Assuming classical music has not been given its due and has been neglected in this country, then folk music doesn’t even come into the picture. Whereas classical has an elitist, almost aristocratic aura to it, folk is, to hijack populist terminology, the music of the people. Handed down from generation to generation, these ancient tunes and stories have survived the tests of time and are living reminders of our pastoral past. But as in other fields of the performing arts, sadly, the people who have kept alive the traditions of folk music are a forgotten few. Aziz Baloch is one such artist.
Balochi Folk Song by Aziz Baloch
Though slowed by age and ill health, this Pride of Performance award winner still has enough in him to get even the most timid of audiences onto their feet with his stirring renditions of Balochi folk tunes, including the evergreen Laila-o-Laila, popularized by the late Faiz Mohammad Baloch. A sprightly 68 years old, the Karachi-born Baloch has an interesting, if at times sobering tale to tell.
“I was born in 1935 in Lyari’s Gul Mohammad Lane. I still live in the same house. I actually come from a family of sportsmen as both my elder brothers were footballers. But music was always prominent in our house. My maternal uncle, the late Khair Mohammad Baloch was my ustad as he taught me the basics of music. I almost became a professional footballer, but the pull of music was just too strong. So, in 1960 I quit football and started concentrating on music full time,” says Aziz Baloch about his early years.
Toj Roukamaan Meyaan by Aziz Baloch
When he decided to make a career out of music, he sought out Bilawal Belgium, one of the foremost exponents of the banjo ever to come out of Pakistan, and became his student. But to truly hone his skills, he decided he needed a strong classical base to master the subtleties of folk.
‘I used to get a nominal stipend from the government. About two-and-a-half years ago, not only I but many other senior artists stopped receiving it. I wrote to the prime minister about this. I am a heart patient and since my medicine is quite expensive, that stipend went a long way. Now, it is getting harder and harder for me to keep up with the costs’
Wahshiyani Roch by Aziz Baloch
“My target was always folk music. But to bring maturity into my music, I needed a classical base. I sought out various ustads and, as a matter of fact, I’m still learning. A person can learn at any age. To this day, If I meet someone I can learn from, I take full advantage of it.”
During the late ’60s, Baloch cut his first album, and this paved the way for his debut performance at Radio Pakistan, Quetta.
“In 1967 I performed my first radio concert at the Quetta station. This was followed by a performance on television in Karachi in ’68. I also performed Urdu ghazals from the Karachi radio station. Along with Balochi and Urdu, I have also performed in Sindhi and Seraiki. To perform on radio, one must have a complete command over diction – whatever language one chooses. People used to ask me being a Baloch, how come I was singing in Urdu. What’s the harm in that? Can’t a Baloch speak or sing in Urdu?” He says with a hearty chuckle. With the exception of Peshawar TV station, Baloch has performed in nearly all of the nation’s major cities, though he has visited Peshawar – albeit only for a football match during his youth!
Swinging Aziz Baloch
Aziz Baloch has also travelled quite a bit with government sponsored cultural troupes, having visited the United States, the UK, Belgium, Russia – during its heyday and after the fall of the Soviet Union —, Iraq, Malaysia and the Philippines among others. The Gulf states, particularly the UAE, Bahrain and Oman, are like travelling within Pakistan because of the considerable Baloch population these nations host. Though the senior artist is grateful for all that he has, he does make it a point to express his displeasure with the timing of the Pride of Performance award he recently received.
Shap Darain Diwan by Aziz Baloch
“I should have gotten that award ten years ago. When they contacted me to tell me that I had been selected, I made my feelings very clear to them. I have been serving the country through my art for the past 40 years. I have served as an ambassador of this country’s culture abroad. Still, I suppose it is better late than never.”
Though he is a keen performer, Aziz Baloch has never really been a prolific maker of albums. To date, he only has eight records to his credit. Talking about his art, Baloch reveals that in Balochi music, the equivalent of a raga is known as zaheerok.
