Folk singer Akhtar Chanal Zehri performs at the US consulate on Wednesday.—White Star
Folk singer Akhtar Chanal Zehri performs at the US consulate on Wednesday.—White Star

KARACHI: To mark Baloch Culture Day, a musical gathering was arranged at the US consulate on Wednesday where popular Baloch folk singer Akhtar Chanal Zehri performed in front of Baloch journalists and representatives of civil society.

US Consul General Brian Heath shared his excitement at being part of the celebrations that he said were being held for a second consecutive year by the consulate.

“This is an attempt to acknowledge the rich Baloch cultural history, whether it be the beautiful folk music, the dancing, or needlework. Balochistan has a culture which is very much its own,” he said.

He spoke about how Baloch culture was not just as a single culture, but also an extension of Pakistan. According to him, it is necessary to learn more about each other’s cultures to reduce misunderstandings that arise out of ignorance.

The performance of Akhtar Chanal, who has performed in the US several times and is considered to be a legendary artist the world over, did not disappoint. An interesting addition was his interaction with the crowd with regards to the poetry written in ode of the land he calls home.

‘Daanah pe Daanah’, one of Chanal’s most popular songs, was an intense performance that had the crowd on their feet and was peppered with Chanal commenting on the meaning, nuances and interpretations of different words from the song.

“The world is full of goodness and beauty,” he elaborated in the midst of his performance. “But I have chosen a daanah, a particle. That daanah is my motherland, Balochistan.”

There was a patriotic preamble to the song, which is set against a pastoral backdrop and praises the varied beauty of Balochistan.

The predominant theme of the celebrations was to translate the persona of a proud Baloch on stage. They belong among rugged terrains and are as an extension of the larger than life mountains the province is laden with. A proud and fearless race, Chanal’s performance further reinforced the pride of each Baloch in the room for his homeland, while at the same time evoking pride among non-Baloch too about the cultural treasure trove Pakistan possesses.

He also explained the meaning of the frequently used Balochi word “laywa” that he said meant “to play, to be mischievous, waver”. And throughout his performance, Chanal epitomised the true meaning of the word and danced to the music. “This word does not belong to any other language; it belongs to Balochi,” he added.

‘Balocha ma Balocha Nazena Balochan’ was the next song.

Allama Iqbal’s poem Budhhe Baloch Ki Nasihat Baite Ko (The advice of an old Baloch to his son) was the highlight of the evening. Quoting verses from the poem, Chanal evoked images of Balochistan’s deserts, its plains, and its wastelands which are replete with the honour and respect for the traditions of the province and its people, both past and present.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2016