Mekaal Hasan Band
The spiritual longing and mystical travails of revered Sufi poets live on in the rock-driven, harmonically complex sound of the Mekaal Hasan Band.MHB builds on Eastern classical music with prog ingenuity, led by guitar, traditional flute (bansuri), and compelling vocals.
The partition of India in 1947 may have led to the creation of two countries, but India and Pakistan share a centuries-old music tradition. Today, both share a fondness for the slick pop epitomized by Bollywood soundtracks. But the music scene in Pakistan is also home to some independent bands. One whose acclaim has spread beyond the country's borders is The Mekaal Hasan Band.
Mekaal Hasan was born and raised in Lahore — city of kings, home to painters and poets, and today, the hub of Pakistan's fashion and music industry. But Hasan says that Lahore, circa the early 1990s, was not the ideal place for a budding rock star.
"You couldn't even find a guitar pick," Hasan says. "You had to ask someone from abroad to get you a guitar pick. You had to ask people to get you guitar cables, guitar strings. That's how bad it was."
Today, Hasan leads Pakistan's most respected rock group. But this is Pakistan, after all — the fault line of the war on terror.
"We've had no shows," he says. "No concerts, 'cause people are too scared to put up open-air events because of the security situation, bomb threats."
That means that Hasan has had plenty of down time to put the finishing touches on his band's second album. He also has time to work with other musicians, producing and recording their CDs in his home studio and mentoring younger players. In fact, Hasan has become something of a bridge between Pakistan's new generation of musicians and Lahore's older classical players. His own band features electric guitar and bass, drums, traditional wood flute and a classical South Asian vocalist.
Not A Traditional Story
Hasan's mother is Christian; his father, Muslim. Their house was full of jazz records when he was growing up.
"The influence of the liberal arts is really heavy in my family, so they really encouraged me to get into music," Hasan says. After some on-again, off-again attempts at piano, he taught himself to play guitar when he was 15, listening to bands such as Led Zeppelin.
There wasn't much opportunity to advance his craft in Lahore. So Hasan, like many of his peers, decided to leave Pakistan. He applied to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and got in.
"That jump was just insane," Hasan says. "It's like going to another planet and watching people play unbelievable stuff. I had never seen anyone play that way before. I would just listen to music all the time. That's all I did. I never felt more at home than when I was in Boston, 'cause I was surrounded by so much great music and so many great musicians. I think all creative people need an environment to flourish in."
But Hasan was on a student visa, and his parents bribed him to come home early by offering to build him a studio. In 1995, he returned to Lahore.
"For a while, a good two to three years, I was massively depressed and really angry, as well," Hasan says. "I was like, 'Why am I here? What am I doing here?' Then you had to reconcile yourself to the fact that, 'Well, hey, man, you've always lived here.' I resolved to make the best of it, and in some ways, this turned out to be a good exercise in just practicing the concepts that I'd learned in music school."
Finding Local Musicians
"Classical musicians," Hasan says, "are unbelievable improvisers. That's a common thing that jazz and [South Asian] classical has: They're both improvising art forms. But the language varies within each particular art form. It just depends on how much they're willing to stretch."
The lead singer of The Mekaal Hasan Band, Javed Bashir, and flutist Papu are part of the older community of classically trained musicians living in Lahore. Many of them have been relegated to playing backup for the country's glossy pop stars. Hasan reversed that arrangement and brought those musicians to the forefront. Still, even he admits that even he didn't always understand traditional music.
"To be quite honest, I don't even know what the lyrics mean most of the time," Hasan says. "I'm just going by the sound of the melody. So I'm looking to find the perfect setting for it to flourish in so you can really hear the sweetness of the melody."
The Mekaal Hasan Band's melodies clicked, and the band swept onto the Pakistani music scene in 2004 with its debut album — a record that integrated old and new music with Islamic poetry.
Mark Levine, a professor of music at the University of California-Irvine who's spent the past few years profiling rock musicians across the Muslim world, says that many of those musicians cite Hasan as an inspiration.
"They have nothing but respect, and they look up to him and that band as sort of the highest plateau that you could reach in rock music in terms of creativity and talent," Levine says. "The challenge that he faces is the same challenge that great musicians who aren't really compromising face in any culture. It's his very ability to defy categorization that makes him so good and so special."
More Than A Musical Challenge
This should have been a defining year for The Mekaal Hasan Band, with a new album and a tour in neighboring India. And there'd been a surge of optimism among the public after the election of a new democratic government. But Hasan says that little has changed.
"Democracy or dictatorship, the situation on the ground stays the same," Hasan says. "It hasn't changed for anyone."
That cynicism is widespread among the younger generation of Pakistanis. But Hasan says that there's no space for politics or cynicism in his music.
"I feel that music of this nature is actually going to do Pakistan proud, because it represents the best of what our traditional music has," he says. "And it's done in a way where people can actually relate to it. Young people can relate to it."
Years after returning from Boston, Mekaal Hasan has found a community among his bandmates, even if the world outside isn't too welcoming right now. He says that, while the political seasons may change, he finds his inspiration composing, playing and recording in his Lahore studio.
"When it comes down to making music, you shut out the world outside," Hasan says. "You're doing what's right for that piece of music. I can't change the way I approach a given musical situation just because there's a bomb going off in Peshawar. That cannot and will not affect me."
Mekaal Hasan On His Band's New Line Up – Rolling Stone India
Pakistani musician Mekaal Hasan remains unfazed after a protest staged by right-wing party Shiv Sena at a press conference he had called to announce a new project last week. While the news of Hasan’s new lineup for the Mekaal Hasan Band, featuring drummer Gino Banks, bassist Sheldon D’Silva and vocalist Sharmistha Chatterjee, was overshadowed by protests and the politics behind it, the Sufi rock guitarist says in an email interview, “We will not be making any political statements or giving answers to questions which carry political commentary. The musicians have enough talent to let the music speak the truth.”
