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Charity Concert Highlights U.S.-Pakistan Ties

One might not expect to hear covers of Pink Floyd and Metallica interspersed with popular Pakistani music and classical piano. But this was exactly the setlist at the Harvard College Pakistani Students Association’s concert on Friday, frontlined by rock musician Todd Shea. The concert, which took place at the SOCH, was in support of the Comprehensive Disaster Response Service and celebrated Pakistani culture and friendly U.S.-Pakistani relations. Shea, who performed alongside his son Timothy Jacob Shea (known as TJ), shared the stage with celebrated Pakistani musician and global TED fellow Usman Riaz.

The concert followed a discussion with Shea about rural healthcare in Pakistan, which was moderated by Aun Rahman, a student at the Harvard Kennedy School and a founding director of Acumen Fund Pakistan. Shea’s CDRS team has been working in Pakistan since the devastating earthquake in 2005, providing medical assistance and support. The proceeds from Friday’s concert went to support this humanitarian work. After the event, Shea and others spoke with The Crimson.

"We worry about everything, whether it be their bathrooms and their food, to their comfort and their fuel, to their medicine, supplies, and tools, to their transportation—whatever it may be, we deal with that," Shea says of his work. He expressed frustration with the current portrayal of Pakistanis in the American media. "There are 180 million people in Pakistan and in America, the media only tells 2% of the truth 100% of the time," he says. "Pakistan is suffering from that—the militants and the extremists, which are a small percentage of the people in the country...their voices are drowning out the voices of millions of innocent children that just want to do something with their life."

One of these young people is Riaz, a self-taught musician, composer, and filmmaker who performed on Friday. Shea invited Riaz to perform in order to highlight the incredible talent in Pakistan. "[There are] young people who are brilliant like Riaz, extraordinarily brilliant kids who aren’t getting a chance," Shea says.

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Riaz, who performed several unusual original compositions. "I hope that [the audience] can feel the things I try to portray through the music because I love telling stories through my work," he says. One of the songs he performed, "Waves," is a musical meditation on the ocean.

TJ Shea says that he hopes his father’s unique position will help him be a successful ambassador for Pakistani culture in America and visa versa. "Because of his unique view, and because he’s an American, maybe more other Americans will listen to him," he says.

In addition to performing in America, Todd Shea collaborates with several notable musicians both in America and abroad to create a cultural exchange through an organization called Sonic Peacemakers. "I’m trying, as a human being who’s from America and loves his country and wants to show the best of America to Pakistan and also bring that story of the best of Pakistan to Americans so that we can come together and do some constructive things together," he says.

The mission of cross cultural communication is one that resonates deeply with TJ Shea. "The reason to bring [these musicians] together is not just to make great music [but also] to show the other side because they don’t get the whole picture of the other side," he says. "We’re all just people. Most of us try to live peacefully and thats what we need to focus on."

Leena Raza ’16, a member of the Harvard College Pakistan Student Association and an organizer of the event, says the group selected Shea in part because of his healthcare in rural Pakistani villages, including in the home town of Malala Yousafzai. "We wanted to support him and give him a space to talk about what really is happening in the area because a lot of the time, even as Pakistanis and Pakistani Americans, we don’t really know what’s going on," Raza says. "Even though he doesn’t speak the language, he’s able to really communicate with these people to the point where they’re so willing to accept him…. I think it’s also a testament to Pakistanis."

TJ Shea says he hopes the impact of the event will go beyond supporting the CDRS fund. "We’re trying to use music to build cultural bridges between different peoples and our first view is the US and Pakistan," he says.

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