Balochistan has a rich legacy of classical music, art and literature as it is the land of eminent singers, poets and filmmakers.
Baloch music — classical music (zahirok) to folk (nazenk and sapit) — has been in the process of getting modernised. The marriage of traditional musical instruments with modern compositions makes the songs heart-touching due to their poetic lyrics, enchanting rhythms and emotive appeal. The young Baloch singers exploring interesting musical genres and sound-systems have been producing unique albums that have been very popular all across Pakistan.
However, interviewing a group of Baloch singers reveals the distressing story of how they suffer throughout their journey due to a dearth of platforms to promote their music, financial barriers and a lack of access to a creative community.
Consequently, many abandon their quest to become singers in disappointment. But a few still remain steadfast in their optimism — especially in the Makran Division of Balochistan.
Bebager Ahmed, a talented and emerging Baloch singer by passion, has been interested in Baloch music since his childhood. The talented singer belongs to a far-flung region of Turbat Hoshab, Balochistan.
Musicians in Balochistan are striving to gain access to platforms that will help them gain livelihoods, but there are many factors that work against them…
“My interest in music began during my childhood,” he says. “I was influenced by some great singers whose melodic songs touched my soul. I fell deeply in love with their songs, listening to them and imitating them in the hope of becoming like them one day.”
Bebager grew up listening to different Baloch singers — Noor Khan Bezanjo, Khair Jan Baqri, Ameer Baloch and Arif Baloch. At the moment, Bebager’s melodious voice and emotive expression touches the hearts of thousands of listeners. He has been contributing to the Baloch musical field and is a real gem whose contributions are worth appreciating in Baloch society.
Despite enduring a financial crisis and an unsupportive environment, he continued his tireless efforts and looked to enhance his musical talent.
“All I wanted was support from people so that I could fulfil my desired ambition, but alas, I received no support, neither from the government nor from my society,” he recalls.
“They [members of society] told me that singing cannot give me an income and that it is of no worth. Despite this, I remained optimistic and believed that true interest always finds a way to succeed.
“However, the only person who supported me financially and morally throughout my journey in the field of music was my elder brother (a shopkeeper),” Bebager adds.
He tells Eos that there was only one music club in Turbat — the second biggest city of Balochistan — which he could join to practice his craft.
Initially, Bebager practiced singing under the tutelage of Ustad Sajid Qadir. But later on, in 2018, he joined the Balochi Art and Music Club to learn the art of music from Ustad Shoukat Mur, a musician who trains newcomers, at the Balochi Art and Culture Complex — a museum located in Turbat. He was only able to practise for seven months before he had to drop out due to financial constrictions.
“It was very hard to manage all that,” he says. “Sometimes, I continued to practice on an empty stomach. It was my passion that made me stronger in tackling the challenges of my life. I accepted the barriers and proceeded.”
Earning only 5,000 rupees per month, Bebager managed the payment of his rented-room, the club’s fees and his own expenditure. Bebager had to pause his education and worked to earn money to fulfil his dream. He faced great difficulties and complications, but he continued to move forward.
But Bebager isn’t the only one who holds such dreams in the face of no assistance.
“I am an aspiring singer who aims to contribute to Baloch art, culture and music,” narrates Zabad Deedag, an emerging Baloch singer based in Srinkin, Tump, who also faced challenges like Beebagr on his music journey.
“All I did to learn music was getting in touch with some experienced musicians like Ustad Muslim Hammal, Aslam Asad, Rashool Bakhsh Fareed, Asim Baloch and other singers I met,” he says.
“Baloch music will continue to decline until society sees it as something worthy of being promoted,” Deedag states.
The main thing that troubles most newcomers is the constant discouragement they face in the field of music. Their love for music is also greatly stifled by poverty.
“I am often called for musical programmes at marriages, festivals and public gatherings. I entertain the audience well, and in return I receive a good response, respect and care,” Bebager adds. “I am deeply thankful to them for their unconditional love.”
After releasing some off-beat and avant-garde melodies, Bebager received instant fame. As a result, he is now often invited to weddings and festive occasions to perform.
Some of his popular songs include Tump a Banadi Bia o Bia, Zahm o Sagarani, Sammi Doch Geri Hirronki and Ges Porseege Anth. His songs are incredibly popular in many parts of Balochistan.
“When my ustad [teacher] told me to buy a harmonium for practice, I had no money. So, I worked as a labourer to earn money,” says Bebager, recalling that he bought few required musical instruments using his own earnings and expects to buy the other necessary ones whenever he can afford it.
For singers like Bebager and Zabad, acquiring musical instruments required for them to compose songs is a struggle. The musicians await for help from the government since their desire deserves to be promoted since it can help to inspire the younger generation.
Bebager advises upcoming singers and music-lovers to keep their passion alive, develop an interest in learning the art of music and contribute to Baloch music by playing their roles in promoting it.
“At the start, society at large may disappoint and discourage you,” he advises the youth. “Later, they will help you achieve your dream. Just believe in your talents and strive hard. Success awaits you.”
The art of Baloch music lies in ruins and is on a steady decline owing to the negligence of the wider community and the government. As a result, the art of Baloch music continues to suffer and is in danger of losing its true identity.
Music plays an indispensable role in every society. To promote Baloch music, art and music clubs, the government needs to play a positive role in helping, facilitating, training and providing the right platforms to these struggling singers.
In Balochistan, there are many singers like Bebager and Zabad who are hoping to get the right platforms and opportunities to develop their music so that they can promote Baloch music, art and culture.
The writer studies law at the University of Turbat and is a part-time English teacher. He tweets @Shakeelphullan
Published in Dawn, EOS, May 21st, 2023