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November 14, 2017



The galvanising power of art

Two days, Saturday and Sunday, will certainly go down as really memorable in the cultural calendar of the city, as days which would wipe out all paranoid fears about the future of the country, about the “dangers posed” by the widely varying ethnic and cultural diversity.

This was amply borne out by the two-day Lok Mela (folk festival) sponsored jointly by I AM KARACHI, Islamabad’s Lok Virsa, and the Arts Council, Karachi.  It was a cultural representation from all parts of the country, the most far-flung areas, from Hunza in the extreme northeast to Kafiristan (Chitral) in the extreme northwest, to Balochistan in the extreme southwest, from Punjab, from Sindh and from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

From the reputedly Greek origin people and culture of Kafiristan, to the Negroid Mekranis of Balochistan, all were fully represented. They all seemed to present their characteristic cultural expression with pride, and the best part of it all was that the massive audience most jubilantly accepted the art of each group and profusely applauded the performances, regardless of racial or cultural origin.

The programme got off the ground with a performance by the Naushad Ali group from Hunza. They presented a vocal number in Brashuski, the local language, complete with dancing steps and to the accompaniment of a local version of the clarinet, the Napeeri. The hearty applause from the audience, who joined in the singing and applauded most warmly, sometimes with loud whistles, was a testimony to the full-hearted acceptance of the artistic heritage of the country as such. 

What made the performance even more captivating were the visuals of the Gilgit-Baltistan area with the perennially snow-covered, sky-piercing mountain peaks, the azure lakes, and the rushing, gurgling waterways, a picture of the immense scenic treasures the country is endowed with.

Then there was storytelling in the form of music, titled “Thalla Mur Ke Naheen Aya”, Punjabi folklore narrated by the corpulent Fazal Jat, son of the legendary Punjabi folk singer, Ashiq Jat. The rendition was so reminiscent of the spirit of Punjab. It was so reflective of the purely rural character of the province. This was followed by Bushra Marvi’s rendition of a Sindhi folk song with that typically Sindhi clapping rhythm.

Then there were two vocal numbers, in Balochi and Brahvi, by Muhammad Ibrahim from Balochistan.

Sindh Minister for Culture, Antiquities and Tourism Sardar Shah, the chief guest, said cultural and artistic expression were an ideal instrument for helping us fight intolerance and that was amply proved by the two-day extravaganza.

The following day, Sunday, saw an even larger number of audience, by certain estimates, 3,000-plus. Among the star performances was one by Leva dancers from Balochistan with their hypnotising drumbeat and spewing fire which really captivating the audience.

There was also a vocal number by the daughter of the late legendary singer, Reshma. She presented a number from southern Punjab.

However, the performance that could be judged to be the most imposing, the best, was the group dances from Kafiristan presented by those pretty Kalash lasses, with their  flaxen hair, peach complexions and meticulously chiseled Greco-Roman features. 

According to historians and anthropoligists, the Kalash (people of Kafiristan) are actually the descendents of the Greek soldiers, legions of Alexander the Great who just stayed on and never went back home. This is borne out by the fact that their rites and rituals which are nature religion-oriented date back to the Greece of Homer’s era.

Whatever their origin, it could be stated on authority that on both evenings, their performance stole the show.

The performances so engrossed the audience that a large group, comprising all age groups, from teenagers to sexagenarians, all social strata from the most trendy to the somewhat conservative ones, were seen dancing most vibrantly to a Sindh folk number by Saleem Faqir, son of the late Sindhi folk singer, Allan Faqir. What was highly commendable was the atmosphere totally free of any inhibitions.

The two-day festival proved beyond a shadow of doubt our oneness as a nation despite the diversity and proved the beauty of diversity, as was stated by the guest of honour of the evening, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani. The power of artistic and cultural expression in galvanising a nation was amply proved.