Song of Lahore
Song of Lahore is a documentary directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy of Karachi, Pakistan, and Andy Schocken of Brooklyn, New York. The film tells the story of a group of musicians called the Sachal Ensemble trying to survive in the oppression and brutality of modern-day Pakistan. The film illustrates how their music making not only brought inspiration to their lives, but literally sustained them in their struggles—and how, finally, they were discovered on YouTube by renowned musician and composer Wynton Marsalis and brought to the United States for performances at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
With its ancient palaces and stately gardens, Lahore at the time of Pakistan’s 1947 independence was a haven and a muse for musicians, artists, and poets. The city came alive to the beat of a tabla drum; with a musical culture passed down over centuries and a thriving film industry, opportunities were great for the legion of musicians who called Lahore home.
Today, this vision of Lahore exists only in myth. Islamization, ethnic divisions, war, and corruption have torn apart the cultural fabric of Pakistan, and the sounds of the tabla no longer drift through the old city’s bazaar.
In 2004, Izzat Majeed founded Sachal Studios to create a space for traditional music in a nation that had rejected its musical roots. After convincing a number of master musicians to pick up their instruments again, they quietly released some classical and folk albums. But it was an experimental musical piece fusing jazz and South Asian instruments that brought Sachal Studios worldwide acclaim. Their rendition of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” in a YouTube video became a sensation, and Wynton Marsalis invited them to New York to perform with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. After a groundbreaking week of rehearsals fusing the orchestras from Lahore and New York, the musicians take to the stage for a remarkable concert.
Despite their rising international acclaim, Sachal Studios remains virtually unknown in Pakistan. The ensemble is faced with a daunting task: to reclaim and reinvigorate an art that has lost its space in Pakistan’s narrowing cultural sphere.
David Waechter is an American-born music executive and founder of Imagine Music LLC. He has worked with artists such as the Wu Tang Clan, Gym Class Heroes, Sachal Studios Orchestra, and others in the hip hop, pop, and jazz worlds. In 2011, Waechter expanded his reach into film as executive producer of a music documentary film, Song of Lahore, directed by 2012 Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (Saving Face).
A joyous and riveting film. Will have audiences grinning from ear to ear. Tells a fascinating story and mixes glorious artistry with a background that has real resonance.
Elegant and moving
—New York Times