2018 may have ended but reflection is always necessary.
The past year saw the rise of live music – something that has been growing (no secret there). However, though several live shows took place in 2018, none matched the aesthetics, the collaborative angle that brings musicians together, the audio-visual design and the multiple-genre production as did the SuperSalt 2018, featuring Mekaal Hasan Band, Khumariyaan, Mughal-e-Funk and EDM act SomeWhatSuper.
It’s a module that others must follow for the greater good of music and therefore requires attention.
When I first reached the venue, the open-air auditorium at the Arts Council in Karachi several hours before the show was scheduled to begin, sound-check was taking place. Music super-group Mughal-e-Funk, made up of some of the country’s finest musicians, who have played with some of the industry’s biggest names across genres and have emerged with their own music with this unique band (more on that later), were onstage figuring out their sound.
While they were busy getting things absolutely right, to the best of their ability, the green room was buzzing as more and more musicians, artists entered the space. The room had a vibe where artists could exchange ideas and were being introduced to each other in some cases.
Unlike other shows where the headline act is given a separate room or in some cases, even the headline act has dull couches, fancy food and air-conditioning at most, here something else was happening.
For one thing, there was one green room so that musicians – all playing in the show – would get a chance to interact.
When Madam Humera Channa entered and as Mekaal Hasan introduced us (me, tongue-tied), the vibe changed. Before her arrival, the Khumariyaan boys – also scheduled to play the show and who have played at least three shows now (counting SuperSalt) with Salt Arts – were comfortably looking at the outfits provided by Khaadi’s Chapter 2 brand.
Chapter 2, while serving as creative collaborators with Salt Arts, understood the ethos of Salt Arts and so no one was forced to wear their clothes but had the option and there was no in your face branding.
Aamer Shafiq picked something he liked and was walking around, asking for opinion. He pulled it off. Later on, Khumariyaan were sitting outside, chilling and eating burgers. After ten years, Khumariyaan have the sound-check element down and they know it.
SomeWhatSuper, the EDM act for the night and the youngest in the room, were looking forward to the concert and had already been through their sound-check.
“It’s our first show with Salt Arts; it’s a great line-up and we’re happy to be a part of it,” said Talha Dar and Feroze Faisal, before revealing that they are working on more singles at the moment.
In the green room the musicians interacted, which is how it should be. There was no junior or senior artist, even as reverence from within the music community for someone like MHB was perfectly clear, both when he was playing and when he entered the green room. It was the breaking of a tradition that has long existed in the industry. Musical camaraderie is how the industry can move forward.
Creative Director Hasan Waliany’s work was hard to forget as well, both in the green room and during the main show.
The lowly-lit room echoed multi-cultural languages as artists talked, from Urdu to Punjabi to Pashto. There were old bottles (found in Karachi’s bottal gali) filled with roses placed on the tables.
If ‘collaboration reigns supreme’ is the motto of Salt Arts, in Karachi lies their belief in the city and in monsoon, a cherished love. Those were just some of the aspects highlighted in subtle forms.
As Khumariyaan’s Sparlay Rawail told me earlier, “During the first song, I’m not onstage, I’m roaming around. When a place is filled with people, the sound changes, there are dead spots.”
And you could see him do the same during the main show.
Now to the main show, the stage had spherical designs in pink and black; the band’s names were being projected in Urdu type-font on an adjacent building, roping in the character of Karachi’s architecture.
With music becoming an audio-visual experience, screens at concerts are becoming common but most tend to play it safe and rudimentary.
Salt Arts had ideas for each act.
As one Salt Arts member told me, “We have a lot of artwork that we have been working with over the past year so for example, the raining window sill is something we started working with at the time of Southasia Ensemble. We try to plug in a lot of the narrative, building Southasia music so we adapt a lot of stuff. It was a live production; we were putting it up as it was happening. It was a performative element that people don’t think about.”
In other words, they were taking their live show production to the next level and getting it right.
A bonfire, indicative of their intensity for instance, accompanied Khumariyaan’s set, a window sill dripping with rain with the view of green leaves, accompanied MHB’s set, lunar eclipse accompanying Mughal-e-Funk’s set and so on.
In-between sets, they played songs like ‘Tum Milgaye’ from the Vital Signs and had the audience captured.
Mughal-e-Funk, the least known act from the line-up opened the show and played gorgeous instrumental originals like ‘Babar’, ‘Humayun’, ‘Akbar’, ‘Shah Jahan, ‘Bahadur Shah Zafar’ and added vocal-based tracks like ‘Sun Charkhay’ among another with singers like Nimra Rafiq and Muhammad Zafar.
Mekaal Hasan, joined by his band, from the moment he got on-stage and played hits like ‘Jhok Ranjhan’, Andholan’ to new material, had not just fans but the music community riveted. Ali Hamza was present; Ahsan Bari and Quaid Ahmed were super excited to see him play. Zohaib Kazi was in the audience. Khumariyaan boys were watching– everyone knew MHB doesn’t play in Karachi as often as we, the fans, and the band would like and this was a rare opportunity. Some were exposed to the band for the first time; others like me had the riffs playing in their heads.
Madam Humera Channa spoke about how Mekaal Hasan’s guitar-playing is incredibly unique and he is a fine talent. Mekaal pointed to Ahsan Pappu for teaching him the finer points of classical music.
Mughal-e-Funk told stories of lost love, interacting with the audience; Khumariyaan, one of the greatest live acts in and from Pakistan, made more fans and EDM act SomeWhatSuper had Karachi bouncing in a way I haven’t seen in a long time with their set.
In the end, Salt Arts delivered on its promise: it was more than a multi-genre production; it was – as has been the case with a Salt Arts gig – a rich experience, the kind you won’t find at just any gig.