Sounds of Kolachi

10-piece super group creates a sonic highway from Ragas to the Blues                                   

Like an Indian Ocean blast from the seaport megacity it calls home, Sounds of Kolachi, a new 10-piece super group of vocalists and instrumentalists from Karachi, blurs raga and Western harmony, counterpoint and South Asian melodic lines, all without losing the groove. In this instantly listenable ensemble, South Asian classical instruments like the sitar and bowed sarangi are on equal footing with electric guitar and rock rhythm section. Guiding the journey, composer, theorist, and singer Ahsan Bari spins outrageous, bluesy, modal riffs, boosted by a quartet of male and female voices.

u.s. debut with center stage

AVAILABLE March - May 2017
TRAVELERS 11 (10 musicians, 1 U.S. company manager)
VENUE Dance clubs to large halls. Excellent quality sound system and backline required

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Funk Pockets and Desert Saints: Sounds of Kolachi Unites Sufi Concepts, South Asian Sounds, and Universal Grooves

Start with five beats that mimic the stride of a dove before it takes flight. Next take a poem by a revered Sufi poet, Amir Khusrau, rumored to have invented this particular rhythmic cycle. Craft melodies meant for guitar and sitar. Then add the language of groove, of Afro-diasporic funky low end.

The result: “Aey Ri Saki,” one of the many complex tracks by supergroup Sounds of Kolachi. The ten musician-strong band from Karachi, Pakistan harnesses the spirit of South Asian folk and classical worlds, adding layers of jazz chords, a vocal quartet, Western classical tonality, rock and funk drive, with a mix of deliberation and glee.

The band is coming to the U.S. for its American debut tour March 25-April 16, 2017 as part of Center Stage Pakistan (centerstageUS.org).

“We start by assuming that all musical diversity is one language, but with distinct dialects,” explains Ahsan Bari, lead vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and mastermind behind Sounds of Kolachi. “We come with a simple rock riff, say, fine. This is one expression. It has a whole story behind it, the entire story of rock music within it. How can we incorporate and what should we bring in from our side with this riff? We start trying various musical styles. We try a thumri, a South Asian light classical vocal form. Okay fine, that doesn’t work, so let’s try a bandish. We experiment until it works.”

Though flowing and driving like pop songs, Sounds of Kolachi’s pieces hint at folk hymns to Sufi saints one minute, post-rock and jazz-inspired fugues the next. Young and adventuresome, the band unites Pakistani artists of all backgrounds, men and women, rock players and classical instrumentalists with strong command of bowed sarangi and sitar, an exceedingly rare mixture in today’s Pakistan. They are inimitably a live band, and no two performances of the same piece are alike. The group’s robust, structured compositions purposefully leave ample room for play. “We work together with the audience to build an experience in that place, with those people, in that moment,” muses Bari.

At the heart of this whirlwind of a band are the sarangi and sitar players, encouraged by the clarion-voiced Bari, the son of a literarily inclined, Urdu-speaking family that moved to Pakistan during Partition. “I’m the first musician in the family,” Bari recounts. “My grandfather on my mother’s side was a poet. My dad used to write a lot and was into poetry. Gatherings often happened at our home, famous poets coming and reading their stuff; it was very artistic environment. They always encouraged me, but not necessary as a profession.”

An academic junkie and rock head, Bari started playing music with Gravity, one of Pakistan’s underground rock bands a decade ago. He gave up studying quantum physics for eastern classical vocal studies, and entered Pakistan’s National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA).

“A guitar professor at NAPA introduced me to texts and scores,” Bari recalls. “I was mesmerized by Bach’s organ work. How could one think of so many different lines at the same time? All of that stuff got intense when I started studying the basics of jazz composition. I started analyzing Coltrane. I took up guitar as my primary tool.”

After graduation, Bari joined NAPA’s faculty and began composing, teaching, and performing all over town. “My music got really complicated, the time signatures, the harmonies and chords. I started to learn tabla theory. It all mixed up and got really complex.”

