Song of Lahore DVD Review

  • Actors: Wynton Marsalis
  • Director: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Andy Schocken
  • Format: Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Dubbed: English, Urdu
  • Region: Region 1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG 
  • Studio: Broadgreen
  • DVD Release Date: May 20, 2016
  • Run Time: 82 minutes

  • Song of Lahore DVD Review

            For the first twenty-minutes of Song of Lahore, I struggled to find an interest in the material. There were too many individuals introduced into the documentary narrative, without any context to explain to me why I should care about each of them. I’ll admit that I even began writing this review in my head, prematurely condemning the filmmakers for a lack of focus. Though these individuals eventually came into focus over the course of the film, it was the ideals and faith which turned the narrative into a cohesively moving piece. Like the jazz music the documentary is centered on, Song of Lahore is about the spirit of the individuals coming together to create, despite adversity and oppression faced in their daily existence.

            The documentary follows the musicians of Sachal Studios as they embark on the journey into jazz music, played with their traditional Pakistani instruments. When one of the interpretations of a particularly recognizable jazz song made waves internationally, the musicians were invited to play a concert with the Lincoln Center Orchestra in New York City, extended by Wynton Marsalis himself. This journey is not without its speed bumps and road blocks, but this only makes the inevitable optimistic resolution that more uplifting. Filmmakers Andy Schocken and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy wisely balance the narrative by bouncing back and forth between the musician’s optimism and the difficulties they encounter, both facing adversity in their own country and struggling to adjust to the playing styles of the legendary jazz group. This allows for the film to discuss some of the heavier topics without being weighed down in the hardships.

            The film’s brief run-time (82 minutes) is split between the time Sachal Studios spends in Pakistan preparing and recording and the days in New York practicing in preparation for their impressive first international performance. In Lahore, the second largest city in Pakistan, we are able to see the cultural significance of music for those who have learned from their parents and continue the tradition by teaching their children. We learn about the declining art form in their culture before they attempt a revival by blending genres with a dying American style, which somehow manages to revive both. There are more than a few growing pains as the musicians from Lahore adjust to the American arrangements, but it all leads to a magical end result which moved me every bit as much as the final ten minutes of Whiplash. I was inspired and I was moved, easily able to forgive the filmmakers for the slightly choppy start to the documentary when it reached the zenith of emotional impact.

            There was another lesson within the content of Song of Lahore, paralleling my snap judgment about the film itself. Many Americans quite ignorantly assume far too much about Pakistan, those who live there, and the faith that they practice. The reality is that even some divisions of the Muslim faith are persecuted for not practicing the “correct” Islamic religion, murdered by the same terrorists that many unfairly assume they are a part of. The Taliban has outlawed music in much of Afghanistan and Pakistan, making the decision for Sachal Studios to play an American musical genre even more daring. More significant is the unwavering faith that these musicians have in the face of adversity, praising God for each small blessing they receive rather than complaining about the countless struggles they must face. Americans of all religious beliefs could learn a great about faith from these individuals, and I myself am thankful for the gift of this documentary and how it has strengthened my own beliefs. I emerged from the viewing of Song of Lahore feeling spiritually refreshed, eyes full of tears and a heart overflowing with gratitude and joy.  

    Entertainment Value: 8.5/10
    Quality of Filmmaking: 8/10
    Historical Significance:  7/10
    Special Features: 0/10

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