On a cold, chilly night, as raindrops drizzled down to create mud and puddles, people enthusiastically lined up outside the PNCA, ignoring the breeze and the rain. The news of the Sufi Music festival, organised by the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop in Islamabad, seemed to have created frenzy. The short festival — only two days — attracted a throng of people came on day one, as they edged their way onto over flowing seats and into the aisles.
The festival, organised by the multitalented Peerzada brothers, is a tribute to their late brother Faizan Peerzada, who passed away last year. As people waited in anticipation for the show to begin, heartfelt tributes to Faizan were given by the Norwegian and Romanian ambassadors. The first performance of the night was Akbar Khan Khameso, who had come from Sindh for the event. The son of Khamiso Khan, Akbar is a renowned performer with the alghoza — a pair of woodwind instruments similar to flutes which are played simultaneously.
Playing classical raags, Akbar managed to capture the audience’s attention on the very first note, as a silent hush fell over the crowd. “My father is my inspiration, but I learnt to play from Ustad Ima Buksh” Akbar told The Express Tribune. As the last resounding note of the Alghoza faded, people clapped enthusiastically as they welcomed a troupe from Gilgit and Chitral called “Bazm-e-Liqa” on stage. “Bazm-e-Liqa” means a mystic assembly for the vision of the beloved, and the group is an arts and cultural promotional society aiming to preserve Sufi music traditions among the younger generation. Their performance of the Persian song “Atish-e-Ishq” seemed to have some of the Pashto-speaking audience singing along.
Multilingual singer Krishan Lal Bheel from Cholistan dressed in a local costume and sang Bajan folk songs such as “Roop nagar ki panchi reh” and “Jeena mera”. Accompanied with the ektara — a single string instrument — Bheel commanded the stage with his strong presence.
“Even if I don’t understand the language, I understand the mystical overtones. I understand its soul. That in itself is beautiful” said a foreigner who could be seen closing her eyes and listening intently.
A dhol performance by Shaukat Dholiya managed to energise the crowd with the precussion instrument echoing in the auditorium and resounding in everyone’s ears, compelling some to break into Bhangra gestures with their arms.
Sain Zahoor from Punjab and Zarsanga from K-P received the loudest applause as they sang folk tunes, which got the crowd moving in their seats.
Finally, the qawwals entered, with the raspy and powerful vocals of Imran leading the way with his chorus-focused pieces.
However, it was Akhtar Chinar Zari who stole the night with his arresting stage presence. His high energy was inspiring, as he whirled around the stage while singing “Mast Qalandar” and “Dana pe dana” left everyone in high spirits.
“He is the closest thing to a rap folk artist!” exclaimed an excited teenager after the day ended, as people made their way back out into the cold chilly night, some already planning to come back the next day.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2013.