Pakistan has become home to so many festivals that at times it is difficult to keep track of them. Literature and music festivals. Food festivals interspersed with music. Book launches and literary festivals. It is sometimes difficult to keep track and also to stay interested as so much content in all these festivals tends to overlap.
But Creative Karachi Festival 2019 (CKF2019) in its third iteration since founder Sabeen Mahmud was shot dead in Karachi (2015), was about upholding the unparalleled legacy of Sabeen Mahmud. It was about celebrating how open-minded she was to all kinds of artists, designers, creators and more.
From a slew of food stalls, where French fries were outselling everything else in the food department to stalls of artists selling customized t-shirts, mugs, cigarette cases to climate action knowledge available to the Karachi Biennale 2019 (KB19) stall, CKF 2019 was a space where anyone willing to ‘create’ was welcome. You could also laze in the grass or dance to the music.
KB19 had a talk session; there were comedy sessions, and music curated with a great deal of thought. Of course, there was a DJ booth as well and in two days, DJs like Tollcrane and a handful of others played original as well as hits like ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ by Cyndi Lauper, Wham’s ‘Wake Me Up’ and Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’. Some people were dancing close to the booth while others sat politely, waiting for customers at their stalls.
T2F director and the man-in-charge of things - who is an artist himself - Arieb Azhar told Instep that he felt Indus Blues (of which he is the executive producer), would be a good headliner on the first day while Laal Kabootar, that has set a new standard in filmmaking in Pakistan, would be a good second day headliner film.
In the courtyard, Dastaangoi – storytelling – by Fawad Khan found listeners as did hip-hoppers. Authors such as H.M. Naqvi were seen on day two while Sanam Saeed was seen on day one, along with director/producer Meher Jaffri. Some stayed for the qawwali while others came for Ahsan Bari & Friends and Kashmir but ended up listening to a carefully curated list featuring bands like Karachi Jazz Band, Surkhwaab, Waqas Hussain Project, Tamasha and Nafs that had the pulse of the crowd. A lot of these acts do not get as many opportunities to play a live show. It was more than homage. It was an effort to take Sabeen Mahmud’s vision forward.
Speaking to Instep, Arieb Azhar stated how the music and films were curated. “The music stage was curated by me because I am a musician and in touch with most of the musicians around Pakistan. For the last five years, I’ve also been working actively as a musician and a promoter so I’m connected with contemporary, folk and classical musicians from across the country and I’ve worked with a lot of them in various projects. It was about a combination of bands that are lesser known and well-known plus bands that would work in a festival setting like CKF, which is primarily about young people so it needed that energy. There are a lot of good bands out there and you can’t accommodate everyone so one thing I do make a point of when I’m curating is that I have to like the music first. If personally I like their music, then I see which ones are more suitable to the ethos of the festival. CKF needed that energy.”
Arieb shared that while he curated the music, the film section was curated by Sabih Ahmed who had reached out to T2F about a year ago, “very kindly”. According to Arieb, he is a film scholar and knows the history of film. “He’s acquainted with world cinema so he’s a good person to work with.”
The festival, well-attended, particularly on the second day, had musicians mingling and a Kathak performance by Alaina Roy that left one spell-bound.
The beloved founder of CKF2019 Sabeen Mahmud is no longer with us but celebrating her life, even in death, must’ve been a daunting task. Speaking on the matter, Arieb Azhar said, “Sabeen set up CKF in 2014. One year after her passing, in 2016, when Marvi Mazhar was in-charge of T2F, the second CKF was organized. After 2016, this is the first one. It took three years for it to happen again.”
“After Sabeen’s passing, different people tried to keep it going,” Arieb continued, “and all of them had very difficult tasks and duties and to keep the place alive right after Sabeen’s murder was a huge challenge. Marvi Mazhar, Zaheer Kidvai and of course, people from the board of PeaceNiche, all had a lot to do with keeping this place alive. Sabeen’s legacy is unparalleled. I met her several times but with other people. I performed once when she was in-charge of T2F. I only realized what an important role she played in Karachi when I took charge of T2F last year and the scope of it, the number of lives she had touched in some way or the other and the number of people who all felt and still feel invested in T2F, Sabeen and her legacy.”
He went on: “This is the challenging bit, to push T2F forward because it was Sabeen’s brainchild; it will always remain Sabeen’s legacy but it has to be more than that. Sabeen was one individual, a shining beautiful soul but her vision was not to create a shrine for herself but to create a sustainable, growing institution that expands, brings more people into its fold and creates a sort of community, of individuals, a family of artists, thinkers, doers, who can work with each other and talk to each other and come up with projects together. Sabeen is the figurehead behind T2F and Creative Karachi but after her so are the other people who put their energy and love and their own dedication into T2F and into Creative Karachi Festival. No one can ever fill Sabeen’s shoes; Sabeen was Sabeen and I wouldn’t even want to because I have my own life experiences, ambitions, desires, unfulfilled dreams. It’s important to be true to the initial vision of T2F to create a community of empowered, empathetic human beings and sort of create a think-tank to come up with new ideas to address the challenges of today’s world and to be at the forefront of intellectual and creative activity.”