Attaullah Khan Esakhelvi - The People's Voice
Written by English NewsPaper/Dawn/Others   

Haroon Khalid hangs out on the set of Ataullah Esakhelvi's newest music video. 24 year-old Imran, clad in a black leather jacket, sits on a bar chair, playing his brown and white ibanez guitar.

He wears large black aviator sunglasses, his hair made vertical with the heavy use of gel. The chair is placed at the centre of a small round revolving stage. This is the shoot for Attaullah Esakhelvi's new music video.

For Esakhelvi himself this album is something of a departure. Recently joined by his eldest son, Sanwal Khan, who has completed his diploma in audio-engineering from London, Ataullah is now planning to fuse his skills in folk singing with Western music, a sound dominated by guitar, bass and drums.

I had the opportunity to meet the 60 year-old Esakhelvi on the set of the video for Aa meda jani, which is now playing on TV channels and Youtube. The only one wearing a shalwar Kameez on the set, he joked to me: "How can one take these musicians seriously with that hairstyle?" However, immediately he also clarified that the music they were making was melodious.

Esakhelvi, as his name suggests, comes from the small city of Esa Khel on the banks of Indus in district Mianwali.

He exploded onto the Pakistani music scene with his famous song Dil lagaya tha dil lagi ke liye in 1977.

His heavy musky voice, became a standard in folk singing. Esakhelvi's great success has been the mainstreaming and commercialization of folk music. Before him other legendary ' folk musicians, and singers such as Alam Lohar and Inayat Hussain Bhatti struggled to make a living. With the emergence of Esakhelvi and the popularisation of his music, these artistes too were able to make good, as did subsequent stars like Allah Ditta Lonewala and Mansur Malangi.

Esakhelvi sang the songs of the people in their words and melodies.

For the English and the Urdu-speaking elite, he became a symbol of a low culture, "the truck driver's" singer. The younger generation of the rich, which felt a Similar derision for regional languages, generally stayed away from his songs, which were elsewhere moving millions of hearts for decades. And then came Coke Studio season 4 and two of the most popular songs, Ni othan wale and Pyaar naal, happened to be performed by Attaullah Esakhelvi. Now even the rich were hooked to the sound of this legendary singer's voice, playing it again and again on their laptops and iPods.

"Walking into Coke Studio I was nervous," says Ataullah.. "Despite my experience this is a genre I am a novice at. We've always had guitar, bass and drums in our songs, but they don't acquire the prominence they do in Western-music. But all of them were very helpful, and especially Rohail," He also points out how the success of these two songs introduced him to a new set of listeners. "Jeans and T-shirt wearing young boys and girls walk up to me now telling me how much they enjoyed the songs," says Esakhelvi. "I am really enjoying that."

His son Sanwal Khan, an aspiring singer who wants lo follow in the footsteps of his father, told me that whereas Esakhelvi has numerous famous songs, there are so many other 'amazing' ones that are not necessarily as famous. Sanwal recently convinced his father to re-record 10 of these old, not-so-famous songs. He then collaborated with an experimental music producer, Sami Shah, to reshape the songs. Shah is influenced by British bands such as Muse and Radiohead, and one can notice that influence in the Revamping of Esakhelvi's songs.

The end product is an experimental album which combines the folk genius of Esakhelvi with dark-guitar riffs and off-time-drum beats.

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I asked Esa Khelvi if he liked the new album. He told me that he went into recording with skepticism. "The recording itself was difficult as I am not use such music," he says. However, he is excited by what has come out of that process. Similarly, for the musicians, all of them young rockers and followers of Junoon and Pink Floyd, this was a new experience which required some adjusting. Now that the album is done, these musicians are in love with Esakhelvi's music. They admit that they had never heard it before, but now that it has been reshaped to their liking, they are much better able to understand folk rnusic. They feel that the album has the potential to be huge, not just nationally but also internationally. Sanwal Khan confirms that after the release of the album in Pakistan he will release it in England and is confident that it will make a mark there too- The young musicians feel that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them.

Listening to the songs in the album, I couldn't help but agree that this has the potential to be something huge.

But it is also possible that by experiment¬ing with his music Esakhelvi might alienate some of his fans- To this Esakhelvi responded that he doesn't have to give the same sound to all his fans: he has recorded this experi-mental album, but he also plans to do another album which retains his original style.

In the 1970s, Ataullah Esakhelvi brought forward a new style in Kawstani music. Now he has taken to the new challenge of marry¬ing Pakistani folk with Western music. Something tells me he will be successful in this too.

By Haroon Khalid

Source : Friday Times December 9-15, 2011 (http://www.thefridaytimes.com)