The history of Chakwali music, locally called dhol geet, is as old as Chakwal itself. All songs in dhol geet are created by local poets and their singers do not use mics or modern musical instruments except the dhol. A team of singers usually consists of about 10 men divided into two groups along with a dholi (drum beater). The first group leads the song while the other group repeats it; this way, members of the main group are ready to sing the next couplet.
Initially, there was only one genre of dhol geet — himri — which is the real identity of Chakwal. The other kind of dhol geet which penetrated Chakwal’s culture a few decades ago is called chabola, a technique used by folk singers in Punjab. Unlike chabola, himri is classical music which requires talented singers and a highly skilled dholi. These songs are sung at a high pitch by melodious voices and are appreciated by avid listeners. The late Baba Daraz of Khairpur village, Ghulam Ali and Nawab Ali of Chak Khushi village, Ustad Aziz Lohar of Dalailpur village and Raisham Batt of Pinwal village are the most famous singers of himri songs.
“Kandyaari”, “Jhulara”, “Shamaan” and “Akhian da Diwana” are old himri songs which are still popular. Among these, “kandyaari” and “Jhulara” continue to rule the hearts of Chakwal as the couplets of both these songs are simple, yet rich in meaning. The similes and metaphors found in these songs are inspired by the rural life of Chakwal. The creator of these two songs remains a mystery, as even noted old singers fail to trace the creator(s). “I first listened to ‘Kandyaari’ and other popular old songs thanks to famous late singers Deen Mohammad of Pahar Khan Village and his friend Noor Deen of Dharukna village,” says Ustad Aziz Lohar, who was erroneously declared the creator of “Kandyaari” by “Coke Studio”.
Chakwali music recently soared in popularity when a group of Chakwali singers were picked up by “Coke Studio”. While there remains no doubt that producer Rohail Hyatt’s efforts to introduce unsung heroes is commendable, the inclusion of the Chakwal Group on their sets has invited wrath from Chakwal. The Muneer Hussain team, which is popular for chabola songs, struggled with two famous himri songs which they have never sung before. “Both ‘Kandyaari’ and ‘Jhulara’ have been badly spoiled at the set of ‘Coke Studio’,” moans Ustad Aziz. The third song, “Ishq Aap Bhe Awala”, falls in the strata of chabola songs and the people of Chakwal believe that it too was not performed as beautifully as it was by Bhapu Lohar, who first introduced the song.
Despite the criticism, Chakwal owes a great debt to “Coke Studio”, which paved new avenues for its singers. “We tried our best to introduce the culture of Chakwal with famous songs,” says Muneer Hussain, the lead singer of the Chakwal Group. When asked why they went for himri songs, he replied: “Chabola songs are short-lived but himri songs are immortal and are the real identity of Chakwal,” adding that the group is grateful to “Coke Studio” for giving hope to the singers of Chakwal, who receive no other encouragement.
Singers from Chakwal may have powerful voices, but they live in poverty and die quietly. “The government should at least provide free treatment if a singer is fatally ill,” appeals Bhapu Lohar, a singer that pulsates in the hearts of the people of Chakwal. Lamenting the death of famous chabola singer Jhangir Shah of the Pail village, Bhapu says that Jhangir Shah could not get himself treated properly and left this world too soon, leaving a vacuum which could never be fulfilled.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2012.