Not just books

In the world of festivals in Pakistan, the Creative Karachi Festival was a welcome change from the mostly literary fairs that we have become accustomed to, writes Omer Wahaj

Not just books
The Alliance Française in Karachi was transformed into a multifaceted festival – T2F’s Creative Karachi Festival – over the weekend of November 29-30, 2014. Starting at noon and lasting till 10pm on both days, the grounds of the Alliance Française came alive with various stalls and activities that engaged and enthralled a large number of people; students, painters, art critics, foodies, chefs, actors, writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers, photographers, video games developers, and more.

Viewed from the entrance, several stalls were set up on either side. Some of the participants were Phool Patti – with their truck art an­d metal decorations; The Craft Company – with their handmade photo frames and serving trays, mosaic storage hooks, and several other creatively crafted items; #InstaKHI – with their immensely profound display of Karachi as seen through the lens of Instagram; Faraar Bazaar – with their ceramic birds, posters, CDs and more; and the Karachi Accueil Society, selling French arts and crafts, along with some delectable sandwiches and cheeses. Walking through these stalls gave an impression that one was in an open-air gallery, enjoying the sunny and somewhat summery winter days that Karachi has to offer.

One of the corners was dedicated to the literary arts, with Desi Writers Lounge (DWL), Spoken Stage and Umang. DWL’s most popular attraction were literary games in which you could randomly pick a piece of paper with the name of a book, lines from famous novels or a character sketch, and guess their correct source. Spoken Stage set up a stage where you could step up and speak whatever was on your mind.

Other creative setups included a locally developed virtual reality game by Nerdiacs, where one could wear the Oculus Rift 3D Virtual Reality headset and be transported inside a F1 car and track. In another corner, Forever South could be found promoting electronic music, as they have recently launched a record label of the same name and are producing some very divergent artists and genres.

Perhaps one of the most compelling and mesmerizing elements of the festival was an art installation by local artist Uzair Akram. He created a garden-like realm in the middle of the otherwise insipid space, landscaping it with plants, rocks, a pond – complete with a turtle and a fish – and other items that he continually incorporated in it, such as shoes dangling from a tree’s branch, notebooks and photo albums strewn across the grass and tasbih beads flung over bamboos. The piece was constantly evolving throughout the day, with the artist himself becoming part of the installation. After asr, he wrapped a dupatta on his head to the tune of Kailash Kher’s Teri Deewani, at maghrib, he had various electronic devices – phones and tablets – stuck on his body in cellophane wrap, each flashing the same ominous graphics, and by isha, he had turned himself into a tree, with a branch tied on his back and a wig made of actual tree roots on his head, completing his artistic endeavor.

Throughout both days, various activities continued in different areas around the grounds, some running simultaneously. The Karachi Astronomers’ Society had set up telescopes on the roof and you could stare at the Sun during the day, watching the dark sunspots and the faculae, and the moon and stars after nightfall, while DJ Saulat played an eclectic range of music below. As all of this happened, Qissah Farosh was busy presenting humorous readings by Patras Bokhari in the courtyard, while non-stop French art movies and documentaries played in the library. Some other performances included This is Not a True Story by Salman Abedin and Irfan Kheiri, Gumshuda Kahaanian by Nuzhat Kidvai, Wanderlust by Wajahat Malik, She Flies with the Swallows, a stunning solo dance performance by Joshinder Chaggar, Daastangoi: Dramatic Readings from Tilism-e-Hoshruba and standup/improv comedy by LOL Waalay.

Several varieties of food items were available all day long. There were several somewhat generic booths, it was, however, a special treat to see Rayyan Durrani and Azam Hafeez of Masterchef Pakistan fame preparing and selling freshly made fares. Another special appearance was by guest chef Asad Khwaja, who could be found for a limited time in the café’s kitchen, grilling up succulent roast beef sandwiches that were melt-in-your-mouth good.

The main stage had several musical performances on both days whose sound resonated throughout the festival. Dynoman, an electronic musician and part of the Forever South initiative, performed live, using a touch pad and loops to create experimental yet compulsive and enthralling beats. Later on the same day, a band called E Sharp played old school rock, which was followed by a powerful and energetic performance by the Chand Tara Orchestra, featuring Omran Shafique on guitars, Babar Sheikh on vocals and kazoo, Sikandar Mufti on drums, along with Rizwanullah Khan on the banjo and Shehryar Raza on bass. The first night ended with a three-hour qavvaali session featuring Hamza Akram and Brothers, Subhan Ahmed Nizami and Brothers and the Saami Brothers. There was also daytime qavvaali the next day with Ayaz Nizami and Brothers and Habib Niazi. The festival ended with the Sounds of Kolachi – a collection and fusion of sitar, violin, a choir and more – and Gumby and the All-Stars – with Russell, Jana, Jade, Cliffy and Omran – playing 40 years of Jukebox hits. Even though these last two sets proved to be quite popular with the crowd, with the main stage area packed to the gills by the end, the sound quality was somewhat lacking and could not match the balance and energy of the Chand Tara Orchestra of the night before.

In the world of festivals in Pakistan, the Creative Karachi Festival was a welcome change from the mostly literary fairs that we have become accustomed to. It was where lovers of art, crafts, food, literature, video games, astronomy, theater, comedy, film and music could all come together and enjoy themselves, either in their own particular niches or throughout the festival as a whole. Here’s to hoping that T2F hosts this wonderful event again next year.