‘Song of Lahore’: Tribeca Review

Pakistani classical musicians try jazz on for size.

Purveyors of a fading musical tradition try to adapt to the times in Song of Lahore, Andy Schocken and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy‘s look at classical musicians in Pakistan. What initially feels like a South Asian attempt at Buena Vista Social Club-style rediscovery takes a left turn early on, as the men decide success might lie in playing American jazz. The result is a likeable if not especially vibrant doc with limited appeal beyond fests and special engagements in Pakistani-American communities.

In the middle of the 20th century, Lahore was a center of culture in Pakistan, and there are still elderly instrumentalists who remember days when well-paid orchestras recorded soundtracks for local movies, and concerts were popular. They saw work vanish with the intensification of Sharia law; now they struggle to convince sons and grandsons to learn traditions that aren’t valued in an era defined by synthetic beats.

The Bottom Line

A mix of one part ethnomusicology to three parts “will-this-collapse?” reality TV.

Sachal Studios, founded in an attempt to gather these musicians and find them work, is struggling when founder Izzat Majeed has a novel idea: “Let’s make two to four new tracks and try to understand jazz.” Real jazz musicians might be insulted by the idea that “jazz is something you can pick up,” but the idea works: After a video of their sitar-heavy version of “Take Five” goes viral worldwide, the group is invited to come to New York for a joint concert with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

We move now into familiar fish-out-of-water territory, watching as the musicians prepare for and make the scary, fun trip abroad. But things get serious when they enter the rehearsal room: JALC leader Wynton Marsalis tries to be open-minded about a collaboration one suspects was pushed on him, but the culture clash is rough for everyone. Differing ideas about musical professionalism and a problematic sitar player put the concert in jeopardy, and even the day before curtain we suspect there’s about to be a musical car wreck in front of a sold-out crowd. Best not to spoil the suspense here.

Production company: Ravi Films

Directors-Producers: Andy Schocken, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

Executive producers: Dan Cogan, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Natalie Massenet, Guy Oseary, Vijay Vaidyanathan, David Waechter

Director of photography: Asad Faruqi

Editor: Flavia de Souza

Sales: Andy Schocken, Ravi Films

No rating, 82 minutes