The project Sanwal, a first for Ali Hamza as a solo artist was envisioned over a few phone calls between Karachi, Lahore and South Punjab. It was the end of September, Salt Arts had just presented Jimmy Khan’s tour of Karachi – with a post-show high running through our veins, the artistic director decided to make a phone call. We envisioned Ali Hamza’s solo tour of Karachi, miraculously he agreed. Two phone calls later Sanwal became the project title.
Ali Hamza was traveling through Punjab at the time; he was performing at over 40 schools and colleges as part of the high energy, youth mobilising Pakistani phenomenon - noori. What we were jointly proposing was quite the opposite, Sanwal was fast becoming one of the gentlest and most introspective projects Hamza would be doing – and the creative process reflected the same, except it was all unfolding via technology, in simple words – whatsapp. Each phone call was interrupted by missing signals and background noise. There were days when Hamza would send us pictures of the foggy landscape of where he was traveling, some of the night with friends gathered around a fire – his personal musical journey paired with his physical journey across the country created Sanwal; the lover and the friend.
Down in Karachi the team at Salt Arts would wait to get whatsapp messages from Hamza, we used each photo and each voice note to create the artwork for Sanwal – an incredibly close deadline loomed over us, and for the first time we truly were able to marry spirit and basic technology to create something so gentle and personal. We then decided to use the handwriting of our common connection, ours and Hamza’s close friend for the branding of Sanwal. He worked with us closely to develop the literary aspects of Sanwal in Urdu, and helped translate Hamza’s new thoughts into English and became the Urdu scribe as well. We needed to make sure the project was as close to Hamza’s spirit as possible.
A whatsapp voice message resulted in the audio for the Sanwal promo. The video was shot on the roof top of one of our parents’ homes. The Karachi evening sky, electric wires, a lonely sky scraper, an old harmonium, a father’s hands and a pensive eagle became the visual elements of Hamza’s poetry, where he speaks to the free spirit of a kite.
The Sanwal Troupe
As time grew closer, Sanwal also became a meeting point for ideas, and as the setlist evolved a narrative became clear. One cold winter afternoon in Lahore, the Sanwal troupe and our team sat around a cosy living room and jammed late into the night. Our creative chemistry was based on our common love for aesthetics, comfort, curiosity and personal reflection. When we returned to Karachi – it was apparent that our set would be a living space, and we drew inspiration from one of our homes which resonated with that evening in Lahore.
Sanwal was an art management feat. It was December in foggy Lahore, and we needed to get half a dozen musicians over to Karachi. The time restrictions were unbelievable – it was peak season and each musician had shows lined up, it was a jigsaw of trying to find the right fit – how would it all work out. As flights started getting cancelled, panic set in – there were nights when Hamza would call and we would try and work out Plan B. One 3Am phone call in particular when Hamza called and said ‘Train ki ticket karvao’ – would the Sanwal troupe come to Karachi in the train? After multiple bookings and cancellations, we took a chance on a 7PM flight, the last one on the day before the show. We prayed throughout the set up, we had a welcome party in place – finally the troupe took off from Lahore and celebrations were in order.
Karachi showed its true spirit and welcomed Hamza and his troupe. We received cakes, and brownies, and scarves and presents from fans for them. We also had a welcome pack in place with essentials any musician would need in order to negotiate the beast that is Karachi.
Mobeen Ansari’s portrait of Ali Hamza, the beginning of a series of inspirations became the face of Sanwal.
That day at soundcheck, Karachi based photographer Khaula Jamil produced detailed and pensive portraits of the Sanwal artists at work. These photos were taken on the first soundcheck, Khaula walked into the space gently late in the afternoon and began clicking.
Once you see the images you will understand what I was trying to capture. The crossed legs of the guitarist, the fingers playing the 'matka', tuning the instruments - the concentration and nuances of the sound check. The moments of eye contact between the band members, a small smile, but mostly visual conversations - is what struck me. ~ Khaula Jamil
Khaula photographs the space, observes the people around, notices one of the team members kids running around as part of the commotion, however with headphones on - she comments on the magic that happened during our first soundcheck with the photos she took.