LAHORE: “There is a dire need for Sufi music on public platforms; I think there should be Sufi mehfils everywhere,” said Akhtar Channal Zehri, popular Sufi and folk singer from Balochistan.
Zehri opined as the four day Rafi Peer Theater Workshop’s (RPTW) Sufi Music Festival at the Peeru’s Cafe, which he has been a part of for years, set the context for a talk on Sufi music.
The Quetta-based folk singer famous for his nationalistic song ‘Daneh pe Dannah,’ shared that the worsening security situation of his province and rest of the country, has reduced the number of events where he could perform with his band of dancers and musicians.
He said that artists deal in life’s pleasures. But with happiness fading away in the country, artists do not have a platform to perform, even if they produce original music.
The Sufi festival, of which Zehri has been a part of for so long was a shining event this year. One thing which particularly stood out was the diversity on show, proving the festival to be a vibrant sketch of what Pakistan has to offer in terms of local music, particularly with the Sufi flavour. Artists from Gilgit Baltistan, Cholistan, Tank and other parts of Sindh, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa enthralled the audience over four days.
Sanam Marvis’s “ho laal meri pat rakhiyo bala” brought listeners to feet, while Saaein Zahoor’s popular numbers were cheered at. The Goonga Saaein’s dhol act with the local dhamaal dancers left them spellbound.
Other artists who performed included renowned singer Surriya Khanum, Rizwan Moazzam Qawaals from Faisalabad, Israr Nabi Bukhsh from Lahore, Bazm-e-Laiqa from Gilgit Baltistan, Zar Sanga from Tank, Shah Jo Baag Fakirs from Bitshah, Pupoo Saaein from Lahore, Shaukat Dholia, Mehboob Fareed Qawal from Pakpattan and Krishan Laal Bheel from Uch Shareef.
The number of people who attended the festival on the last two days was significantly bigger than those who attended the initial sessions.
In the past, the festival had hosted a number of international Sufi artists and dance performers from as many as 16 Muslim countries. However, this year, only one whirler from the Syrian band Tehleela was the only international participation.
This shrinking participation maybe the result of the dent created in the funds collected for the RPTW’s festivals. The recent controversy in which the Usaid accused the workshop of corruption damaged the organisation’s goodwill built over the years. The RPTW was producing a weekly children’s television show, funded by the Usaid and in collaboration with the Sesame Street, which came to an abrupt halt after the Usaid withdrew funding on suspicion of misuse of funds.
The case is currently being contested in the courts.
“The network we built in the last 25 years has collapsed, it costs us Rs250 thousand to bring one artists here, multiply that to the 100s of artists that we have brought here before from around the world, something for which we cannot raise funds now,” said Faizan Peerzada, one of the organisers and spokesperson of the cultural organisation.
Peerzada said that the current festival has taken place with the support of the Norwegian embassy, with which the workshop has collaborated in the past for a number of performing arts festivals.
He added, that the culture in Pakistan is the responsibility of the state as well and not the multinational corporations that sponsor cultural events and music concerts in the country.