Oswego State’s Campus Center Arena hosted and celebrated cultural diversity Wednesday night in the last event of Caravanserai series.
Presented by ARTSwego, world-renowned contemporary Pakistani singers and musicians gathered together to present a unique blend of pop and folk. With the use of modern sound and culture the group is able to create evolving interpretations of traditional Punjabi songs.
Traditionally, Caravanserai were safe havens for travelers to stop and exchange stories around a fire. It now stands as a name representing a program aimed at gaining a better understanding of cultures throughout the Islamic world. The official title is “Caravanserai: A Place Where Cultures Meet.” Oswego State is among only five other communities nationwide to host a stretch of landmark performances. Beginning in the fall, the project produced its last concert this week, wrapping up the season.
Wednesday night’s performance was led by Arif Lohar; one of Pakistan’s most popular contemporary folk singers. He is a man who continues a family heritage in music, following the footsteps of his father, Alam Lohar. His voice expels an unbridled force of warmth and innovation. Vocals are often accompanied with his playing of a chimta, which is a traditional percussion instrument that is similar to a pair of elongated tongs with bells attached. His lyrics perpetuate the tradition of storytelling through Sufi poems. Sufi is a term that accentuates the idea of serving the people in peace and spirituality through art, yet is removed from religious rituals instilled in Pakistani culture, opening up another path to God.
“Our [musical influence] is a folk and Sufi mix,” band manager Nadeem Ul Hassan said. “Today has been unbelievable.”
The concert opened with a rising Pakistani-American vocalist, Arooj Aftab. The opening performance was presented to the audience as a “greeting.” Her lyrics also take on the basis of Sufi poetry as she blends them into modern versions of Middle Eastern classical music. Her romanticism expels traditional elements of love and loss. She refers to her sound as “indigenous soul.” Aftab continues to take a basic approach to her method and remains delicate, yet ever flowing. She took the stage accompanied by guitarist Bhrigu Sahni.
Sahni’s melodic contributions created a depictive backdrop for Aftab’s vocal landscape. His acoustic guitar, tuned down, ousted a warm twangy tone. His fingers took form, picking each string in traditional folk style, setting a moderate pace, with each note flowing into the next. Sahni’s haunting vocals wavered throughout her vocal range hitting upon various notes within the scale, fluttering in close proximity and admitting a mild tremolo. Their flavor floated among a dark melodic minor to ear provoking major modes.
After the opening act, a string of musicians graced the stage with an array of traditional and modern instruments. The group included Qamar Abbas (dholak), Waqas Ali (guitar), Allah Ditta (alghoza), Shehzad Azim Ul Hassan (dhol), Shahid Kamal (keyboard) and Nadeem Ul Hassan (percussion/vocals).
Lohar came from a family lineage of musicians and performers. As stated before, his father Alam Lohar was a legendary singer and an icon of his time. At the age of three-years old, Arif Lohar’s son has carried on that tradition. He took the stage with microphone in hand, backed by the full band, and made his debut in America. The site was adorable, sparking an awestruck audience to absorb it all.
Before Lohar took the stage, the gorgeous female singer Fozia fronted his band in a lavish pop rendition of soul.
Her performance led into Lohar’s first appearance of the show, announced by tour road manager Lindajoy Fenley. The austere stature of Lohar as a musical figure promotes attention and clarity. His powerful vocals were forced from his diaphragm in a narrative style accompanied by a single flute-type instrument. As he finished a breathtaking outlet the band exploded into highly rhythmic and lively harmony. Energy filled the room with vigorous syncopation and animated dance.
Oswego State student Lena Ramdas helped coordinate student dancers as part of the student dance club Del Sarte, and choreographed a routine for one of Lohar’s songs. The pit was quickly filled with direct reaction from the audience, who spilled from their seats to join in lively dance.
Ramdas was one of many contacted by ARTSwego student intern Erica Grill. Starting this position in the beginning of the semester, Grill has taken on the responsibility of serving for project leader of this particular event for marketing and logistics. She was heavily involved in contacting publishers and work in community outreach.
“This turned out way better than I expected,” Grill said. “I think we did a great job at marketing it to students, to faculty, to the community and even beyond.”
For those who have been involved in this yearlong program do not hesitate to say that it has been a journey. The aim was to enrich the community and American public of the Pakistani cultural life. ARTSwego has managed to take on this project with great enthusiasm.
Caravanserai was coordinated by Arts Midwest and funded by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.