When Attaullah Esakhelvi brought up the prospects of taking up a singing career with his parents, he was promptly asked to leave the house and to this day, he recalls his father’s dislike for his career choice. Several decades later, when roles were reversed and the folk icon was in his father’s shoes, he willingly let his children chase their dreams.
As soon as he turned four, the young Sanwal Esakhelvi was considered old enough to accompany his dad on stage. Over the years he developed his own sensibility for music, getting a chance to see legends such as Mehdi Hasan, Madam Noor Jahan and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in person and learning from the larger-than-life figure that his own father is.
Today the musician and sound engineer that he is, Sanwal said he never wanted to take up music as a profession. “I was always into sports but then an injury forced music to take over,” he told The Express Tribune. While reading for a degree in sound engineering at City University London, Sanwal got a chance to lay his hands on a special project. “I worked on two minutes of The Lord of the Rings sequel while studying,” he proudly recalled.
Starting out professionally with film music and drama OSTs, Sanwal instead found his calling with electronic music.
Today he closely follows the work of James Blake and John Hopkin, two artists that inspire him with their technique and use of equipment. “I am working on how to infuse electronic with folk, playback singing and ghazal,” he added.
Sanwal is of the view that sounds effects in Pakistani cinema have a long way to go. “The industry is growing and it will take a few years for them to catch up to the level of work being done abroad,” he said.
Among other projects, Sanwal is currently working on the video of a Punjabi folk song shot in London and Barcelona.
Almost all of Sanwal’s family members are associated with the entertainment business.
His mother, Bazgha Atta, was a renowned actor who worked with popular artists such as Nadeem Baig, Babra Sharif and Sultan Rahi in her heyday. His elder brother Bilawal Esakhelvi is an actor and director in London who is currently directing a short film. His sister Laraib Atta is a visual effects artist who worked on Ex Machina which won an Oscar for best special effects.
Surrounded by artists in a household led by one of the greatest folk artists from our part of the country, Sanwal may have found it hard to find his own voice. Speaking about Sanwal’s career in an earlier interview, Attaullah had said, “I will be happy if he follows my style but if he wants to sing light music and people like that, then he can go ahead.” However, to Sanwal, there’s no pressure at all and getting into music was a conscious choice. “I didn’t get into music because I had to but because I was inspired by him [Attaullah],” said the musician who recorded Aa Mera Jaani with his father.
Nonetheless, being Attaullah’s son also brings some default weight of expectations. “I feel the pressure every time I look at the keyboard or the harmonium but I don’t think about it,” he maintained, adding, “Sometimes, when I’m performing live, people expect that I will present folk the same way as my father but my vocal texture is different, as is my appearance and even experiences so I do it my way.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2016.