Sunday night, T2F was wall to wall with Beatles fans. Teenagers in jeans and tees crowded reverently on bright blankets near the performers. Further back, an older cohort — those who were around when John, Ringo, George and Paul were first dubbed the Fab Four — occupied rows of chairs.
As E Sharp, a band known around Karachi for precise Beatles covers, ran through soundcheck, the crowd radiated a hushed sense of expectation. On the front row, 18-year-old Wajeeha Raza turned to her friends, braces-flashing—“I love the Beatles,” she sighed.
The three-band musical tribute, Beatlemania, was the brainchild of singer and Szabist freshman Sara Haider and the members of E Sharp. “We’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” Haider said. “And when we spoke with Sabeen Mahmud, the director of T2F, it turns out she’s a huge Beatles fan.”
The timing was right. In 1961, the Beatles played their first show to a sparse crowd at a London dive called Cavern Club. 2011 is the Beatles’ 50th anniversary year. For Haider, choosing the bands was easy.
“I don’t think anyone in Karachi covers the Beatles as well as E Sharp. Every song is exactly the length as the Beatles’ own version,” Haider said.
Mohammed Fazli, the guitarist for the second band, The Queen and Me, “knows everything there is to know about the Beatles. He knows their girlfriends, their fathers’ names, who the songs are about,” according to the band’s vocalist Faraz Lodhi.
Haider asked the third band, local underground legends Spoonful, because, “I’m their biggest fan in the whole world,” she giggled. “Those guys are so, so talented!”
Imran Saleem, the 23-year-old frontman for E Sharp told the audience: “All the techno and funk and house that we listen to today came from the Beatles. They were the original rebels, they wrote their own songs in a day when the record labels were like: ‘This is what we’re giving you’.”
In T2F’s clean, cosily lit cafe-cum-art space, the crowd seemed a bit subdued for rock.
“I was worried because there were so many slow songs,” Haider said. “But people seemed really into songs like ‘Norwegian Wood’.”
Raza was thrilled after E Sharp’s set. “They were so good! And how everyone joined in on ‘All You Need is Love’ was fantastic. I was hoping it would be something interactive,” she said. “You know, it is the Beatles, right?”
Throughout the night, people kept trickling in, leaving standing room only. People clapped, sang along and shouted song requests.
“It’s rare to see something like this in Karachi because such a small amount of people listen to this music,” said Nadine Ahmed, who attended the event. “When people actually come together and get into the music, that’s really special. I wish that would happen more often.”
According to Saleem, Beatlemania was feasible only because T2F donated the space and the bands used their own equipment.
“Usually you have sound people, a professional system, and a huge chunk of money going towards booking the venue. We need more events like this. We need cooperative organisers like T2F — people who are in it for the music rather than the money,” he said. “Karachi is a volatile city. One day you’re sitting at home, the next, ducking for cover. We need events that offer a break from things.”
When Spoonful hit the floor, performing messy, improvised versions of songs such as “Help” and “Helter Skelter”, the crowd livened up. By the finale, all three bands were sharing the spotlight and the crowd was on its feet, hands in the air, camera flashes exploding.
“Hey Jude, don’t make it bad…” they sang collectively — albeit a bit off key.
“That’s what the Beatles are about,” Saleem said with a huge grin, “Bringing people together to sing with one voice.”