by flute and vocals which are entirely focused on a traditional classical melody. The rock guitar tone in this song transitions between the eastern vocal style and this is the pattern that most of the other songs on the album follow as well, making Andholan the perfect fusion experience.
If we had to pick two songs from Andholan which sum up the virtuosity of this album, it would be "Maalkauns" and "Sindhi". These two tracks are the epitome of the band’s immense skill as musicians. These songs drive one to think why the band isn’t having a world tour already.
Andholan is a great nudge for music listeners not just in Pakistan but India as well, reminding us that this level of perfection achieved by the Mekaal Hasan Band is what real music is, music that forces one to sit down and listen and lose oneself in the multi-layered masterpiece.