There is a sense of electricity that resonates around Arif Lohar. In his office, there is an enlarged portrait of his father Alam Lohar, the renowned folk-singer who passed away when Arif was only beginning his journey into the grassroots of Punjab, as a travelling folk artist. His legacy constantly shadows his own work, but despite this, he can gather the most spontaneous of crowds on any given day.
The lok funkar, or folk singer, has an eternal gift. It is something that comes from within, something that keeps bringing him back to his roots, to Punjab. Music is seen as an essential cultural factor in the region and it is also where the bulk of Lohar’s work is present.
His cousin Naim-ul-Hassan describes it: “Inside each and every one of us, there is villager. We may live in the city but if you look back, we are from the villages. Folk belongs to the earth, and when a person discovers that, a beautiful journey begins.”
The popular song Jugni is a song which runs in the family. Alam Lohar first popularized it both in his live performances, and eventually in the film industry. His family caste, as Lohar describes it, is actually of Mughal Lohar, otherwise known as blacksmiths. This tradition seems to provide an interesting perspective, because his father was first one to break the family trade.
“The lok funkar is born in an environment and bring for the areas language, its the plant that grows out of the ground, my father developed a passion for singing and he made quite a big name for himself,” recalls Lohar. When his father had passed away in a tragic car accident near Sham Ki Bhattian, in 1979, Lohar was only eight years-old.
The link between his father and his career would continue from then on. Lohar worked in the Nautanki Theatre Troupe, which would visit local villages. It was then that Lohar began making a name for himself, as time and space in villages had different trajectories and the interest in live entertainment was immense. This was something he did for nearly 17 years, performing around 3,000 songs that have included, Kamlee Char Di Kamlee, Koka Tera Saat Rang Da and Chohti Umare Pyar Karina.
“As folk singer, you tell folk tales, and doing so requires a lot of effort. You cannot become an artiste in one day, you are always searching and till your dying breath you must do this,” says Lohar.
“I have never really based my career on my albums; I have always been a live performer. I had to work so I did, and I think I gained a lot of honour through this.”
While Lohar is now heavily sought after internationally and is very well followed through online platforms, he still tours local villages when he has a chance. The background of his music career is essential in understanding how he progressed into a cultural icon. It’s also forgotten he was a frequent face in the film industry, typically paired with Sultan Rahi, playing the role of his son. He made his comeback in Syed Noor’s 2011 film Jugni, after a span of 10 years.
His career started with film Zindagi, after film director Gilani told Lohar that he fit the role that he envisioned for his film. For the local regional film enthusiast, his work with Sultan Rahi was seen as something iconic but following the tragic passing of Rahi, Lohar took a break.
“The revival of the film industry stopped with Rahi’s death, because the industry was being carried on his shoulders. It was like Sultan Rahi and Mustafa Qureshi, I too had a pairing. When that pairing broke, the attraction I had that also disappeared,” says Lohar. The focus has, since then, been on his musical career.
Lohar is currently working on another untitled album, whose details he will disclose when the time is right. He has also been featured in several Bollywood tracks, including the title track for the film Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Before that, his famous track Jugni was featured in the film Cocktail.
“I think that something becomes unique when it is made and then appreciated. In the beginning a person just tries to make something that is good, for the person who conceives it, the whole process becomes meaningful,” says Lohar.
“My goal is really to present a good feeling, I don’t think this is the right time to disclose details but it will be something my fans can relate to.”
With the growth of media, along with the increasingly fast pace of life, space for classical or even traditional music seems to have become limited. Lohar maintains his work is becoming more relevant, and he is still able to connect with mass audiences.
“We may be moving away from our culture, but I am sure the new generation will emphasise on their roots and connect with their heritage. Change is inevitable, but languages don’t die, because if that’s ever the case, then generations also disappear,” concludes Lohar.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2014.
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