This weekend Lahore hosted one of the best, most vibrant festivals it has: the fourth edition of the Lahore Music Meet. The LMM brings together musicians from all over the country for two or three days of incredible talks, workshops and concerts that are all free, and open to all audiences. From pop greats to underground rock champs, to Baloch hip-hop to folk performers, qawwals to the latest Battle of the Bands winners, the LMM curates an excellent lineup every year. It’s astonishing how the two powerhouses behind the festival—Natasha Noorani and Zahra Paracha—pull together this huge event year after year with aplomb, intelligence and gobsmackingly small egos. It’s also crucial to point out here that they receive precious little support for this massive project, and if anyone deserves it, the LMM does. Not for Noorani and Paracha is spotlight grabbing humble-bragging, not even when they’re onstage—both are adroit musicians themselves, Paracha with Sikandar ka Mandar where she sings backup and plays three instruments and Noorani, who sings and plays guitar. And yet year after year, Lahore has the privilege of free concerts, food stalls that keep getting better each year, featuring some of the best offbeat eats in the city and stalls that showcase young artists and other NGOs who do excellent work, like Shehri Pakistan’s civic education outreach.
What sets the Music Meet apart from other festivals is of course, the music. The second is the design, coming from art director Sana Nasir. It is a joy just to interact with the fabulous art that goes into the promotional images of the festival. This years’ visuals carried on from last years’, with a orange, green and pink template that features musical references like cassettes, retro fonts and Mughal miniature-inspired flowers and faces in profile. Last year’s invitations included customized matchboxes; this year cassettes were painted over and sent to influencers, media people and celebrities (but not columnists, alas). The best part, though, is how open and inclusive the Meet is. There’s something for everyone, and we all have pretty open minds when it comes to music. I regularly take my children and nobody tramples them, or tells them they don’t belong there. Nobody is littering. Nobody is shoving or pushing. Everyone is just having a good time, and for people to just be…hanging out and enjoying themselves without any friction or weirdness is so rare it feels doubly special. There’s something so heartening and uplifting when one is sitting on the ground singing “Mera Pyar” with a hundred other people. There is no agenda, no judgement, no snobbery. Just a group of people who know all the words to a song that came out before 99% of the crowd was born, a song that lives on beyond its creator too.
This is why we need music, all the music. It is the alchemy of sound that connects people, across everything. At a shrine the dhol wallah inspires a spontaneous dhammaal. Folk music will have kids in jeans dancing. My two year old will sway to rock music at festivals his mother takes him to and the entire point of world music is being able to appreciate music from other cultures and languages. We are so confused and conflicted when it comes to Pakistani culture—we don’t know what to include, what qualifies, what doesn’t. It doesn’t have to be homogenous, or even make much sense. It just has to be ours. And whether it is Bushra Marvi in her tasseled beauty, Sameen Qasim with her enchanting vocals, Akhtar Channal’s glorious sinuousness or plain badass Lyari Underground or Shorbanoor excellence, it’s all ours. I love that the Music Meet is always about us, and our sounds. There is no courting of international musicians, no attempts to somehow link our music scene to an international one. There are no foreign crowd-pullers—it seems that our music scene is so extraordinarily diverse and rich on it’s own that we don’t need them. We have plenty to talk about, enough talented people to do the talking and a lot of people to sing along. Much to be proud of!
The best part, though, is how open and inclusive the Meet is. There’s something for everyone, and we all have pretty open minds when it comes to music.