The Mekaal Hasan Band’s original members including Hasan and flautist Mohammad Ahsan Papu, are jamming and recording material with Banks, D’Silva and Chatterjee for a new album, Andholan, due in March. Following the studio release, the “Indo-Pak lineup” will perform in India and abroad, according to Hasan. At their live shows, the band will also perform previous MHB material. Vocalist Sharmistha Chatterjee, who has also been a film playback singer [Saawariya, Veer], tells us how the songs needed to be reworked, considering they were written for a male vocalist [Javed Bashir]. Says Chatterjee, “Papu and Mekaal helped me with the language, explained the meaning of the songs and also showed me the ‘chalaan’ of a few new ragaas which I wasn’t knowledgeable about before. It has been a good learning process for me.” Chatterjee, who is part of jazz pianist Louiz Banks’s world music project Ganga Shakti, joined MHB in November last year, after she was recommended to Hasan by Gino Banks.
Hasan says the new lineup is a mix of jazz players such as Banks and D’Silva joining his own rock influences and Chatterjee’s Hindustani classical style to create fusion. Hasan adds, “It’s MHB with much more color and dynamics than ever before.” Bassist D’Silva says the music has elements of traditional “Indian – Pakistani folk and classical mixed with high energy jazz and rock.”
With Andholan set for release in March, Hasan does not feel last week’s protest at the Press Club in Mumbai will dissuade them from continuing with the project. Says Hasan, “If peace is to be made a reality, then why not through the medium of music for a change? I think once people realize that we are making music together which binds us culturally, and that for the first time, Pakistani musicians are writing for and with Indian musicians, it will gather us the positivity that the band merits.”
Songs Of The Saints, With Love From Pakistan by Jon Pareles – The New York Times
'Under wooden flute and classical-style vocals the Mekaal Hasan Band plugged in with reggae, folk-rock and a tricky jazz-rock riff. But the lyrics quoted devotional poetry that was 900 years old, distant from the turmoil of the present.'
Jon Pareles, July 21,2010
Review of 'Andholan' by Mekaal Hasan Band – Naren Kusnur
CD review/ Andholan ― Mekaal Hasan Band by Naren Kusnur
July 9, 2014
Andholan/ Mekaal Hasan Band
IN its first two albums ‘Sampooran’ and ‘Saptak’, the Mekaal Hasan Band (MHB) wonderfully mixed classical bandishes and traditional Sufi compositions with western elements like rock and jazz. The Lahore-based group uses the same mix on its latest album ‘Andholan’, but there is one major difference.
With popular vocalist Javed Bashir leaving the band, MHB has now gone in for a female vocalist in Indian singer Sharmistha Chatterjee. Considering that fans were bound to compare any male replacement with the incomparable Javed, that’s an intelligent move. For her part, Sharmistha has a strong Hindustani classical base, a good command over the ragas, and blends well with the energetic rock and jazz backdrop that embellishes most tunes. She also sings harkats and murkis freely, though there are occasions when one wishes the compositions had used less of them.
Besides her, the album features the supremely talented Mekaal on guitars, the brilliant Mohammed Ahsan Papu on flute, Amir Azhar on bass and Louis Pinto ‘Gumby’ on drums. In their forthcoming live projects, the rhythm section will comprise Mumbai-based drummer Gino Banks and bassist Sheldon D’Silva.
The album contains eight tracks, and the highlights are the innovative song structures, and the masterly coordination between guitars and flute. Interestingly, the band had a song called ‘Andholan’ on its album ‘Saptak’, but that’s not featured here.
The opener ‘Ghunghat’ is a version of poet Baba Bulleh Shah’s well-known Sufi kaafi ‘Ghunghat ohley na luk sajna, mein mushtaq deedaar de haan’. With its crisp guitars, flute and drumming, it sets the pace. Next, the band presents ‘Champakali’, based on the raga of that name. Papu’s flute is mesmerising, and a wailing guitar stretch glitters at the end.
‘Bheem’ is an adaptation of the traditional raga Bhimpalasi bandish ‘Ja ja re apni mandirwa, sun paave morey saas nanadiya’. The composition has earlier been rendered by classical vocalists Pandit Jasraj and Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, and by Delhi fusion band Advaita, but MHB lends its own touch.
‘Sayon’, also based on Bulleh Shah’s poetry, is one of the strong points of the album. Slower than the other tunes, it has a soothing flute portion, with Sharmistha showing her vocal prowess on the lines ‘Aao sayon ral deyon ni vadhai, main var paaya raanjha maahi’.
‘Malkauns’, based on raga Malkauns, uses the composition ‘Aaj more ghar aayela balma’, once sung by the great Ustad Amir Khan. Mekaal is in great guitar form on ‘Sindhi’, producing a couple of crackling solos. ‘Megh’ starts with a folksy flavour, and picks up tempo. The final piece ‘Kinarey’ cuts down the pace, and is a simple, sing-along charmer.
All in all, this is another feather in MHB’s cap. The band has a distinct sound, and the tunes are strong enough to merit repeated hearing.
RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding
Binding Music By Sameen Amer – The News, Jang Group
After a sabbatical of five years and some inner restructuring, the Mekaal Hasan Band is all set to release its new album with a female lead vocalist.
Following a change in line-up a few months ago, the Mekaal Hasan Band has transitioned into ‘cross-border collaborators’ as the newly revived band features gifted musicians from both Pakistan and India. The group is now preparing to unveil its third album, the long awaited Andholan, which will be MHB’s first release with Indian singer Sharmistha Chatterjee on vocals. In this Instep exclusive, the band talks about the collaboration, the album and allows us a peek at their album cover.
Andholan will be Mekaal Hasan Band’s first new album in five years, following 2009′s Saptak. The record will feature eight tracks, including the group’s take on kaafis by Baba Bulleh Shah and Shah Hussain as well as their renditions of traditional classical bandishes from the subcontinent.
“I think it’s the most progressive record of ours to date,” said Mekaal Hasan, the group’s front man. “It’s also musically the most diverse and impactful record that we’ve made yet. The album features a level of song writing and musicianship which marks a huge growth for a band that already likes to set high standards for itself.”
