Legendary Pakistani guitarist Mekaal Hasan’s rare ‘Rivayat’ series fuses classical genres with global sounds

This file photo, posted on November 25, 2019, shows Pakistani guitarist Mekaal Hasan during a concert in Lahore. (Photo courtesy: Facebook/mekaalhasanband)
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Updated 10 March 2023
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Legendary Pakistani guitarist Mekaal Hasan’s rare ‘Rivayat’ series fuses classical genres with global sounds

  • Since Rivayat’s launch in 2020, 156 songs have been recorded with 100 musicians, a new song releases every Friday
  • French guitarist, a London-based folk-jazz musician and Russian bass guitarist add to work of Pakistani hereditary musicians

LAHORE: A musical project in Lahore spearheaded by legendary Pakistani guitarist Mekaal Hasan is true to its title, Rivayat, which means tradition in Urdu, giving a platform to hereditary musicians whose knowledge has been passed down through the generations but who have recently been pushed to the margins by an industry dominated by corporate studios.

Adding foreign musicians to the mix of traditional folk and classical musical and lyrical styles, Hasan launched Rivayat in 2020 at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic to give vanishing musical forms a fresh, more contemporary touch, and help it reach larger audiences.

Rivayat has its roots in an eclectic mixture of genres Hasan’s eponymous band, the Mekaal Hasan Band, was for decades known for - rock, soul, jazz and sufi music - as well as the peculiar circumstances of the last few years.

“When the pandemic began, the first thing that came to my mind was that I have a lot of friends who do session [music], who work with playback singers, who perform live. I immediately thought of how they were losing their livelihood,” Hasan told Arab News in an interview at his studio. “They don't have any state support.”

And the musicians were no strangers to Hasan but all from hereditary musical families that he had met and worked with over his three-decade long career.

“I said to them, ‘We have an amazing studio, I know many, many amazing musicians all around the world, if you guys can…bring your songs [to me], I will record them, and I will find you collaborators who can work on those songs’,” Hasan said.

The collaborators are all international musicians who Hasan hoped would add a touch of the fusion he’s been creating throughout his career.

He wanted to make something that had “both local and international appeal,” Hasan said, explaining why he hired French guitarist Gwen Lafitte, London-based folk-jazz musician Shez Raja, and Anton Davidyants, a bass guitar player from Russia, who have worked together on the project remotely, each adding a new layer of music and depth to a song.

“That's how the [Rivayat] project came about. We commenced recording in July of 2020” Hasan said. “We’ve got folk music from different regions. We’ve got Ghazal and Thumri which is a more romanticized art form. We’ve got Qawali, we’ve got Naat, Marsiye, we’ve tried to capture the entire cultural landscape of Pakistani music,” the guitarist and producer said, naming a variety of musical and poetic forms.

To date, 156 songs have been recorded as part of Rivayat, with 22 vocalists and a total of 100 musicians.

“THE IDEA OF RIVAYAT”

“The pandemic has been challenging, recording remotely. And this [Rivayat] was also challenging because it was a new variety of sounds,” Lafitte, who Hasan knows from their days together at the Berklee College of Music in the 90s, told Arab News in an phone interview.

“But I got completely lost in them, in this idea of a folk-contemporary medley, in the idea of Rivayat.”

In future instalments, Hasan hopes to add musicians from Poland, Canada, the US and even India to the project.

“Rivayat is going to be coming every Friday, six o’clock, for the next 2-3 years,” Hasan said, explaining that a new song was released each week on Friday.

But there is a problem: of monetization. A single track costs about $1,000, especially with the scope of Rivayat’s ambitions and the number of artists that need to be paid. 

Hasan is adamant that he doesn’t want corporate backing, or to go the route of Coke Studio, a wildly popular Pakistani television programme and international music franchise which features studio-recorded music performances by established and emerging artists and is sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company. It is the longest-running annual television music show in Pakistan, on air since 2008.

“When you switch to a [corporate] template, you have to edit a lot. We have no editing in Rivayat.” Hasan said, adding that Rivayat songs were as long as 12 minutes, including instrumentals and improvisations.

“What I’m thinking of doing is having a Patreon [membership platform for content creators] page where we can say to people, 'Look this is what we’re making, and this is [the] money we need to make it',” Hasan explained.

“FAMILY TRADITION”

The latest song in the series, which came out last Friday, is by clarinet player Ustad Jaffar Hussain Randhawa, an instrumental, improvised Thumri on a western instrument.

