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The News Pakistan - April 8, 2001 

Lifting the soul By M.A. Jafri 

Pete Lockett, Mekaal Hasan and the Network of Sparks 

In the midst of the World Music Festival hosted in Lahore recently, like a solitary jewel in an otherwise mostly unassuming hoard of pebbles, one of the most inventive and diverse ensembles performed on a magical spring night to a packed house at the Open Air Auditorium. Modestly categorised as experimental fusion, this was far more. The Mekaal Hasan Band is a superb group that is an intricate weave of diversity; distinct enough to be identified into the many genres that it encompasses and yet fused together with such ingenuity that it gives birth to a whole new species of music altogether. The spirit of the Indian Subcontinent, the intellect of the West, and the blood of Africa all came together into a language that only music can translate and only the soul understand. 

Here, our very own Mekaal Hasan, guitarist extraordinaire hailing from Lahore, got the wondrous opportunity to compose for and work with one of the most renowned multi-percussionists in the world today, Pete Lockett. For the benefit of the unenlightened, Mr. Lockett has made music with the likes of Björk, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Texas, Mel C, Kula Shaker, Vanessa Mae, Gary Husband, Pet Shop Boys, A. R. Rahman, Simply Red, etc., etc., and worked on original scores for such major motion pictures as City of Angels, The Insider, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, and so on and so forth. He plays over thirty percussive instruments that include the tabla, dhol and western drums (mostly all in one sitting!) and is intimately familiar with instruments from every culture and region of the world. All said and done, it still comes as somewhat of a surprise that someone of this standing has actually come to Pakistan to perform. No one can remember something like this happening here ever before which, of course, makes this event a milestone in the artistic progress of this country - a memorable event to say the least. 

Naturally, it would take so much more than sheer persuasion for Mr. Lockett to come our way and make music. With accolades such that he has, he is a busy man and engaged by countless stars in the music world. So why would he come? Because of Mekaal Hasan, of course. Yes, we have our very own musical genius right here in Lahore, and needless to say, musical geniuses do flock together. We have seen Mekaal meander upwards to the repute of musical genius leaving in his wake a constant struggle against the ever-stagnant state of artistic ignorance and complacency in this country. This is a man who just may help bring Pakistan further up in the eyes of the modern music world. Already, names like Billy Cobham have highly praised Mekaal's guitar playing and have expressed their desire to collaborate with him. In fact, later in April, Billy Cobham journeys to Lahore to record with Mekaal on his debut CD, Square One. This is just the beginning for Mekaal; his aims are high and his skill ever increasing. In this collaboration , he has written all the material with his long time associate, keyboardist Javed Akhtar, specifically for Pete, Riaz Ali Khan, Papu and Nana Tsiboe, and has hereby made his mark as the first composer in Pakistan to write for a foreign artist of major repute.

The band's Lahore performance was stunning. While Pete sat in his own distinctive posture on the floor surrounded by his instruments from around the world, he conjured up the most complex rhythm structures and sound textures. Diverting from one style to another and then yet another, he was a master of improvisation. An overwhelming feeling of amazement and excitement ran through the crowd when this man played, easily drawing all eyes towards him, Pete Lockett was a treat to watch - He is definitely the most original drummer out there, and he performed with just two hands more than most recognised drummers would attempt with all their limbs. With Pete on accompanying congas was Nana Tsiboe, a most proficient percussionist who has more than forty years of playing experience. Nana, who originates from West Africa, looks no more than twenty five and very convincingly states that the drums have kept him young; there's something about the conga's stretched buffalo hide and the rhythm he produces on it that magically rejuvenates the spirit. A lecturer of music at various universities the world over, having performed with countless artists, the composure and flair with which he played was testimony enough of his virtuosity and skill. 

Zahid ur Rehman filled in the rhythm section, never complete without the bass, which bridges the divide to the more melodic instruments. A long-time friend and companion of Mekaal's and, although he is formally a guitarist by choice, he handled the bass deftly giving body to the tunes with accompanying keyboards by Javed Akhtar ,the highlight of which included a resounding keyboard solo towards the end. Equally mesmerizing were the haunting pieces on the flute by Papu, a master player by any measure and here was another fine musician deserving more attention than he has had so far. 

But the surprise was the vocalist, Riaz Ali Khan. Mekaal had written the compositions well, leaving enough room for Riaz's powerful voice to integrate into the tunes the mysticism that is eastern classical, hauntingly reminiscent of an era gone by and yet seeming so eerily familiar. The vocals crisscrossed their way around the tunes, giving them a spirit, a life - and with the striking rhythm that Pete and Nana conjured, the entire arrangement took life - reaching out to whomsoever could hear and engulfing them in it. Riaz's soulful renditions literally rocked the amphitheatre at Lahore and were heard in awe by the thousands who had been attracted to the show. With Mekaal continuing to play brilliantly, this was fusion of the highest standards. His solos were haunting and powerful and the manner in which they reinforced the melodies while continually improvising was memorable. A critic said of Mekaal that he rides the tail of the tiger and you have to ride with him or you are left behind. On that spring night, Mekaal reiterated the talent and class he has and justified the faith his fans have in him. He is already a name that is associated with the best music has to offer.

Fusion between east and west is not new and the line stretches back to Ravi Shankar, Buddy Rich, Joe Harriott Quintet, Ustad Zakir Hussain, John McLaughlin, Jan Garbarek and many other talented performers. Not all of it has been successful but this show and its performers proved that the blend can be harmonious and memorable to the last court of appeal where all music is concerned - the human ear!

This first-of-its-kind show has also won overwhelming response from crowds at Islamabad and KarachiPete and Mekaal are now busy giving the final touches to the recordings that they plan to release soon.

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