High Flying Birds

August 2, 2015

Instep on Sunday talks to Nida Butt, Hamza Jafri and Mekaal Hasan ahead of the first ‘I Am Karachi Music Festival’

High Flying Birds

The first edition of the ‘I Am Karachi Music Festival’ is all set to make a splashy debut come August. With a core organizing committee that includes Nida Butt and Hamza Jafri from the Mad School, Mekaal Hasan from the Mekaal Hasan Band, Emu and Shallum Xavier from Fuzon and Wajiha Naqvi and Amar Sham from the Karachi Youth Initiative, the festival is poised to steal Karachi’s heart.

‘I Am Karachi Music Festival’ has various layers. The first is "a twelve- part workshop and interactive panel discussion series" which will include sessions on topics ranging from music copyrights, publishing, music appreciation to the form and structure of music, marketing music, music instruments, composition and lyrics, etc.

Then there is the mentorship program with musicians like Natasha Humera Ejaz, Omran Shafique, Amir Azhar, Taha Malik, Aahad Niyani, Mekaal Hasan, Hamza Jafri, Shallum Xavier, Faraz Anwar, Aamir Zaki, Nadir Abbas, Intezar Hussain and Faisal Gill. The sessions are equally exciting. Some examples include ‘Western Jazz and Pop Vocals’ with Natasha Ejaz and ‘Studio Guitar Techniques’ with Shallum Xavier among many others.

The third and final component of the show is live music. Two distinct stages will be set up at Port Grand, Karachi; one will feature traditional artists, while the other will feature contemporary acts. This means you can find artists as diverse as Zoe Viccaji and Humera Channa, the Sketches, Rushk, Kaya, Sikandar Ka Mandar, Sara Haider and many, many more belting out their original songs, all in one location. There is room for all genres and all kinds of artists. The idea is to be inclusive.

For a city like Karachi where violence, mayhem and corruption reigns supreme, the I Am Karachi movement, particular this upcoming festival, is surely a sign of some relief. The festival is not necessarily about music alone. It is about owning your artists, understanding the power of music, its value, cultural significance and its impact on the people. It is also about recognizing the need for public space, public discourse, conversations and debate in the musical sphere, which is the only way forward. It is about recognizing the need to take music seriously, both as an art form and as a way of healing our never-ending wounds as a city, and as a people.

To know more about the first ‘I Am Karachi Music Festival’, Instep on Sunday sat down with Nida Butt, Hamza Jafri, and Mekaal Hasan. Here’s an excerpt of that conversation…

Origin story and the core team

Nida Butt: I Am Karachi Music Festival has a core committee of seven people. There are three organisations, which are involved in this. Mad School has been awarded the grant so we are the implementers, so to speak. Fuzon (the music band) are also part of the core committee and had a hand in the conceptual planning. The Mad School called Mekaal (Hasan) and we asked him to be a part of it. Mekaal isn’t working independently but under the umbrella of the Mad School. So, there is Mad School, Fuzon, and the Karachi Youth Initiative (KYI), who actually spearheaded the ‘I Am Karachi’ campaign and have set it up. The ‘I Am Karachi’ consortium now includes 200 organizations so that’s a huge umbrella. The core committee for this music festival consists of myself, Hamza Jafri, Mekaal, Wajiha Naqvi and Amar Sham (from KYI) and Shallum Xavier and Emu (Fuzon).  


Hamza Jafri: The first project that we did was teaching 60 kids from Lyari free music, art and dance subjects and we did a six-month educational program with them. On the basis of its success, we got another grant to teach another 60 kids in half that time. We were then awarded yet another grant to do the Karachi Mubarak Festival along with the musical production, East is East. During the Karachi Mubarak Festival, we did three performing arts festivals in three different districts and then we did shows of East is East.

For this festival, you have certain people directing certain areas, like Nida is handling artistic direction, Mekaal is directing the programming and the dialogues taking place. Wajiha and Amar are heading operations from their side, as well as communication development, etc.

The aims behind the festival

Nida Butt: The aim of the festival is to provide a platform to young artists. It is to boost the music industry. This is not your average, run-of-the-mill festival. There are three components to it: one is the music mentorship program, second is the music dialogues and the third is the music festival itself.

In the music mentorship program, we are taking aspiring musicians and linking them up to music experts in the relevant field, and doing a kind of master-class with them. We are selecting people; and they are applying online as well.