Randhawa, who learned his craft from his father and paternal uncle and runs the Punjab Brass Band, founded by his grandfather in the early 20th century, is one of the few people left in Pakistan who play the clarinet.

“The British gave us these instruments, true, but we’ve made them our own, playing more traditional subcontinental music," Randhawa said, describing the clarinet, tuba, trumpet, drums, and other western instruments that feature in the Punjab Brass Band.

Shahzad Ali Khan Qawal, from the Shahdara area of Lahore, also learned his craft from his father, Muhammad Boota Khan Qawal, and was about 17 when he started performing:

“I took up Qawali because of my father. Now my son is working with me, my nephew as well. It’s a family tradition we are looking to uphold.”

Performing Qawalis for almost 35 years, Qawal was introduced to Hasan through a musician friend.

“When the coronavirus started, I got a message from Mekaal. I was one of the first artists to be featured on Rivayat. I’ve done six songs for the series by now,” Khan told Arab News on Sunday, recalling 2020, a year he got no live performances or events.

Others on the Rivayat project include Fiza and Hasnain Haider, siblings who specialize in Ghazals and are the grandchildren of Iqbal Begum, a famous Ghazal singer from Faisalabad. Their mother, Samar Iqbal, was a singer too.

The siblings say they spend a lot of their time in ‘Riyaz,’ or honing their vocal cords, and practiced singing every day.

“Singing these days is not the same as it used to be. Anybody can use an auto tuner and sound good. But we have done a lot of riyazat [vocalpractice], our voices are real,” Hasnain told Arab News. “Fiza and I have done two duets for Rivayat and really enjoyed the experience.”

“We all sing live in one session, no editing, no tuner, no digital alteration," Hasnain added. "This is the biggest thing Rivayat is bringing back.”


Hollywood’s Will Smith and Martin Lawrence hit ‘Bad Boys’ red carpet in Riyadh

Updated 25 May 2024
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Hollywood’s Will Smith and Martin Lawrence hit ‘Bad Boys’ red carpet in Riyadh

RIYADH: Cameras flashed and crowds cheered as Will Smith and Martin Lawrence hit the red carpet at Roshn Front’s VOX Cinema in Riyadh on Friday night to mark the fourth installment of the “Bad Boys” film franchise.

“Bad Boys: Ride or Die” arrives 30 years after Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, played by Smith and Lawrence, respectively, teamed up as the infamous buddy cops.

The latest film, exclusively in cinemas on June 6, shows how the characters have changed over the years.

“Their backs have gotten weaker, and their knees hurt more,” Smith said jokingly.

“Part of what we wanted to do with the franchise is to have the characters grow in an age-appropriate way,” he told Arab News.

“We are trusting that the audience wants to grow with us, wants to go with us, and wants to follow the natural progression of life and what these characters would be going through.”

The film continues to mix action, drama and comedy, but also allows the characters to grow and develop spiritually.

“The core of the movie is about friendship, love, and family,” Smith said.

“And would you ride or die for your partner?” Lawrence added.

The film builds on the success of the third installment, “Bad Boys For Life,” released in 2020, with the directorial duo for the latest production, Bilall Fallah and Adil El-Arbi,  reportedly inspired by video games.

Lawrence said the “top notch” directors were great to work with, and inspired the actors to “come up with magic.”

Smith added: “It’s interesting working with non-American directors; there’s such a different perspective… You know, they were (young) when the first movie came out, so there’s such a reverence for the original films. They’re bringing that energy, but they also want to put their signature on it. Energetically, it was fun to work with them, and also their openness to the spirituality of the film was also refreshing.”

Action films, whether “Mission Impossible” or the more recent “Monkey Man,” have enjoyed a revival in recent years, and both actors believe the genre will always have a place in the industry.

“The physical wars of humanity represent the inner wars that we go through. So, I think human beings are always going to like watching a good visualized external battle that they can relate to,” Smith said.

“We all know internally that life is kind of a series of ordeals. How do you manage these ordeals and put things back together? And I think that this movie is a comedic look at two people trying to be friends, surviving ordeals together, which changes them without life breaking their relationship. It’s like a standard bromance.”

With the film premiere taking place in Saudi Arabia’s capital, both stars expressed their excitement over initiatives underway in the Kingdom.

Smith said: “I performed at Soundstorm and everything is brand new. The energy of 40 and 50-year-old people in Saudi is like the energy of 20 and 30-year-old people in America.

“It’s like there is this powerful sense of being on the cusp of the future. It’s showing up in music, it’s showing up in art, it’s showing up in architecture, and hopefully shows up at the cinema tonight.”


