Skip to main content
Camel sitting in sand against night sky.
Main content

The Silenced Symphonies Of Pakistan Meets American Jazz

A few decades ago, Lahore, Pakistan had a thriving film industry and a rich tradition of music. "In Punjab here in Pakistan, music is usually practiced by traditional musicians' families," says Mushtaq Soofi, a music producer. "They inherit it, they learn it from their parents and then transmit to the next generation." Over time though, things began to change and the rich music scene of Lahore became threatened by the rule of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq and the terrorism of religious extremists in the Taliban.

"There was a time when people used to come to Lahore from all over the world to hear its musicians," says Saleem Khan, a 65-year-old violinist, adding but "Now we can't even find someone to repair our violins."  Islamization, ethnic divisions, war and corruption have torn apart the cultural fabric of Pakistan, and the sounds of the tabla no longer drift through the old city's bazaar. 

In a new documentary movie, Songs of Lahore, being released on November 13, 2015, director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy shows how some of the impoverished, aging musicians confronted the terrorism by capitalizing on a couple of modern-day inventions: American jazz and YouTube.

Listen here to hear the NPR Story of the Sachal Orchestra in New York

In 2011, Sachal Studios made a Pakistani rendition of Dave Brubeck's famous song Take Five' which went viral in April 2011, creating a cult following for its sitar-heavy rendition of Dave Brubeck's song. The song, which features a range of traditional Pakistani instruments, topped the iTunes charts and prompted Brubeck himself to call it "the most interesting and different recording of 'Take Five' that I've ever heard." Soon jazz performer Wynton Marsalis was calling with an invitation to play Lincoln Center with his orchestra. The video also attracted the attention of Pakistani expats like Izzat Majeed, who have helped build a center and secure funding to promote musicians in Lahore.

Recently, the group teamed up with Wynton Marsalis and played jazz sessions featuring the Pakistani musicians and instruments to the likes of American Jazz Artists Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonius Monk. 

To read more about the blending of these two cultures and music, click here and here, or listen to a clip of their recent session:

Or view the Song of Lahore Trailer here:

Townscape of Uchisar, Cappadocia, Turkey