Democratizing Music

January 26, 2020

As Lahore Music Meet, colloquially known as LMM, gets set to serenade Lahore for the fifth year running, Instep speaks to the women behind the annual festival.

Natasha Noorani has developed into a fine musician; she is featured on the soundtracks of films like Saqib Malik’s Baaji and Umer Adil’s Chalay Thay Saath. She has also released a thrilling solo EP called Munaasib and collaborated with Strings on a song called ‘Hum Dono’ from their last record Tees (30) and though she didn’t feature in the music video, she starred in the music video of ‘Urr Jaoon’, also by Strings. In addition, she has performed at Sine Valley Festival in Nepal, among other things. — Photo by author 

Music is one of the greatest uniting forces in the world. Its power is undeniable and the innate talent doesn’t care about socio-economic background, ethnicity or gender to strike and transform lives. Music can transcend language barriers and physical boundaries; it can give momentum to popular movements or help to rally crowds at political conventions. Music emotes life, with or without words.

And Pakistan has no dearth of musical talent. Our country might have suffered a musical drought since the onset of the war on terror in the early 2000s but the burgeoning scene that was nipped in the bud is once again blooming. The underground isn’t so underground any longer with the help of social media. Because of digital platforms, musicians are no longer beholden to be producers and agents. They create music, put it out on the web and let merit do the rest. Truly an exciting time.

Despite the precarious security situation that tends to plague our country from time to time and the threat from more fanatical factions within the society, Pakistan is also hosting music festivals once again. There’s been several in Karachi in the last year and Sindh’s Lahooti Melo is an annual treat that many look forward to.

In 2020, it’s LMM - that commences the new decade – kicking things off on the 1st of February. Spearheaded by a group of young women, creative professional by day and musical superheroes by night, the festival is in its fifth year and the anticipation it generates is incredible.

Speaking to Instep, Natasha Noorani, one half of the duo that kicked off the festival in 2015, explains that their philosophy behind choosing to not have a ticket based event is idealistic but simple. “We wanted to keep the space very inclusive. We host it at the Al-Hamra Arts Council, which is a public space and on the weekends hosts lots of families out to enjoy the weather. If we put even a 5 rupee ticket for entry, the event would become inaccessible to local families that consist of numerous members. We wanted the music and the event to be enjoyed by everyone, irrespective of their class or background and create a space that is positive and uniting.”

And while this strategy leaves the organizers scrambling for collaborators and sponsorships each year, it’s worth creating a space that allows people to just relax and enjoy the beats.

An event of this scale and ambition cannot be possible without the help of collaborators and established musicians. “The musicians and their support has been the backbone of this festival. The industry has been very helpful and enthusiastic about the whole venture. Without their support, guidance and willingness to participate, it wouldn’t have been possible to pull this off. They’re really invested and passionate about the festival and engage on a personal level with the attendees. They’ve helped the festival to grow each year.

“We also wanted to have no hierarchy amongst the musicians. There’s no special green room or exclusive lounges, everyone shares the space. It’s the artists who need to shine and we wanted to give back to them for all their support ensuring that they get to shine and be the ones being celebrated,” explains Noorani.

Creative Director of LMM, Munizeh Sanai adds, “The festival is also known as a teaching, networking and learning space. The stars who come in for the masterclasses will have their sessions and then just chill out after, interacting with the amateur and aspirants. They’ll stick around after the show, jam with other musicians, teach them a few things or mentor them.”

“Which is why we prefer to keep the big names and musical stars for masterclass; they have a platform already available to them and they play at other venues. With the line-up, whether indoor or outdoor we wanted to promote new and regional/folk talent that might not have platforms or spaces where people can hear them play,” Noorani elaborates.

This philosophy focuses on the upcoming talent but also celebrates the ensemble musicians, giving them a chance to play in front of large audiences and fans. “You’re not really a musician until you play in front of an audience; otherwise you’re just a recording artist,” adds Sanai.

Apart from co-founding LMM and being festival directors, Natasha Noorani and Zahra Paracha have also formed a duo called Biryani Brothers with prominent releases being ‘Ikisvi Sadi’ and ‘Sab Theek Ho Jaye Ga’. Zahra also plays with Sikandar Ka Mandar. — Photo by author 

Over the course of the year Noorani and co-founder Zahra Paracha scout for musicians and this year they received nearly 250 - 300 applicants. “There’s no dearth of musical talent in Pakistan. We’ve never found it difficult to find incredible new musicians to champion each year. Receiving so many applications this year was heartening, even though it was quite tough to select those who made the cut. We also have to look at how much music those who have been selected have produced in the year or what they’re planning on showcasing. We’re not just picking up a big name because they were popular 10 years ago and have played anything new since,” says Noorani.

With the line-up for this year released and featuring a diverse array of genres from Shamoon Ismail’s Punjabi blues to Talal Qureshi’s techno beats, we’re looking forward to see how this year’s edition plays out. The festival is developing a reputation for quality and for helping bring musicians and their fans closer. Here’s hoping 2020 is no different!

Democratizing Music: Meet Lahore Music Meet pioneer Natasha Noorani