Since its arrival on Karachi's music scene, MAD school has hosted some very exciting gigs. Founded in 2010 by theatre director and choreographer Nida Butt (Chicago, Mamma Mia!, Karachi - The Musical) and her husband and musician Hamza Jafri, the school's mission is to foster growth and development within the local artist community in Karachi by offering art programs and facilitating art performances.
Over the last two years, the school has played host to some absorbing shows.
From the psychedelic sounds of Basheer and the Pied Pipers to shoegaze specialists //Orangenoise to collaborative summer jams featuring the likes of uber-popular guitarists such as Omran Shafique - MAD School is the go-to place to discover the sounds of a new generation of independent musicians. Every now and then, a band like Mekaal Hasan Band will also play at the MAD School, lending it more credibility with concert-goers.
Earlier last week, MAD School and Cultures in Harmony got together for a benefit gig for the MAD Gift Program; a collaborative effort to provide free art education to children of Kiran School Systems in Lyari.
It was an eclectic playing bill featuring rock act Co-Ven, the very talented Usman Riaz, and guests from across the world: a Western Classical string quartet led by William Harvey, a Juilliard graduate, who through Cultures in Harmony, forges connections across cultural and national barriers through the medium of music.
Back to the show… the string quartet, along with William Harvey featured Peter Myers on cello and Emily Holden and Holly Jenkins on violin. It was a performance worth remembering, as they played Pakistan's national anthem and had the crowd on its feet.
Further into their set, the quartet introduced the audience to 'Black Bend' by Dan Visconti. It was a subtle piece, but captivating enough to keep one interested.
As the 100-odd crowd settled in, Harvey invited Usman Riaz on stage - the young, versatile instrumentalist who recently performed at Ted Global with the father of percussive guitaring, Preston Reed. On this night though, it was the musical exchange between Usman and the string quartet that had the audience engrossed.
Original pieces like 'Shimmer' and 'Fragaria Dreams' showcased Usman's guitar genius. With the piece 'Waves', Usman showcased his versatility as a pianist. 'Firefly' off Usman's debut EP, Flashes & Sparks, was another stunner where he dazzled with pure percussive guitaring.
Usman's talent no longer needs introduction. His flair for instruments is palpable even when he plays live, and on his new album, Circus in the Sky. After the show, when asked how his passion for instruments grew, he said: “I have been playing classical piano since I was six. I love both the piano and guitar,” Usman told Instep Today, and continued, “I have been classically trained in this sort of music since I was six. I don't think it requires training though. It comes from the heart.”
For Usman, the high point of the evening was his collaboration with the quartet.
“Performing live with violins was a wonderful feeling. It was an honour playing with them. I played with them in February as well - it has been a great experience,” smiled Usman.
Harvey and his string quartet continued the musical proceedings with 'Quartet No. 5' by Philip Glass, a long piece that became one of the highpoints of the gig.
The mood shifted once more as Co-Ven arrived onstage minus bassist Sameer Ahmed. Frontman Hamza Jafri, guitarist Omran Shafique and drummer Sikander Mufti filled the void by jamming it up with the string quartet. As Co-Ven belted out originals such as 'Sailing Fast', 'Ready to Die' and their upcoming single, 'Chor', they brought the house down with their brand of frenzied, grungy riffs and some very crisp drumming. After Co-Ven's electric set, everyone got together in an all-star jam and this where improv music truly shone.
After the show, Instep Today spoke to MAD School/Co-Ven man Hamza Jafri…
Instep Today: How did you find the performance of the visiting band?
Hamza Jafri: William Harvey and his string quartet were amazing; this performance was a rare thing for Pakistan where violin and cello players are diminishing by the day. There is something very human and nature-like in the sound of strings. William's quartet is highly skilled with seasoned musicians, it was a wonderful treat to listen to them and perform with them.
Instep Today: How do you see Usman Riaz as a musician?
Hamza Jafri: Usman is vastly talented; music and rhythm are in his every bone. His new album of compositions is out on iTunes, I just heard it and it's quite the rollercoaster ride of emotions performed very skillfully. Usman is a treasure for Pakistan.