“Let’s forget all indignations and traverse all distances between us,” goes a line of the Urdu-language song.
After the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in January and the raid targeting Osama bin Laden in May, the U.S.-Pakistani relationship went from bad to worse; it reached a new low this month when Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff declared in a congressional hearing that Pakistan had aided a militant group blamed for attacks against Americans in Afghanistan.
Pakistan strongly denied the allegations and warned it would not tolerate potential U.S. violations of its territory.
Syed Azfer Iqbal, who works on cultural exchange programs at the U.S. Embassy here, said the music tour was not specifically designed to soothe frayed tempers, as it was planned more than a year ago.
“It’s a coincidence,” he said. “But I believe it’s very timely.”
The Ari Roland Jazz Quartet has visited more than 35 countries in tours often sponsored by embassies or the U.S. State Department. This is the band’s second tour of Pakistan; the first was in 2009, and double bass player Ari Roland said American jazz and traditional Pakistani music are a natural fit.
“The thing about the music in Pakistan is that the beat is very similar to jazz,” Roland said. “It’s like a cousin to us.”
In this tour’s last concert, the jazz quartet won over spectators with adaptations of popular Pakistani songs and the incorporation of a Pakistani percussionist. The jazz performance was followed by a Fuzon concert before the two bands united to perform the friendship song.
Western dress prevailed among the listeners; judging from comments made after the concert, this audience was friendlier to American interests than might be found in the rest of Pakistan, where anti-Americanism is the norm.
Asked what he thought of U.S. policies in Pakistan, Shahzaib Khan, a 25-year-old student, said they were “a bit strict.” He was unconvinced by the friendship song but said he enjoyed his first jazz concert.
“They should arrange this again and again,” he said. “So many people want this to happen.”
Brulliard is a special correspondent.