Two years ago, says Bari, “I started listening to all this great folk music that was being recorded in Jamshoro,” 90 minutes from Karachi on the banks of the Indus River. When The Sketches, the band that was supporting these folk musicians and presenting their work, called and asked Bari to produce for them, he packed up and headed there for three months with Gul Mohammad (sarangi) and Waqas Ahmed (sitar). Both descended from classical musical families, they are now core members of Sounds of Kolachi.

Inspired by his experiences in rural Sindh, Bari returned to Karachi eager to distill and pare down his ideas, gathering a fluid (and increasingly large number) of music pros and former students. Bari and his bandmates wanted to build new forms to hold millennia of musical practice, the classical and folk traditions of the subcontinent.

“The best moment for me so far has been watching people go crazy for sarangi and sitar,” Bari reflects. “I knew we had set those sounds in such a fashion that it’s easy for people to connect, to start listening to them. In a solo classical format, most young people aren’t going to listen to a whole concert. So instead of guitar or key solos, we decided to have sitar or sarangi solos.”

Bari and the band did more than sub in one set of timbres or solo instruments for another, however. He set about to rethink the entire approach to getting east and west into dialogue and harmony. Working with his band to flesh out ideas, he takes engagement with tradition past preservation or fusion, into uncharted places where concepts as far flung as Schoenberg’s Harmonielehre, funk pockets, and desert saint devotions merge.

Sounds of Kolachi took off in 2013, performing at festivals and venues around Karachi and in other major Pakistani cities. They released their first album, Elhaam (Intuition), this year. “We’re a project, a process – experimenters,” notes Bari.

This experiment stands as a testament to the other side of their home megalopolis of Karachi, one rarely heard among the negative portrayals and reports of violence. “No matter how much turmoil and adversity, you stick together. That translates into music,” Sounds of Kolachi bassist Saif Abbas Rizwan says. “We combine all our other musical tastes and interests interests with what we understand from South Asian classical concepts. Where those two things meet is this magical phenomenon.”

Sounds of Kolachi
Ahsan Bari, band leader -- guitar, keyboards, vocals
Gul Muhammad, sarangi
Waqas Hussain, sitar
Sherjeel O’Neil, lead guitar
Saif Abbas Rizwan, bass guitar
Shams Ul Arifeen, drums
Quaid Ahmed, vocals
Nimra Rafiq, vocals
Iman Shahid, vocals
Waqar Hussain, vocals

About Center Stage

Center Stage (www.centerstageUS.org) invites performing artists from select countries to the United States to perform, meet, and share their experiences with communities around the country.

Now in its third season, by the end of 2017, 24 ensembles from Algeria, Haiti, Morocco, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Vietnam will have made independent month-long tours from coast to coast, hosted by colleges and universities, festivals, music clubs, and cultural centers. Each tour includes residencies in large cities and small towns, and a range of activities from performances, workshops, and discussions, to artist-to-artist exchanges, master classes, and community gatherings. Center Stage artists engage with audiences onstage and online sharing their work with audiences in the U.S. and friends and fans at home to build mutual understanding through shared cultures and values.

Center Stage is a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts organizations, with support from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Center Stage Pakistan is made possible by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, and the Henry Luce Foundation. General management is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.

Program Notes and Bios

Sounds of Kolachi
Karachi, Pakistan

U.S. debut tour

Ahsan Bari, band leader -- guitar, keyboards, vocals
Gul Muhammad, sarangi
Waqas Hussain, sitar
Sherjeel O’Neil, lead guitar
Saif Abbas Rizwan, bass guitar
Shams Ul Arifeen, drums
Quaid Ahmed, vocals
Nimra Rafiq, vocals
Iman Shahid, vocals
Waqar Hussain, vocals

This presentation of Sounds of Kolachi is part of Center Stage, a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, with support from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Center Stage Pakistan is made possible by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, and the Henry Luce Foundation. General management is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc. centerstageUS.org 

About the Program

Ahsan Bari in collaboration with his ten-piece band, Sounds of Kolachi, traces a path of musical, lyrical, and spiritual exploration. Below are translations and notes by Bari for a few of the compositions the band will present.  

