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One day in Pakistan   News


  This street has looked the same for decades. If Nusrat took a break from working at night on a new composition – one of a thousand pieces that he’d written – he would see his city wake up at dawn. The mosques are still empty, while the gharanas (family music schools) are still full of sounds. Beggars get up from a maze of arcades along the half-ruined houses and the owners of roadside bars light fires. In the partly roofless “Regal Cinema” the last show is nearly finished. It is one of those Hindu melodramas which Nusrat so loved to watch as a little boy. A street photographer with a teak wood camera on a tripod positions himself in his usual place under a plane tree with widely spread branches. In order to fit in the frame the enormous figure of Nusrat he’d had to step back into the middle of the road, blocking the traffic of rickshaws and horse carts.

  From the height of his stone terrace Nusrat would watch the sky over Faisalabad grow lighter between tens of minarets. Flocks of circling buzzards would hover above him, having been woken up by loudspeakers rattling with calls to the morning prayer. Brown water would be flowing through the gutter right into an irrigating ditch and young boys would be drawing lines on a clay court to turn it into a cricket field.

  Dawn in Nusrat’s home would not be the start of a new day but only one moment in a constant interplay of darkness and light, an instant just like all the others which have happened in that house since the beginning of the fourteenth century as consecutive phrases of a raga being practiced. For five thousand years the wheel of life of those ragas hasn’t stopped even for a second.
Yesterday an American journalist was killed nearby. Having spent the night in a jail where the local police have hidden us from a lynching mob, we are laying on the roof of this our “hotel”, sandwiched between charpoys old enough to fall apart and the morning sky.

  There are just the two of us left plus a single camera in working order. We have plenty of time which has suddenly become worthless. Cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by Danish press have caused deep resentment among the hitherto friendly Pakistanis. Just yesterday they fed us chapattis and tea in the streets and invited us to spend the night in their homes, but now they are not quite sure about our intentions. They suspect that the film we are working on may show them in a bad light and ridicule.

  We are several months into our third trip to the cultural crossroads that Pakistan really is, but time measured with the beat of Nusrat’s music goes by much more slowly than elsewhere. It was here that Indian music encountered Persian poetry, while classical Arab music mingled with that of Turkey and Byzantium combined with Afghan folk tunes to create the unique musical style and structure of the Indus river valley…

  From New Delhi in the east, the heart of India, through Punjab to the western tribal territories in Baluchistan. From Bombay on the Arab Sea coast through the province of Sindh and Afghanistan to Samarkand in what is now Uzbekistan…

  We’ve been crossing thousands of kilometers by bus, train, rickshaw and on foot looking for any traces left by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – the artist who gave the world the most hypnotic music of the twentieth century…

  We go back in time reviewing the footage that we’ve already made, meeting again the characters who appear in our film and revisiting all those fascinating events.

  We were present at the religious ceremony in memory of Data Ganj Bakhsh during which qawwali music is performed. Nusrat always took part in this yearly event in Data Durbar catacombs – the most important Islamic music scene. Just after we left the place three bombs exploded there, killing several dozen dancing pilgrims. Moments ago we were filming their religious ecstasy…

  In the temple of Lal Shabhaz Qalandar in the desert at Shevan Sharif women are being exorcised. Nusrat devoted one of his compositions to this event. That was where we met Amatullah Armstrong Chishti. Just like us, she heard Nusrat’s call and left her quiet life in Australia. For ten years now she’s been living in austere conditions with a commune of Pakistani musicians.

  We spent two years trying to secure an invitation from Abida Parveen – the only woman in the history of Islam who’s allowed to sing her Sufi songs in mosques and Muslim temples. When a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, born thirty three generations after him, interceded for us she finally agreed to receive us in her hermitage.

  We also visited Fateh Ali Khan – the last of the great masters of classical Indian raga, heir to the seven hundred years’ history of the family music school called Patiala Gharana.

 We enjoyed the hospitality of Sain Zahoor, sleeping at his house in a slum at a Lahore suburb where he sung for us and for Nusrat before he was discovered by the western audience and given the BBC Music Award…

  All those people and many other musical personalities from Pakistan tell us about their creative work and meetings with Nusrat. They give us what we treasure most: their art.

  Will we manage to show the contemporary Pakistan through the music of Nusrat and of the artists from the Indus river valley whom we met? Can we capture the essence of a world where illiterate inhabitants of Punjab, Baluchistan and the province of Sindh whom we met by chance recite verses of their greatest poets?

  We believe that the music and poetry omnipresent in that country provide the best tool with which to understand and describe the world around us.

  Finally the question arises: who is Nusrat himself? And will we be able to safely continue our journey seeking the answer to this most important query?

  Evening has come. The Great Pir Abdul Razzak had invited us to a private audience in a temple. There’s something unreal about this meeting. The bedridden blind old man surrounded by a hundred followers had heard of our troubles. For an hour now he’s been turning the pages of invisible book, reciting with utter concentration a prayer on our behalf.

  As soon as it is over, he says:

  - I talked to God just a moment ago and He deigned to give the two of you Muslim names which you can use as long as your journey lasts. From now on you are Abdul Rahman and Azim Ali. You can safely go on with your mission.

  Next day we set out on a journey to the city of Gilgit at the foot of the Karakorum. We climb the steep serpentines to meet another artist who used to know Nusrat...

 


“Nusrat. The Last Prophet of Music” won Dragon Forum 2011

During the awarding ceremony of Krakow Film Festival the organizers of 6th edition of the International Academy of Document Dragon Forum 2011 announced the winners of the ongoing since February documentary film workshops. The winner is “Nusrat. The Last Prophet of Music”.

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