The second part is music dialogue. The idea behind this is to have certain conversations with regards to music, which are solely lacking. If you look at the twelve panel discussions that we’ve developed, you’ll see that they touch upon everything from copyright laws to music appreciation to how to build a music career. It’s practical information that will be useful to musicians and non-musicians, almost KLF (Karachi Literature Festival)-style. This is free attendance. 


The third component is the music festival and that will feature over 60 artists with 30 hours of live music and again, there will be two stages that will run simultaneously on both days. The traditional stage will feature the eastern side of music while the modern stage will focus on rock, pop and such genres. The aim is to at least start a conversation about music, get people talking about it so we can identify what problems exist.

Pulling off a music festival

Nida Butt: It is so difficult. We have worked day and night. We started in May; Mekaal joined us somewhere in June. Acquiring artists is one aspect of this festival. There’s marketing, communication, logistics, operations, management, décor, design, art direction, so there’s a lot you have to oversee. We are a team of twenty people in the office and everyone is working full-time. Since we’ve been given a grant, we were able to hire people because it is a mammoth task. We have some experience of doing a festival as we did the Karachi Mubarak Festival and we went through a similar process. The difference is that that was a touring performance festival; this is a music festival. That was dance, theatre and music. This one is focused entirely on music.

Mission and vision

Hamza Jafri: As a musician, what I would like to see is the entire music industry coming together, functioning as one unit. The problem is that everything is fragmented, things operate in a chaotic structure. The idea behind doing a festival of this magnitude is to get people working together, functioning together and to acknowledge that whatever genre, be it folk, rock, pop, it is all part of the same industry. We want to bring everyone together. The I Am Karachi consortium has also managed to bring so many different art organizations under one umbrella, so the music festival really is an offshoot of that and it follows the same goals.


The idea is to be united because we can only progress and move forward together. We need to create a system where copyright laws are implemented, there is room for artists to play live music, and an infrastructure is developed.

One important goal here is to make an effort to take music seriously, to explore its impact on society, the importance of music education, to introduce music not as a hobby or a pastime but something of value and to recognize its cultural significance.  The biggest goal perhaps is to educate not just listeners, but everyone involved. The panel discussions and dialogues, for instance, will be a learning experience for those who are participating as well as those in attendance. The idea is to put music on the map, boost it, develop it, and to work together.

The importance of music dialogue and discussions

Mekaal Hasan: These are different facets of music; from an educational perspective, there’s one on how music and society affect each other, there is one on music business and marketing, people can take measures to protect their work and learn about how to market their work. There is one that deals with modern studios and how producers work. There is one on music appreciation and how we can develop better listening. Every panelist will get ten minutes to present a particular scenario. During the first five minutes, they will talk about what they have been doing, while the next five minutes, they will either play an audio or a video clip about an important artist that they think people should be exposed to and may or may not know about. So for example, Omran (Shafique) will talk about R.D. Burman and Prince.

Acquiring artists

Mekaal Hasan: Everyone was receptive, very positive. I made sure to invite everybody I could think of. I wrote to everyone. No one can say that they weren’t approached. If someone is not in the country or unavailable, that’s a different story. But if you look at the programming, we have about sixty performers, which is ambitious.

One way we were able to fit people in was by keep the sessions shorter. This is something I learned from performing at the SXSW festival (earlier this year). We (MHB) didn’t have two hours to perform or ninety minutes when we played at SXSW. We literally had 30-35 minutes.

The panel discussions were difficult because we wanted panelists who were also performing. Some panelists who are not performing are an authority so, for instance, Mr. Hameed Haroon will make a twenty-minute presentation on music and society, Nadeem Farooq Paracha will give a presentation as well so we have these two generational viewpoints on music development throughout the years.

The idea is to let people see musicians as more than just entertainers. We have tried to include people from all music aspects so we have engineers, producers, studio technicians, songwriters, arrangers, composers, lyricists, journalists, and people who have been documenting music. We’ve encouraged the panels to be bi-lingual so it’s not limited and restrictive. Each panel discussion will be initiated by a performance. We’ve also got an all-star traditional house band. The only thing we left out was ‘music in film’ because there’s been too much focus on watching music, in television and films. We’ve invited organizations that are dealing with music and we’ve invited representatives so they will either be on the panel or performing.

High Flying Birds