A renewed spirit
Many seasoned musicians have a habit of tinkering and experimenting with sounds and ideas in the studio and in live spaces – when the opportunity presents itself – irrespective of whether they release it or not.
One case in point is music producer, songwriter and guitarist Mekaal Hasan; of course in his case it’s more than just tinkering and often leads to formation of an aural architecture that is so potent that it engenders dissimilar emotions upon each listen.
Luckily for us, in 2017, Hasan plans to release all that music, both past creations, live renditions and more even as he continues to conjure up new music in his studio(s), in Karachi and in Lahore.
With a renewed faith in his own ability to not just make quality music but also hustle (as artists are forced to do) for its release, Hasan is back with his music outfit, the Mekaal Hasan Band and a music label named after his iconic Lahore studio, ‘Digital Fidelity Studios’ Records.
Apart from releasing the re-mastered and glorious-sounding edition of the band’s third record, Andholan – which is the topic of this story – Hasan is also putting out the same songs sung by former MHB vocalist, Javed Bashir. But more on that later.
Chapter Three – Andholan
Having described itself as a progressive rock music group that possesses “the traditional melodic sensibility of the East and the harmonic sophistication of the West”, the one constant about the Mekaal Hasan Band is that every album has its own set of players. While some remain a constant, others are brought on to lend expertise and to make sure that no idea is overextended or repeated.
The band also has two line-ups presently. While the one in Pakistan comprises Hasan alongside Humera Channa (vocals), Ibrahim Akram (drums), Amir Azhar (bass) and Mohammad Ahsan Papu (flute), the Indo-Pak line-up counts as members Hasan and Papu from this side of the border and Sharmistha Chatterjee (vocals), Gino Banks (drums) and Sheldon D’Silva (bass) from across the border.
For the purpose of the third album, Andholan, the studio line-up consisted of Mekaal Hasan, Muhammad Ahsan Papu, Sharmistha Chatterjee, Amir Azhar, Louis. J. Pinto (Gumby) and Javed Akhtar.
Though MHB’s sound draws inspiration from progressive rock, classic jazz-rock groups from the 70s, it is much more than your typical brand of Sufi contemporary music and veers close to the territory of world music.
The album is made up of eight songs in total, each with its own clear identity and intensity.
‘Ghunghat’, the arresting introductory track draws lyrically from a Bulleh Shah kaafi. Set in Raag Kirwani, it is driven home by dual flute and guitar solos; ‘Champakalli’ is set in Raag Champakalli and is a cauldron of languid shifts and contrasts.
The intense ‘Bheem,’ set in Raag Bheem, is clever in its usage of raag in jazz-rock ethos and is an adaptation of the traditional raga Bhimpalasi bandish ‘Ja ja re apni mandirwa, sun paave morey saas nanadiya’, a composition of Ustad Niyamat ‘Sadarang’ Khan.
‘Sayon’ is based on an age-old Bulleh Shah kaafi and is given a classic rock treatment. According to producer Mekaal Hasan, it is a successor to the band’s earlier hit, ‘Jhok Ranjhan’. The mighty ‘Maalkons’ is the centerpiece of the record because it is stylistically the most aggressive and dramatic-sounding song on the album. It uses the composition ‘Aaj More Ghar Aayela Balma’, once sung by the great Ustad Amir Khan and composed by Ustad Feroz Khan.
‘Sindhi’, which is set in Raag Sindhi Bhairvi is a simpler, sonorous concoction while ‘Mehg’ is set in an uncommon time signature of 10/4 (known as Jhaptaal). The album closes with ‘Kinarey’ which is set in Raag Aiman, and features an age old bandish with a melody by Ustad Tanras Khan.
Combined, the songs conjure a sonic dream-world you can escape to and one that has little in common with the real world.
The larger picture
While Andholan makes for a terrific record and is one for the history books, Hasan is not content sitting on its laurels.
He is also putting out live versions of several MHB songs, sung and performed by the Indo-Pak line-up of the band in India, titled ‘Live at Baroda’ and is releasing videos from the same series on a weekly basis.
With plans to release a fourth MHB record that is groove-based and rooted in the tradition of qawwali later this year, the band is preparing to change tack after a long association with the classical realm of eastern tradition. Though reticent in the past to self-promote, Hasan is making the band more approachable and consequently much more visible, by regularly interacting with fans on the band’s Facebook page, by taking complete control of it with the mission to create a music community that is about discovering music and engaging with it on a deeper level.
But unlike, say Hamza Ali Abbasi who shares his personal beliefs on everything under the sun, Hasan’s approach is far more intelligent and informative, and remains a good thing.
Apart from engaging with fans, you can also discover Hasan’s interest and eclectic taste in music as he endorses artists both local and international including the likes of Poor Rich Boy, Jimmy Khan, Porcupine Tree, Keeray Makoray, Rushk, Derek Trucks Band, James Brown and Kate Bush, among others.
The musical and artistic value of the Mekaal Hasan Band is not to be dismissed particularly at this junction while the resurrected Pepsi Battle of the Bands takes center-stage. The band may have emerged on a national stage from the 2002 edition of the music competition but it has gone far beyond any other musical unit associated with that edition. Their shadow continues to linger in the current production, constantly reminding us just how rare it is for a band to survive, evolve and continue to make music that is worth not just time or energy but also merits a place in the history books.
Though Mekaal Hasan Band is scheduled to appear in the ongoing tenth season of Coke Studio, it’s the band’s own material, outside of the mighty music production that is so much more invigorating. Watch out or better yet head on over to MHB’s band camp page to revel in all the music, especially Andholan. It is the wine of delight and as surprising as a lover’s heart.