MUSIC by Rakae Jamil
The composition “Agahi” was originally created for the Agahi Awards—the first journalism awards ceremony held in Pakistan. The event took place in March of 2012. Launched by Mishal Pakistan, a non-profit, Islamabad based organization focused on investigative journalism, the Agahi Awards aim to call attention to and strengthen the standards of journalism in Pakistan. Currently the awards have successfully fostered a healthy debate amongst journalists from Multan, Karachi, Rawalpindi/Islamabad and Mirpur – AJK on topics such as media ethics, interfaith harmony, anti-money laundering and the role of investigative journalism in Pakistan. The word ‘Agahi’ itself is a Persian word literally meaning “awareness” or “knowledge.”
This piece begins with a riff using a digital alto saxophone sound, followed by a few plucks of the open strings of a sitar. The riff is composed using notes of the minor scale, which is the equivalent to ‘Darbari’ from the Indian set of scales, more commonly known as Ragas. The beginning preludes the main theme of the composition: a meditation on the current events of terrorism, corruption and the economic crises that are reported on a daily basis in Pakistan.
The theme leads to an eventual break from all instrumentation, where the percussive instruments and the rhythmic flow come to a sharp halt, while digital symphonic strings play the chordal structure, and the sitar makes a few glides in the minor notes. This compositional break serves as a climax, representing a point where the crises in Pakistan could not possibly become worse.
A slow-build up re-introduces the main theme of the composition, signifying hope and the effort to find ways to build a better future, as well as ceasing to dwell upon past and present crises. Adding to this hopeful mood are the chordal changes from the minor to the major scale, as well as the symphonic strings playing in the higher registers. The notes played by the sitar also incorporate this emotional shift, as does the swift change in rhythm. At the end of the composition, the sound fades off with the alto saxophone riff played continuously, representing the immense work yet to be done and the initial push to rebuild a positive future for Pakistan.
Pragmatically, because this composition was utilized as background music for the Agahi Awards, the composer needed to add a musical element connecting this piece to the theme of the Agahi Awards, i.e. media, journalism and the chaotic soundscape of live news broadcasts. Therefore, the vibe of the composition should convey a sense of urgency, lending the impression that it is impossible to hold a passive stance regarding the social, ethnic and economic events taking place in Pakistan.
Rakae Jamil (MAPH ’13) has been involved in music since the age of 12 when he started learning the sitar. He completed his undergraduate studies in Musicology from National College of the Arts and is both a sitarist and vocalist. He composed music for a compilation of Allama Iqbal’s poetry, and has performed in Coke Studio season 2 with Noori, for which he is the band’s session sitarist and keyboard player, and has performed live with Noori throughout Pakistan. He has performed live at University of Chicago and other venues in Chicago.