If you want a sense of the attention to detail that the band expends in every aspect of their music, then look no further than the album’s title and the level of thought that has gone into the selection of this name. “This record’s title is Andholan, which has a dual meaning,” Mekaal revealed. “It can mean ‘revolution’ or ‘movement’ and it’s also used to describe expressive slides in classical music. This dual philosophy is also found in the record Sampooran, which means ‘purity’ in Urdu and also refers to the family of any seven note raags which are called Sampoorna,” he described further.
The reincarnated MHB features Gino Banks and Sheldon D’Silva on drums and bass respectively, while Sharmistha Chatterjee joins them on lead vocals. “I’d heard Gino Banks and Sheldon D’Silva play throughout the years that I have been touring India,” says Mekaal. “In fact, both musicians were at our launch show in 2007 in Mumbai which is also where we first became friends. The idea of playing together really started gelling around 2010. The progressive musicians in India really admire how our band writes its material and produces its records, and I, in turn, from the very first time I heard these musicians play, was eager to have them work with me and to contribute to the ever-evolving sound of MHB.”
Even though the band parted ways with their former vocalist and went through significant restructuring, Mekaal says he was never uncertain about the future of the group. “The nature of the band is such that it will always attract highly-trained musicians and people who enjoy playing in a band format. As such, the band will continue to exist as long as people are willing to listen to the music.”
And what inspired him to recruit musicians from across the border? “It made natural sense to play material that was classical in nature and had progressive elements with the top jazz and classical artists of India. The idea of creating an Indo-Pak band actually goes back to 2010 which is roughly when I started discussing it with Gino. The idea also stemmed from a desire of wanting to play with more musicians who had a different perspective but happened to also share the same cultural heritage that I enjoy.”
“In terms of the quality of musicianship, this line-up is possibly the most versatile and experienced,” he enthuses. “Dynamically the band has a wider range, and in terms of improvisation, there is a lot more contribution from the rhythm section, meaning that there is a lot more playing and soloing, which Gino and Sheldon both bring to the band in our live sets.”
Perhaps the most noticeable change comes in the form of the vocalist, as this will be the first MHB record with a female singer in the lead. “I wanted a different texture and sound and I also wanted to work with another kind of sensibility,” says Mekaal. “With a female voice the lower registers of the music reveal themselves in a manner which a male range might overshadow. I’d also been listening to a lot of bands with female voices and I guess that also influenced my choice of going with a female lead.” But it’s hard to ignore the fact that there aren’t many prominent bands led by female vocalist in the Pakistani music scene. So does gender really make a difference? “With female emancipation, one would’ve hoped to see more female fronted bands and indeed initiatives,” he reflects. “While the situation is improving, the ultimate decision still lies with a market that seems to have more males making decisions as opposed to females.”
Mekaal Hasan Band’s evolution promises to take the group in a refreshing, innovative direction. And their new sound will not only be heard on the upcoming album; fans can also expect a lot more from the band in the coming months. “We’ll be putting out some live concert footage on a DVD soon,” reveals Mekaal, “and we’re also releasing the singles ‘Ghunghat’ and ‘Sayoon’ from the album very soon.”
Artistic expression: The album cover
An important medium for musicians to visually express their artistic aspirations, album covers have given us some of the most iconic images of recent times (Read: Abbey Road by The Beatles, Dark of the Moon by Pink Floyd). However, covers that accompany most of our local records often seem uninspired and pedestrian. Many bands seem content with just plastering their mug shots on their album sleeves. Luckily, Mekaal Hasan Band is not one of them. The group recruited illustrator and graphic designer Samya Arif to come up with an abstract image that will grace Andholan.
“The album cover has, for more than 50 years, been a canvas for some of the greatest and most imaginative artists in the world, including Storm Thorgerson and Mati Klarwein,” said Samya, who graduated with a degree in Communication Design and Photography from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, where she is now an assistant professor for Graphic Design and Typography. “Album art has become a means of showcasing the themes, renditions, and ideas behind an album’s music and the musician making it. It adds a visual context to the music you’re listening to, not only creating a bookmark in your mind but also invigorating the entire process further by employing more than one sense.”
Samya sought to capture Mekaal Hasan Band’s progression in the art for Andholan. “To create the theme of Mekaal Hasan Band’s evolution and musical movement, I used abstract elements to signify nature’s bounties, from water to mountains and skies, a shared geography of the entire subcontinent, therefore subtly reciprocating the bind of Eastern nations through sounds,” she explained. “The idea was to convey the evolution of the band itself and their music, as well as the fusion of eclectic Western and Eastern sounds native to the subcontinent in particular. The detail and colours employed echo the nuances within the music.”
(Sameen Amer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Mekaal Hasan: Fusing the Punjab to Rock and Jazz: Rolling Stone India Article – Rolling Stone India
Mekaal Hasan stands tall in the tight knit Pakistani rock scene which is eagerly awaiting Saptak, his band’s second album. EMI will release the album in India soon, so fans across the subcontinent will get a chance to judge how far the Mekaal Hasan Band has grown since its first album, Sampooran.
Hasan, who headlines his band, infuses Punjabi themes with Western Jazz influences. The band’s composition practically makes it a requirement. The lead singer is Javed Bashir, supported by the flutist Papu and by Hasan on guitar. Bashir and Papu come from a traditional folk and classical background, while Hasan brings Western jazz sensibilities – he was trained at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. And the band has, over time, collaborated with a range of musicians, from percussionist Pete Lockett to drummer Gumby.
Hasan has aimed for this dynamic, fusing Western and Punjabi themes. “Why would anyone want to listen to a Pakistani jazz rock band?” says Hasan. “We have our own identity and roots in Punjab.”
