Rising from the ashes: Mekaal Hasan launches ‘Rivayat’ series

KARACHI 31 Jan (Online): Last summer, the news of Digital Fidelity studio burning down shocked the entire music industry. The place that was once the launching space for rookies such as Atif Aslam and Noori had turned into a relic of the past, the swan song to the Lahore music scene, an island of souls that embraced immortality here. Stars of today and of yore came together to mourn the loss and build their mecca again, one by one, penny by penny, with renewed faith. But as Sting says, “A working man works till the industry dies.”

As the funds kept pouring in and the prices kept shooting off the roof, the man behind the genius of Mekaal Hasan Band and some of the best-produced works of Pakistani music, was all set to embrace tradition once again. The Rivayat series, staying true to its name was one of the few projects that survived the great blaze and is now all cooked and garnished for release on the internet.

Rivayat is Hasan’s solo venture that identifies and showcases local talent that has been associated with various forms of traditional music. It will be released in an episodic format. According to a press statement sent out by Mekaal, “Rivayat captures a range of traditional music styles from classical to folk to semi-classical, including qawwali, thumri, ghazal and instrumentals. Together as a body of music, this collection truly highlights the stories and the music of the people who have created it and whose history is subsumed in this music.”

For someone who has been known for unearthing the finest classically trained musicians such as Javed Bashir and Sharmista Chatterjee, it seems like a natural progression.

“Rivayat has been cooking up for years now,” Hasan told over a telephone conversation, said The Express Tribune. “For years I have been recording and putting together a catalogue of music and artists that truly represent Pakistan’s mass taste. They are not musicians you are going to see on a big platform but those who can make an instant connection with the audience.”

Hasan’s offering features an impressive catalogue ranging from generational musicians to new talent that the maestro discovered in this project. The presser explains that well-known names such as the Niazi Brothers (Javed and Babar Niazi, sons of the legendary Tufail Niazi) feature as well as newer artists such as a trio, the Manwa Sisters, along with names like Wahdat Rameez and Asad Abbass amongst other artists.

Hasan is of the opinion that his series can fill the much-needed vaccum created in the past decade and a half. “Rivayat is a grassroots project,” said Hasan. “Its emphasis is on showcasing artists from working-class backgrounds whose music and contribution has been pushed into oblivion in the past 15 years or so.”

While Hasan’s concern and contribution for the marginalised voices have its heart in the right place one is forced to wonder if corporate-backed projects such as Coke Studio also work on a similar ethos and whether Rivayat can be considered an extension of that.

“This is different from Coke Studio because you won’t find any familiar faces in it or artists with an established project,” said Hasan, adding that so many people perform this kind of traditional music but nobody knows them.

Having said that, Hasan did try his luck and pitched the show to some brands in order to find a sponsor, but all of his efforts went in vain.

“Some of them did show interest, but nobody followed up so I got tired of waiting and decided to launch Rivayat on my own,” Hasan exclaimed.

The press release explains that all songs in Rivayat were recorded live in one take. Additionally, as a unique feature on select songs, the local artists are accompanied by international musicians Shez Raja on bass from the UK, Gwen Lafitte on acoustic and electric guitar from France and Anton Davidyants on bass from Russia. The series thus features songs that are standalone performances as well as collaborations with international artists. Hasan is also proud of launching a number of youngsters through Rivayat.

“Be it Javed or Sharmista, I have always worked with upcoming talent, and you will find a number of youngsters being added to the classical catalogue via Rivayat, so the series offers you quality music and a new generation of musicians,” he concluded.