SOHAIL RANA appearing as part of the MASALA! MEHNDI! MASTI! festival in Harbourfront Centre's Brigantine Room (235 Queens Quay West), Saturday (August 6), 10 pm. Free. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
If Sohail Rana is known on the club scene today, it's likely due to his funky rare groove swinger Soul Sitar, which recently appeared on the second volume of the Sitar Beat compilation of badass Bollywood business.
Though Rana's funky fresh East-meets-West fusion sounds like it could've been cut last week, the innovative film soundtrack auteur actually recorded the track some 35 years ago as part of his groundbreaking Khyber Mail (EMI) album, which opened the doors to stereophonic recording in Pakistan. But that's really just a footnote to Rana's incredibly productive 40-year career as a composer, arranger, producer and teacher.
Although he created numerous memorable Pakistani film soundtracks during Bollywood's golden era in the 70s, Rana's probably best loved today for his children's music. In the 15 years between 1968 and 83, an entire generation of Pakistani children grew up singing along to the catchy tunes about birds, frogs, insects and farm animals on his popular morning television program.
"It used to be that children in Pakistan schools would only learn the English nursery rhymes," explains Rana over tea at his Lakeshore apartment, "but I wanted to give them something they could sing in their own language. It turned out to be a very popular idea, and during the time I was working on the TV show I composed over 2,000 songs.
"And that was while I was also doing film soundtracks and creating the in-flight music for Air Pakistan, too!"
Since bringing his family to Canada 10 years ago, Rana has kept a low local profile, focusing his energy on teaching aspiring singers and musicians at his school in Mississauga.
His rare public appearance this weekend - billed as an "interactive music and DVD performance" - as part of Harbourfront's Masala! Mehndi! Masti! festival is a long-overdue Toronto coming-out party and promises to be an entertaining intro to the man and his enormous body of music. He may even strap on his accordion for an impromptu singalong.
"I realize that many people in Canada aren't familiar with my work, and those who are may not be aware that I'm living here in Toronto and I'm still active. So I think this presentation - I hesitate to call it a performance - will serve as a good introduction that may lead to other things."
Rana, who's always thinking three steps ahead, already has plans for several musical projects. He's itching to get started.
"I'd like to stage a series of concerts in Toronto, perhaps one every three or four months, involving artists from Pakistan and India. And while I was doing the in-flight music, I started working on a ballet that I never got around to finishing. It would be great to do something collaboratively with a local dance company and maybe work with a large orchestra. That would be very exciting.
"I'd like to have that sort of challenge in my life again. I need it."