Karachi, Pakistan – Science fiction fans may remember how
humans and aliens communicated with one another using a five-tone musical motif
in the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The movie was also
one of the first to portray space aliens as friendly – albeit different -
neighbours, rather than enemy invaders.
The idea of music creating a
bridge between real-life cultures was evident last year when I had the privilege
of producing radio shows featuring performances by two jazz quartets from the
United States – The Ari Roland Quartet and Cultures in Harmony.
performing American jazz music for a Pakistani radio audience, The Ari Roland
Quartet, originally based in New York, held live classes and workshops for
Pakistani youth and music enthusiasts and encouraged discussions on the
similarities between jazz and South Asian music – essentially using music to
communicate across American and Pakistani misunderstandings and
The quartet performed for the American Independence Day
celebrations in the American missions in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad over a
period of two weeks.
Unfortunately, the reach of the live programme was
restricted to ambassadors and guests due to security concerns, but the magic of
The Ari Roland Quartet still came alive for a wider audience through the
CityFM89 radio station for Karachi audiences as they performed on the air during
the station’s jazz show – “Take 5 with Zahir”. They took a Pakistani pop classic
called “Dil Dil Pakistan” (“Heart, Heart Pakistan”) by Pakistan’s legendary pop
group Vital Signs and added cellos and saxophones.
Their version of the
classic song received a fair amount of airtime on the cities’ radio
The quartet brought a typical American musical art form to
Pakistan and let Pakistanis make it their own. As Ari Roland himself said, “The
history of jazz has to do with taking songs that everyone knows and making jazz
performances of them.”
The same melodies, different instruments. The
same thoughts, different languages.
A few months later on Pakistan’s
Independence Day – 14 August – The Citizen’s Foundation, a local charity in
Karachi focusing on providing education to the nation’s youth, brought a jazz
quartet from the US non-governmental organisation Cultures in Harmony to
Pakistan. Cultures in Harmony is led by Julliard School graduate William Harvey,
who performed with fellow musicians Ethan Philbrick, Chris Jenkins and Emily
Holden. The quartet performed at schools run by The Citizen’s Foundation in some
of the country’s poorest areas and collaborated with some of the most acclaimed
and popular musicians of the country.
The quartet traveled extensively
in Pakistan and received a great deal of media coverage and great responses to
their music. In fact, their string quartet version of the Pakistani national
anthem is now available as a cell phone ring tone in Pakistan. And when they
performed the national anthem for radio, I felt my eyes tearing up. What
resounded in my ears was a passion for my nation that was shared by four
These performances demonstrate that the coming together of
cultures does not mean that one be overpowered by the other. The practice of
American musicians performing alongside Pakistani musicians demonstrates the
reality that Americans want to learn from Pakistanis and their culture.
Pakistanis feel that Americans have travelled abroad in recent years
only to tell people what to do. But it is these kinds of cultural exchanges that
help foster the notion that the vast majority of Americans are respectful and
willing to learn from their counterparts in Pakistan and beyond.
will not stop the conflicts in our northern territories or in our neighboring
Afghanistan. But it brings with it the hope that when Pakistanis think of
America, they will also remember the American quartet that played Pakistani
music for them. And, when Americans hear of Pakistan in the news, they will
hopefully remember Roland and Harvey’s stories of the intelligent, hospitable
people of a beautiful country.
This article first published on the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).