South Asia

Pakistani musical group Khumariyaan performs at South by South West music festival in Austin.

Photo Credit: Amil Malik | Daily Texan Staff

The rich culture of Pakistan still thrives thanks in part to the Butler School of Music here at UT, and the school’s three-year partnership with the National Academy of Performing Arts in Karachi, Pakistan. 

The four regions of Pakistan — Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan — each represent unique sets of sounds. The more we, as musicians from Pakistan, collaborate and perform with artists around the world, the more we realize the uniqueness of our own sound.  

Through NAPA, one of the first performing arts academies in Pakistan, Pakistani musicians have the opportunity to work with some of the best music and theater faculty available — individuals who have survived in Pakistan’s fragile entertainment industry. 

Established in 2005, NAPA aims to mold students into artists who can express the uniqueness of Pakistani music. Professors at the institute do this by offering a unique set of academic courses that are not available in other schools or universities in the country.

The three-year partnership between Butler and NAPA has only furthered this goal. Facilitated by The South Asia Institute at UT and financed through a federal grant, the partnership allows 12 scholars from NAPA to visit and study at Butler for a semester. The first batch of four NAPA musicians came in the spring of 2014; a second batch of two artists came in the fall of 2014. I am part of the last batch of six scholars on this program, here to observe and audit music classes. My peers and I were selected for this program by our senior music faculty at NAPA based on our grades in music theory, the results of our practical/viva exams and our overall participation in music performances back home. 

Studying in Austin has been a great learning experience thus far. In my classes, I study sight reading, composition, music theory, and voice. At the same time, another NAPA scholar, Arsalan Pareyal, and I are helping develop music curricula for NAPA and are also preparing for a collaborative ensemble performance. The ensemble consists of 12 people, six from Butler and six from NAPA, and we will perform in the spring of 2016 in both the United States and in Pakistan. 

This semester Yousuf, another NAPA scholar and I are taking part in the Concert Chorale — singing great choral works of Haydn, Bach and Bernstein. We are also taking vocal pedagogy lessons from David Small and performing in the UT Middle Eastern Ensemble conducted by Sonia Seeman. 

Waqas, another NAPA student and talented tabla player, is performing in the ensemble as well. He is also getting to learn music notation and drum lessons at Butler. Arsalan is learning jazz and working with the Jazz Combo at UT. Another student, Kashan Khan, is studying classical guitar and western music theory. Kashif Hussain from the theatre department at NAPA is learning acting. Needless to say, Butler has opened up a breadth of opportunities for us and other Pakistani artists who have gone through the program. 

It feels great sharing the rich musical heritage of Pakistan with our peers through our lectures and recitals as well as through presentations at Butler and other colleges in Austin. 

In such lectures, we always try to find a common tonality between traditional Pakistani music and American music — something that never ceases to amaze the audience. We all have many more opportunities to look forward to in the coming months. 

My fellow students Arsalan and Kashan had their dream come true when they went for a guitar workshop with English guitarist Guthrie Govan and had the chance to meet and interview him. Waqas looks forward to meeting Ustad Zakir Hussain next week in San Francisco. I am looking forward to continuing to attend workshops and master’s level classes and recitals.

One of the best features of the program is an online video link set up by the State Department grant at NAPA. It enables NAPA and BSM faculty and students to interact and have live video lessons in real time. The first in the  series of online workshops this semester was with Small, during which NAPA students in Pakistan learned about voice technique, breathing and posture. 

Along with integrating in the UT community, NAPA students have been performing for greater Austin. We played Pakistani folk and Sufi songs at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and in The Fine Arts library at UT. Both performances were very well received. We also performed Turkish songs at a Nowruz, or Iranian New Year, festival at Central Market. 

I look forward to our upcoming performances with the Middle Eastern Ensemble, Concert Chorale, Jazz Combo and at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. But most of all, I hope that such exchanges continue, as they help facilitate a higher level of communication and understanding between the U.S. and Pakistan. I would like to thank the U.S. State Department, the South Asia Institute, NAPA and the Pakistani community in Austin for their support.

Shabbir is a visiting research scholar at the South Asia Institute in the College of Liberal Arts from Karachi, Pakistan. 

Eddie Chambers, art and art history associate professor, discusses his book “Black Artists in British Art: A History Since the 1950s” at the new Black and Latino Studies Building on Thursday afternoon.
Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

According to Eddie Chambers, art and art history associate professor, black artists from Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean faced exclusion from British art galleries and museums because of their race and ethnic backgrounds. In a lecture Thursday, Chambers discussed his book, “Black Artists in British Art: A History Since the 1950s,” on the undocumented history of black British artists who included elements of their heritage into their art. 