Titles will be announced from the stage. 

Aey Ri Sakhi

Aey ri sakhi mohe piya ghar aaye     o friend, the homecoming of my Beloved
bhaag lage usey aangan ko              has made this courtyard so perfectly blessed
jis saawan mein Piya ghar naahi      and the spring that is spent without the Beloved
aag lage us saawan ko                    may it turn to ashes, may it turn to ashes
jiska Piya sang beete saawan          being in the Presence of the Beloved
us dulhan ki rain suhaagan              makes the spring so much more beautiful

The song is composed around verses written by Sufi mystic, musicologist, poet, and scholar, Hazrat Amir Khusrau (1253-1325), an iconic figure in the cultural history of South Asia, who is credited as a pioneer of various ragas (melodic modes) and taals (rhythmic cycles), as well as instruments including the sitar and tabla. His poems written in praise of his Pir (mentor), Hazrat Nizam uddin Auliya, are among the world’s most famous verses, as well as the most intense expressions of emotion.

Sufi poetry always has two meanings. One of worldly connotation and aspects while the other is spiritual, expressed metaphorically, using various subtexts and similes. In these verses Khusrau praises his Pir, saying that it is his Pir’s presence that has made him understand the truths of life as well as those things beyond, while at the same time pointing out towards an eternal relationship between a “soul“ and the source.

Rhythmically, the song is composed in a 5-beat cycle (taal) called ‘asool-e-Fakhta’ (fakhta means ‘dove’) as they say that a dove always takes 5 steps before it takes off to fly.

With unison choruses, sarangi, sitar, and guitar solos, Aey Ri Sakhi is our collaborative exploration and celebration of these verses, their meanings, and the traditional taal in which we root it.   

Yaar Mileya

jag mileya sab mileya menu             found the world, I found everything
nayo milda yaar nayo milda             couldn't find, couldn't find my beloved
nayu milda menu yaar nayu milda   couldn't find, couldn't find my beloved

may labdi phiraan yaar nu               I’m in search of my beloved
menu yaar nayu milda                     I can't find my beloved
kithoun labdiyan phiraan                 where do I go looking
menu yaar nayoun milda                 I can't find my beloved

tu he wasda                                    you flow
rom rom vich tui wasda                 every part of me searches
kaddi tu gir ja                                 you're the church
kaddi kaleesa                                you're the synagogue
kaddi tu masjid mandar                 you're the mosque, the temple
kaddi tu maalik kaddi tu banda       you're the God, you're the Divine
kaddi tu lal qalandar                      you're the saint
sooraj tuuin baarish tuuin              you're the sun, you're the rain
tui saans samandar                       you're the air, you're the ocean

nayiun milda nayiun milda nayiun milda yaar menu
can't find, can’t find, can’t find my beloved


Kisi shae ka hona uss k honay se pehle aur baad k marahil
existence and the stages before and after

zarra aur uss mein bassey hue laa taadad zarrat
a particle and infinite particles within itself

aur unn zarrat mein bassi hui, najanay kitni hi keh kishaein
and God knows how many infinite universes are within those sub-particles

Hum, tum, main, ap, yeh sab ik hi toh hain
our"self", your"self", my"self", your"self", all this, is all the same

Hum bhi, tum bhi, ap bhi, woh bhi aur yeh bhi
our"self", your"self", my"self" and "self"

nayiun milda nayiun milda
can't find, can't find

This track, with music and lyrics by Ahsan Bari, talks about self-examination (or self-actualization), and the search for the Divine (within and without). How incomplete a Being is if it doesn’t find its connection with the Divine (force) and interrelationships on the most granular, quantum levels. One must seek within “your” self as well as the things around us. Everything is connected -- not just by physical laws -- but also by a bond which may never be explained by science or calculation, as these things are vibrating at inaudible or unexplainable frequencies. 

Tarana

Tarana is a tribute to Hazrat Amir Khusrau and named for the vocal music form attributed to his invention. Except for the introductory verse, the ‘lyrics’ are a play of word-sounds open to interpretation such as ‘heart’, ‘I and you’ and ‘Ali the most exalted;’ rhythmically they evoke percussion patterns The Intro of the song talks about the source of life and how it governs the course of nature.

