It all started in Pakistan…
Right…after this, I promise to stop being such a slack blogger. A big year for us – after returning from Thailand, myself and Sarah had to start making preparations for the arrival of a new baby (Daniel – born in July), a relocation to London (August) and settling Ben & Ollie into their new school (September). I’m thankful to say all these events ran pretty smoothly, and we’re now ensconced in our nice little house in South London. It’s really nice being back, not least because we’re no longer in limbo. No longer preparing to go somewhere, no longer about to change our surroundings again and head back from another place. It finally feels good to be home, and whilst short-term trips are in the offing, we’ll be staying put for the time being.
This makes it a good place to reflect on the past few years. We left for the UK in 2006 – I needed a break from music. 10 years of freelancing, and starting a family had given me a different slant on things. I accepted a full time job in Islamabad with an NGO I’d previously done some consultancy work with, and off we went. We relocated to Thailand later, after visa hassles and general insecurity in the country made it impractical to stay with two small children.
I’ve written elsewhere about getting in touch with EMI Pakistan during our stay, which resulted a couple of years later in the ‘Sound of Wonder’ and ‘Life Is Dance’ comps. on the always consistent Finders Keepers label in the UK. It’s a happy association that continues to this day, and a third exploration into the wonderful world of Lollywood is planned for next year.
But there was something missing in the process. Via direct contact with EMI PK, we got access to their amazing archive which stretches back to Partition. On the plus side, it made the process of getting hold of the tracks, as well as the flawless masters, incredibly straight forward. Umer Sheikh, and archivist Iqbal Asif were always ready and willing to help us with our demands. However, there was never any real ‘digging’ involved. Whilst I would never romanticise this often fruitless task, it is still, for me at least, the most reliable way of building up an understanding of unfamiliar music.
Two buying trips to Lahore had to be cancelled at the last minute due to security concerns, as well as a meeting with the great composer Tafo. I was additionally advised that vinyl that turned up at weekend markets in Karachi was generally in v. poor shape. Original vinyl and artwork were ultimately hunted down via the internet, but that comforting rummage through boxes to unearth the gems proved elusive. Thailand was the opposite – I was spoiled by the range of shops and opportunities to sift through myriad musical delights at my own leisure. Whilst we were naturally thrilled with the end musical results of the Pakistani comps., that personal connection and research time was obviously not to be.
Imagine my surprise therefore, when I was contacted last year by a dealer about a large stock of 7″ Pakistani Eps, which he had acquired through a sound engineer. Better yet, the engineer had built up this collection as the music came out, recorded the tracks to tape for his own consumption, then never played the vinyl again. This was shop stock quality, something I’d never come across, even via Ebay.
I had told myself that unlimited access to the EMI PK archive was enough, but naturally I couldn’t resist the opportunity to wade through boxes of the physical artefact! As well as picking up known tracks there was a host of music I’d never come across, and probably might have passed on, as the artwork wasn’t necessarily intriguing or the composer was little known.
Why should a format matter so much? Surely it’s the music that counts. True enough, but whilst I’ll happily listen to digital files via my iPod, to hold the item in your hand, as it was originally presented to the public is still thrilling. I have nothing against digital – I am not a luddite, but ultimately, what feels better: an Athena poster or the original, signed and numbered print? I still DJ with vinyl. I believe it sounds better, and whilst it isn’t always convenient, I find it easier to relate to as I flick through my box, figuring out what to play next.
Seeking out the original also matters, as it’s the most reliable way of seeing the music as it was first released and presented. You get an idea of how this music was experienced in real time, at the time the listening public initially got to hear it. It’s a form of archaeology, as it always informs you just as much about the context of the music, than just the vinyl itself. Ultimately it’s easier to form a relationship to something three dimensional, than with mere data.
For future posts, I shall try as much as possible to tie in the blog with the radio show I produce for ZudRangMa:
Currently up is a Lollywood special that showcases some of my recent finds, as well as future comp. possibilities. Happy listening, and see you again soon….honest!