For evidence, fans need only listen to ‘Waris Shah,’ one of the eight tracks on Saptak. The song is based on an Amrita Pritam short story on partition, and the band adapts the Punjabi writer’s work with verve. Zeeshan Pervez, singer for the popular Sajid and Zeeshan duo, has made an animated video of the song. The video and song capture the spirit of Pritam’s story, with its plea for sense and peace amongst the violence of the partition. The cartoon blood red drops that splatter the screen as planes fly overhead are an emphatic reminder in the video of the human cost of violence. The song was originally meant for Sampooran, but it was so popular that EMI insisted it be included in the second album, and the band has made a video to satiate demand.
The other songs on Saptak are new. Of note is ‘Chal Bullehya,’ inspired by Sufi poet Bulleh Shah’s poetry. Bulleh was in conflict with the religious authorities of his day, and his free spirit appeals to many musicians and artists in Pakistan, especially those reaching for a return to roots by connecting with the ‘folk’ oral traditions of the Punjabi heartland. The band makes clear its synthesis of roots with innovation.
Hasan has brought classical and folk music to the forefront. Typically in Pakistani rock, classical musicians are pushed into background support. Frontlining them is a statement of intent. And classical musicians, while working within their traditions, have iron control and are not afraid of improvising: after all, they start practising at a very early age. For people working in the Western tradition, things are more difficult.
“It was difficult to even find a guitar pick in Pakistan,” says Hasan, of growing up in Lahore in the Nineties. “You had to ask someone from abroad to get you a guitar pick. You had to ask people to get you guitar cables, guitar strings. That’s how bad it was.”
Mekaal eventually studied in Boston, where he came into contact with a whole generation of western musicians. “It was mind-blowing,” he says.
And also educational. Hasan is established on the circuit, and is today regarded as the best guitarist in Pakistan. A high point is his collaboration with musicians like Pete Lockett, who has toured with Peter Gabriel and Björk, and Mark Levine, an expert on Muslim rock bands, cites him as a major influence on the rock scene worldwide.
Political troubles in Pakistan mean bands rarely get time to perform in public; terrorism has dampened concert culture, depriving musicians like Hasan of crucial revenue. He is luckier than most, as he also runs a studio. Several of Pakistan’s major acts, like Junoon, Jal, and Zeb & Haniya have recorded at his studio. This makes him more important. Hasan is a node, who is helping several of Pakistan’s major music acts complete their work. Their influence has seeped into his work, and he has influenced them. Saptak is eagerly awaited. It is the work of a musician of consequence.
- Article by Abid Shah
Source: Rolling Stone India
The Reinvention of The Mekaal Hasan Band – The Express Tribune
By Sher KhanPublished: February 13, 2014
Mekaal Hasan has always maintained a low profile and never sought the spotlight. In fact, he stopped giving television interviews around four years ago. However, last week in Mumbai, his band made the front pages when a press conference they were holding was interrupted by activists of right-wing Indian party Shiv Sena. The band, which hasn’t released an album since 2009’s Saptak, was supposed to announce a new beginning by incorporating Indian musicians into the fold. It was supposed to be one of the most promising Indo-Pak musical collaborations in recent times.
“If I had known this would happen, I probably wouldn’t have called a press conference, but I did because the Bombay press club is liberal. You have to consider that the Press Club is the centre for free speech in India, so if you can’t make press announcements there, that’s not good,” says Hasan.
“I think the press club did give a strong statement. They arrested 20 of these guys and they did say that India is a democracy and our musicians have the right to play with whoever they want to.”
Even with all the excitement surrounding Hasan’s latest initiative, he also inadvertently made local news following a comment regarding Coke Studio he posted on his personal Facebook. Hasan, who has been a staunch advocate of promoting the grassroots and working-class musicians in the country, said he was unapologetic of the statement.
“The article I was addressing had basically explained what a lot of musicians were feeling, there were big expectations when it had started, but it just ended in a rut, a lot of attention was given to superficial things,” says Hasan.
“Coke Studio also seemed to push corporate funding towards entertaining people just through TV or online. The whole idea of music is not so you can be on TV, it’s so you can play music in front of people. Coke Studio basically gave corporate funding the green signal to control entertainment,” adds Hasan.
The new Mekaal Hasan Band has been born out of Hasan’s own desire to expand his musical venture. The band includes flutist Muhammed Ahsan Pappu from Pakistan, drummer Gino Banks, bassist Sheldon D’Silva and vocalist Sharmistha Chatterjee from India. The band is now working on its third album 'Andholan', which is slated to be released in March by EMI India. After the release, the band plans to do both international and local tours.
“This band, for better or for worse, was getting more attention outside of Pakistan than in the country, so it [the collaboration] made sense. So, from the record after the next, we will be working on things that [the new members] have studied or learnt. This will help the band evolve because we were previously stuck doing Sufi rock music. I hope to take it into another direction,” says Hasan. The band will maintain its local line-up in Pakistan and will turn into a more collaborative outfit, so that it becomes easier for them to tour and sustain themselves in the current musical environment.
The third album was initially supposed to have Javed Bashir on vocals, but due to his solo projects and other commitments, such a collaboration wasn’t possible. Hasan says the decision had to be made to move on and release the third album with Chatterjee on vocals.
The next album, he says, will be a more musically intense venture, which will still focus on Sufi poetry. The band’s previous album focused on Shah Hussain Inayat, while the upcoming one will comprise two kafees by Bulleh Shah.
“The third album is by far the most intense record that we have done. It’s got longer song structures and more sections in the songs. In terms of the poetry we have stuck with the Sufi poetry.”
The new line-up hopes to add to the musical fusion that the band has been known for. Chatterjee is a trained South Indian classical singer, who was part of the Louiz Bank’s World Music Project and D’Silva is a jazz player. This adds an interesting mix into the bands repertoire.
“Having Chatterjee on the vocals means that there is a whole range of stuff that we can do, which we were not able to get into before, simply because of where I was based. It will change the texture of the band without taking away from the style of writing, it will bring a certain kind of freshness and I think every band needs to, at some stage, reinvent themselves,” says Hasan.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2014.
Spinning Tunes Beyond Borders By Sameer Kulkarni – Campus Diaries
In conversation with Mekaal Hasan and Sharmishtha Chatterjee, the members of The Mekaal Hasan Band, which believes in fostering the cross border culture, particularly, when it comes to music.
