Instep talks to Saif Samejo about Lahooti Live Sessions, a new record from his band, The Sketches and exploring the rich tradition of regional music
The past few years have seen a meteoric rise in music shows. From corporate-funded initiatives like Coke Studio, Nescafe Basement and the short-lived Pepsi Smash and Uth Records to indie efforts like Lussun TV and Lahooti Live Sessions - music is emerging from all corners of the country.
Unlike Coke Studio that blends traditional styles with modernity, Lahooti Live Sessions, spearheaded by Sketches man Saif Samejo, has carved out its own identity by focusing on unearthing indigenous voices that belong to the land. It also shines a light on traditional instruments that we may or may not have heard before. There is no blatant product placement that will irritate your vision as you scroll through the episodes. It’s a show that gives us hope that Pakistan is not just producing and combating terrorists and drowning in social conservatism. The people uncovered by Lahooti truly embody the spirit of Sufism and simply do not possess a monomaniacal streak or self-aggrandizing demeanour that is common to the entertainment world.
Since its arrival, Lahooti (which roughly translates to ‘traveler’) has seen participation from folk artists from Sindh (who shine in the spotlight almost always) and beyond as well as international artists from abroad and indie/alternative acts from Pakistan. An eclectic, diverse list of artists have performed at Lahooti since its birth such as Bell, Arieb Azhar, Sounds of Kolachi as well as others and the aim is to get as many musicians as possible.
Listening to the songs and watching the videos is a mystical process like no other and quickly takes over your brain and instantly replaces the the need for procrastination. Several songs take you by surprise and bring you back to repeat listening because they are pure, raw and absolutely beautiful.
Artists like Mai Dhai (who has made it to Coke Studio as well as the soundtrack of this year’s first major film release, Ho Mann Jahaan with ‘Sarak Sarak’) fill up your senses and leave you desperately yearning for more. Making several appearances on this particular show, Mai is as breathtaking as ever. Tracks like the playful ‘Chir Mee’ and the slow-haunting ‘Doro’ tell us exactly why Mai is such a treasure. Other gems include names like Zulfiqar Fakeer and Shakoor Faqeer introduce us to beautiful traditional instruments like Boreendo and Kamach respectively. The poetry of Ghulam Farid and Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai (among others) is resurrected through this show and is brought into the limelight.
When Lahooti first began somewhere in 2013, it took off on Samejo’s own rooftop at his house in Jamshoro. Three years later, the show is still going strong and has found a place for itself on the Indian music channel, Pepsi MTV Indies.
"MTV heard our stuff on Facebook," says Samejo in a telephonic conversation with Instep from Jamshoro, "and got in touch with us. We exchanged some emails and learned that they wanted to air the show so we gave them the go-ahead."
The result was simple: more fans for a show that has enough beautiful content to last a lifetime. "People wrote to us, not just from India but from other places, their comments keep coming and this interaction keeps us going," says Saif Samejo, a quiet and unassuming artist from Sindh with a heart full of love for musicians and for whom the experience of recording the show and the journey is far more important than attracting corporate brands for funding.
"We don’t shoot Lahooti as a season," explains Samejo. "We record and shoot once we come up with the funding because it’s not a corporate, commercial venture. When we can record it and upload it, we do it."
The lack of corporate sponsorship is also a conscious decision, one that allows Samejo to operate on his own pace. "I want freedom, I want to be azad," maintains Samejo and adds, "and that’s how we shoot the show. We enjoy the process of finding these indigenous artists, visit their villages and learn about their lives and their stories."
While this forms the crux of the show, Lahooti Live Session has grown from strength to strength and later this April they will be hosting a two-day music festival that will enrich the lives of all those involved.
"The three major cities, Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad have seen their shares of music festivals in recent memory so we’ve decided to do the Lahooti festival in Sindh come April," observes Samejo.
And if you’re wondering about participation, rest assured it’ll be quite special.
"In addition to our many indigenous folk artists, the festival will also see participation from industry experts like Abbas Ali Khan, Gumby, Zohaib Kazi, Noori, Faraz Anwar, Sara Haider, Zeb Bangash and many more."
While Lahooti will continue to find, discover and help us in finding voices of this land and beyond, Saif Samejo’s own musical unit, The Sketches are also returning with a new album this year. And though it is now the norm to release one-off singles, Samejo is not one to follow any industry trends.
The new Sketches album is called Tu and will feature close to fourteen songs. It will feature several languages like Urdu, English, Sindhi, Punjabi, Saraiki and will showcase a combination of artists from Pakistan as well as Nepal and the United States.
Aware of monopolistic record labels and having suffered the grind, Samejo is smarter and sharper about industry trends this time around and simply doesn’t care for them.
"For us as artists, it is a beautiful feeling to interact with other fellow artists and interact with our fans. We do not make music based on what the "market" demands. As a non-commercial music entity, we have seen the attitude of labels who belittle your work and make you feel low," shoots back Samejo.
None of this, however, will keep him from his mission, which is making music and taking us lucky listeners along with him. In fact, the possibilities are endless and for Samejo, that is the real victory.