Two worlds, one sound

The Dosti Music Project, founded in 2014 uses music as a tool to bridge borders between India and Pakistan. On Independence Day, we look at this refreshing initiative that helps musicians meet as creative beings who share a rich history

The Dosti Music Project was started by Found Sound Nation to offer a voice and opportunity to artistes from India and Pakistan to bond and create original music within the tertiary space of the United States. It offers a chance to transcend the conflicts of their governments and meet face-to-face, as equals, as peers, as creative beings who share a rich history. Nandi Plunkett, Communications and Programs Manager, Found Sound Nation and Chris Marianetti, Co-Director, Found Sound Nation about their journey so far.

Indian and Pakistani musicians at a rehearsal. Pic courtesy/Ora DeKornfeldIndian and Pakistani musicians at a rehearsal. Pic courtesy/Ora DeKornfeld

Q. Tell about Found Sound Nation and OneBeat?
A. Found Sound Nation (FSN), located in Bronx, USA, uses music as an instrument of peace and civic engagement, bridging geographic and cultural divides through processes of music composition, songwriting and performance. It partners with local youth, social organisations, music festivals, and artistes across all disciplines to engage people in our interactive process of collaborative music, audio, and video production. For the last eight years, our organisation has gone on to partner with music festivals in Zimbabwe, Switzerland, New York and Maine; design collaborative projects in India, Haiti, Indonesia and New Orleans, and develop music composition workshops with incarcerated youth in New York. In 2012, we began a partnership with the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and Bang on a Can to produce OneBeat, an international exchange and public diplomacy project, which we see as more than a music festival or cultural exchange. In 2014, we began working with the US Embassy in Islamabad to create Dosti, a sister programme to OneBeat.

First day of the Dosti Project 2015. Pics courtesy/Ora DeKornfeld
First day of the Dosti Project 2015. Pics courtesy/Ora DeKornfeld

Q. How was the first year of the Dosti programme?
A. Dosti 2015 brought together a group of musicians from Pakistan, India, and the US for a month-long residency and tour. The project is an initiative of the US Embassy in Pakistan and Found Sound Nation, and from February to March of 2015, invited four Pakistanis, four Indians, and two US musicians from a wide variety of traditions. — ranging from Sufi singing to beatmaking to avant-garde Jazz — to collaboratively write, record, and perform original music, re-invent traditional music, and develop initiatives that would make a positive impact on communities locally and internationally. Dosti, which means friendship in Urdu and Hindi, seeks to transcend political and cultural barriers through cross-cultural musical collaboration. By endowing each Dosti Fellow with the immediate resources for interacting with musicians across the border, and guiding them to think about methods for social engagement and development projects in their own communities, we imagine this will augment exponentially over time. The cultures of India and Pakistan are already deeply interconnected, but creating opportunities for people-to-people contact can be challenging. That said, music has always served as a binding force in South Asia. Bollywood is wildly popular on both sides of the border, just as ghazal singers attract audiences. Indians and Pakistanis have an immense shared cultural experience upon which to build new collaborations and the Dosti Project provides a space for that to happen.

Students from India, Pakistan and USA participate in the Dosti Project 2015
Students from India, Pakistan and USA participate in the Dosti Project 2015

Q. Take us through the entire selection process.
A. The Dosti application and selection process is based on OneBeat application, which sources musicians from around the world, and from an incredibly diversity of backgrounds, traditions and cultures. We’ve taken great advantage of the connectedness and openness of the Internet, the broadened access to video and audio means of production (recording on mobile phones) and we’ve created an entirely free and online application process. In collaboration with the embassies, our Found Sound Nation staff and a panel of expert reviewers select applicants who best fit the criteria (listed on our site: This year, our alumni have also helped out by recommending musicians and helping to recruit local talent.

Q. What was the response?
A. We’ve had an incredible response to OneBeat and Dosti. This year, we had over 4,000 people register an application for the OneBeat programme, now in its fourth year (with around 2,000 actual submissions) while nearly 300 people apply for Dosti.

Q. What was most gratifying about the programme?
A. Witnessing the connections and friendships that develop from this work has been immensely rewarding. It’s amazing to see the continued work that folks are doing now that they’ve returned to their home countries: Natasha Ejaz is hoping to create a music education initiative in her city that addresses the needs of older music traditions while exciting young people about music. Surojato Roy and Mirande Shah have been collaborating with Kolkata’s disadvantaged kids. Bilal Khan has a dream of creating a spin-off musical festival like Dosti for Indians and Pakistanis to continue collaborating.

Q. What were the challenges that you faced?
A. Working with musicians from various traditions can be challenging. I use the word tradition, precisely because it can refer to something not only with a great deal of time behind it, such as ‘Classical or Folk music tradition’, but also to something quite new, for example, the practice of modern electronic musicians. At the beginning of the programme, I was very frustrated because of the difficulty of combining what I viewed as “traditional” musicians and modern Electronic music makers. How will a sarangi player play with a trap-beat making DJ? But it’s unhelpful to view it in this light. It’s much more helpful to look at how differences between traditions can provide alternatives or even get translated over to the other side.

Q What is the plan for Dosti 2016?
A: The second year of the programme will run from February 22 – March 23, 2016. It begins with a three-week residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida, focusing on methods of collaboration and workshops with local schools and community organisations, and culminates in a week-long tour with performances and social engagements throughout the Southeastern region of the United States.  Through the process of sharing, listening, and collaborating, the Dosti musician delegates will model a creative, cooperative, and egalitarian cultural exchange between India, Pakistan, and the United States – providing a positive template for cross-national discourse and people-to-people diplomacy.

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