Dave Chappell says support for Gaza war is result of ‘antisemitism in the West’ at Abu Dhabi show 

Updated 24 May 2024
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Dave Chappell says support for Gaza war is result of ‘antisemitism in the West’ at Abu Dhabi show 

DUBAI: US comedian Dave Chappelle performed to a packed audience at Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena on Thursday as part of Abu Dhabi Comedy Week, where he also addressed the war in Gaza.

“What is happening in Gaza is a direct result of antisemitism in the West,” he said on stage.

“If you are in America, the best thing you can do is to make American Jews feel safe, feel loved and supported so they can know they don’t have to support a country that is committing genocide just to feel safe,” he added. 

Chappelle previously slammed the Israeli bombing of Gaza, as well as the US support for it, at a show in Boston in October.

According to people in attendance, an audience member asked Chappelle to shut up, which sparked a heated response from the comedian.  

“You can’t take tens of billions from my country and go kill innocent women and children and tell me to shut the f--- up,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.  

Some members of the crowd began chanting “free Palestine,” to which Chappelle replied: “You are damn right, free Palestine.”  


World celebrities hit red carpet at Saudi-backed amfAR gala

Updated 24 May 2024
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World celebrities hit red carpet at Saudi-backed amfAR gala

  • Red Sea International Film Festival sponsors for fourth year
  • Demi Moore was host, which Elizabeth Taylor held in 1993

DUBAI: Some of the world’s biggest stars, in the French Riviera for the Cannes Film Festival, made appearances on Thursday at the 30th annual amfAR gala as Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea International Film Festival took on the role of presenting sponsor for the fourth consecutive year. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by amfAR (@amfar)

Among those in attendance were Demi Moore, Michelle Yeoh, Heidi Klum, Kelly Rowland, Andie MacDowell, Diane Kruger, Colman Domingo, Michelle Rodriguez, Winnie Harlow, Robin Thicke, Diplo, Paris Jackson, Petra Nemcova, Karolina Kurkova, Natasha Poly, and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by amfAR (@amfar)

The RSIFF’s CEO Mohammed Al-Turki and chairwoman Jomana Al-Rashid were also present.

The American Foundation for AIDS Research, or AmfAR, is dedicated to the support of AIDS research, prevention, education and advocacy. It has raised nearly $900 million since 1985.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by amfAR (@amfar)

Demi Moore, whose film “The Substance” caused a stir at Cannes, hosted this year’s gala, a role launched by Elizabeth Taylor in 1993.

The red carpet at the Hotel du Cap, Eden Roc, was awash with models, actors, singers and fashion designers as well as plenty of festival movers and shakers.

A few celebrities opted for gowns by Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad including German model Toni Garrn, sports commentator Alex Scott and Brazilian model Thayna Soares.

Garrn wore a purple beaded strapless gown with scalloped edges and spider web-like details, while Scott was adorned with a rose gold off-the-shoulder sheer tulle beaded gown, and Soares opted for a hooded gold beaded short dress with a plunging neckline and embroidered tassels.

German model Kim Dammer dazzled on the red carpet in a glamorous halter-neck black gown, intricately embroidered with geometric shapes by Lebanese couturier Rami Kadi.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Kim Dammer (@kimdammer)

Lebanese designer Nicolas Jebran was championed by Turkish actress Hande Ercel, who wore a black gown adorned with red and blue beads and featuring a plunging neckline.

Egyptian actress Yasmine Sabri was also in attendance, wearing a sparkly silver dress by Lebanese designer Jean Pierre Khoury. The dress featured thousands of mirrored tube beads hand-sewn onto a corseted silhouette, according to the designer.


Summer cinema: The blockbusters coming your way over the next few months

Updated 24 May 2024
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Summer cinema: The blockbusters coming your way over the next few months

DUBAI: Here are eight blockbusters coming your way over the next few months.

‘Deadpool & Wolverine’ 

Director: Shawn Levy 

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman, Emma Corrin 

Release date: July 26 

In what will likely be the summer’s biggest box-office draw, the now-retired Wade Wilson — aka the indestructible mercenary Deadpool — is pulled from his sedate existence by the Time Variance Authority and forced into carrying out a mission with fellow anti-hero Wolverine, of X-Men fame. Both men reluctantly engage in a task that “will change the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” 

‘Hit Man’ 

Director: Richard Linklater 

Starring: Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Austin Amelio 

Release date: May 24 (June 7, Netflix) 

Action-comedy from one of the best directors around. Gary Johnson (Powell, who co-wrote the movie with Linklater) is a straight-laced college professor who moonlights as a fake hitman to entrap criminals for the local police department. But when he falls for a prospective client, Madisson (Arjona), Gary gets in way above his head, and his lies start to catch up with him. The bizarre premise is actually based on a true story (although Linklater has stressed that his film is not a faithful recreation of events).  

‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’ 

Directors: Adil & Bilall 

Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens 

Release date: June 7 

Detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) are back for a fourth big-screen outing. This time, they’re investigating their own, when their late captain is accused of having been working with drug cartels. The two men set out to clear their captain’s name and find out who in the Miami PD could be responsible for framing him, only to be set up themselves and forced to go on the run. 

‘Inside Out 2’ 

Director: Kelsey Mann 

Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black 

Release date: June 14 

The sequel to Pixar’s much-loved “Inside Out” — about a young girl called Riley and the five personified emotions that determine her thoughts and actions — finds Riley entering her teenage years, and ushering in some new emotions (Anxiety, Ennui, Embarrassment and Envy) who throw off the delicate equilibrium achieved by the veterans Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. 

‘The Bikeriders’ 

Director: Jeff Nichols 

Starring: Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, Tom Hardy 

Release date: June 21 

Nichols’ tale of the exploits of the fictional Chicago-based biker gang the Outlaws MC over the course of the 1960s is inspired by the photo-book of the same name by Danny Lyon. What, at first, is intended as a place of refuge and sanctuary for local outsiders where they can feel free to be themselves evolves — or devolves — into a violent crime organization.  

‘Despicable Me 4’ 

Director: Chris Renaud 

Voice cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Pierre Coffin 

Release date: July 3 

Gru — once a supervillain, now an agent for good — is living happily with his wife (and fellow agent) Lucy, their three adopted daughters, and their newborn baby boy. But when Maxime Le Mal, the dangerous criminal that Gru helped put away, escapes from prison, Gru and his family (and, of course, his Minions) must go on the run. 

‘Fly Me to the Moon’ 

Director: Greg Berlanti 

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Anna Garcia 

Release date: July 12 

Set in the Space Race of the 1960s, Berlanti’s romantic comedy-drama finds NASA director Cole Davis preparing for the launch of Apollo 11. An already stressful situation is made worse when he falls for marketing specialist Kelly Jones, whom the government has appointed to stage a fake moon landing in case anything goes wrong with the real deal.   

‘Borderlands’ 

Director: Eli Roth 

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Kevin Hart, Jack Black 

Release date: August 9 

With video-game adaptations no longer the dross they used to be, thanks to the success of TV shows like “The Last of Us” and “Fallout,” hopes are high for this star-studded take on Gearbox Software’s all-action looter-shooter. Blanchett plays Lillith — a much-feared outlaw who returns to her home planet of Pandora on a mission to find the missing daughter of the universe’s most powerful man, Atlas. To achieve her goal, she teams up with a band of misfits to tackle monsters and bandits and find the girl. 


The Roundup: 3 pop culture highlights from across the region 

Updated 24 May 2024
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The Roundup: 3 pop culture highlights from across the region 

DUBAI: Here are three pop culture highlights from across the region.

‘Drawing Time: Duets’ 

This exhibition, from the collection of Sharjah Art Foundation, runs until August 4 at Al-Mureijah Art Spaces. The show, the organizers say, “grew out of a two-year research project into conserving paper” and brings together works from 15 artists (including Baya, whose “Femme au paon” is pictured here) that “present a composite picture of what drawing is and could be today.” It also “delves into the concept of the double” by presenting the works in “artistic duets.”  

Gultrah 

‘Revival’ 

The popular Tunisian alternative outfit’s second studio album is billed as “Tunisian reggae,” a “distinctive fusion” of “innovative blends” that “delves deep into introspection and self-acceptance.” With touches of funk, ska, and Afrobeat, the nine tracks on “Revival” address a number of social issues as well as “the quest for inner peace,” and should help Gultrah build on the success of their hit single “Win.” 

Dima Ayad 

The Dubai-based Lebanese fashion designer’s latest collection of dresses, pants and coats is based around “a harmonious fusion of nostalgic 90s style elements with contemporary sensibilities,” according to a press release. The collection features “warm earth tones,” blacks, whites, and splashes of bright pink, while the new one-shoulder dress provides “a unique twist to the (designer’s) knitted signature fabric.”