Song of Lahore
Song of Lahore is a superb documentary from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Brooklyn-based documentarian Andy Schocken that compassionately examines the anguish, elation and triumphs of Pakistani musicians struggling to preserve their cultural heritage. The film tells the story of a small group of talented singers, composers and instrumentalists who, despite being ostracized in a radical Islamic society that has deemed music a sin, boldly continue their life’s work/art/passion inside Sachal Studios, located in the city of Lahore.
An underlying theme in this documentary is that music, like any language, can only live on if there are other people to embrace it – this is an especially crucial truth for indigenous music. The city of Lahore is a bittersweet backdrop for this concept. Once the thriving cultural center of Pakistani art, music, film and dance performances, it began its tragic decline with the introduction of Sharia Law in the 1970s. Concert audiences disappeared for fear of political backlash, and as a result, scores of performers were forced to abandon their livelihoods and take up jobs in other professions to survive. Song of Lahore tracks a determined few who, in an effort to find an audience outside of Pakistan, form the Sachal Jazz Ensemble. Playing traditional instruments such as tabla drums and sitar, they record their interpretation of the classic jazz standard Take Five by Dave Brubeck. Their story gets picked up by BBC news, goes viral and eventually reaches the ears of famed jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, who invites them to perform with his jazz band at Lincoln Center in NYC. Their journey from the Middle East to the Upper West Side is fraught with anticipation, high expectations, insecurity, bravado, laughter, wonder and anxiety, all of which compel the viewer to become highly invested in the outcome of their endeavor.
Watching these men experience the euphoric highs of finally achieving a measure of respect and validation for playing music is exhilarating and profound. It’s all the more powerful when related in context to the societal disdain they endure as lower-caste citizens in their homeland on a daily basis. Obaid-Chinoy and Schocken have masterfully presented this dichotomy in a film that is an exquisite reminder of what the function of art is in all cultures: to preserve, and celebrate, our humanity.
Song of Lahore does not yet have a confirmed date of release.