elephant songs in lahore – multiple contacts


On Thursday 26 April, a fantastic selection of musicians from the Lahore rock and fusion scene joined elephant songs for a great show at True Brew Studios, Lahore. The evening was recorded by Jamal Rahman and Fatima Shah, and later mixed by Floris van Bergeijk. Jawad Shahid and his crew filmed the event.

We started the evening with a group of musicians you may remember from the music meeting on the rooftop of my hotel a few weeks earlier: maestro Akmal Qadri and his son Ali Abbas on bansuri, Kashif Ali Dani on tabla, and myself on drums – joined for the occasion by guitarist Danish Khwaja of Poor Rich Boy fame.


raag hans dhun

And now for something completely different: a free rock trio featuring Japanese synth wizard Masaki Okamoto (with his new synth) and riff master Danish Khwaja.

here’s johnny

With rockstar bass player Sameer Ahmed of co-Ven fame and electric sitarist Jamil Rakae we played a beautiful jazzy world set, for lack of a better term. (Can someone with better pr skills help me out here?) Video of this and the other tracks will be up shortly, check back or subscribe to updates. For the time being, enjoy the audio, as stream or download.


Here’s a glimpse of what we finished the show with – featuring Danish Khwaja, Sameer Ahmad, Kami Paul, Raavail Sattar, and yours truly.

rooftop meeting and show tonight


On Sunday 15 April, I was visited by Akmal Qadri and his son Nazar Abbas and tabla player Kashif Ali Dani. We enjoyed tea and music on the pleasant rooftop of Sajjad Hussain’s Lahore Backpackers.

I met Akmal and friends again yesterday, when we rehearsed for the show at Truebrew Studios tonight, set up by Jamal Rahman and Raavail Sattar. It’ll be a get together of musicians and friends that I was fortunate to meet here in Lahore. We’ll play in four different line-ups – and whichever other configurations happen. The musicians playing tonight are Jamal Rahman, Sameer Ahmad, Rakae Jamil, Masaki Okamoto, Danish Khawaja, Kami Paul, Fahad Khan, Akmal Qadri, Nazar Abbas, Kashif Ali Dani, and myself.

jilebi chronicles


Gooey or crispy, that’s the debate – or so I learnt from reading Kamila Shamsie’s Broken Verses. Either way, I was very surprised to find them here in Pakistan: jilebis! A deep fried sugar concoction that melts in your mouth, and on your fingers, which I believed to be South Indian. Turns out to rather be South Asian.

Tonight’s jilebis were the conclusion of an unexpected night out – I went over to Faheem’s house, a fantastic singer I knew from when he worked on a show that old friends of mine were involved in too. Just wanted to say hello, see if here’d be a chance of doing something music-related while I’m here.
After meeting his lovely family, we left the house and soon I found myself sitting around a table in a dark park (no electricity) with Faheem and five of his friends. All of their lives have taken them to very different places (also geographically, one of them has lived in Toronto for 35 years) but still those who are around get together in the park every night, to walk, drink tea, catch up. Faheem met them when they came to a concert of his and started talking to him afterwards.
We finished our tea and went for dinner at a grill restaurant. Where they managed to order salad and two different kinds of dal that had really almost no very recognisable chicken in it. A relief for my vegetarian sensibilities.
Dinner turned out to be only the second item on tonight’s programme; afterwards, we needed a decent dessert. Jilebis. And not just any jilebis, but the best in town, so we made our way over there.

They were delicious. And, this being Pakistan which means hospitality doesn’t stop, we concluded this very pleasant evening with green tea at the house of one of the friends. Well after midnight, and after various slightly concerned text messages from hotel boss Sajjad (the type he starts sending every night around 11, if I’m not home yet), we said our warm goodbyes and I rode home with a big happy smile on my face.

peeru’s café


The first time I went to Peeru’s Café, my landlord Sajjad of Lahore Backpackers insisted I take a rickshaw – “for security”. When I told my driver my destination, well-known for its qawwali performances, he proudly announced he was a qawwal himself and sang all 25 kilometres of the way there. Welcome to Pakistan.

Reaching the place, I was a little surprised by the high, barb-wired fence with the steel gate and armed guards – not just your regular guys dozing in chairs with shotguns in their laps, but uniformed men in bulletproof vests and complex-looking weapons – all dull black angular metal instead of the usual simple steel barrel on a wooden handle. After my bag and I were screened and searched and declared acceptable, I was shown into the compound – a beautiful, quiet, and relaxed place that I later found to be much bigger than what I saw just then: a glass house where juices were made, a small stage, and a number of tables where waiters served food and drinks that were presumably prepared in the building in the back. Only later I learnt that Peeru’s had been attacked several times in the past – with bombs and arson, terrorists attempted, in vain, to disturb and discourage the lively cultural scene promoted there.

When I was preparing my visit to Lahore, Pakistan, my invaluable friend Neil van der Linden had put me in touch with the Peerzada family, who run Peeru’s Café and the Rafi Peer Theatre Group. Peeru’s is part of a compound that houses the café-restaurant, an auditorium, various artist-run arts and crafts shops, the puppetry museum, and the offices of the RPTG. While I was still in India, Mr Faizaan Peerzada kindly helped me obtain my visa for Pakistan, and invited me to come over to discuss what we could mean to each other as soon as I reached Lahore. Meanwhile, playing with Maarten Visser and Keith Peters at the Global Music Festival in Madras, India, I met Sam Mills and Susheela Rahman, who adviced met to get in touch with one Hassan Qureshi in Lahore. Hassan responded enthusiastically, and mentioned his family’s auditorium and their many musician friends. We agreed to meet and talk about possibilities for elephant songs – and Hassan turned out to be married to one of the Peerzada daughters and having an important function in the Rafi Peer organisation. The world is small. Like everywhere.

