By Sonya Rehman
Concerts in Pakistan that are inclusive of deaf individuals are close to none. However, there have been a sprinkle of events that were specifically organized for the deaf overseas. In 1984, for instance, the legendary Prince, once performed to crowd of over 2,000 deaf and blind students at a college in Washington, D.C. Moreover, in 2016, the then 19-year-old Dutch DJ, Martin Garrix, hosted a concert for the deaf community in a music venue that allowed audience members to feel the music.
But late last month, one of Pakistan’s most sought-after pop-rock acts, Strings, became the first band to put up a concert at Habib University in Karachi, which included roughly 300 deaf members of the audience.
In collaboration with a local social entrepreneurial startup, ConnectHear – an initiative that endeavors to integrate the country’s deaf community within mainstream Pakistani society – and the university, the performance included the participation of Sign Language Interpreters, special lighting and vibrations by way of the sound system.
“All the songs were interpreted for the deaf in sign language and the music was presented by signs and lip syncing,” states Azima Dhanjee, the inspiring 20-year-old CEO of ConnectHear. “Even the facial expressions and body gestures of our interpreters take into account the vibe of the song. The beats and tunes are made adaptable through the sound system. The vibrations help individuals feel the music. Meanwhile the lights are adapted to the feel of the music and colors help the individuals identify the emotions of the songs.”
Dhanjee, who grew up with deaf parents, says it was during her second semester at college at an entrepreneurship class that she finally decided to launch a startup for the deaf community with a few of her close friends.
“We had 300 people of all ages,” she states, speaking about the event, “From young kids to adults; this was the first concert that they had ever attended in their entire life and I could see their enthusiasm and excitement! No one felt excluded and no one could identify the deaf in the crowd; it was truly an all-inclusive event which saw droves of people dancing, enjoying and feeling the music.”
“It was a tremendously moving experience,” Faisal Kapadia, Strings’ vocalist, says. “We had provided our lyrics to the interpreters before the concert and it was magical to see how they translated our songs during the performance. It was an eye-opener for us as a band to be honest.”
Having currently hit three prolific decades in Pakistan’s music industry, since their launch in the late 80s, the band hopes to release a slate of new work, eight tracks (two of which have already been released), later this year.
“Live concerts should be more inclusive; not just for the deaf, but for anyone who enjoys music. After our Habib University gig we’ve realized how doable a concert like this is. We never knew something like this could ever be accomplished,” states Kapadia.