“Zaheer means to remember in Balochi. Just as there are various ragas in classical music, there are various zaheeroks in Balochi folk music. For instance, there is the Kurdi zaheerok. The Kurds and the Baloch are basically one race if you examine our history. Then there is a zaheerok called Ashraf-Durra, based on the story of two brothers. It really is a very deep discipline with an ancient history.”
Dilbar Mani by Aziz Baloch with his Grandson
To bring folk to a wider audience, would Baloch consider collaborating with a rock or pop artist if a fusion number became the demand of the day?
“Why not? By the grace of Allah, I consider myself a very versatile singer. As I’ve studied music, that’s no big deal. I’ve even recorded jingles about glucose and all sorts of other stuff! I did a project with Tajdar Adil not too long ago in which I sang with only the accompaniment of a keyboard and banjo. The genres might change, but the song remains the same, the sur doesn’t change,” comes the reply.
VSH E Sohb (VSH NEWS ) Aziz Baloch 01
VSH E Sohb (VSH NEWS ) Aziz Baloch 02
Along with singing, the dexterous Baloch also plays the tamburo, harmonium, tabla and dholak. Though he has had a long and illustrious career, what does he foresee for the future of Balochi folk music? Will the torch pass on to a new generation of Baloch artists, or will the traditions fade away into history?
“There are a few young artists that are showing a lot of promise. There are not too many in Karachi, but if you go to Balochistan, particularly Makran, there are a few artists who are trying really hard. For Balochi music to prosper and grow, Balochi poets are essential. Nowadays there is also a rise in the number of young poets. When I was starting out as an artist, there was a clear dearth of Balochi poets. On the surface, the developments are positive but I have something to say to these young artists. I think that they are abandoning the very essence of our culture. The new tunes do not reflect Baloch culture at all. Some sound like qawwali while others are inspired by filmi music. Incorporating new instruments into the creative process is fine, as is adding variety to your compositions, but these youngsters should not forget the spirit of Baloch culture,” says Aziz Baloch in a serious tone.
VSH E Sohb (VSH NEWS ) Aziz Baloch 03
VSH E Sohb (VSH NEWS ) Aziz Baloch 04
When folk and pop are both placed in the balance and weighed, the former comes out as heartfelt and genuine, while most of the time the latter appears shallow and trite. For this the singer has a ready answer.
“The reason folk music sounds genuine is that it belongs to us. Can you say the same thing about pop? Pop is not ours. Folk, whatever language it is sung in, belongs to us, thus that is why it goes straight to the heart,” replies Baloch.
VSH E Sohb (VSH NEWS ) Aziz Baloch 05
What is the subject matter most often addressed by Balochi folk tunes?
“The poetry is mostly in praise of one’s homeland. There are also songs that sing the praises of the bravery of Baloch people. Epics, especially dedicated to Mir Chakar Khan Rind who went to the aid of Mughal emperor Humayun with 40,000 Baloch soldiers, are very popular. But that tends to stray into the territory of Balochi classical music. These are known as dastaans. These marathon tunes are sometimes based on 500 to 600 line poems, the rendition of a single song sometimes stretching to over three hours! As you can imagine, that’s heavy-duty work. Folk singers tend to stick to lighter themes but still, the influence of classical singing and dastaans permeates,” explains Baloch.
Aziz Baloch concludes the interview with an earnest appeal.
“I used to get a nominal stipend from the government. About two-and-a-half years ago, not only I but many other senior artists stopped receiving it. I wrote to the prime minister about this. I am a heart patient and since my medicine is quite expensive, that stipend went a long way. Now, it is getting harder and harder for me to keep up with the costs of my medication. I would be highly obliged if the people concerned in the government could revive this stipend for us aging artists.” REFERENCE: ‘I should have gotten the Pride of Performance 10 years ago’ By Qasim Abdallah Moini September 28, 2003 http://www.dawn.com/weekly/images/archive/030928/images8.htm