SONG OF LAHORE (Dir. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Andy Schocken, Pakistan/US, 2015)

posterThe incandescent documentary Song of Lahore narrates a hopeful story about culture and the arts in Pakistan which has witnessed since the 1970s a steady decline and erosion of both. Directors Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Andy Schocken frame the recent emergence of Sachal Studios, set up to try and bring together some of Pakistan and Lahore’s best classical musicians, in a much wider historical framework stretching back to the Indian Mughal era and their patronage of music. The turning point in terms of debasing the cultural significance of music as an ancient tradition passed on through generations is located in the totalitarian reign of General Zia who by imposing Sharia law re-situated music as something worthless and sinful. Such puritanical sentiments are still deeply entrenched in the psyche of Pakistan, made altogether worse now by the presence of the Taliban, the most philistine of ideologues. Song of Lahore follows the success of the Sachal Jazz Ensemble, beginning with their inspired rendition of Brubeck’s Take Five, and ending in a collaborative performance at New York’s Lincoln Centre with Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz Orchestra. It is an impassioned plea positing music as cultural exchange, comradeship and reinstating the edifying significance and place that classical music deserves in a nation suffering from cultural, historical amnesia.