Karachi Files: Celebrating The Spirit Of Collaboration & Cultural Diversity
It sounds idyllic; straight out of a book, even. Or maybe a reality TV show. Last year, in May, around a dozen musicians from different parts of the world found themselves holed up in a house in Karachi — a regular house, in a not particularly fancy area. One of the rooms was turned into the main studio, filled with equipment: wires, cables, drum machines, synths. A soundsystem and mixer were set up in the living room area. Some equipment had been brought down from Germany, some was sourced in Pakistan by the artists; even the soundproofing was pretty much a DIY effort made from scratch. The whole house was refashioned into a temporary, makeshift studio, where the musicians would live, eat, sleep, discuss ideas and, just as importantly, make music.
Thus was born ‘Karachi Files’, a collaborative album stemming from that two-week period, as part of the SoundCamp residency initiated by Gebrüder Teichmann, an experimental electronic musician/producer duo comprising brothers Andi and Hannes Teichmann. The whole thing was a collaboration between them, the Goethe-Institut, and Forever South (FXS), an experimental music collective from Pakistan, co-founded by Haamid Rahim (Dynoman) and Bilal Khan (Rudoh). The album will be the inaugural release under the newly-formed label NOLAND, again by Gebrüder Teichman, and two concerts featuring all the artists involved. The first one, which doubled up as the album release and label launch, was scheduled for 14 May in Berlin and the second will take place this Friday on 20 May at the MS Stubnitz in Hamburg – an ex-East German fishing vessel built in the 60s that now spends its days as a “moving platform for cultural research and exchange”.
“You can imagine the recording process to be a nonstop, two-week jam session,” says Andi Teichman. “Sometimes there’d be 10 people in the room, sometimes only 3, while the others would be sleeping, eating, talking.” There was an underlying atmosphere of ease and comfort. Anybody, whenever inspiration struck, was welcome to join in. As Talha Wynne, well-known Karachi musician who’s a part of the album under his solo moniker Toll Crane, says: “They [Gebrüder Teichmann] completely get the struggle and fun involved in making music. We would sometimes be passing out but Hannes would be up till 7am still tweaking on his synths.”
Ramsha Shakeel, Toronto-based drone/ambient artist, also speaks of the experience with fondness. “There was a beautiful collaborative spirit since day one! It was probably the best experience of my life so far. Everyone was unique in their own way.” Talking about the music, she adds: “The process was quite intuitive and experimental. It has turned out to be a colourful collage of inspirations, influences, and approaches.”
During the course of jamming and experimenting with different sounds and instruments, the musicians managed to accumulate a vault of rough, endless recordings, after which they began to pluck out parts worth exploring, to streamline things a little. “For us, it was very important to have this collective experience of making music; also to feel and hear the progression of the music in the finished tracks,” says Andi.
Those 2 weeks, Haamid Rahim tells me, were spent as a family. Most of that time was dedicated to the craft of writing music. But often enough, during power cuts, the musicians would just sit on the roof listening to music or jamming. Each night, they’d go out for dinner, sampling the barbecued delights Karachi is known for.
Image credit: Pablo Lauf
Naturally, the physical space — and Karachi itself — has played a major role in the creative direction of the sound. “The music,” Teichmann explains, “is always influenced by the surroundings, the background, and the experiences of the musician. The good thing about music, especially improvised music, is that you can easily connect with other open-minded musicians. You start from a common ground, and from there you explore further. Also the taste of Pakistani food, or just hanging out together in between the recording sessions…” In fact, that abstract notion even finds its way on to the album in tangible form, with the sound of daily power cuts featured on the song ‘LS_50607 Edit’, while ‘Second Floor’ incorporates the street noise, the sound of birds, the ambience of stuff lying around the house.
‘Karachi Files’ features Alien Panda Jury, Natasha Humera Ejaz, Dynoman, Rudoh, Tollcrane (all from Karachi), Ramsha Shakeel (based in Toronto), Arttu (AKA Lump) and Gebrüder Teichmann (Berlin), rRoxymore (Montpellier/Berlin), Menimal (Maldives), and Taprikk Sweezee (Hamburg). The 17 songs on the album are a host of multiple collaborations between the artists involved. It was, Rahim says, a “magical experience” to be part of, a “culmination of hard work since 2013. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The Teichmann brothers, outside of their musical endeavours, have also been very proactive in exploring cultural and social differences and similarities in music. They’ve travelled the world, collaborating with diverse artists far and wide. The idea of SoundCamp has grown over time, through their experiences, starting from a project in Nairobi, Kenya eight years ago, to working on several other projects (including one in Sri Lanka), to now, where they’ve even optimised their studio setup out of a suitcase. From a global perspective, Teichmann feels there’s been a lot of movement in South Asia, and that it’s a “good and important time to cross borders in an artistic and political way. Our philosophy is to create a space that provides creative freedom for the people involved. We make a lot of effort to make the surroundings feel comfortable, in a technical way, but in a social way as well. But the creative process itself needs absolute freedom, otherwise nothing new will happen,” says Andi Teichmann. “In the end, it as much a social project as an artistic one.”
The planning took over 2 years, as the brothers visited Pakistan in 2013 and connected with FXS, Haamid, and the local scene. A friendship and a partnership flourished from there, Rahim recalls, with multiple exchanges and conversations. The project got delayed a couple of times because of scheduling problems, before finally, things fell into place last May. The Goethe-Institut took care of funding, while the connections the FXS crew had proved to be invaluable in terms of sourcing equipment and planning the entire thing.
A project such as this takes on further significance in this part of the world. There’s a lot of positivity around the Karachi scene, developed through dedicated efforts not just by the musicians but also visual artists, filmmakers, illustrators. “Even though we don’t get lathered with sponsorship, money, fame or whatever,” says Rahim, “we are very happy people, always producing original music, and are in it for the love of it vs. anything material.” In that context, something like SoundCamp becomes important since it exposes the raw talent of the scene to a wider, discerning audience.
The buzz and anticipation around the wide-reaching implications of ‘Karachi Files’ is also one of the reasons why it will be NOLAND’s first release. The Teichmann brothers have absorbed different styles of music and socio-cultural contexts in their journey over the past 10 years. “We’ve been carrying the idea of starting a label or platform to connect these influences and communities for quite some years, but it took a while to take shape. NOLAND is about creating an artistic space which has no map, no grid, and no rules. With the ‘Karachi Files’ recordings, it felt the right moment to start.”
In collaboration with HAU – Hebbel Am Ufer Berlin, they’ve set up “From Inside to Way Out – Perspectives of Contemporary Pakistan”, the three-day festival that features the release of the album. “The media image of Pakistan in Germany is dominated by violence, religious fanaticism, corruption and chaos. We want to show different perspectives. Besides the music, we had the chance to include artists, activists and filmmakers and give an overview of what is happening in the creative scene in Pakistan right now. For the release concert, we are basically planning a big jam session again, but of course, we will practice a bit before to get into the groove.”
The Karachi scene seems to be on an upward trajectory in a global sense, and the cross-cultural exchange initiated by SoundCamp helps establish NOLAND as a propeller through which the borders of the world can get further blurred over time. Wynne describes the experience fittingly: “Since this was a collaborative effort, there was no one direction decided, but rather it was a celebration of the diversity that existed between all of us.”
written by Akhil Sood