Six years ago, I found myself at the side of a freeway eating food under a rickety hut in the deserts of Jamshoro, Sindh in Pakistan. The air was hot, as was the food. Drenched in sweat, I looked out past the asphalt, across sand, sprinkled in defiant bits of green. I had come there from Los Angeles seeking a group of wandering snake charmers; Jogis to add their music to my animated film “Gul”. Little did I know how connected we would be in the years to come, from devastating floods to bringing Sufi poetry to the world all thanks to people joining together to do some good.
Thanks to help from Suffi Bilal Khalid, Fatah Daudpoto, Saeed Mangi and others who made my work possible, I have a story to share. I went to pick up Ustad Amb Jogi and Jairam Jogi at the Hyderabad rail station in Sindh. We would have ridden in two auto rickshaws, but they humbly suggested that one was enough. We piled in with my friend Azam Bugti, the two musicians, their large instrument cases and the auto driver, then went to Fatah sahib’s apartment.
In the apartment, we met a few more local musicians, and each played a bit. I was mesmerized. It took years of grueling effort to get to this point. The musicians asked what I was looking for and I played a few recordings. They had never made music for films before. I reassured them, that what I wanted was their music, expressing the emotions of my film. After setting a date for a recording session and overcoming some other logistical challenges, I found myself with them again at the recording studio at the Institute of Sindhology in Jamshoro.
With hand gestures and words, I gave them cues for timing as Ustad Amb Jogi lead them through different raags and emotional arcs of the film. Each musician added their embellishments and created a rich piece of music. I was ecstatic. All that pressure and effort came down to several hours of weaving music from their seventh and eighth generation traditions, into a nine minute piece of music. We shared a meal after the recording session, then bid farewell. I came back to Los Angeles, with the recordings which I mixed and edited. I finished the rest of my film and “Gul” was born.
The Jogis came with me through their music to festivals around the world. My film had no words, but the emotions of their music and sound design by my friend Brian Stroner. I put together a section devoted to them on my website, to let the world know them. The following year, I returned to Sindh, to give thanks to friends and share the finished film. The Jogis met in the lawn of a local radio station. I was overjoyed to see them again. They told me that it was not a particularly large project that we had worked on, but when I called them about meeting, they came because they appreciated my respect for them. I felt the same way. We sat and talked for a while. I told them how people around the world loved their music at festivals I went to. I gave them DVDs for each member of the group. I learned more about the challenges they face as musicians, such as never receiving copies of their recordings, never being showcased in their own album, and certainly not receiving the financial rewards for their art that they should. They were known as being among the best at each of their instruments, yet being illiterate and of simple means, promotion was not something they could manage. Yet these were not complaints. They shared with me, only after some pushing, out of a sense of trust.
My project was funded out of pocket. They sat with me and gave it all the care and skill they had. In turn, I tried to give them the utmost respect as fellow artists as well as paying them for their hard work. These are sweet, humble people. I wanted to do more. I asked them to get recordings of their work, and have them sent via a friend at the University to me in Los Angeles, that I might cobble something together to promote them further. They agreed and we parted ways.
I came back to Los Angeles, after that summer and got busy in trying to earn a living again to keep bills paid. I called Ustad Amb Jogi in November the next year, only to learn that he and the rest of the Jogis had lost their homes to devastating floods. Ashamed that I had not thought to check in sooner, I began to think about what I could do. I took video from our recording session and put it together. Based on that, I created a small campaign selling that one piece of music and sharing their story. It took a few months of personally emailing, calling and speaking to as many people as possible, but we raised $1,200 which I transferred to Ustad Amb Jogi. My friends at Sindhology came through to support once again. They provided recording services, then sent me the footage to edit and mix with funds going to the musicians and minimal recording costs.
Out of that project came a DVD and CD of the Jogis, with their names on it, short bios, photos and introductions with subtitles as a fledgling vehicle to promote and support their livelihoods. I told everyone about the project, shared the Jogi’s story and music online for free and in person everywhere I went. People bought the album and at a very grass roots level it has been able to help the Jogis by raising more funds. Their videos have received thousands of views online, and where once there was no trace of them to the outside world, now people from every corner of the world can know them and their music in their own words. This project did not take millions of dollars to create. It took care, trust and a lot of love. They gave me what I could never create, and I in turn applied my skills and resources to try and share what I could.
In the end, I feel empowered by what can happen with an idea and the many people who help to make it a reality. At the moment, I am planning a new project with the Jogis, assorted other musicians and puppeteers, to dig deeper and share more of the rich culture there as well as benefit more artists. We are creating a traditional puppetry film based on sufi poetry by Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai which will bring together Sindhi folk musicians and Rajasthani puppeteers in the form of a film that crosses a border that has kept families apart for almost 70 years. Once again, it started with an idea, and is steadily growing, thanks to the power of people coming together to try and do some good.