The small village of Passu, located in the Gojal region of Gilgit-Baltistan, witnessed its first ever FACE Mela on the 7th of August, 2017. Lying at the foot of the humungous, cathedral shaped peak, ‘Passu Cones,’ this incredibly picturesque village is at a distance of around 49 kilometers from Karimabad, Hunza. Situated on the Karakorum Highway, it happens to be one of the many stops before the Khunjerab Pass.
The Foundation for Arts, Culture and Education (FACE) has been organizing the FACE Mela in Islamabad, for the past three years. However, this time around, they took it up a notch and by collaborating with Agha Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP); they successfully pulled off this event in Passu village. The Passu Cricket Ground, which lies in the centre of the village, was chosen as the venue for FACE Mela and was decorated with colourful buntings, while the stage was set with the ‘Passu Cones’ in the background. A large number of stalls selling the local ethnic clothes and food items had been set up as well. Hundreds of people from Hunza, Gilgit and adjoining areas, attended the event. FACE had also taken along buses filled with people from around the country. For a certain amount, any individual could avail this opportunity, and I was one of lucky few who were present every step of the way.
The festival, first and foremost, paid homage to the beautiful culture of Gilgit-Baltistan. Contrary to popular belief that individuals from far-flung areas are backward, the people of Hunza are incredibly enlightened. That, beyond any doubt, helped in making the event a true success. With the stellar performances of bands like Hunza Music Band, Bulbulik School of Music and the Shoqia Band, there was no question that Gilgit Baltistan remained at the heart of the event. The local performances were followed by worthy performances of Ali Ashraf and the Crazy Vibes, Natasha Baig, Malang Party and Qawalistan, all of whom left the audience thoroughly entertained. In fact, I did not observe anyone leaving until the event had officially concluded. Personally, it was a delight to be in an area that had neither cellular signals nor Wi-Fi, and truly enjoy the surrounding natural beauty while listening to the music. The Mela also played its part in disseminating the message of responsible tourism, with its social media tag of “Clean and Green, A Perfect Dream.” The organizers set an example by cleaning up the cricket ground as soon as the festival concluded.
Coming to the stalls, many of which sold food, I noticed one that was selling authentic Hunza honey and herbs, proving that the festival had provided a platform for the thriving local industry. Another stall sold delicious Molida aka Gojal’s version of porridge, which is made using buttermilk, flour, apricot oil and pieces of giral, a local bread. Other stalls featured local clothes, jewellery and embroidered bags. Funnily enough, I was also able to spot a Biryani stall, a testimony to Pakistani love of Biryani in all parts of the country.
On the day prior to the festival, Allan Smith, a musician who had accompanied the FACE Caravan to Passu, held a percussion workshop. This was followed by a jamming session with students from the Bulbulik School of Music at the Glacier Breeze Restaurant, Passu. While listening to the music, everyone munched on the restaurant’s famous Apricot Cake. Even when the festival was not happening, the artists from other parts of Pakistan, who had accompanied the FACE team to Passu, turned the village into a musical hub for three whole days. Musical sessions were happening in the lawn of the hotel, on the banks of the stunning Borith Lake, and basically just about everywhere in the village.
The interaction between local, national and international performers made the Mela a worthwhile experience for all who attended. Even though there were a few technical glitches and management issues, they can be overlooked, considering it was the first time that such an event had taken place in Passu. Here’s to hoping we get to attend similar cultural events across the country, which promote and support local music and lead to fruitful collaborations within the music industry.
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