Poor Rich Boy Debuts on Center Stage Highlighting a Vibrant Pakistan
By C. Naseer Ahmad
Pictures courtesy Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
US Department of State

Music is the international language of peace,” said US Secretary of State John Kerry while welcoming young Afghan performers in February 2013. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan reminded the huge audience, who came to see Poor Rich Boy – a dynamic young Pakistani musical group at the Millienum Stage, Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington on June 3, 2014, about these wise words.

I get a peaceful easy feeling. And I know you won't let me down. 'Cause I'm already standing on the ground.” Well, they did not sing the lyrics by the 70s rock band Eagles and none in the audience begrudged them. It seems that they were forgiven, because Poor Rich Boy comes from the YouTube different generation. Whatever!

One thing is for sure : these lads from Pakistan’s underground indie-art rock phenomenon on their maiden visit to the United States during May 30 – June 24, 2014, were well grounded. One got a peaceful easy feeling talking to Shehzad ‘Shezy’ Noor and Zain Ahsan. Within few minutes, one learned about their parents and their grandparents as well as how their journey to the Kennedy Center began.

To the audience’s delight, they sang all their hit songs. “Alice” was among them. “’Alice’ could be about the friendship between America and Pakistan, a page from a book or even Alice in Wonderland. It really depends on how your interpret it,” vocalist Omer Khan was quoted in the Express Tribune November 29, 2011. The vast hall was filled with people - of all ages, ethnicity and spiritual persuasions – as far as the eyes could see. No wonder they have received raving reviews.

The Center Stage – produced by the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) with support from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, US Department of State – selected the Pakistani rock band for this year’s first performance at the Kennedy Center. In 2012, Center Stage selected Arieb Azhar for the first performance also and later that year Noori, Very Live and Zeb & Haniya performed through this program. Khumariyan – with rich and deep Pushtun roots – is scheduled to appear on September 16, 2014. Fleur D’Orange, Hoba Hoba Spirit, and Ribab Fusion from Morocco are also scheduled to appear at the Kennedy Center - bringing some spiritual and stress relief to those poor souls stuck in Washington’s traffic and rigors of life.

While Arieb Azhar and others performed at the South end of the red carpet grand corridors, Poor Rich Boy played at the North end. The music was of different genre also. “I sang Bulleh Shah in an Episcopal Church in the United States,” Arieb Azhar told Dawn newspaper on August 5, 2012. In fact, Bulleh Shah’s poetry sung by Arieb Azhar was still ringing in my ears in this majestic place when I talked to Shezy. And, while they may play music for differing persuasions, they are not polar opposites. In fact, they are friends. Together, all of these artists highlight a vibrant Pakistan that is still thriving beneath the war-weary surface.

Musical diplomacy can play a big role in healing old wounds and soured relationships. For example, Arabesque from Ho Chi Minh City and Tri Minh’s Quartet from Hanoi are the Vietnamese artists scheduled to perform via the Center Stage later this year also. And one never knows how many doors can open and hearts won over by sincere gestures. Earlier this year, Secretary of State Kerry and Senator John McCain were both present in the Senate Dirksen Building to commemorate the 20 th anniversary of US-Vietnam diplomatic normalization and trade relations.

Then there are those who are parlaying the myth of Magnificent Delusions, as if the relations between these two friends are a fantasy. Perhaps, it will not be smart to buy into this cynicism. Really is there much beef between US and Pakistan? Rather there might be ample room for exports to the large market of the 180 million mostly young Pakistanis hungry with ambition. Think of the trade potential. This is no Alice in Wonderland thinking. After all, Friends can always agree to disagree. Would it have been prudent to let the divisive Cultural Revolution or the Red Menace prevent the engagement with China, back in the 1970s?

The road is wide open for endless possibilities with the imaginative initiatives by the Center Stage.

Imagine all the people living for today … Imagine all the people sharing all the world … You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one I hope someday you will join us And the world will be as one

Did you by chance see John Lennon’s spirit quietly sneak into the lovely Kennedy Center for the Poor Rich Boy performance?


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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