The Express Tribune (Pakistan), Taking centre stage in the US

The Express Tribune (Pakistan), Taking centre stage in the US

Nov 19, 2015

There seems to be a conscious effort to push underground acts above the waters of obscurity. After an impressive Coke Studio debut that saw the band in the mainstream for the first time, Malang Party is well on course chasing its next target — a US tour as part of Centre Stage, a cultural exchange program initiated by the US Embassy in Islamabad. The prestigious visit that will see Pakistani musicians perform in the United States in spring 2017, is co-sponsored by the New England Foundation for Arts and managed by Lisa Booth Management Inc in collaboration with Foundation for Arts, Culture and Education (Face) Pakistan.

But the plan isn’t as simple as it sounds. Shortlisted acts — that include Malang Party,  Ismail and Junaid, Red Blood Cat, Sain Zahoor, Sounds of Kolachi, The Sketches, Zoe Viccaji and Sanam Marvi — have to audition but only two of them will be able to board the plane to the US.

As part of the auditions, Malang Party and Red Blood Cat performed to a housefull audience at Bahria University in the federal capital. Addressing the attendees, singer-songwriter and face Director Arieb Azhar said, “I was fortunate to be a part of this project in 2012 wherein I witnessed similarities between the two very different cultures. One cannot have a single opinion of both countries,” he added.

“This is the third time we are putting this tour together. The two Pakistani acts will perform in front of live audiences in the US in 2017,” said US cultural attaché in Pakistan Daniel Patron.

The programme also includes university performances, lectures, workshops, masterclasses and artist-to-artist exchanges. Lisa Booth’s Deirdre Valente will facilitate the Pakistani musicians during the trip. “Part of the plan is to diffuse cultural barriers.”

Savannah Musical Festival Executive and Artistic Director Rob Gibson was also present on the occasion. Gibson had arrived in Pakistan for the first time in 1981 with a recording tape, looking for a man called Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. This happened before Nusrat made it big. “I fell in love with this place when I heard him sing. We interviewed him. He said he connects with his audiences with a higher power that sings through him.” Gibson added their job is to bring such artists to the fore and help them realise their potential.

After the musical performances ended, panelists from the aforementioned organisations conducted in-depth meetings with members of both the bands in order to substantiate their judgment and learn more about them. Centre Stage representatives will also travel to other cities to audition the remaining artists before the final selection is made.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 20th, 2015.

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