25th Jul 2014
Rarely is it that you find someone as passionate regarding music collaborations as Mekaal Hasan. The man, who is one of he most humble humans I have ever come across, believes that music, as a medium can travel regardless of borders, and touch hearts of anyone willing to listen. Under Roobaroo - Beyond Borders, I got a chance to talk to him about his band, and the vision with which it creates music - the one of celebrating the cultures of the Indian and the Pakistani Music Community alike, celebrating the music these two nations love to listen to.
The current line up of the band is as follows:
1. Mekaal Hasan - Guitar
2. Ahsan Papu - Flute
3. Sharmistha Chatterjee - Vocals
4. Gino Banks - Drums
5. Sheldon D'Silva - Bass
Following are the excerpts from the talk:
Me: How did you guys meet? How would you capture the essence of your band in words?
Sharmishtha: Gino and Mekaal knew each other since a long time . I was referred to Mekaal by Gino , when Mekaal was looking for a female vocalist for the band . Talking about the essence of the band , its basically alternative rock/jazz music fused with traditional classical music , the harmonic sophistication of the west to meet the melodic and traditional sensibilities of the east.
Me: How do you see MHB progress in the next few years?
Mekaal: The future is headed toward a South Asian block, much like what we have seen in Europe. What we are doing is a microcosm of what is possible when South Asia opens up. Given the hope for positive change in the region itself, MHB should make excellent progress. All the elements are there: The songs, the language, the quality of musicianship, and the breadth of music we cover, and of course the invariable interest that India and Pakistan evoke when they do anything together! Things will grow positively, as long as we keep making great music.
"Things will grow positively, as long as we keep making great music."
Me: Do you think projects like Roobaroo – Beyond Borders would help young musicians across borders come together and develop good music?
Mekaal: I think it would encourage people to start working online to begin with. The physical challenges of being in either country is something the bureaucracy influences directly, so if they feel that this kind of exchange is positive and should be encouraged, then only could one hope to see more artists link up and play their combined works for audiences in India or Pakistan. So the answer is ‘Yes’ but to make it sustainable, we need to have the bureaucrats encourage the process too.
Me: Taal Inc., a drumming ensemble from Pune has expressed its desire to have a collaboration with you guys. What would you like to say to them?
Mekaal: Send us whatever you have in mind and we’ll definitely work on it!
Me: How different are the Indian and Pakistani Music Communities and the response to the music produced in general?
Mekaal: I think mass taste is dictated to by mass advertising, so in this regard, the tastes of both nations are very similar. There are smaller, niche audiences on both sides as well and what I like and admire about India is it’s diversity of culture and taste. This is reflected in the many festivals and events where music is THE main attraction. You can attend classical recitals , folk festivals , jazz club and theatre gigs, indie rock clubs or festivals, electronica festivals so on and so forth. In this, India manages to create further growth for diversity, something which Pakistan would do well to emulate, since diversity of talent and music is quite obviously there.
Me: What are your views on Music as a medium of socio cultural exchange? Can it be used to instill people with a greater capacity of understanding, affection and acceptance?
Mekaal: Music is a melding of influences, lifestyles, tastes and cultural exposure, so it’s more than just a one off exchange. This band is testament to the fact that we can create and positively express ourselves through our talents. Why can we not build relationships rather than put up barriers? Why must we always be seeking to criticise rather than to encourage? Music helps change attitudes towards what is possible when we engage rather than withdraw. I am so proud of everyone who has given of their time and self to this music. Each of them is a shining example of being great people regardless of where we happen to find ourselves geographically at any given point.
Me: Which are your favorite music artists from India and Pakistan?
Sharmishtha: Artists from Pakistan such as Roshnara Begum , Mehdi Hassan , Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan , Nazaqat and Salamat Ali Khan and many more. Artists from India such as Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan , Louiz Banks , Kishori Amonkar , Ustad Ali Akbar Khan , Ustad Vilayat Khan and many more .
Me: Which music artists from Pakistan would you recommend to a reader from India?
Mekaal: Poor Rich Boy is an excellent band which fans of folk rock and indie rock would love. Definitely the best band Pakistan has produced, in my opinion.
MHB Concert Review of Joe's Pub ,NYC – New York Music Daily
A Rare NYC Appearance by Indo-Pakistani Art-Rock/Metal Warriors the Mekaal Hasan Band
The Mekaal Hasan Band sound like no other group on the planet. The fiery, guitar-fuelled art-rock band blend south Asian, Middle Eastern and global metal influences into their distinctive, rhythmically tricky sound. Don’t let their constant tempo and metric shifts or lead guitarist Hasan’s Berklee background give you the impression that what they play is prog. Their latest album, Andholan – streaming at Spotify – is packed with unexpected dynamics, snarling melodies and purposeful drive, taking flight on the wings of front woman Sharmistha Chatterjee’s soaring vocals. They’re making a rare New York appearance on August 30 at 7 PM at Joe’s Pub, and they’re very popular with a Punjabi audience, so $15 advance tix are very highly recommended.
The opening track, Ghunghat kicks off with a bitingly flurrying, chromatically menacing guitar-and-flute intro before Gino Banks’ hard-hitting drums kick in and Chatterjee’s uneasily intense, elegantly ornamented voice enters, while Hasan and flutist Mohammad Ahsan Papu build a shimmeringly artsy, metallic backdrop. Champakalli builds around a creepy bell-like motif before Hasan puts the bite on and they make almost gleeful metal out of it; then they go back and forth with an ominous sway.
Chaterjee builds toward imploring heights over a surrealistically chiming, watery background as Bheem gets underway, then the band picks up steam, like a more darkly metallic update on classic 70s Nektar, the flute adding droll touches, almost like portamento synth. Hasan’s garish squall contrasts with Chaterjee’s stark leaps and bounds and the terse, new wave-tinged pulse of Sayon: imagine the Police with metal guitar and a Pakistani influence. Maalkauns is both the hardest-hitting soccer-stadium fist-pumper and the most distinctively Pakistani numbers here.
