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R&D Blog - Kalaboration Arts visit to Karachi

Report by Mukhtar Dar & Bob Ramdhanie

Although Mukhtar was born in Pakistan, Bob had never been to Pakistan before, and the visit to Karachi was a new experience for both.

Karachi is the capital of the province of Sindh and the most populous city in Pakistan, with an estimated population of over 15 million people. It is also the most linguistically and religiously diverse city in the country, as well as being the most secular and socially liberated societies. Karachi is home to over two million Bangladeshi immigrants, one million Afghans and hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas from Myanmar. Our work in the city began the evening of our arrival. Hamza Akram, a young, well known and popular Qawwali singer drove us around various popular sites (Clifton Beach, Jinnah’s Museum) but also introduced us to the back streets and to everyday living for most of the city’s dwellers. Later his brothers joined us, ‘try the best Biriyani in all Pakistan in the Old city, on Burns Road’.

Saturday morning, and after reflections of our first night, we had several telephone conversations to confirm appointments. Later we went to the National Academy for Performing Arts (NAPA) to see a dance production (Violet) by a visiting contemporary dance company from Germany and then on to a laid-back,‘cushions on the covered lawn’ musical jam. 

Hamza Akram Qawwal and brothers, Gul Mohammed, Waqar Hussain, Wahid Bukhsh Faqeer and others entertained us for hours. Gul and Waqar were already identified as potential musicians for our Birmingham collaboration, so it was good to see them in performance and take the opportunity to share with them our plans for ‘Sigh of the Musaafir’ and the possibilities for them to share their own ideas and become involved.

On Sunday we attended an outdoor music performance at Ambience Films, organized by Salt Arts. A full-house, of mostly young people, was entertained by Jimmy Khan and his band from Lahore. Having informally met Raania, our British Council contact officer, and seen her perform on Sunday night, the week began with a formal meeting at the offices of the British Council in Karachi with Raania and her colleagues on Monday, and was followed by a meeting with Qasim Azhar, a music producer/ composer and artiste manager and a visit to his music studio to explore potential collaboration and listen to his tracks. Tuesday morning began with a brisk walk from the hotel to NAPA for a meeting with the President and CEO, Zia Mohyeddin. Zia provided the background and development of NAPA, the various challenges it still faces, the increasing but still relatively low intake of female students and mentioned some of the programmes NAPA had produced and the programme that it was currently working on. He indicated that he would like to see some of the products from NAPA exported to the UK and wondered if there would be opportunities to exchange these with two organisations in the UK. We were also invited to the rehearsal at which Zia directed his actors for his latest theatre production.

After NAPA, we had an interesting meeting with Marvi Mazhar and her colleagues at the Pakistan Chowk Community Centre. Marvi provided the backcloth against which the organization works and expressed her interest in connecting with visual artists in Birmingham. The afternoon and evening were spent at T2F Centre developing the script, sharing ideas with artistes identified and planning the work programme for the remainder of the week.

Wednesday was a desk-top, tidying and confirming a range of administrative and other matters - arranging further meetings and confirming others, script development, contracts and schedule of work for the Birmingham rehearsal period in ten days' time.

Thursday was another day of meetings, exchanging ideas and sharing contacts and links to Birmingham. We began by meeting Ambareen and Masuma at I AM KARACHI and were delighted to hear about their organization and the range of work done in Karachi and across Pakistan. The organisation runs a variety of festivals, publishes, transforms communities through the use of producing I AM KARACHI walls in various communities and runs several school programmes in the arts.

Following the meeting with Ambareen and Masuma, we met again with Zia Mohyeddin and two of his senior colleagues (Zain Ahmed - Artistic Director and Nafees Ahmad – Head of Music) continuing the dialogue which had begun earlier in the week and exchanging details of contacts in Birmingham for longer-term possibilities with NAPA.

We had evening sessions at T2F, working through the Birmingham programme with various artistes and later that night, a social and working meeting with Zeeshan Mohammed (Karachi Biennale) and his wife Kaif Ghaznavi (dancer & Founder & Chairperson of bunvatfestival).
On Friday morning we met Aniqa Imran General Manager, The Citizens Archive of Pakistan at the office in Karachi. Like I AM KARACH, a relatively large NGO, employing over thirty members of staff in Karachi with another similar number in Lahore. Aniqa shared the diverse range the organisation’s work programmes in terms of their collections of oral histories and how these are shared in the City and from their educational programmes in local communities, based on ‘learning from each other and not necessarily from books’!

It was almost time to return to Birmingham so we spent an afternoon outlining a work programme for our Pakistani artistes when they would join us in the UK. The last five days were hectic, informative, inspiring and productive and underpinned developments for the successful launch of the pilot project …’Sigh of The Musaafir’.

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