Song Of Lahore


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Asad Ali in Song Of Lahore
"The film would be more robust if it lingered longer, fleshing out the facts of the oppression of music in the country." | Photo: Mobeen Ansari

This crowd-pleasing documentary mixes a Buena Vista Social Club-style rediscovery of forgotten musicians with an American adventure with an end result that is most likely to appeal to jazz fans and festival-goers tired of issue documentaries and looking for an uplifting theme (a fact emphasised by its recent runner up Audience Award nod at Tribeca Film Festival).

The subject is a group of Pakistani musicians who found their livelihoods cut from them when Sharia law brought an end to their trade in the late seventies. Although it is still dangerous to play - a fact illustrated all too clearly as the documentary progresses - a revival of sorts is occurring, not least because of Izzat Majeed's decision to found Sachal Studios in a bid to rediscover the country's music.

The gathering together of a hotchpotch of musicians - from sitar players to violinists and tabla experts - is just the beginning of the story, however, when Majeed suggests they have a bash at some jazz and the Take 5 version that results (watch it here) becomes a global internet sensation. As a result, the band are invited to take a trip to New York to play with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

Andy Schocken and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's film travels from its initial considerations of music in Pakistan to the culture clash between the American and Pakistani musicians sense of style, work ethic and general approach to music, as it quickly becomes apparent that the marriage between the two orchestras may not be made in heaven.

Pacy, but with rather too much emphasis placed on the rehearsal room difficulties compared to the cultural backdrop, it is the Pakistani musician's dedication to their craft that best holds the attention and their sense of continuing a line that stretches back generations."You should be making your ancestors proud, not ruining their reputation," one musician tells his son as he grapples with the violin.

The film would be more robust if it lingered here a little longer, fleshing out the facts of the oppression of music in the country. Also, there is almost no sign of women on either side of the Atlantic (there have been protests about the fact that Wynton Marsalis's crew have never had a permanent female member). This lack of any sort of female perspective - aside from a woman advising one musician on which clothes to pack - makes the film as a whole feel as though there is a missing piece.

Reviewed on: 04 May 2015
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Musicians from Lahore head to the US to play jazz.

Director: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Andy Schocken

Year: 2015

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: US


Tribeca 2015

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