The album’s best song, Sindhi brings back the eerie bell-tone ambience of the second track – Hasan’s distinctively ringing, reverb-toned guitar textures, at least when he isn’t getting cheesy putting the bite on, anyway, are nothing short of delicious. Mehg opens as an airy mood piece that quickly gives way to a crushing stomp, flute and voice sailing above it insistently. Kinarey, the album’s final cut, is a diptych. Based on a raga etude, the song shifts through pensive piano and vocals to a lonesome flute interlude and back. It’s rare that you hear a band that so seamlessly bridges the gap between Indo-Pakistani music and rock, let alone one with such a nuanced yet powerful singer.
Birds Of Fire by Qasim Moini – Dawn Images
In a music market saturated by Channos, Preetos and Pappus, Sampooran, the Mekaal Hasan Band's (MHB) debut record, crashes through with remarkable precision and unmistakable passion. It is a deep, intense album drenched in emotional, spiritual tones, which aims to re invent the lexicon of eastern classical-western rock fusion. Imagine what would happen if fusion met up with John McLaughlin's Mahvishnu Orchestra or Woodstock-era Santana, and then decided to jam on some mellow Vai? That is one way of describing what the MHB sounds like. In truth, they have to be heard, and heard live, if one wishes to truly grasp the sonic depth of this group's musician ship. The brainchild of guitarist Mekaal Hasan, the band and the album are the realization of his dream. Consisting of 8 sprawling, atmospheric tracks, Sampooran is an album way, way ahead of its time.
A host of local and international musicians grace the record, lending their dexterous talents to Hasan's compositions and improvisations. MHB live and MHB on record are two different entities. On record, along with Hasan, Javed Akhtar is featured on keyboard; Gumby on drums on selected tracks; Javed Bashir, vocals; Michael Mondesir, bass on selected cuts; Ahsan Papu on flute while Sameer Ahmed (not Karavan?s bass wizard) plays bass on Raba.
Sampooran has Mekaal Hasan reworking traditional kaafis and classical ragas into modern, jazz-infected fusion rockers. The band's strength, other than Hasan's remarkable playing and the overall tight sound formed by different floating versions of the band, is the vocal talents of the classical singer Javed Bashir. While the guitarist's six-string deliberations take one away into high flying prog-rock reveries, Bashir's sonorous vocals bring the wandering mind back to the wet earth of sub continental music.
It's hard to pick favourites from such a delicious assortment of grooves and melodies. Raba beckons with its lazy intontations, dressed in the outwardly course cloak of Sufi expression, while Darbari is pure, melancholic ecstasy. Attitude, in the form of revved up riffs and humility, mix in the dervish's call to arms, Ya Ali, while the record wraps up with the instrumental, Late Moon, a Latin jazz flavored gem that takes one straight to the Florida Keys.
Though the record is nearly faultless, one isn't quite sure whether the masses will respond, for hit singles don't immediately jump to mind. Sampooran is an album one has to savor slowly but rest assured, this one goes down real easy.
Mekaal Hasan Band Review of Sampooran – Insiya Syed
No band has embraced the grass-roots of jazz and fused it with the classical sound and introduced it 'full throttle' to a legion of new fans as much as The Mekaal Hasan Band has. As many of you know, once the Mekaal Hasan Band (MHB) bug has sunk its fangs deep into your musical soul there is little turning back. Given Mekaal's lifetime passion for jazz and music in general, it was probably inevitable that he would seek an outlet to become just like his jazz-minded heroes.
Jazz is one of America's only home grown art forms. It's also largely neglected by American audiences and virtually no current musicians have widespread recognition. Jazz, in popular imagination, is still defined by the horn giants of yesteryear, icons like Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Our very own Mekaal Hasan and Co may soon change all that for us at least. They are at once aggressively adventurous and easily accessible, working within jazz while borrowing classical ingredients from our own culture and helping to make jazz vibrant and cool again. It's high time for the boundaries between 'our own music' and progressive jazz to break down. And Mekaal Hasan Band, located at the nexus of harmony, melody and rhythm, have jumped into the void.
There's no magic answer to what makes a Mekaal Hasan Band song special to the listeners. It could be the majestic power of their songs, or maybe you were turned on in their early days enslaved by their cult status. As often happens in bands with such celebrated lead guitarist, egos do not battle in the case of Mekaal Hasan Band. "Onstage the struggle is not to overplay, but to compliment each other and to create an environment where the band is presented as a union of 7 people rather than a shouting match between 7 individuals. It's unlikely you will find anyone grandstanding in the band's live shows or on the records. The idea is to achieve balance, not disharmony," explains Mekaal. The band has quickly established them as the band of the moment. Nobody but nobody is making music as soul wrenching or as classic as Mekaal's crew.
In their debut as well as the finest studio outing that totals the playing time at 54:28 minutes, one thing has remained constant and that is the intensity of Mekaal Hasan. Mekaal's contribution to Mekaal Hasan Band go way beyond his duties as a guitarist and front-man of the best 'classical jazz' band Pakistan has ever seen. If all that weren't enough, as the only composer and the producer in the band Mekaal has also taken on the mantle of Mekaal Hasan Band 's keeper of the flame, for it is he alone who puts his compositions (along with his second half – Javed Akhtar) and music arrangements for thousands to hear and judge.
The debut album has been titled "Sampooran" for all the right reasons. Mekaal was in London rehearsing for the 'Square One' tour when Pete Lockett found out that Billy Cobham (In Mekaal's words, "he is the pioneer of Jazz and Jimi Hendrix of drums!") will also be playing with Mekaal Hasan Band. Being a huge fan of Billy, Pete got in touch with Mekaal. And it was only later that Mekaal found out about Pete's interest in eastern classical. What transpired was anything but fanaticism for Billy as Pete and Mekaal ended up collaborating in a series of concerts countrywide in March of 2001. It was during this tour that the title song - initially called 'Seven' - was written. As mentioned in the enhanced CD the term Sampooran is used to describe any seven note scale in eastern classical music and was suggested by the 'ShoMan' - Shoaib Mansoor. What's ironic is that the initial tour that started off this album had seven musicians, the song itself was written the same number of times, and even now there are 7 members on stage when Mekaal Hasan Band is performing live! With "Sampooran" we can punch the air in time to Gumby's and Pete Lockett's beats and rake the air alongside Mekaal's vicious riffs amalgamated with Javed Bashir's soothing vocals making it all seem surreal.
