7 Pakistani Performances You Don't Want to Miss at the SXSW Music Festival

First stop Islamabad Airport. We are off to play at one of the world's biggest music festivals, South by Southwest ‪#‎SXSW‬ in Austin, Texas!. Posted on the Khumariyaan Official Facebook page.

“First stop Islamabad Airport. We are off to play at one of the world's biggest music festivals, South by Southwest ‪#‎SXSW‬ in Austin, Texas!” Posted on the Khumariyaan Official Facebook page.

The SXSW Music Festival, one of the largest and most influential music events in the world, will feature its first-ever Pakistani showcase this year on March 18. 

Pakistan isn't the image most music fans conjure up when they think of trance, indie rock, progressive rock and jazz. But that's exactly what people attending the Pakistan Showcase at SXSW will be witnessing. Six wildly different performances will show a glimpse of the country’s rich and diverse but underexposed music scene. 

Besides the showcase, Pakistani rapper Adil Omar will also perform at SXSW on March 19. 

Pakistan's music industry is underdeveloped. Most musicians act as both artists and entrepreneurs – they handle all aspects of music production and distribution themselves, from creativity to finance and marketing. They also suffer from a lack of intellectual property right protections. Since 2007, live concerts have become less frequent, due to the constant threat of bombings in the country.

So the showcase in Austin is a huge opportunity for the six artists and bands flying from Pakistan to perform. The showcase was made possible through funding from the US government and an Islamabad-based non-profit called Face, which organizes concerts and promotes Pakistani music. The artists will not receive compensation from SXSW for their performance, but they will be able to attend all events at the festival for free.

Here are the Pakistani artists and bands playing at SXSW this year. 

Mekaal Hasan Band

MHB plays progressive rock and jazz renditions over South Asian Sufi poetry. Two years ago, the band's lead guitarist Mekaal Hasan braved visa troubles to collaborate with musicians in India. They released the first collaborative India-Pakistan album of its kind last year. This video is a live performance of “Ghunghat” off their album “Andholan” in Baroda city, Gujarat, India: 

Poor Rich Boy

A Lahore-based indie rock underground band, whose lyrics in English are commentary on society and politics in Pakistan. The band is from the capital of the country's most populous province Punjab. In a recent interview with the daily Dawn, a band member said, “Playing abroad gives Pakistani musicians credibility.”  This video was released in March and uploaded onto Vimeo by Piphany Productions: 

Mai Dhai

A Manganiyar classic folk singer from Umerkot at the entrance of the Thar desert in southwestern Sindh. Last summer, she jammed with an urban musician to produce something beautiful for the Internet. 


Hyper-folk instrumental jams from Peshawar, in the northwestern Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province. Khumariyaan blends sounds from the hometowns of its members, who play percussion, the string rubab, the ‘zeer baghali’ — a native Pushto Instrument that faced near extinction — and the western guitar.

Sain Tanveer Brothers

Punjabi dhol or drum masters, the Tanveer brothers grew up in Daska, a small town near Sialkot. Dhol performances are essential elements of wedding processions and Sufi shrine celebrations. Sain Tanveer is famous for his “dhol spinning” technique, which attracted thousands of people when he performed at he Sufi Shrine of Shah Jamal in Lahore. His technique involves hanging four dhols at a time around his neck and playing them while spinning. 

This video was uploaded by Zeejah Fazli, an Islamabad-based guitar player who will perform with them in Austin. Fazli also runs Face, which is sponsoring the event.


The pop singer was famous in the 1990s as a part of a band Awaaz. Recently, he has reinvented himself as a cultural activist through an animated TV show “Burka Avenger” with a female superhero. Haroon created and produces the series. Here's a song by Haroon and Pakistani rapper Adil Omar from the series: 

Adil Omar

The 23-year-old rapper is also playing at SXSW, but he isn't a part of the Face-sponsored showcase. He is playing on March 19 at the Trophy Club. This video was released yesterday: 

How the showcase came together

Pakistan has many different languages and sub-cultures, but musicians from one area rarely get exposed to the sounds of other areas. Part of Face's mission is to connect musicians from different backgrounds and cultures within Pakistan.

A cultural attache at the US Embassy in Islamabad took a special interest in pitching Pakistan's showcase to SXSW organizers in 2013, according to a US State department magazine report.

In 2014, Jennifer McAndrew invited a senior SXSW producer to the Music Mela, a huge conference in Islamabad, being put together by Face through a $55,000 grant from the US Embassy. She wanted to develop “a long-term linkage between Music Mela and SXSW.” 

Following the Mela, the senior producer Todd Puckhaber said: “After witnessing these performances, I’m convinced the U.S., and the world, needs to experience Pakistan’s incredible musical talent”. The magazine also said he planned to invite several Music Mela bands to next year’s SXSW festival.
According to SXSW's website, all artists interested in performing at SXSW 2015 must complete an online application, which goes through two rigorous rounds of judging. 
SXSW has a committee of people who listen to and grade recordings according to originality, technical ability, songwriting skills, career establishment, and overall artistry. Every application is graded at least twice, then those with the highest scores are reviewed further and invitations are extended. 

In 2014, more than 28,000 music industry professionals and musicians attended 2,300 acts representing 57 countries at SXSW. 

The main Pakistan SXSW 2015 Showcase is on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, at 8 p.m. in the Victorian Room at the Driskill Hotel, 604 Brazos Street, in Austin, Texas.  


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