When Arif Lohar smiles and invites students to join him in a call and response version of “Dum gutkoon” (“I am breathless”) and “Jugni ji” (“firefly”), learning about Pakistan is not only easy but also awfully fun.
Before long, students are imitating Arooj Aftab and Bhrigu Sahni, the musicians who open the workshop for Arif’s ensemble, with the bouncy moves of bhangra dancing, a style developed in Britain in the 1980s by first and second immigrants from the Punjab region of Pakistan and India.
Caravanserai musicians visited elementary, middle, and high schools during their first two days of work in New Jersey. Before their concert on Saturday, they will also perform for college students at Brookdale Community College and Monmouth University as well as adults at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House.
Neptune High School senior Brandon Waller was excited about the Caravanserai experience even before the musicians arrived. Brandon introduced the group to his peers, telling them of Arif’s stature and success. He knew how many recordings this treasured singer from Pakistan has made. He knew Arif also made film soundtracks.
Students at Bolger Middle School in Keansburg wiggled in their seats when they listened to the strong Punjabi beat but were reluctant to get up and dance until a classmate finally broke the ice. After that they crowded around the stage releasing pent-up energy and didn’t want the musicians to leave.
Students at Mahala F. Atchison Elementary School in Tinton Falls also said goodbye reluctantly. When his first-graders returned from the assembly, teacher Ed Morrows said, “They had so many questions for me that I went searching on the Internet and found the website for Caravanserai.” Capitalizing on their enthusiasm, Morrows continued a discussion about Pakistani music and culture in his classroom. “They were so taken by the music of the performers that they wanted to write about it… When I played the video, they loved it. They sat writing, drawing, and singing along. I was thrilled to watch how inspired they were.”
Morrows forwarded some of his favorite comments from the students:
"I liked the music at the assembly because the musicians are very talented, especially Arif Lohar. I liked Arif Lohar's instrument. The instrument is the chimta. I loved Arif Lohar the best."
"I loved the singers because they are the best! I loved the instruments! I loved the music because it makes people dance. I loved it! I loved Arif Lohar because when he sang you wanted to stand up and dance."
"I liked the instruments. I loved the singers; they are talented musicians. I liked the rhythm of the music. I liked the part when we clapped our hands and stomped our feet. I had so much fun. I liked this assembly."
"I wanted to dance to the music. I liked the music because of the rhythm and beat. I liked their song Alif Allah Chambey di Booti."
"Today I saw Pakistani people and they played Pakistani music. It was at our school assembly. I really liked the music. I would like to see them again on Saturday."
Noting that the Caravanserai program “opened up a new door for the children,” Morrows ended his message with a meaningful closing: “May peace and good fortune be yours.” His words echo a message that Arooj Aftab delivers at the beginning of each workshop, when she explains how Pakistanis greet each other with a blessing of peace.