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This year, the SXSW Music Festival will host its first-ever Pakistani Showcase at Victorian Room at The Driskill on Wednesday, March 18! The showcase will feature six artists and groups who will make their way to Austin from Pakistan for the festival.

The lineup includes traditional Manganiyar singer Mai ...

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Ron Kadish

Progressive Hope, Sonic Mission: Pakistani Musicians Make Ambitious Push to Change the Conversation, to Connect across Borders

For most American listeners, Pakistan is a blank spot on the world’s musical map, with the exception of global phenomenon Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. This year’s Pakistan Showcase at SXSW aims to fix that, bringing six wildly different ensembles together that show the full diversity of the country’s beleaguered but rich music scene. From intimate indie rock to rollicking traditional drumming, from a female singer hailing from a remote desert to cosmopolitan rock and jazz complexity, from Pashto trance to pop sleekness, the artists showcased at SXSW will present party-ready and thought-provoking sounds that urge listeners past the headlines and into deeper dialog with the country’s culture.

Pakistan @ SXSW 2015 (Main showcase: Wednesday March 18, 2015 at 8 PM, Victorian Room at the Driskill Hotel [604 Brazos Street])

: Pop idol-turned-cultural instigator crafts sparkling songs
Khumariyaan: Intoxicating hyper-folk jams from Peshawar
Mai Dhai Band: The gritty grand dame of soaring Manganiyar song
Mekaal Hasan Band: Sophisticated hard rock and jazz-inflected takes on stirring Subcontinental poetry
Poor Rich Boy: Soft-spoken, wry views from Lahore’s indie rock underground
Sain Tanveer Brothers: Bliss-inducing Punjabi drum masters

This showcase is a project of FACE Foundation for Arts Culture and Education, an Islamabad-based organization whose mission is to strengthen, empower, and educate communities through the universal language of arts and through cultural interactions. Support comes from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy, Islamabad.

Most music in Pakistan unfolds behind closed doors: in small jam sessions, at house concerts where friends gather to hang out, listen, jam together. That’s where Zeejah Fazli, president of FACE, one of Pakistan’s most dynamic concert presenters and music organizations, got his start, setting up house concerts in Islamabad about ten years ago.

“I was having small house concerts, at my own studio, or a friend’s place,” Zeejah recalls. “We had music association jams. They were get-togethers for musicians, with no commercial strings attached. The audience came to expect experimentation, new players, new sounds from established musicians. It got bigger and bigger.”

It got so big that the city government heard about it, and Zeejah found some new allies. He was eventually able to secure a site that became home to a 2,000-seat stadium venue. Then he founded FACE to ensure there were enough of the right kind of events to keep the venue running.

Yet FACE’s aims extend beyond putting on shows; they bring musicians together to promote substantive cultural exchange and expression as a counterpoint to fundamentalism and violence. The organization holds classes in the Subcontinent's classical music and events like Music Mela, an annual showcase festival and music conference similar to SXSW. That event, initiated by open-eared, progressive musician Arieb Azhar and held with backing of the U.S. Embassy, led Zeejah, young arts and media professional Mehnaz Ghulam, and their FACE colleagues to develop a plan to bring musicians to the U.S.

Making international connections fits well with the organization’s goals. Part of FACE’s ambitious mission involves making connections among musicians from different backgrounds and cultures, interactions that happen far too rarely in Pakistan. “Pakistan has four provinces, with different languages and cultures. The music is totally different in Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Each has its own distinct folk music. The exposure of musicians from one province to the sounds of another is extremely limited, and we want to promote interaction between musicians, to break them out of their isolation.”

"We have a passionate belief that music can make a huge difference in a country like ours, where you can see a lot of violence and anger," Mehnaz Parveen reflects. "FACE is a platform to promote art and music to a mass audience, at home and abroad, a way to make a change."

“In the end, we’re all in the same boat,” muses guitarist and producer Mekaal Hasan. “We’re still here despite it all, and we’re still making music. And finally, it seems that people are picking up on us.”