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Mekaal Hasan Band
This acclaimed band from Pakistan brought their music to Indian shores this month with the launch of their debut album Sampooran. The Record sat down with founder Mekaal Hasan in Mumbai city for a conversation about their new album, the process of blending western and eastern sounds, and the business of music.

The Record: Tell us about your first single Raba and the video for it.
Mekaal: The first single Raba is a sufi writing by Shah Hussain. The video that was made for it features a character who walks through the streets of Lahore. We had him walk and we had people just react to him. We wanted to show how someone who doesnít necessarily fit into society is treated. We show how people who are different are often ostracised. The whole video is about taking this outlandish figure and putting him in a mundane setting and heís doing these regular activities but he canít finish them effectively. Itís also about how people react to him ~ they really treat him like heís a pariah and like heís someone they donít understand and donít associate with. Itís a very spiritual experience, the song...

TR: Tell us a bit about how the band was formed.
Mekaal: The background to how it came about is that I have been working in music in Pakistan for about 10 years now and thereís a lot of pop coming out of Pakistan, a lot of young people getting into music which is great. But I always felt that the real talent lies not just with pop singers, but also lies with the traditional singers. I would hear all these guys and they were just brilliant and Iíd think, ĎWhy isnít anyone working with these people? Why are they not being given a platform where they can contribute creatively to the fabric of music that exists in the country?í I think one of the reasons was that there was a social stigma attached to people that may not look like pop stars, who may not be very young or have the kinds of aesthetic looks that people associate with pop stars.

My thing is, I will work with anyone that is good ~ I donít care what they look like, whether theyíre green, brown, black, white (smiles) ~ that doesnít matter, that should be secondary. I really felt that there was a huge injustice being done ~ why should people not listen to you just because you come from a particular background or you look a particular way? Iíve sort of felt this social responsibility to do something about it and I felt that this band was an excellent platform to get the kind of exposure that they need. Plus it leads to a very unique sound. To work with people this advanced you have to be able to keep up with the kind of songs they write, the way they work. It is not just interesting for them but for me as well.

On the record, there is no disconnect between what they are singing and what Iím playing. Itís a proper amalgamation and I donít even think of it as fusion. The way I see it, there is a language of music. They have one dialect, I have another and we meet at the mid-point.

TR: Which brings us to the question of Ďfusioní being a word that artists are increasingly moving away from...
Mekaal: Fusion has always had a negative connotation for the simple reason that it is often seen as a gimmick. Thatís been the problem. Part of the reason for that is that it is easy to do it wrong. Successful fusion, according to me, has been done when there have been people from two different genres who can have a common balance. You can have someone who is really well trained in one art form and you have another person who is really well-trained in another style ~ but if they donít have a common understanding of the language that they are dealing with, then it is going to be mismatched. Thatís why you hear people singing alaaps over a [jangling] beat behind them and it sounds horrible because obviously they have nothing to do aesthetically with each other.

Bands like Weather Report or the Pat Methany Group or going back, people like Duke Ellington and the way they were doing stuffÖthose are examples of great fusion. The Maha Vishnu Orchestra, Shakti with John McLaughlin, the album Headhunters by Herbie Hancock which combines funk with African music ~ the language that they were dealing with was the same. The harmonic sensibility, the chord voicings, the melodies, understanding how melody can work with harmony, all of that is important, but it takes a lot of time and effort to understand. I think people often just shortchange that and get on to a bandwagon and just paste tracks together. Like someone once said, ĎItís not fusion, itís fuzakÖí Then itís almost elevator music, you know.

TR: You studied at the Berklee College Of Music ~ how did that influence you as an artist?
Mekaal: When I got there I really didnít know that much. I had a really tough time the first year because there were all these people that were so advanced so I really had to work on it and I ended up learning so much about harmony and improvisation and now all that training has helped me in understanding what these guys do in ragas and translating that into a western mode and writing around that. Itís kind of come full circle.

Just being there, in an environment where you are surrounded by brilliant musicians and a vibrant art sceneÖI was coming from Lahore which hardly had any music happening at that time. You go from that to a place where there are music clubs and jazz happening all the time and people playing constantlyÖitís like a different planet. The good thing is that when you go into that environment and come back home, you bring some of that back with you. I think I would not have been able to do this band if I hadnít gone there. I wouldnít have been able to write and understand and appreciate what these guys are doing.

You can read the rest of our feature on the Mekaal Hasan Band in the November 2007 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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