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Review: Pakistani jazz group beats odds

“Song of Lahore”
Hassan Khan and his grandfather Saleem Khan in the music documentary “Song of Lahore.”
(Asad Faruqi / Broad Green Pictures)

The unifying power of music is rewardingly demonstrated in “Song of Lahore,” a classy portrait of Pakistan’s Sachal Jazz Ensemble, which despite considerable odds gained worldwide recognition with a little Internet assist.

Once the musical hub of its country’s thriving film-scoring industry, the ancient city of Lahore had been effectively silenced since the late ‘70s by the Islamic regime of Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, relegating its once-revered musicians to the shunned lower caste.

With the oppressive climate beginning to loosen up in the 1990s, businessman Izzat Majeed gathered a group of master musicians in a soundproof studio and came up with the idea of fusing their traditional Eastern sound to Western jazz, specifically Dave Brubeck’s seminal “Take Five.”

That mesmerizing performance became a YouTube sensation (it has more than 1 million views), leading to an invitation by jazz great Wynton Marsalis to appear with his orchestra at Lincoln Center in New York.

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The technical and cultural challenges related to those two 2013 evenings of musical fusion have been chronicled with evident artistry on the other side of the camera by co-directors Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Andy Schocken, as well as cinematographer Asad Faruqi’s gorgeous, intimate lens work.

Music aside, this Pakistani “Buena Vista Social Club” is a testament to the enduring potency of creative expression.

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‘Song of Lahore’

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MPAA rating: PG: for thematic elements, violent images, smoking

Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills. Originally reviewed Nov. 13, 2015.

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