Folk frenzy: A mesmerist named Mustafa Lohar

Audience lights up to infectious beats of ‘chimta’, flute and ‘dhol’ at stellar cultural performance.


Maryam Usman February 10, 2014
Lively tunes emanating from the troupe’s indigenous instruments provided the perfect opportunity to dance. PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: Not only is folk music alive, it pulsates in tune with the beating of its listeners’ hearts and the taps of their unstoppable feet every time it is resounded. This pleasant revelation was manifested in its fullest at a trailblazing performance by the Punjabi maestro Mustafa Lohar at Kuch Khaas on Saturday. While a plethora of hybrid musical forms emulate the local, indigenous tunes, the latter embody our true cultural heritage and folk traditions, said Lohar, before delving into a trip down legacy lane.

The ‘chimta’ (a traditional percussion instrument resembling tongs) — toting maestro is a disciple of the legendary Arif Lohar and has performed at various folk festivals, mystic shrines and theatres over the last three decades, the craft of lively folk storytelling through music being his forte.

The performance began sans pretentious formalities --- Mustafa Lohar and his band of musicians hit off powerful notes with palpable energy, reverberating rapture through the air. Accompanied by Hassan Mangi on harmonium, Muhammad Ashraf on ‘jori’ (double flute), Qamar Abbas on ‘dholak’ (small drum) and Mohammad Mushtaq Haider on ‘dhol’ (large drum), the musician transported the audience to the distant, mythical lands of the romantic mystics.

“Sassi Punnu, Sohni Mahiwal, Heer Ranjha and Laila Majnu - these are true, timeless lovers,” announced Lohar, who danced with the sort of elegance only a kurta-dhoti clad Punjabi sporting slick, gelled-back hair can have. Punctuated with verses from Bulleh Shah’s and Khawaja Ghulam Farid’s poetry, the music transcended the ambience, transporting the listeners onto the proverbial spiritual dimension.

In the rapture of ecstasy, the audience could be seen bobbing their heads to the beat, clapping in sync and swinging side-to-side in time with the uplifting, rhythmic beat. As is the norm with most cultural events at high-end venues, a vast majority of the audience comprised of foreigners, acclimatising their sensibilities to the exotic sights and sounds the experience had to offer.

“I wasn’t too familiar with Punjabi music before and always thought it was very quiet and mellow, but that is obviously not the case. These tunes are energetic and exciting and I’m enjoying them, although I cannot understand the lyrics,” said Phillip, an enthused audience member.

Muhammad Ajmal, a noted tabla player, appreciated Lohar’s rendition for staying true to the intrinsic style and sensibility of his gurus, which was markedly different from contemporary fusion vocalists featuring on mainstream media these days.

After the concert concluded, audience member Dilshad Nawaz, who was with her husband, said, “what he (Lohar) sang at the end (Mast Qalandar) was excellent and I was wondering why my husband didn’t get up to dance. If we were in Karachi, he surely would have,” she joked.

The event was organised by the Institute for Preservation of Art and Culture as part of their Folk Roots programme, which will showcase a series of diverse cultural performances throughout the year.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2014.

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