At maestro Zakir Hussain’s concert with the BBC Concert Orchestra last weekend, we heard a lot about the idea of alchemy – that bringing together of different elements in order to set off a transformative, creative reaction. It’s a principle that the Alchemy Festival takes seriously, whether its merging musical traditions and genres, artistic and creative ideas – or just brilliant people.
And they’re at it again this Friday, bringing legendary punk/ rap/ reggae/ bhangra band Asian Dub Foundation and Pakistani communist band Laal together in concert for the very first time. We’ve seen both perform separately – ADF at Alchemy two years ago when they rocked a packed Queen Elizabeth Hall, and Laal in various concerts in Lahore and Islamabad. I remember going to see them as a teenager, singing along to their much-loved Umeed-e-Sahar (‘A Dawn of New Hope’) during Army General Pervez Musharraf’s presidency. They had a different lead vocalist – Shahram Azhar – at the time.
Both ADF and Laal are often overtly political in theme – concerned with fighting religious extremism, racism, police brutality, domestic violence – but completely different in sound and sensibility. ADF are explosive, furious, in your face, while Laal are best known for their repertoire of soft rock and folk renditions of the work of revolutionary Pakistani poets such as Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Habib Jalib. So we had little idea of what to expect from this collaboration, and so I caught up with Dr. Taimur Rahman of Laal early this morning to ask. He told me that the concert will be “a celebration of revolutionary progressive and Sufi poetry from Pakistan”. Happily, (not least for the non-desi friends joining us for the concert), the poetry will be translated and illustrated on a big screen.
It goes without saying that the themes of religious plurality, tolerance, equality, protest that make up the canon of Sufi and revolutionary poetry from South Asia were never more relevant to the political situation in Pakistan, South Asia more widely – and the UK. ADF have been long-time champions of accountability and justice for those most vulnerable to rising inequality, racism, violence and persecution in this country. Laal’s musical critique of the growing polarisation of Pakistani society, the exclusion and persecutions of its most vulnerable, and the roles of the various actors complicit means that they do what they do at grave risk to their personal security and lives. Most recently, they teamed up with musician Arieb Azhar (who we’ve written about in the past here) to record Intesab (‘A Dedication’), originally a poem by Faiz Ahmad Faiz, in tribute to Sabeen Mahmud, the activist and arts champion killed last year after organising a panel discussion about Balochistan. And also as a tribute to the many, many victims of terrorism and violence that Pakistan has seen recently. Expect a night of poignancy and power.
When: Friday 27 May 2016, 7.30pm
Where: Royal Festival Hall, Belvedere Road London SE1 8XX
Tickets: £10 – £22 (+ £1.75 booking fee for non-members)
Website: Southbank Centre
We’re also looking forward to a panel discussion that’s planned for tonight (Wednesday 25 May) featuring John Pandit and Steve Chandrasonic from ADF, and Dr Taimur Rahman and Mahvish Waqar from Laal on the role of the arts in societal change. The panel will talk about their personal experiences of how politics and culture shaped their music, and why they make the kind of socially conscious music that they do. See here for more details on that. I kind of feel like we’re all on this journey along with them, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes us!
Photos from Southbank Centre and Taimur Rahman