Mekaal Hasan: Cross Border Issues
Pakistani guitarist Mekaal Hasan on why he wanted an Indian lineup for his new album ‘Andholan’
In February this year, guitarist and well-respected producer Mekaal Hasan’s announcement to collaborate with Indian artists for his new album Andholan was met with protests from political party Shiv Sena. Now that Andholan has finally released, Hasan doesn’t look upon it as bad publicity. Says Hasan over a Skype chat from Lahore, “We hadn’t played a single note then and people were already talking about us.”
Andholan features Hasan on guitars, his longtime bandmate Mohammad Ahsan Papu playing flute, drummer Gino Banks, bassist Sheldon D’Silva and vocalist Sharmistha Chatterjee. Hasan says he got the “best talent in the Indian contemporary music scene” together late last year and managed to amalgamate his sound with jazz and Hindustani classical for the album. He wanted Chatterjee, a trained Hindustani Classical singer, in the band to give it a new voice [Pakistani vocalist Javed Bashir helmed vocals for the Mekaal Hasan Band earlier] that didn’t necessarily come from a Sufi background. Says Hasan, “Papu and I had to explain the Punjabi kafis [poetry] by Bulleh Shah and make sure the enunciation was correct. She’s from Kolkata and I’ve played there and I can tell you honestly, those guys are hardcore. You can’t fool them when it comes to music. For me to have someone from there is great.”
Hasan also says that an Indian collaboration was on his mind for the longest time, helped by the fact that his band has always had promoters, managers and record labels based in India. He feels there’s little difference between music from Pakistan and India. The aim behind the Indo-Pak collaboration on Andholan, Hasan says, is about “celebrating the union of our talents.” The guitarist adds, “That whole bit about who is a Pakistani or Indian is ridiculous when it comes to music, I don’t believe it. Historically, we’re all people who have the same culture actually and that’s why it makes all the more sense to express ourselves in a manner which brings out our best qualities.” While there are a couple of tracks like the lead single “Ghungat” and “Sayon” which draw from Sufi poet Bulleh Shah’s work, Chatterjee sings about beauty, love, longing and nature through songs based on Indian ragas on tracks such as “Maalkauns,” the jazz fusion “Megh” and the mellow closer “Kinarey.”
While Andholan launched in October, the band is still f inalizing tour plans. The current lineup first performed live in Baroda in January, although Hasan recalls it to be nothing like a corporate gig. Says Hasan, “We played that show because we wanted the guys to get comfortable with our older songs as well, like “Sanwal” “Sajan” and material from our earlier records Sampooran and Saptak.” Additionally, the band hired a four-camera setup to shoot the entire show, which Hasan plans to release as a live DVD and documentary, tracing the history of the band as well as performance videos from the Baroda show. With 11 performance videos in the works, Hasan says all that’s left is mixing and artwork, with the DVD, tentatively titled MHB Live in Baroda, slated to release by the end of the year.
Will the Indian lineup perform in Pakistan? Although he’s an all-out believer of India being his biggest market, Hasan doesn’t rule out the possibility. The guitarist admits the logistics are “cumbersome,” but is waiting for the right opportunity to come along. Says Hasan, “I think people (in Pakistan) will be thrilled to hear us. The band’s page has been going bonkers with fans from both countries thrilled at the sound and performance level of the musicians.”