‘Classical Music has always had a small audience, but as long as the birds sing, so will we. Nobody, nothing can stop music.’ Hayat Ahmed Khan (Founder of APMC)
It was at a public film screening of ‘Khayal Darpan’ , a documentary movie about Classical Music in Pakistan today, that I had the chance to listen to dignities of Classical Music in Pakistan, Badar and Qamar uz Zaman, Parvez Paras, Hafeez Khan and others, discuss the value of Classical Music today with the audience. Just like in the Classical Music Scene in Europe, the maestros speak of a sad decline, of how their art is dying and how the youth looses contact to their roots. And while younger people in the audience try to make their point, that it’s not the first time in it’s history that this genre was changing, the Ustads wouldn’t hear.
Days later I talk to Rake, a former student of NCA Lahore who is nowadays fully focused on his Sitar practice. We are sitting in the Bagh-e-Jinnah Open Air, one of the greatest places in Lahore for Concerts and Theatre performances. It’s the first night of the 49th APMC (All Pakistan Music Conference) and students are performing in front of a critical jury that will later decide who will get the prestigious Gold Medals in the different categories. The APMC is a marathon of concerts, on every of the four nights the last performance did not happen before 2 o’clock in the morning.
And once more this annual festival was a strong sign of life of the Classical Scene in Pakistan.
Every year, just when it becomes enjoyable to sit in an Open Air and feel the evening breeze while listening to Live Music, the APMC Festival takes off for 5 days. The first day gives the Youth one of the few possibilities to show off their efforts to preserve Subcontinental and Pakistani Culture through Music. During the following days, the best Classical Musicians of Pakistan, some coming from Germany and India for this occasion, perform until late night and early morning.
Jaffer Hussain (Clarinet), Sarah Zaman (Khyal), Ashraf Shareef Khan (Sitar), Nasiruddin Sami (Khyal) and Tanveer Hussain (Rubab) showed how alive Classical Music is. And Rake, graduate from a University, was only one of many great students who make sure that this will be so in many years to come.
‘It is sad to see that there are so few young people playing the Sitar’ admits Rake. ‘I wish I had others to compare myself to.’ While most of the students perform with Classical Vocal Music and some on the Tabla, instruments like the Sitar, the Bansuri or the Sarod have hardly any upcoming talents.
But Rake does not hesitate to take his skills on the Sitar out of the Classical context into the contemporary influx of Rock and Pop that is ‘pushing back Classical Music into the Dark Ages’ as Ustad Badar-uz-Zaman puts it. While the APMC is going on at Bagh-e-Jinnah, the Youth Performing Arts Festival at the Gadaffi Open Air is starting into its 6th year. Rake performs with a friend on the Base Guitar. And while the performance becomes a victim of the bad sound system (if anything will kill music in Pakistan, then it is the lack of good sound systems …) he shows how Classical Music doesn’t need to be pushed aside by Rock and Pop but can contribute to it and take from it to become more approachable for young people today.
And while Music Festivals like the Youth Performing arts Festival are dependent on heavy advertisement, the APMC survives without that. ‘We will never commercialize our annual festival or our monthly concerts at Alhamra. We know that there is an audience for Classical Music that comes to our concerts, so way advertise it further?’ says Ghazala Irfan, the daughter of Hayat Ahmed Khan and driving force behind the APMC today. ‘We will not compromise on our quality for the sake of more fame.’ And the fact that she brings together the finest Musicians Pakistan attracts older generations as well as the Youth.
When Ustad Fateh Ali Khan Hyderabadi enthralled the audience at 5 in the morning on the last night of the APMC with his Khyal, the birds already started to sing. And it reminded me of what I read hours earlier in the program I received from Ghazala Irfan – ‘but as long as the birds sing, so will we. Nobody, nothing can stop music.’