At the Metanoia night in Lahore, the performers, those attending and the organisers — all made memories
Life often feels much grander and fuller with the inclusion of music. Thankfully, music is becoming more prevalent in Pakistan. We now have our yearly platforms such as Coke Studio and Nescafé Basement, and recently gained Spotify, which has helped the local artists to be heard and seen. Another iteration of this space for melodies has come in the form of Metanoia.
Metanoia, a word derived from the theological concept of renewing one’s spirit, is the name given to a concert series, hosted by Vice, a private company. The second episode of the event was held in Lahore recently. It featured up-and-coming artists along with some familiar names that have been working in the local industry for years.
It would perhaps be a bit clichéd to call the air at the venue electrifying, but it would not be wholly inaccurate. Through the sheer passion of the artists, one could truly feel that each piece of music was presented as shorthand for emotion.
The concert venue may have been intimate, but its atmosphere projected the larger-than-life quality that many of us associate with music. Food and clothing stalls bordered the audience who had dressed not to a level of formality but as a means of expression. From neon pink sweatsuits to wing-tipped orange eyeliner, from Canadian tuxedos to chic and formal dresses, the concert goers were clad in their personal comfort zones, ready to ride the waves of the various genres that would be performed.
Artists like Akh Sheikh and Ayesha Naveed carried their inspirations proudly, performing covers of Queen and Taylor Swift, respectively. Covering another artist is an interesting insight, especially when you consider the cultural divide between the Pakistani singer and the Western original. This was not a paint-by-numbers rendition, but a showcase of the ways in which the songs had inspired the newcomers. There was a variation to the sentiment and the inflection, which redefined familiar lyrics with new purpose. We do not listen to music as studio executives intend. We find our own pockets of connection, the chords and notes that resonate with our experiences. Naveed and Sheikh underscored how that unique interpretation could be combined with creativity to dress the purpose of a piece in new clothes.
Another emerging talent, Asfand, portrayed an aspect of a musician’s career that is often overlooked: the art of emceeing. A concert is not simply the chance to enjoy songs — indeed, one can often find these songs for free online, listen to them in high quality and in the comfort of our homes. The idea of a concert lies in the performance, and Asfand, easily weaving the charisma of a standup comic into his candid conversation with the crowd, allowed the listeners to borrow the feeling of imagination. He made you feel like you were part of the process.
Another performer seemed to have combined the desi infatuation with medicine and his musical skill, working as a doctor by day and producer-guitarist by night. Mustoffee, of the band Wisdom Salad, not only aided in the setup for a lot of other performers, but also in the patience of his own performance. Speaking to TNS after the event, the musician said that events like Metanoia were important because of two factors: One was the vast talent pool in Pakistan that is always looking for chances to perform, and the second was the public demand for such outlets of entertainment.
“In a country where all you can do is to go out to eat, people are starved for entertainment,” he said. “Specifically, I feel for diversity in entertainment which can only come about if events with varying agendas compete for the public eye.”
It bears mentioning that Wisdom Salad purportedly found the wind beneath its wings after performing at the Lahore Music Meet a few years ago. Mustoffee is of the opinion that events that share the stage between the up-and-coming and established acts draw new ears to the former, which in turn gives them the courage to pursue this passion as a career.
Whether one looks to Pakistan or the West, chasing a career in the arts is often considered a pipedream. While the means of making a living these artists have have increased in the last few years — be it through online streams or merch sales in tandem with event performances — it still remains a gamble for the most.
Mustoffee arguably has a harder day job than most of the other performers, but he strives to find a balance between medicine and the music, where the former might heal the body but the latter lends itself to healing the soul. At least, that is the opinion one can form after viewing the fervour of Wisdom Salad on stage.
Befittingly, this passionate act was followed by an old hat in the Pakistani indie music scene, Poor Rich Boy, which has been performing at various events for nearly a decade now. There were some technical difficulties at the start of their set, but the crowd waited patiently.
Metanoia is a product of the times. It is organised by people who want to propel the arts. While it is focused on music for now, it intends to expand its event categories to various forms of expression and performance. On the one hand, that’s a lofty creation to look forward to; on the other, there is a unique joy in the intimacy of the still-budding event, overhearing rumours of the musicians in the crowd, and the palpable connection amid 200-odd strangers brought together in a shared moment of freedom. The performers, the audience, the organisers — were all making memories that night.