A fascinating tapestry of music marked the concert by Zeb and Haniya

One moment you were pining, the other, you were wandering among the towering, forlorn mountains of Afghanistan. Soon, you were in a bar, bobbing your head to a soothing jazz number. Pakistani singers Zeb and Haniya and their band brought to the stage a juke box of quaint melodies, taking the Kochi audience through the fascinating tapestry of Pakistani, Afghani and Central Asian music.

Performing for the first time in Kochi as the inaugural show of the Hindu Friday Review November Fest, the band ‘Lahori Blues’ created a peaceful musical ambience. Muhammad Akmal’s effortless flute set the mood for their first piece, a bluesy number dedicated to Islamabad.

Assorted repertoire

Through their assorted repertoire, cousins Zebunnisa Bangash and Haniya Aslam seemed to be exploring the common threads connecting varied musical cultures. “We are often asked about our genre of music. We are actually quite indiscriminate about what we do with our music,” Zeb said to the audience, before humming their second piece, Kabhie na kabhie, an original track inspired by the filmi genre. A tribute to Indian film music followed with flashes of O.P. Nayyar’s distinctive style, reinterpreted in Zeb’s soft voice and backed with some brilliant old-school guitar played by Zeeshan Mansoor.

Their influences are as diverse and colourful as a patchwork quilt - traditional Pashto songs they grew up listening, fragments of a Dari ditty sung by a wandering Afghani refugee, or a lilting Sufi tune that stuck in memory.

The cousins have a huge following on the Internet and the audience knew several of the compositions they were about to play.

The Night Song, Haniya’s favourite among the original compositions, was a yet-to-be-released track that celebrated the sounds and beauty of night time. Though Zeb took the vocal lead in most of the songs, this one had Haniya pitch in.

The ensemble was not all soft. “This is our most aggressive number,” said Zeb, as they played the rock-based Rona chod diya, “a big hit” among their American fans. As the lyrics suggested, the song was all about giving up tears - a peppy number enlivened by Kamran Paul and Agha Ibrahim on the drums.

One of the highlights of the evening was the Turkish folk song adapted from popular Turkish singer Barish Mancho’s repertoire. The singers said it surprised them that the South Indian listeners were the only ones who could clap in time to its unique rhythm.

A joyful Dari number popularised by ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan in India and Pakistan and the Mountain song enchanted with their truly folky tenor.

The band’s extremely popular maiden album, Chup, was played to instant applause. The concert was rounded off with a soulful Sufi melody. “We thought this song was of Afghani origin, but where ever we have sung this, people claim it to be their music,” said Zeb.

The accompanying artistes, Muhammad Akmal on the flute, Zeeshan Mansoor on the lead guitar, Prakash on the bass guitar, Agha Ibrahim and Kamran Paul on the drums, made up for occasional drop in vocal energy and a few off notes here and there.