Pakistani Culture on Center Stage at the Kennedy Center
By C. Naseer Ahmad

If you were lucky enough to sit on the steps close to the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday June 19, 2012, your eyes would have captured forever priceless images of the beauties bestowed in human spirit. Through the mesmerizing voice of Ali Noori and his band, Punjabi Sufi Baba Buley Shah’s majestically simple words made the heads of many Washingtonians bob turning them into pin striped dervishes. Arieb Azhar’s Husn-e-Haqiqi hits song and the Qalandari lyrics gave the audience the feeling of being in Sewan Sharif on the banks of Indus River – mentally transporting them thousands of miles away from the banks of Potomac River flowing across the street in Washington.

A common phrase in diplomacy is "to find the common ground," according to the University of California Berkley Institute of International Studies interview of May 14, 1982 with legendary US diplomat Phillip Habib. In keeping longstanding relations between two allies, Assistant Secretary of State Ann Stock sat next to Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman as were many other diplomats finding common ground – promoting culture, arts and mutual respect.

The memorable performance of popular Pakistani artists is part of a yearlong collaborative effort by the New England Performing Arts and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs – US Department of State. Through the “Center Stage” pilot program performing artists in dance, music and theater are being brought – some for the first time – to tour throughout the United States.

According to US State Department’s website, the mission “is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange”. By bringing vibrant contemporary performers, the pilot program appears to be on the road to accomplish the mission as the artists travel across the nation through the cities and small towns.

The Wikipedia on Arieb Azhar states that "true music is the union between the individual and the universal; a release, rapture, celebration, quest, lament of the human spirit". Both Noori and Arieb Azhar have the necessary talents to convey the richness of Pakistani culture and the beauties that lie within Sufism. It is also fortunate that Pakistani artists are the first group of visitors. Arieb Azhar has the required pedigree – having been born in an artistic family and having spent 13 years in what followed after the breakup of Yugoslavia. While in the city of Zagreb, he was exposed to Balkan and gypsy music. He performed with musicians from Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Bolivia and Ireland and was one of the founders of the band "Shamrock Rovers" - a unique interpretation of Celtic music.

So as Arieb and Noori travel to Main Street America chances are that diners in Leslie's Tavern at Rockingham in Bellows Falls, Vermont, Jankos's Little Zagreb, Bloomngton, Indiana or Milly's restaurant on Jefferson Street Albuquerque, New Mexico might also be humming with “damm –a-damm mast qalandar” – thanks to the creative thinkers in the State Department and the New England Foundation of Arts.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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