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When Music Builds Roads Without Borders

By Mashal Peerzada

In South Asian music raags, or melodies, consist of a specific set of notes and are defined further by their resting tones, passing tones, ornaments, and phrasings. Even when rendered as pure melody without words or fixed rhythm, a raag is intended to express specific emotions.

Anne’s story, captured with love, in When Mountains Meet is a journey of specific and conflicting emotions expressed in the conversation between Scottish and South Asian music.

Rooted in the deeply personal and breathtakingly vulnerable letters and journal entries Anne’s story was essentially the raag / melody which welcomed us all to add resting tones, passing tones, ornaments and phrasings.

It was Anne’s approach as a composer, of blending the language of Scottish and South Asian music, with care and respect and harmony that set the tone for what became an incredibly rewarding process of collaboration, co-creation, exploration, discovery and friendship.

I cannot claim to have a refined musical ear. The music I have loved, is the music I have felt within my body. And a little over a year ago when Kath, Anne and the team introduced me to When Mountains Meet – it was the strains of the sitar meeting the sounds of the Scottish Highlands in Anne’s compositions that made me feel the story - and in a small way, live parts of Anne’s magical journey.

It was this marriage of musical traditions paired with Kath Burlinson’s gentle and generous molding that transformed the development of When Mountains Meet into a safe space for each of us to authentically explore the central themes of identity, belonging, taboos, family and roots.

When the team spoke of building a show that truly celebrated a diversity in musical theater – I was skeptical. I’m always a little skeptical – but what emerged over a year was a coming together of people, a cultural ‘getting to know you’ and a sharing of self - all anchored in the mission to tell a story that was authentic to two perceptibly, very different communities.

What we discovered very quickly, and what I hope the audience will share, is the truth that much like the Sitar and Fiddle – who sing to one another so effortlessly in Pibroch Alap – our two communities are singing the same song over the themes explored in the show. Also like in Pibroch Alap – where the two instruments take alternative lines, each being allowed to shine in while being part of a shared whole – the cultures of Scotland and Pakistan are so represented in the telling of When Mountains Meet.

Oftentimes when words fail us, music gives common tongue to the shared language of people. What When Mountains meet does so artfully, is to bring shared representation of Pakistani, Scottish and Pakistani-Scottish cultures to the Scottish theatre.

This kind of representation in theatre is increasingly essential to new global narratives; and focus they place on depicting a true face of increasingly multi-cultural societies. When we see ourselves represented in story and song, we transcend borders, we are valid, we are allowed, we are belong.

Theatre, the creative arts – this is the place where belonging can begin. Building belonging for a more diverse groups makes things like the Edinburgh Festival experience relevant to wider audiences, richer for the notes, tones and ornaments it adds.

In When Mountains Meet, the sounds of the Sitar and the fiddle, the Gaelic pibroch and the tanpura drone, the Scottish reel and the South Asian Teental have created a road that allows the audience to travel from Scotland to Pakistan in the space of an hour – but through a journey that, like shifting rock, reshapes perceived differences into a sense of familiar sameness. A journey that transcends borders.

All photography by Robin Mitchell.


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