It isn't only the local audience who has taken the record so positively. Michael Mondesir who has provided the bass on the album is proud of the record too and believes that everyone should have a copy. He has toured Pakistan that happens to be one of his favourite places and feels that the work he has recorded for "Sampooran" isn't really different from the other albums he has worked on. "I treat every recording as a separate and new experience that I endeavour to put as much positive energy into the music as possible," Mike told via email. On being asked if has anything to say about Mekaal Hasan Band one felt proud of our very own musician as he had great things to say about Mekaal; "Mekaal is a world class guitarist and composer. He is the best recording engineer I've ever worked with, bar none and I've been recording for over twenty years. He has a great musical sense but also the technical skills to produce the best result. I believe he will be recognised on a global level as well as in Pakistan," concluded Mike with a passion.
And for Mekaal it's the greatest feeling to play music their way and have people react in such a positive manner, "I particularly feel happy because the reaction we get from people proves something I had long believed which was that honest music and integrity cuts through and there is always appreciation for music which comes from the heart and is made without selling out and catering to the lowest common denominator. This record and band should prove that there is a huge base of people who love music for its own sake and that not everyone accepts the trash, which many sponsors have had us believe, was the best music around."
Sajan is an acoustic based song and happens to be one of the two Kaafis written by Shah Hussain. It set the scene nicely, allowing the subtleness of the flute and the soothing feeling to come slicing in and tear the listener's skin from their ears in a calm manner. The result: jazz meets folk that's true to the spirit of the music as an ever evolving art form, never in stasis, drawing on both its own traditions and the currents of popular culture.
When fans sing the words to "Waris Shah" all but the real hardcore will be unaware that it is a song written about partition. It is based on an extract from the writings of the 'great poetess' - Amrita Pretum - who has been paid a loving tribute by a unique rendition of Waris Shah as Mekaal thinks very highly of her. This was really a way of saying thank you to her for her contributions to the cultural heritage of the subcontinent. This is the freshest-sounding song of the year, with breathtaking group improvisations. It may not have been a conscious attempt, but the sounds unleashed on this song have surely changed the face of great music for generations to come.
Raba is the other Kaafi written by Shah Hussain but unlike Sajan this one was given more of a wall of sound treatment. Both songs are very intimate, yet in differing ways in terms of the aural sensations they evoke. If you listen to the soul-fuelled music on Raba, or gaze at the awesome visuals complementing this song, you are suddenly at ease - almost in a hypnotic trance. The music and the vocals complement each other making you forget about the world without making you thumb your nose at it.
As one critic dubbed Sanwal to be the 'weakest link' my jaw dropped wide open. The sheer fury of the guitars as they stabbed and chopped their way through Javed's singing sounded unlike anything that has made its way out of Pakistan.
Sampooran that has been written in Raag Aiman gives each band member the perfect opportunity to launch into a solo of their instrument one by one. This one is an exultant title song that vaingloriously announces MHB to be remarkably purposeful in their defiance of the hook - a particularly neat trick considering the current clamour for Pedi-pop and alternative-rock that has been done to death in the past.
Raag Darbari is most closely associated with Ustad Amir Ali Khan Sahib of Indore. Javed Bshir is blessed not only with a wonderful voice, but also the rare ability to use it with style and intelligence. The band concentrates hard on their strengths, and the outcome: a performance of superb timing and improvisational flair. Darbari is immediately likeable and sneakily addictive. Compositionally, the influences are very much from classic Weather Report (if anyone cares to, please do buy these 2 amazing classics from Weather Report, "Black Market" and "Heavy Weather"), in terms of the way the tunes are arranged so that the players get to be heard at their best without sacrificing the strength of the melodies and the tunes.
Ya Ali is a classical Raag associated with Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and has been composed for the most part in Raag Verag Todi. If the goal of 'true-fusion' movement was to create the most extreme yet still listenable record, then its game over - Mekaal Hasan Band has won. It becomes obvious that for Mekaal Hasan Band speed is a means to an end - an easy way to give an adrenaline shot to catchy, but hardly original, riffs and sounds. Thanks to this track as now Mekaal Hasan Band's lyrics and arrangements have clearly eclipsed those of any band in the current music scene.
Late Moon is a re-vamped version of Sanwal and delivers a quasi-industrial mood to the instrumental and it features Raag Charokashi on it. The sheer balls on display in Mekaal's camp, where time changes and brazen riffs are casually thrown the listener's way as if there was an inexhaustible well of such hooks upon which they could draw.
The enhanced CD also offers the live version of 'Dreamscape' and 'Ya Ali' and the footage of the band jamming to a Steve Vai song namely the 'Attitude Song.' This video itself gives enough reason for us to get up and blow out our hips to keep up with the funky jam.
The idea behind this whole record was to work with traditional classical elements and introduce the beauty of both classical melody and jazz harmony to people in a manner which allows them to absorb both without feeling overly suppressed by the complexities of both these great art forms. There is so much we all need to be aware of and hopefully after listening to this record, people and particularly young people will walk away feeling connected to a tradition that too often is forgotten and looked over as something that is archaic. "There is a ton in the tunes which I am sure musicians will get off on, but none of it is at the expense of the song or the accessibility of the tunes," feels Mekaal.
