The South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival

The SXSW Music Festival has become one of the largest music events in the world. What humbly began in 1987 has expanded so much that in 2014, over 28,000 professionals and artists from the music industry participated. Around 2,300 acts from 57 overseas countries performed at more than 100 locations in Austin, Texas.

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Pakistani Musicians Showcase at SXSW 2015

This March for the very first time, six extremely diverse musical acts belonging to the three provinces i.e. Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sind showcased their talents and our culture for everyone to see. They were:

Haroon Rashid

He is a singer, composer, musician and producer, and has been associated with the music industry for over two decades. He met with great success when he first formed the band Awaz with some friends in the early 1990s. Then he launched his solo career in 2000, and had an excellent world tour (2003-05). He has a large fan following in the US, UK and Dubai, and is known for his invigorating live performances, making him one of the most sought after Asian performers.

Mekaal Hasan Band (MHB)

It was formed by Mekaal Hasan, who is a guitarist, composer and songwriter. The music is a combination of rock, jazz, soul and sufi which makes its inimitable. They gained recognition with the release of their debut album Sampooran in 2004 and have gone on to receive many awards. However in 2013 it underwent a change as the lead singer, bassist and drummer are from across the Border, making it the first ever Indo-Pak band.

SXSW_pakistan, pakistani_music, traditional_music, folk_songs, music_festivalSain Tanveer Brothers

Drum masters extraordinaire who belong to the small town of Daska. They are thought to be one of the best in the country. Sain Tanveer is famous for hanging four dhols and playing them while spinning.

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Poor Rich Boy (PRB)

A distinctive indie rock group belonging to the underground music scene in Lahore. It has four members i.e. Danish Khawaja, Omer Khan, Shehzad Noor and Zain Ahsan. They sing in English, and their songs explore the realities of everyday life in Pakistan.


In 2008, a group of well educated and socially active young men came together to form a band. The purpose was to fuse together traditional Pushtoon and modern music. The band comprises of Aamer Shafiq who plays the guitar, Farhan Bogra who plays the rubab and sitar, Shiraz Khan who plays the zerbaghali (traditional Pashto drums) and Sparlay Rawail who is the lead guitarist. What is truly unique about them is that they are instrumental!

(Both ‘Poor Rich Boy’ Khumariyaan made their debut in the USA last year through Center Stage, which is an exchange program for promotion of cultural understanding between the US and international communities based on performing arts)

SXSW_2015, mai_dhai, pakistani_culture, pakistani_music, folk_music, sufi_music_pakistanMai Dhai Band

Mai Dhai belongs to the Manganiyar caste and lives in Tharparkar, Sindh. She is a singer as well as plays the dhol, and would be performing for the first time outside of Pakistan. The Manganiyars are Muslim musicians who originally performed for the Kings of Rajasthan. Today this is the way they earn a living, and now mostly sing at occasions or shrine festivals. Their music is appealing because it is a special combination of the simplicity of folk and the intricacy of classical music, based on heart-touching Sufi kalaam.

Who Made it Possible?

The Pakistani musicians showcase was made possible by FACE (Foundation for Arts, Culture and Education) in collaboration with the U.S State Department, as its aim is to build bridges with other communities by promoting our cultural heritage. Basically it’s an NGO based in Islamabad, which puts together events to promote music. This includes conferences, festivals, workshops & seminars.

The main objective is to serve as an information repository for upcoming musicians in all genres and to bring them together from different regions of the country. In May 2014, it organized a 3 day festival in Islamabad called “Music Mela”. It was the first of its kind, because it served as a collective platform for Pop, Rock, Folk, Sufi and Indie music. It was highly successful and thousands of people attended.

FACE was established by Zeejah Fazli in 2004, whose is very passionate about music since he was a teenager, and believes that music can really make a difference. Zeejah is a musician, event director, producer and entrepreneur. He has performed with Sain Tanveer brothers a number of times, as he plays the guitar and will also be with them at the showcase.

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The Performances

As anticipated, the showcase began with a bang as Sain Tanveer brothers played the dhols while spinning and created an amazing atmosphere. This was followed by a performance that took everyone by surprise. Mai Dhai’s singing was so soulful and poignant that it had the crowd captivated. While Khumariyaan were an absolute hit. The use of popular historic instruments created the quintessential touch and much to the audience’s delight, Farhan Bogra even showed them some traditional Pushtoon dance steps.

Haroon as usual brought on his popstar appeal as he sang his latest songs, while PRB gave an enigmatic yet meaningful performance. Last but not the least, MHB lit up the stage with their Pakistan lineup, where Humera Channa was the vocalist, as folk singing is her specialty and they wanted to present the folk sounds of Baluchistan & Sindh.

Earlier they all performed in a free concert at the University of Texas on 13th March, but after the showcase, individually on other venues too. Furthermore Adil Omar, a prominent Pakistani rapper gave an independent performance at SXSW on 19th March.

The Future

The success of this Pakistani musicians showcase has possibly given us a permanent spot at the SXSW Music Festival in the years to come!