Ahsan Bari expands his musical repertoire

Maheen Sabeeh
March 27, 2020

In addition to spearheading the second Sounds of Kolachi (SOK) album to be released this year, Ahsan Bari is one of the three names to spearhead Paanch – The Mixtape. His attention now is firmly set on a solo album as well as expanding his musical beat by working with the likes of Mai Dhai in Umerkot and empowering the children that reside in the vicinity.

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“And if the darkness is to keep us apartAnd if the daylight feels like it’s a long way offAnd if your glass heart should crackAnd for a second you turn backOh no, be strongWalk on, walk on”

Ahsan Bari is a polymath; a man who writes symphony-based pieces and can find ways to collaborate with just about any one while turning into a strong producer. A glimpse of it is visible on Paanch – The Mixtape Volume 1, an idea that Ahsan not only conjured with Babar Sheikh and Wajiha Ather Naqvi but also played music producer to some tracks featured in the five-track EP along with being a featured artist as SOK.

As SOK, he has already toured USA and appeared on the mammoth machinery of music, Coke Studio (in its 11th season).

A regular feature at Lahooti Melo, Ahsan Bari (along with SOK’s Quaid Ahmed) worked on the resurrected second season of Pepsi Battle of the Bands in various capacities – from mentoring artists to collaborations including one with Ali Azmat for the grand finale during which Ahsan joined Azmat on stage as they performed a new song called ‘Patal Sey’ together.

Ahsan Bari may no longer be with PBOTB but he doesn’t need to be. His focus, right now, is on a second Sounds of Kolachi (SOK) album, after making their debut as a band with the album, Elham as well as a solo album and Mai Dhai.

In between all this, there have been other shows as well such as co-curating Southasia Ensemble on several occasions with Salt Arts in the past; and just this month, Ahsan Bari performed with Bangladesh-based artist, Dina Shaikh and had a great deal to say on the matter.

“Performing with Dina was a brilliant experience. Before this, I had never worked with an artist from Bangladesh,” said Ahsan Bari, post-script.

He carried on: “Our perception of Bangladesh is very vague; in fact I would say it is a strange perspective. We have a tendency to use Bangladeshi names and terms as jokes; we seem to have no interest or eagerness to learn about their culture. When I worked with Dina Shaikh, I realized what a beautiful culture it truly is. I had the opportunity to explore/experience Rabindranath Tagore and it made me wonder why have we forsaken a culture that is so close to us? Dina is a wonderful artist and we’re working on something very special that I cannot disclose just yet.”

Beyond working with Dina Shaikh, Ahsan Bari often finds himself in Umerkot, Sindh, where Mai Dhai resides and some form of collaboration is in the making. Talking to Instep, Ahsan revealed in detail, “Something beautiful has initiated with Mai Dhai; we want to work with her on multiple things. This includes traditional albums, fusion albums.”

The idea, noted Ahsan, was to present her to the world. “After coronavirus outbreak, we’re just trying to figure out how to go about it. What we’ve done with her thus far, we will start presenting it in the next few months including some of her albums as well as sessions.”

Ahsan noted about Mai Dhai further, “We want to present her story to the world and how a woman continued this tradition. When we went to Umerkot, her traditional tribe music, it is flourishing. It is flourishing in the sense that she is teaching others; her two granddaughters were singing. There were several children who were singing, which was a positive sign that this art form is not dying. Now it is up to us. I’m in touch with a few organisations; my mission is to go and make the children self-sufficient. What has been happening until now is that they are called to the city; people record them and someone does fusion or something or the other. But, eventually, how do they benefit from all of this? They get a little bit of money and that’s it.”

The notion that Ahsan Bari is carrying is one of empowerment. He wants to go to Umerkot and teach music production, particularly to the children so they are well-versed enough for the future. This includes teaching them about social media to give them the tools that in the coming decade would provide them with the ability to produce and present their art-form themselves instead of city dwellers recording them for their own need. “They exploit their art and don’t present it properly either,” noted Ahsan.

“All that noise, and all that soundAll those places I have foundAnd birds go flying at the speed of soundTo show you how it all began”

As for Ahsan Bari’s claim to fame unit, Sounds of Kolachi, who have one mercurial album called Elham to their name, a lot is in the pipeline. The debut album of the band was inspired by raags, the glorious era of Hindustani music as well as blues, with hints of prog-rock.

But as Ahsan tells Instep, they have started something new with the second album. For one thing, in the first album, he handled most of the compositional responsibilities. But all that has changed with the upcoming second SOK album. “Saif Abbas, Quaid Ahmed and Gul Muhammad are taking a bigger role in composing material for the second album. For Elham, I did most of the compositions. An aspect of Nimra Rafiq will also come in so we’re creating what we hope is a newer, fresher sound.”

Furthermore, noted Ahsan, “We’ve done one single which is sounding great and daringly different from the last album. Because we are quarantined and Saif Abbas Rizwan (bass player) is in America, we are working remotely. Our aim is to complete the album – one way or another – and drop it later this year. We want to feature a couple of musicians on this record including musicians from outside Pakistan.”

Ahsan is also working on his solo album, which he plans to release later this year and admits that it will feature some collaborations that can’t be named just yet. “I want to start a global series as well, which I will start soon. Let’s see where it goes given the present and how people are negatively affected and depressed by circumstances. The question is how to pull them out. As a musician, I want to do my bit. I am in touch with artists like Faisal Rafi, Omran Shafique, Babar Sheikh, Natasha Baig and soon we will come up with a lot of stuff,” he said conclusively.

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