Karachi: With a population of over 23 million people, Karachi has the distinction of being Pakistan’s largest city. Its inhabitants, however, are far more familiar to this insomniac town burning and choking; paranoia driving us to the edge about what charade will present itself next.
This of course is just one of the many reasons why Saturday night’s Strings gig, held at the Beach Luxury Hotel and presented by the good folks at Salt Arts, felt like such a surreal experience.
This is so weird for Karachi, I thought to myself as I walked through the parking lot of the hotel and was greeted by a massive, almost never-ending line that went all the way to the corner. People lining up for music at a time when the perception is that music is all but gone barring Coke Studio and perception, as they say, is as good as reality. Not on this night though.
Not only did people turn up for a ticketed gig (a trend that for a long time has been replaced by the culture of free-invites and is being brought back slowly) but no one was misbehaving and no catcalls were heard; there were no VIP shenanigans either. Karachiites stood in the line; each marveling at the power of the music group called Strings that they know and love but perhaps didn’t know that others loved with just as much intensity. Or maybe people just need to see more shows designed with such heart.
This gig, unlike most concerts, was about a band that has withstood the test of time. Prior to this night, fans were asked to share memories about Strings and looking at the content shared online, it can be said that the band’s music has been the soundtrack to valued memories for a lot of people, many of whom were present at this show.
Getting past security and through the corridor and the food court, the main-stage space was already surrounded with a happy crowd. Listening to the sounds of Rudoh (Bilal Nasir Khan), an electronic producer based out of Karachi, they were perfectly content waiting for Strings to eventually turn up. Some of them were cheering him on, which was good to see. In turn, Rudoh kept playing his set with a smile on his face.
There were trees enveloped in Christmas lights and those who were not in the front-row were sitting on the grass further back up. It was the mood that rarely sets in, as things go wrong far too often, even at something that is as benign as a music concert.
Because of the long lines, the gig began at least an hour later than scheduled time but that really didn’t matter much because this was not a case of tardiness and stars being stars. It was done to accommodate all those people who had bought the tickets while making sure that the security standards were met with.
Usman Riaz, Mariam Riaz-Paracha and Khizer Riaz from Mano Animation Studios, Ali Alam (Ganda Banda), Jimmy Khan, Asrar, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Fayez Agariah, and Pakistani author H.M. Naqvi were present.
Junaid Iqbal and Raania A.K. Durrani from Salt Arts took to the stage briefly and among other things thanked both the band and the audience before making way for Strings.
This brings us to Strings. Featuring Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia, the band is very much about the present, a glimpse of which can be seen in their current live line-up that includes Aahad Nayani, Haider Ali, Bradley DSouza and Adeel Ali. Opening with ‘Koi Aanay Wala Hai’, the title track of their last studio album, Strings went through some of their biggest hits including ‘Najane Kyun’, ‘Kahani Mohabbat Ki’, ‘Dhaani’, ‘Duur’, ‘Sohniye’, ‘Chaaye Chaaye’, ‘Main Tou Dekhonga’, ‘Jab Se Tumko Main Ne Dekha’ and ‘Sar Kiye Ye Pahar’ and swept the crowd along with it.
On the Coke Studio hit, ‘Muntazir’ that originally featured Danyal Zafar and Momina Mustehsan with Strings spearheading the whole thing, they were joined onstage by Mustehsan with Kapadia replacing Zafar in marvelous form.
Before presenting ‘Titliyaan’ they dedicated the song to a gentleman whose contributions to the music universe behind the scene are enormous.
To mix things up a bit, both Kapadia and Maqsood along with their band started playing drums that were put front and center. It was the coolest thing I’ve seen them do in a while. In another song, they invited a group of girls on stage who sang with them, took pictures with them and couldn’t stop grinning.
On four different occasions, Faisal Kapadia, in front-man mode, thanked the Karachi audience for coming out. The fact that he was gracious and not arrogant says a lot about this group.
He was also sizzling as a front-man while Maqsood, the pensive of the two, was rising to vocal duty whenever necessary. On ‘Sar Kiye Ye Pahar’, the song that set us all on this journey with the band, the crowd was singing along, responding to the music group in a terrific example of crowd engagement.
In the end, the creative partnership of Strings and Salt Arts, gave fans, who came from all age groups, exactly what they wanted, a nostalgic night of music that says that it is still possible to revere artists and enjoy music the way it’s meant to be heard, that is with love and without anxiety that drives life in this city of lights.