Dunya Ki Ibtida hay Paani             Water is the source of life
Aag say hay mili zindagani            Fire has given birth to it
Samay ka ishara chaand soraj      The Sun is the indication of time
Or dharti pay chaya akaash           And the Sky hovers over the Earth
Beejon ko Paalti yeh dharti            The Earth feeds the seeds
Jaandaron ko Jaan day Hawa       The Air gives the life to the living beings
Woh Eeshwar Woh Eeshwar         Oh Force
Ham sab ki Hifazat karay               Save us from the misery (be with us)

About Sounds of Kolachi

In 2014, composer, musician, poet, and theorist Ahsan Bari gathered what was a more-or-less regular but informal group of musical experimenters into Sounds of Kolachi, a 10-piece performance project that draws its inspirations from Karachi Once Kolachi), the South Asian mega-city it calls home. 

Like port hubs from New York to Hong Kong and Lagos, Karachi is a storied multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural meeting place. It was the gateway for Arabs into India, the place where Africans arrived on the subcontinent, and the port where Alexander the Great camped before embarking on his campaign to Babylonia. 

Says Bari: “Peoples have contributed their food, shared their sounds, their spiritual practices and philosophies, their energy and dreams here. Karachi is the only city where Pakistan’s many different ethnicities all live together.” 

A student of Hindustani classical forms, Bach, and Coltrane, Bari studied quantum physics at university. He is also a metal head who cut his teeth in Pakistan’s underground music scene. All of these influences are heard in Sounds of Kolachi’s compositions. The band’s instrumentation is expansive -- arrangements persuasively link sarangi and sitar to keyboards and guitars. A quartet of male and female singers amplify vocal lines and embellishments with precision and specificity. Bari’s lyrics draw on and respond to the rich Sufi and Sindhi poetries that underpin South Asian literature and spiritual practices. Bari is a seeker and Sounds of Kolachi, his current pathway. www.soundsofkolachi.pk 

Sound’s of Kolachi makes its U.S debut March 24 – April 16. Stops include Washington DC, Chapel Hill NC, Savannah and Atlanta GA, Memphis TN, Derry NH, and New York City. For more information and the complete schedule, visit www.centerstageUS.org

Center Stage invites performing artists from select countries to the United States to perform, meet, and share their experiences with communities around the country. Now in its third season, by the end of 2017, 24 ensembles from Algeria, Haiti, Morocco, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Vietnam will have made independent month-long tours from coast to coast, hosted by colleges and universities, festivals, music clubs, and cultural centers. Each tour includes residencies in large cities and small towns, and a range of activities from performances, workshops, and discussions, to artist-to-artist exchanges, master classes, and community gatherings. Center Stage artists engage with audiences onstage and online sharing their work with audiences in the U.S. and friends and fans at home to build mutual understanding through shared cultures and values.

Keep up with Center Stage and find additional information at www.CenterStageUS.org, on Facebook (www.facebook.com/CenterStagePage), and Twitter (@CenterStageUS). 

Center Stage Staff

General Manager
Deirdre Valente, Lisa Booth, Alexis Ortiz: Lisa Booth Management, Inc. 

Production Manager: Robert W. Henderson, Jr.
Company Manager: Theresa L. Teague 

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Sounds of Kolachi
On tour as part of Center Stage

Credit Info
The following credit is required on the title page in all printed performance programs. We appreciate its use wherever else it's practical: brochures, posters, ensemble-only promotional materials, press releases, advertisements, etc:

The presentation of (name of ensemble] is part of Center Stage, a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts organizations, with support from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Center Stage Pakistan is made possible by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, and the Henry Luce Foundation. General management is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.

Center Stage logo placement is greatly appreciated. On web-based materials, please link from the Center Stage logo or written name to www.centerstageUS.org.

Download a zipped folder with color and black and white versions of the Center Stage logo here. Photos are available below - the credit is listed in the caption when you expand each photo and in the file name when you save them to your computer.