After meeting them at Peeru’s that first night, the brothers Faizaan and Saadaan took me back to their home right for a lovely evening of chats and drinks and brainstorming about what we could do during my time in Lahore. I was excited to hear them suggest I’d play with the famous dhol players, the sufis Goonga and Mithu Sain. We discussed ideas and set some things in motion and then went back to Peeru’s for dinner – Punjabi food (the cuisine that is served in most so-called Indian restaurants in the west) of such a refined quality that it redefined my opinion on the north-subcontinental kitchen. Contrary to my earlier judgments, I think I actually like it.

The following days many things happened. Sajjad took me around Lahore, showing me the old town and some sufi shrines, including lots of qawwali, and also the Badshahi Mosque. I wandered around a lot, went back for juices at Hafez’s, had almost-vegetarian biryani for lunch. For dinner I often went for the fantastically spicy lentil-and-eggs concoctions served in a small place close to my room, usually dark because of the frequent power cuts (one hour on, one hour off). The boy who cleaned up usually brought me a candle so I could still read my book on the Great Game. I met many more musicians and I had the great honour of playing with Goonga and Mithu Sain on several occasions, including, interestingly, a French cultural evening at LUMS University. (A post with clips of several of these collaborations is coming up, check back or subscribe.)

On Saturday 7 April I was at Peeru’s again. I’d brought my drums, and played for two hours with maestro Mian Meeri and his qawwali troupe. I’m looking forward to what’s next. Apparently, there’s something coming up with the Sain brothers and UK dhol sensation Rani Taj. And I’m working on putting together a dedicated elephant songs show with a lot of different local musicians here in Lahore. Stay tuned.



Takatak is the onomatopeic (or, as the Germans in an unexpected but most appreciated fit of romance put it, onomatopoetic) name for a dish consisting mainly, if I’m not mistaken, of chopped up goat’s testicles. All over the old town of Lahore you can hear the sound of chopping knives on metal plates, takatak takatak.

Takatak is also the name of Zain Peerzada‘s trash metal band. On Sunday 1 April, they played at the Guitar School in the chique Lahori suburb Defence. In a room the size of an ambitious living room at the top floor of the Guitar School, some thirty or forty music lovers gathered. Shorts, uncovered heads, beards, metal shirts, kurtas, Urdu, and English were happily mixing, showing that there is an alternative to the polarised views of most (western) media.

I missed most of Keeray Makoray’s show, though I did notice the singer has a great voice and likes Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. And here, like in India, George Michael’s Careless Whispers enjoys a continuing popularity, for reasons that are a little beyond me.
Takatak was fantastic – tight, fast, and loud like a metal band should be, and with enough unexpected turns to keep me captivated from beginning till end. Unfortunately I’ll miss their next show – a free fight gala, where men in cages beat each other to pulp to the sounds of crunching guitars and growling vocals.



Lahore, Pakistan! I’m in the next country of my road trip, one closer to Holland. Eleven to go :-)

The Wagah border, the only overland border between India and Pakistan, was surprisingly quiet. On the Indian side, I was held up while a number of easygoing Sikh officials went through the paperwork, complaining about and pseudo-apologising for how many forms and ledgers had to be satisfied. When it was all done, an even higher official came and made me open all seven bags on my bike, signed the form to end all forms, and wished me a good journey.

The Pakistani soldier on the other side welcomed me with a firm handshake, and the carnet was quickly processed in a large and well organised hall that was just as empty as the one on the Indian side. The luggage check consisted of the question whether I was carrying any alcoholic beverages, and, after a few more handshakes, I rode out of the border area and had a tea at the roadside stalls behind it. An old man with a long grey-black beard and a kefiyeh draped over his head looked at me curiously and then smiled, shyly. More friendly and investigating looks, more handshakes, and lots of small talk with gestures and guesses rather than words.

Lahore feels comfortable. Wide streets, unagressive traffic with not many horns at all, and it’s so clean!

It was well past lunchtime by the time I’d found my hotel and checked in. I went for a stroll, walked by some delicious-smelling kebab stands and eventually settled for a fastfood joint that had tables all over the pavement, with people leisurely enjoying juices and burgers and each others company. A few arts students with poster tubes were chatting over a big cardboard model of joined geometrical shapes. I shook hands and then shared a table with a clean shaven man with bouncy henna-red hair and a subtle line of kohl around his eyes. Tried ordering vegeterian food without meat. A sandwich with only egg, please. Chicken? No, just egg. Chicken. No please, no chicken, no meat. Burger? This is where my new friend – who didn’t speak any more English than the waiter – interfered.

It was great just sitting there on the side of the street, relatively unnoticed, and watch the world go by. It was a varied world, with distinct differences between dress style, beards, skull caps, women’s head scarves, etc, I imagine based on geographical origin, tribe, economic background, and so on. Tall, big-bellied men with black or grey beards, men with henna-red beards, clean-shaven ones in jeans and t-shirts, and many men, bearded or not, in salwar kameez (long shirt and baggy trousers). Women mostly have their heads covered with colourful shawls like a saw in Rajasthan and the Indian Punjab, burqas, or other scarves. Looking forward to learn a little more about all these different people and starting to be able to guess people’s origins.

I washed down the sandwich with a cold and tasty banana shake, said goodbye, and resumed my wanderings / wonderings. Khuda hafiz.