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Toward Greater Avenues: PUAN Alumni’s Music Mela Goes International

The open air grounds of the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) hosted a exceptional event April 17-19 in Islamabad.

Music Mela 2015 featured ground-breaking performances by local and international artists who demonstrated the power of music to create bonds between people across physical and cultural boundaries.

Two members of the Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network (PUAN), Arieb Azhar, Center Stage alumnus, and Zeejah Fazli, International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) alumnus spearheaded the mela in partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.  Together, Azhar and Fazli formed an organization called Foundation for Arts, Culture, and Education (FACE), which seeks to create a creative space for musicians and other artists in Pakistani society.

“I have never seen so many Pakistanis sitting together in the open air and believe this is my best night in Islamabad,” said James Cerven, Assistant Cultural Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, while giving his opening remarks.

The chief guest at the festival was U.S Ambassador Richard G. Olson who also lauded the organizers for putting up a brilliant initiative.

Origins of Music Mela:

The Music Mela started in 2014 with an Alumni Small Grant from PUAN to FACE to organize the extravaganza.

“PUAN is one of the founding organizations for this project,” said Fazli. “Without PUAN, we would not have come to this phase and now the U.S. Embassy has signed a two-year contract with us.”

Chief Guest U.S. Ambassador Richard G. Olson enjoying Music Mela 2015

After the tremendous success of the first Music Mela in 2014, the U.S. Embassy and FACE decided to keep the affair going on for two more years, as a result of which the conference took place last weekend.

Music Mela 2015 was staged on a much larger scale with local and international representation and drew an audience of more than 20,000 people over three days, Fazli says.

“I am happy because the event featured Mary McBride, Grace McLean, and other international, regional, and folk artists,” said Azhar.  “It was a balance of many genres regional, urban, and rural and the music workshops also went really well.”

Strong Performances Captivate the Audience:

The first day of the festival was carefully planned and featured Pashto, Punjabi, Seraiki, and Balochi folklore by different artists.  The concert by a Polish singer Maria Pomianovska was also a delight and was lauded by the audience.

“The Polish performance was best because it was a beautiful blend of music,” said Hajra Wasif, an attendee at the concert.

“When international artists come to Pakistan at a time when no one else wants to come, then it’s an achievement for the country and portrays us in a better light,” said Abdul Rehman, a student.

The Music Mela featured workshops on day two and day three with senior professionals in the field for budding musicians and artists.

These included a guitar workshop by Coven sensation Hamza Jafri, a song writing workshop with American singer Mary McBride, a successful music projects showcase by musician Xulfi and a musicians’ union conference which included the likes of a legendary rock star like Ali Azmat among others.

The musicians’ union conference with musicians Arieb Azhar, Aaron Haroon Rashid, Ali Azmat, and Lawyer Omar Sheikh

Azmat, Arieb Azhar, and pop singer Aaron Haroon Rashid resolved to do something concrete to revive the ailing music industry in Pakistan.  And the concerts at music mela were definitely a step in the right direction.

Maestro Pappu Saeen and his band notably put the crowd in a trance by drumming his dhol in his traditional style and managing the ebb and flow of music with great expertise.

Meanwhile, the Naujawan All Stars presented an interesting fusion of eastern and western music, Shaan Khan delivered refreshing Pushto rap songs, and Coke Studio sensation Asrar mesmerized the audience with hit songs like “Ishq Hawa Mein.”

An Ode to Pakistani Culture:

The Music Mela also featured cultural performances in which the dancers represented all provinces of Pakistan.

“I found the cultural dance to be the best because it gave the message that all Pakistanis need to be united,” said Syed Dawar Hussain, a B.Com Student, “I also felt that through this initiative, the United States has showed that it is with us and that all Americans are like us.”

The final day of the concert featured a band called The Envoys, which included the Australian High Commissioner and the Japanese Ambassador among others.

American Musician Mary McBride and her band performing ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’ at Music Mela 2015

Other international artists included American singer Mary McBride whose rendition of the Pakistani ballad “Dil Dil Pakistan” was a hit with the audience in addition to American composer Grace McLean’s unique style of singing.

But it was probably local singer Sanam Marvi who carried the day with her Sufi songs, as the audience went wild with excitement.

“Sanam Marvi’s performance was the best because she carried the crowd with her and knew how to handle it,” said Mubarak Ali, a journalist.

The jam-packed venue was a testament to the ability of PUAN members Arieb Azhar and Zeejah Fazli to revitalize Pakistani music through the festival and create a soft image for the country by reaching a global audience.  They were able to bring some much needed entertainment to Islamabadis.

“The Music Mela is a good event because I felt life coming back to Islamabad because of it and some of the sadness in the air disappeared,” said Zeba Haider, a college teacher.

To take a look at the photographs from the event, check out this link:

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