In late 2013, I wrote here about an unlikely story.
A Youtube clip of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” as recorded by the Sachal Jazz Ensemble in Lahore, Pakistan, had gone viral, attracting nearly a half-million hits. Soon after, the Sachal ensemble’s “Take Five,” from its recording “Interpretations of Jazz Standards and Bossa Nova,”shot to the top of the iTunes chart in the U.S. and U.K.
As I wrote then:
Musically, none of this should surprise us. The 5/4 rhythm of Brubeck’s 1959 classic, which no longer sounds radical to jazz fans, comes quite naturally to musicians trained in the classical traditions of Pakistan, as are the Sachal’s players: Odd numbered meters are favored in their music. The sitar’s fluid lines and bent tones and the tabla’s nearly conversational rhythmic patterns aren’t exotic to Western ears anymore; by now, they make sense in a jazz context.
Soon the group was performing with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) at Manhattan’s Rose Theater. That concert was filmed by Oscar-winning Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, for a closing scene to her documentary, which is now complete.
“Song of Lahore,” Obaid-Chinoy’s collaboration with filmmaker Andy Schocken is, according to its press release “a joyous, musical documentary about the collision of centuries-old cultures” as the group members “find ways of adapting while still retaining the integrity of the music of their ancestors.”
It’s largely the story of reconstructing a culture in a nation that has rejecting its roots and rituals.
Izzat Majeed, who assembled the group, explained to me: “I want to restore a sense of culture and the joy of music that I remember from my childhood. We essentially lost it, due to the barbaric interpretation of religion and governance that started when a dictator [Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq] began to restrict the arts in the late Seventies. And we’ve had little enlightenment since.”
As one musician, Nijat Ali (pictured above) says in the film, “Without music, man would roam the world with a heart of stone.” Now he and his and bandmates are traveling the globe, playing at festivals and concert halls to heart-warming receptions.