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When it comes to the Pakistani and South Asian music of the 20th Century, there are not many bigger legends than the great ghazal singer and Lollywood star, Mehdi Hassan, who passed away in 2012. “He would be the equivalent of Frank Sinatra here,” said Quincy Chett, a Twin Cities-based musician and event producer, citing Pavarotti and Elvis Presley as other stars of similar stature.
Chett came up with the idea of hosting a live-streamed concert featuring Hassan’s music in the wake of “shelter in place” orders in Minnesota and elsewhere designed to slow the spread of Covid-19. Chett toured with Hassan in the early 1990s and has been friends with his son, Kamran Mehdi Hassan, for over 25 years. Chett reached out to the singer to be a part of a live-streamed event.
“The purpose for doing this is getting the community together and letting them know they are not alone,” Chett said. “With the given electronic medium we have, we can help each other and be there for each other.”
Through the production company Yaadein, Chett worked with a team of organizers to put the event together. Two of those organizers were Zarina Baber, chief business technology officer for the Office of the Governor who ran as a lieutenant gubernatorial candidate with Rebecca Otto in 2018’s race, and professor of English and social justice at Metro Schools College Prep Seema Altaf.
In the past, Baber and Altaf have helped Chett organize in-person musical events, in suburban community centers and other venues, to raise money for charitable causes, such as helping Syrian and Rohingya refugees.
According to Altaf, Chett used his connections in the music world to bring to fruition the live-streamed event with Hassan’s son, which also featured Chicago-based percussionist Mumtaz Ali Khan. “Quincy knows a lot of these people from doing music for the past so many years,” she said. “He has great contacts.”
“This was his brainchild,” Baber said of Chett. “He was looking at ways we can relieve some of the stresses of Covid-19 and social isolation. This is an innovative way to connect people across the globe.”
Saturday’s event, which was streamed on Facebook and YouTube, featured Kamran Mehdi Hassan seated with Ali Khan. The two, who donated their time, looked joyful as they played together during the concert, which lasted over three hours. They took breaks at times to speak directly into the camera. “In this crucial time, we are able to have some moments of happiness,” the younger Hassan said. “I am so excited that all of you were able to log in to join us and make the evening memorable.”
In total, the streamed concert drew over 3,000 unique log-ins, but the total viewership was likely much higher, surmised Baber in a social media post afterward. Fans posted hundreds of comments on YouTube and Facebook, with viewers chiming in from Minnesota, Denver, New York, and elsewhere. People wrote notes of praise and requests for their favorite songs.
According to Baber, the event raised $880 for Building Blocks of Islam, a nonprofit based in Northeast Minneapolis. “They provide groceries for families who can’t afford [them] because of illness and lack of funds,” Baber said. The organization also is part of the Khidma Initiative, which delivers food and supplies to homebound individuals. “I know this is important work that is being done in our community. We want to make sure our community is supporting people that are in need.”
The streamed concert was promoted by other charities as well, including Twin-Cities-based nonprofit Sewa, which advocates for Asian Indian family wellness. The group raised $275.
For Chett, his hopes for the event were twofold—to help the needy, but also to bring people together who are living in isolation. “I don’t know when the quarantine will end,” he said. “It’s a great idea to mobilize, to help and raise funds for local folks.”