I certainly didn't expect "Sampooran" to be as successful as it is. Timing has something to do with everything that goes on. Mekaal Hasan and his crew put out their debut album and suddenly they are surrounded by the mainstream. Bands such as Dusk, Mizraab and Mekaal Hasan Band are certainly not the last to be judged harshly under the heavily politicised eye of the modern media as more shall take up the path and become the part of the booming music industry. As Mekaal Hasan Band saw it, if success was heading their way then it was heading their way on their own terms.
First published: www.pakistanirock.com on Friday 12 March 2004.
MHB: Review of Sampooran by Omeir Qazi – Bandbaja
I wonder at this you and I
You are all there is
And I am all annihilated
And I exist No Longer
I soon realized that writing the review for “Sampooran” would be a rather spontaneous process because of the music’s deep connection from my spiritual self. This holds true for every powerful piece of art which grips oneself from within and elevates them to an indiscernible yet emotionally blissful state. When suddenly everything becomes obvious, everything is rendered meaningless and nothing exists but that spiritual bond between the viewer and the art form. Jacques-Louis David’s “The Death of Socrates” for instance is a work of art that evokes a certain emotional reaction within me. And I am sure all of us encounter that feeling.
Likewise, classical music is a form of art that is deeply rooted in man’s emotional constituency. Good compositions in classical music are those which are capable of harnessing those raw human emotions. The artistic void created by the demise of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has effectively been filled by the Meekal Hassan Band as they give us an elaborate sonic experience that is both iconoclastic and simultaneously:
Light waves Crashing on shore.
Cool, Starry Night.
Reputed as a “fusion” album long before it came out “Sampooran” is indeed fusion in the truest sense of the term. MHB flaunts its musical ingenuity and knowledge on every track of the album by combining elements of two of the most sensual genres; jazz and Indian-classical music. For instance the merciless jazzy bassline on “Late Moon” (which sounds like its being played on an upright bass, but I am not making claims), possesses the listener with its haunting emotionality. Likewise the instrumental break on “Darbari”, when Meekal Hassan solos uninhibitedly is another example of the soulful amalgamation of jazz and Indian classical on “Sampooran”. The drums, the basslines, chords and solos it seems like are brought in from the “jazz quarters” while the flutes, vocal melodies, etc. are Eastern. The production is very simple. The album is also impressive percussively with various instruments playing in the background that compliment the jazzy drums. This is what I gathered by listening to the album, and I have a very rudimentary understanding of the technicalities of music.
The vocals on most songs are classical mantras. This is evident of the fact that MHB’s motif in this endeavor was to create an emotional sonic experience for the listener. The lyrics on other songs are Sufi mystic poetry (e.g. Ya Ali, Waris Shah).
I think it is futile for me to sit here and describe the various components of the album or draw analogies to other artists (something that I had initially planned to mentioning) in order to further define the album. Quite frankly that takes away from the “experience” of “Sampooran”. I think this album should be approached as an art form and not as conventional Paki-pop.
Hands down, the best record to come out in Pakistan in ages.
The rose’s song rang out amidst the garden;
Leaves of fine gold, one upon another
Smiling laughter, too,
I brought into this world of colors.
Then from all this,
My blossom bursting, scattered
I gave my petals to this world
Where nothing matters
Andholan Review – Nik Cameron
The best way to start a music blog is to have absolutely zero focus.
Consider Folk Rock, Electronic Dance Music, Death Metal, Techno, Pop, Grindcore featuring trombones, and any other crazy thing that comes across your desk.
Review it all!
Well, at least that's my line of thought. I wrongly get called a metal publication, when I'm not, but I am a publication that reviews metal, along with classical, folk, cellos, club music, rap, and again everything else that comes across my desk.
That's what I call branding right! I mean come get your whatever music here. Most folks don't have the eclectic taste in music I do, but in the hopes that you're feeling a bit adventurous today, I present to you some Pakistani Folk Rock.
Mekaal Hasan Band
Our new friend, and his friends, play a variety of Middle Eastern Folk music known as Sufi.
To my Western ears, this album sounds very, very off the wall.
Based on what I know of Hasan, it probably sounds strange over in Pakistan as well.
He was classically trained in both the east and the west...and he confused teachers on both sides of the world with his choices.
I quickly noticed the vocals.
They're classical Indian vocals sung by Mumbai based singer, Sharmistha Chatterjee
Aside from the bass and drums, another melodic instrument appears....
Bansuri (bamboo flute) master Mohammad Papu Ahsan has as much dominion over the melodies as the eponymous hero here. There are long stretches of musical interplay between the two.
Though this album features layers of crunchy guitars, tasty overdriven rhythms, and pinched harmonics, this is no metal or rock album.
It's a musical collaboration between five individuals who've created something unique. When one of their songs comes on, heads will turn.
MHB Review from The Cedar, Minneapolis – We Heart Music
India/Pakistan band Mekaal Hasan Band (Mekaal Hasan on guitars, Mohammad Ahsan Papu on flutes, Ibrahim "best looking drummer in Pakistan" Akram on drums, Amir Azhar on bass, and Sharmistha Chatterjee on lead vocals) recently made a rare appearance at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis last night.
What is unique about Mekaal Hasan Band is that they have members from Pakistan and India, and they play something called sufi rock (a fusion of rock music with Pakistani classical music). Their songs are sung in either Farsi or Punjabi.
As described by band leader Mekaal Hasan, they have released three albums, with their early materials were too "dense and cerebral". What he is referring to is the more jazz rock style on "Bandeya", with emphasis later in the song with some really heavy bass.
Their later songs, particularly on their latest Andholan and untitled upcoming record, their music is more up-tempo and more "groovy" as Hasan puts it.
As previously described, the Pakistani style really shines through with various flutes by Mohammad Ahsan Papu and Sharmistha Chatterjee's traditional Pakistani singing style. However, the guitar-driven and drumming puts the music in a different direction... sometime sounding like something you would hear on a Metallica song, but with crazy Bollywood vocals. It's trippy and psychedelic - especially when the band played their epic set closer "Ya Ali" medley into "Mahi" with flickering color-changing lights at the end.
Mekaal Hasan Band's Lux Style Awards-nominated album Andholan is out now.