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A little light music

Sunday, June 20th, 2010
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My first thought as I sidled into the Nepal Army Auditorium was, ‘this place is surely more suited to Pakistani pop than French jazz’. Or was it Pakistani pop that went better with the middle-aged, middle class martial décor of the place, complete with huge, clumsy murals of stupas and temples on both sides, crossed wooden guns on the ceiling, and an assortment of flags gripped in fists sticking out of the walls? Idle thoughts perhaps, but the explosive, improvisational jazz of Ozma never quite leapt off the stage last year.

This is not to take anything away from the music of Sajjad Ali, Pakistani pop icon and general charmer. Maybe he just felt at home with the audience, who thrilled knowingly to his mixture of jiving urdu pop, traditional, and the odd ghazal. Certainly he was very gracious to the audience, who reciprocated in kind. A bevy of Muslim ladies up front made up the core of the faithful, but it was not exclusively them that Sajjad addressed when he exhorted the audience to clap, sing and tell him just who his soniye, his golden girl, was.

It was a rare event, one that marked the 50th anniversary of Nepal-Pakistan diplomatic relations, and rarer still for affording one a glimpse of the Pakistani ambassador, Syed Abrar Hussain (the last time I saw another Pakistani ambassador was in India, at this year’s Jaipur festival, then introducing the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz). Over-exposure to his Indian and American counterparts, and various Eurobassadors, leaves me wondering if Nepal hasn’t neglected its other neighbours. How little we know of Pakistan, and how that has been overshadowed by its tumultous recent history! “I Looooove Pakistani music,’ gushed the over-excitable MC, “But I hardly know anything about it.”

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