Pakistan’s Independence Day in San Francisco Showcases a Rich Culture
By Ras H. Siddiqui
The Pakistan Association of San Francisco Bay Area (PASF) has been holding Pakistan’s Independence Day celebrations for well over two decades at various locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. It has also been at the cutting edge of our community needs including holding smaller events including Pakistani SinglesConnect and Yadgar-e-Pakistan and has carried the passion to the next generation of Pakistani-Americans as our community here in Northern California has grown and flourished. When this organization was started, it was the Pakistani immigrants who were in the lead. Now if one glances at their organizational website ( http://pasfbayarea.org/ ) it is the young “Americans of Pakistani Descent” who are in charge. Most of them also happen to be young women! And when they put on this event, we old timers or “uncles” could not be anything but proud of Fatima Choudhery, Nadia Javed, Haider Sayed, Sosan Farrukh, Asma Hamdani and Raza Padhani, all members of the PASF Board.
The event to celebrate Pakistan’s independence anniversary was promoted as the “Pakistan Independence Day Mela 2015”, and was held at the spacious grounds in front of the San Francisco Civic Center on August 23 rd, marking the closing of a series of large gatherings held by Pakistanis in California to mark this occasion starting in Los Angeles on August 8 th and Sacramento on August 9 th. And this one was attended by a few thousand people, mostly of Pakistani and South Asian descent but also by local-curious onlookers (it was a free public event) who joined in the festivities which included great music, food, dance and fashions. Now a question or two that these locals could ask while here and even after leaving -“Are these people really from Pakistan and is this is Pakistani culture?” These are not the images that the media has been showing of our country of origin for many years here now and we who know better can easily respond, “It sure is.”
When this writer walked into the venue rather late (the drive from Sacramento took an extra hour due to delays on the Bay Bridge) the event was in full swing. We missed the performance of Bhangre di Jaan from Davis and a children’s presentation amongst other segments. But a song from the legendary Noor Jahan was playing and a group of young ladies were dancing to it in Pakistani “filmy” style. The late Melody Queen was an important element in the once thriving Pakistani film industry from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. Lately, a group of young people, many of them women, have been trying to revive films in Pakistan and the Karachi-Lahore based “Lollywood” from which this represented dance was presented here is seeing some life again.
Next up was a “Pakistan Idol” presentation where 6 singers competed to showcase their singing talents. The winner was announced according to the volume and loudness of cheers for each individual and it did not hurt that the young man most appropriately dressed for the occasion (in green and white) eventually ended up winning. We need more of such competitions in our community because the talent abounds and is only to be discovered. And lest we forget the Pakistani love affair with food continued as diverse cuisines were making a hit and the long lines attested to that.
Another area where Pakistanis have been making an impact internationally is in the fashion industry. One is glad to note that PASF did not overlook or ignore this part of Pakistan as the fashion show of clothing designs by Aateka Sultana, jewelry by Sadaf Malik and choreography of Sabbin Anwar was certainly a high point of the afternoon and lit up the stage. This segment was done tastefully and at the professional level so kudos to all the models who could make any catwalk proud.
Zubair Shaikh, Umair Khan and Assad Waince also entertained the audience with their renditions of Dil Dil Pakistan and a host of other popular songs. Balochi and Sindhi dance numbers from Hip Hop Natyam were also well presented and blended into the program. And while the venue was full the national anthem of Pakistan was sung to remind everyone of the significance of the occasion. A raffle was also held and one lucky participant actually won two of the three prizes including a Jadoo TV system.
Last but not least the voice of the Sufis via Qawwali (a South Asian musical tradition) was heard and greatly appreciated by all. Led by Tahir Qawwal, the Fanna-Fi-Allah ensemble is both unique and extremely talented. The first thing that one notices about Fanna-Fi-Allah is that its members are not from Pakistan or India. They are all westerners, Canadians and Americans who have taken their love for the Qawwali art form to the next level. And in the process they have mastered an expression which has remained the almost exclusive domain of South Asians for centuries.
Fanna-Fi-Allah started their performance with Allah Hoo the signature song of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, one which Khan Sahib used to start all his performances with. And from there onwards they added more traditional devotional numbers (some of Amir Khusro origin), a lively Chand Sa Mukhra, an inspiring Naina Milai Ke and one for this occasion, the Kalam of Allama Iqbal. They also switched over to Punjabi with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s “Aa Jaa Tenu” and then visited the soul of the Qalandar from Sehwan Sharif which usually ends almost all Pakistani events. But an encore became necessary as Fanna-Fi-Allah was showered with money (in traditional appreciation) to close with Mast Mast, a wonderfully powerful live performance!
To conclude here the Board members, sponsors and supporters of this PASF effort need to be congratulated for celebrating our country of origin, Pakistan, in such a befitting manner with a cultural program sharing the “other” Pakistan, one which needs more exposure here in the US and even within our community. There remain some trials and tribulations in our affection ahead- Abhi Isq Ke Imtihan Aur Bhi Hain (words of Allama Iqbal), but the spirit of Pakistan lives and was clearly visible here in San Francisco!