A few months ago, when it was announced that Pakistan’s popular Sufi rock band, the Mekaal Hasan Band, would feature a new line-up with Indian musicians, music lovers from both countries were excited. Although Pakistani and Indian musicians have collaborated with each other in the past, it’s the first time that a band will feature artistes from both countries. The new line-up from composer-songwriter, guitarist Mekaal Hasan’s band will feature flutist Muhammed Ahsan Pappu from Pakistan, drummer Gino Banks, bassist Sheldon D’Silva and vocalist Sharmistha Chatterjee from India.
(L to R) Mekaal Hasan, Muhammed Ahsan Pappu, Sharmishtha Chatterjee, Sheldon D’Silva and Gino Banks have recently launched their album Andholan
With recent reports of the two countries exchanging fire at the Line of Control, musically, there cannot be a more heart-warming initiative than the coming together of these musicians from across borders. Hasan, too, believes that this is a unique situation, where they have formed something of great value, artistically and culturally. With Mekaal Hasan Band’s Sufi background, Banks’s jazz influences and Chatterjee’s training in classical music, the sound is bound to change. “A variety of influences and perspectives make for something, which neither side could accomplish alone. This band is a microcosm of what both countries can achieve when we choose to work together and it’s my hope that it allows other similar endeavours. We have a shared history and it is always good to build upon what we inherit,” says Hasan.
It was in 2010 that Hasan discussed the idea of an Indo-Pak band with Banks. “We had to find the right people, as the band demands a lot from the musicians. Thanks to Gino’s support, getting everyone else on board became a reality,” he says.
In February, when the band called for a press conference in Mumbai to announce the line-up, activists from Shiv Sena had interrupted the proceedings. But these things don’t seem to bother the musician, who believes that people on both sides are looking forward to this line-up. “That’s because once you hear our band, it sounds even better than before,” he claims. The musician adds that the sound of the band has evolved significantly. “And that is why post this record, we are working on having the present line-up play material from our previous records, live onstage,” he continues.
The good news is that the band’s first album with the new line-up, Andholan, has just released. The album’s highlights are its innovative song writing in the vein of classic jazz rock groups of the ’70s and its classical melodies, which draw from South Asian Eastern Classical bandishes and poetry.
As for the album’s title Andholan, which means revolution in Hindi, Hasan admits that they have played on the duality of the word, one being movement or revolution and the other, of the expressive slides, a musical ornament which Eastern players commonly use to navigate from one note to the next. And does he think this initiative will cause a revolution? “I don’t know about that, but what it should point to, is that we have, for the first time, brought two countries together which have a shared cultural base but have always had a difficult time with each other politically.
I deeply believe that in our efforts to push ourselves to excel, we can challenge ourselves positively when we work with the best people, no matter where they are from. Given our common heritage, it actually befuddles me as to why this was not done earlier,” says Hasan. Guess that’s something many musicians might be forced to think about now.