"Song of Lahore": Pakistani Group Wows Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra

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“Song of Lahore” tells an improbable story with a happy ending. It’s a feel-good movie filled with humor, pathos, and plenty of human spirit.

The story tells the story of Pakistani musicians of Sachal Studios in Lahore, Pakistan, a once-thriving music mecca producing Lollywood (Pakistan’s version of Bollywood) film soundtracks and other popular music.

When the dictator Muhammad Zia came to power in 1977, he banned music in the name of Islam and put music out of business. The musicians in the film, whose parents once worked at Sachal Studios, remembered Dave Brubeck’s 1958 visit to Pakistan as a Jazz Ambassador of the U.S. State Department. It was a very successful cultural exchange. After Zia’s ban on music, then the Taliban came to power and furthered the demise of popular music. Banned from playing Pakistani music by politics, the musicians decided to try their hand at jazz, and the first song they thought of was — of course — the Brubeck classic, “Take Five.”

Word got out and the band was invited by Wynton Marsalis to play in his orchestra, Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. The Pakistani musicians had to adapt tablas, clay pots, sitars, and bansuri’s to fit Western music, and they worked like mad to adapt.

The film shows the devotional aspect of Pakistani music, where music is prayerful and handed down, father to son, for generations. The ending is celebratory and the final scene very touching. I was moved by this beautiful film and recommend it. It is powerful testimony to the power of music to transcend cultural barriers, and is filled with humanity and good will.

“Song of Lahore” opens for a week run this Friday (Nov. 13) in Los Angeles at the Sundance Sunset Cinema, and in New York City at the Angelika Film Center.