Chambers said many of the artists incorporated their struggles with identity into their work because of the influence of their immigrant parents.

“A generation of people who [were] born to migrant parents — primarily Caribbean migrant parents — came [to England] in the mid ’50s to late ’60s,” Chambers said. “All these tussles of retention and assimilation are present in the works of these artists.”

Cherise Smith, director of the Warfield Center of African and African American Studies, said many black British artists have not received attention for their work, even though they remain a prominent part of the British art community.

“It’s important to study because it’s an important part of British culture and all of art history that has been left out until now,” Smith said. “Curators just didn’t recognize artists of color who were black and who were of Asian descent as recognizable artists.”

The artists started their own exhibitions in the 1980s as part of the Young British Artists (YBA) movement, which influenced contemporary artists such as artist-turned-director Steve McQueen and Chris Ofili, who incorporates elephant dung into his paintings. 

“The effects of the YBA continue right up to the present day,” Chambers said. “They’ve influenced several generations of artists that’ve come up after them.”

Maryam Ohadi-Hamadani, an art history graduate student who studies black British artists, said she understands the importance of studying this unknown part of art history.   

“The fact that there’s been so little written on this part of history,” Ohadi-Hamadani said. “So having any sort of book that is able to bring anything to that is interesting.”

Chambers said he wanted to write the book to document the history of artists who continue to diversify the art community.

“The art world now is very different than how it was 20 or 30 years ago,” Chambers said. “As for the presence of black artists in the British art world, I think it’s still quite tenuous.”

Members of Hum A Cappella, a South Asian fusion a cappella group, practice a pre-performance ritual during a rehearsal Jan. 19. The group plans to host an a cappella event called Riyaaz on campus Feb. 14.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

A pitch pipe echoes through an auditorium. Eleven students dressed in black and gold salwars and kurtas — loose clothing worn in South Asia — sway across the stage as a beatboxer emerges for a solo. Hum A Cappella is about to do what it does best: fusing American pop songs with Bollywood hits. 

Hum A Cappella, UT’s only South Asian fusion a cappella group and second oldest a cappella group on campus, placed first at the national Anahat A Cappella competition in November. The students competed against eight other South Asian groups from colleges across the nation. For economics sophomore Ruchir Elhence, the group’s financial director, musical mashups were key to Hum A Cappella’s success.

“At Anahat, you want to show diversity, so you want to show Hindi as well as English,” Elhence said. 

This semester, the group is focused on promoting its fourth album, “Humsafar.” Released in December, the album is available on both Spotify and iTunes. “Humsafar” is a Hindi term that means “journey” and “companionship.” The group fused songs from all different genres, such as pop, indie, hip hop and rap, with Bollywood songs. With mashups of American songs such as “Love the Way You Lie” and Bollywood songs such as “Guzaarish,” management information systems senior Aneesha Mayekar — Hum A Cappella’s captain — believes the album reflects the group’s musical evolution.

Hindi a cappella groups first began in the U.S. in 1996 with the creation of Penn Masala — the South Asian a cappella group at the University of Pennsylvania. Several other groups have sprouted up over the years, but Hum A Cappella, which began in 2001, was the first group in Texas. Spring semester tryouts for female singers and beatboxers will take place Monday and Tuesday. 

The name “Hum” means “us” in Hindi. Pranav Bhamidipati, external director and biology and Plan II sophomore, said the group allowed him to find a community outside of classes.

“When we’re backstage, we’re joking around with each other and taking pictures. We’re enthusiastic and have a really good dynamic,” Bhamidipati said. 

Nishant Gupta, musical director and chemical engineering and computer science junior, said Hum A Cappella quickly became a source for friendship and support after he joined freshman year. 

“It’s great to be able to share something that we are all passionate about and relate to one another through music,” Gupta said. 

Over the years, the group has performed at weddings around Dallas and Houston and at showcases on campus such as Texas Review and Jhalak. Members also sang at a Be the Change rally and at benefit shows for groups such as China Care Foundation. On Feb. 14, the group is hosting an event on campus called Riyaaz, where South Asian a cappella groups from colleges across Texas will show off their work. Bhamidipati said that the best part about performing is the excitement the audience provides — when Hum A Capella practices three times a week, the energy level can’t compare, he said.

“A big part of our performance is reacting to the crowd and picking up their energy,” Bhamidipati said. 

While some members have prior performance experience, other members of Hum A Cappaella are singing on stage for the first time. Mayekar said being a part of a performance is always the most satisfying part.

