What happens when Karachi goes to Hyderabad for a Sufi music festival?
During our two days in Hyderabad we made at least twenty new friends, all of whom exchanged their numbers with us and promised to meet when they were in Karachi.
There was the duo who carried a guitar and strummed tunes as we walked along; the girl we stopped to ask for directions who became our friend later; two Karachiites who had hopped on a bus to the festival just a few hours ago; their poodle Tina; the policeman who shared smokes and life experiences with us; the twins who were poets and artists; KU students who wanted to talk radical politics; the large crowd of music loving friends who huddled everyone into a crowd so they could sing for us; and the group of high school students who had just decided to volunteer their time to the festival, because as they said, “things like these rarely happened in the city.”
Organised by Lahooti Live Sessions (the brainchild of The Sketches' Saif Samejo), Lahooti Mela — the Sufi festival — was taking place after a long hiatus. When we planned our trip, it was the music we were thinking about, not so much the people attending. Sounds of Kolachi, Mai Dhai, The Sketches, Zoe Viccaji, Gumby and Sara Haider — all in once place, in two days, and of all places —Hyderabad.
The two days were quiet and serene when they weren't filled with bursts of music. In the morning, this came from the hordes of men setting up the stage, erecting tents and lifting instruments.
The festival's energy, as it built up, stayed throughout the weekend. On Friday night, the Sketches launched their new album and performed for the first time in their home city. Perhaps that explained the crowd of 3,000 people — more than I one might imagine at a festival in Hyderabad.
By afternoon, the sounds were the rush of people, occasionally the tapping of feet, and conversations in all tenors interrupted by music in Urdu, Sindhi, and languages we did not understand. All emanated from a tent smack in the center of the main garden of Niaz Stadium, the chosen venue... sometimes the crooning of Arieb Azhar, sometimes the fierce voice of Mai Dhai.
Aside from the main tent, where people sprawled on every inch of the floor and others stood around them in a circle, the festival’s arrangements were minimal. Except for a second tent hosting food stalls, and an area further down for the main stage, the garden consisted of no elaborate decor but was cleverly planned; there was enough space for people to move about.
As the day got hotter, more attendees shuffled indoors to attend the panel discussions — festivals in our part of the world are incomplete without them, it seems!
Speakers discussed everything from poetry to politics, but memorable moments were Ali Noor, Zohaib Qazi and Sara Haider opening up about their creative processes; the audience rippling with laughter (even those who could not understand Sindhi) every time poet Hafiz Nizamani took the mic; Suhaee Abro gracing the stage with her fierce presence; and YBQ regaling the audience (as always) with experiences of life and love.
An added bonus was the brief music performances before each panel.
The crowd was headbanging by the time Gumby finished his set before his ‘beat to bucks’ panel, Nizamani garnered more laughter than I have heard in a single room, boys broke into bhangra when folk music was playing, first one, then two -- then a whole circle in sync, and singers joined the audience when they weren’t on stage, participating with the crowd.
The Rs800 ticket meant many who wanted to attend could not. I couldn’t help but think how gatekeeping limits access and unfortunately, goes hand in hand with our ideas of promoting (and preserving) art and culture.
The energy, as it built up, stayed throughout the weekend. On Friday night, the Sketches launched their new album and performed for the first time in their home city. Perhaps that explained the crowd of 3,000 people, which grew to 5,000, then 12,000 — more than I one might imagine at a festival in Hyderabad.
Despite the fact that an impressive number of people had shown up from all over the country and all over the city, the 800 rupees ticket meant there were many who could not. I couldn’t help but think how gatekeeping limits access and unfortunately, goes hand in hand with our ideas of promoting (and preserving) art and culture.
Still, Lahooti managed a convivial mood and spirit I have not seen in all of Karachi’s literary festivals and food galas. And all of this in the company of music.
Many panelists talked about their love and drive for music, and others elaborated on their passion their province and language. There was plenty of community to go around because of shared pleasure — it was visible at moments in the crowd too: when the audience collectively asked a speaker to switch over to Sindhi; when boys were urged by their friends to get up and dance to folk music, and they did not refuse; when volunteers helplessly explained that musicians could not comply to their demands of encore but no one minded; and when musicians and singers themselves got up — while continuing to play their hearts out — to join the audience in tapping to their own beat, perhaps their bodies inspired by crowd’s response.