“The most rewarding thing is performing and being able to share what you sing and what you made to a big audience,” Mayekar said.

Photo Credit: Madison Richards | Daily Texan Staff

While discussing his new book, “Beyond Caste: Identity and Power in South Asia, Past and Present,” on Wednesday, history professor Sumit Guha said the caste system continues to influence India today.

Guhu began the book 10 years ago as a way of connecting India’s history of class stratifications to the present existence of low-social groups, such as castes and tribes.

Guhu defined castes as organized community councils of defined ethnic groups, typically of an agrarian origin.

Guha said he wrote the book in order to reveal how caste systems have remained relevant to Indian life today.

“I’ve tried to achieve two goals,” Guhu said. “[I wanted] to link the social history of the present with its millennial past and to place the socializations of India as the same as those of the old world of which it has always been a part of.”

According to Guha, castes and tribes have not yet disintegrated in India, although the origins of the words have altered since their establishment by the Portuguese in the 16th century.

“[These words] were transplanted to India in the 16th century and lost [their] original connotations as being a pure group,” Guhu said.

Instead of studying the different values and ideas that separated these two groups, Guhu said he preferred looking at the physical boundaries that disconnected them.

“I wanted to look at the boundaries between these two groups rather than look at the internal values or ideas they might hold,” Guhu said.

Guhu said he has paid particular attention to social taboos in India, which have created even more barriers between the people.

“[Taboos] are not boundary-makers, but they are boundary-markers,” Guhu said.

Retired history professor Gail Minault, who attended the event, praised Guhu’s book.

“I think [Guhu’s book] is a path-breaking and fascinating study of what we call ‘caste,’” Minault said. “‘Caste’ is a lot less easily defined than anyone imagines.”

Although castes persist as a part of Indian society, for some people who have been to India, such as history graduate student Norman Coulson, these hierarchies continue undetected.

“It’s really not easy for an outsider in India to notice things like castes,” Coulson said. “As far as I could see, there wasn’t really any castes still going on in India.”

Brothers Farhad Rizvi, left, and RTF graduate Hammad Rizvi, right, share a room, both with each other and their inventory of shoes. The two are running Shamak, an Arabic-style sandalcompany, of which the proceeds help educate children in South Asia.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

A duo of brothers is bringing stylish, Arabic-style sandals to America while raising money for education in South Asia.

Radio-Television-Film graduate student Hammad Rizvi and his brother, University of Texas at Dallas alumnus Farhad Rizvi, are the co-founders and creators of the company Shamak. The two sell Arabic-style sandals that are made and imported from Pakistan. Proceeds from the sandal sales provide supplies and schooling costs for children in South Asia.

“I think people really like the idea of buying something cool and giving back at the same time,” Farhad Rizvi said.

The sandals’ prices range from $65 to $78. At checkout customers choose whether they want a portion of the price to go toward funding a textbook, a uniform or a need-based scholarship. launched online Sept. 18, and Hammad Rizvi said they sold 500 pairs of sandals in the first week, emptying their inventory.

“I thought that once we started, it would be just friends buying,” Hammad Rizvi said. “But out of all the sales that we’ve had, it’s a lot of people who we don’t even know. To me it has been somewhat of a shocker.”

Farhad Rizvi said they had been advertising the sandals with Facebook advertisements and word-of-mouth through friends and family.

Farhad Rizvi said he initially had the idea for the company in 2010, his junior year at UT-Dallas.

“We grew up some in the Middle East, and whenever we came back home to Texas, friends would tell us our sandals were unique, and they wanted to know where they could get some,” Farhad Rizvi said. “I realized this could be a profitable product, but I did not want to just create a sandal company. I wanted to find a way to give back.”

He said he went to his brother, who is a filmmaker, to ask for help.

“I showed him the logo I had made, and he was like ‘No. That’s not going to work,’” Farhad Rizvi said.

Since then the two have been working on the project together. Farhad Rizvi, who used to work for Facebook, has dealt with sales and advertising. Hammad Rizvi has created videos and marketed Shamak.

“As this continues to grow, hopefully this will have a ripple effect,” Hammad Rizvi said. “People are really excited about this and what this does for kids.”

Farhad Rizvi said he hopes the company can grow to sell more than just sandals.

“Right now we’re just a shoe company, but I’d like to see us expand to a fashion company that has shirts, bags and stuff like that,” Farhad Rizvi said. “If we’re able to grow so big that we can build schools in different parts of the world, that’d be incredible. That’s been my vision since day one.”

Printed on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 as: Sole sales give back