Jogi Man: Ram Narata


Ram Narata Jogi

It would be hard to find more basic music than this.  A man with a voice of limited range and no smoothness playing a one-stringed homemade instrument accompanied by a friend or two on hand drums.

Ram Narata is (possibly, was) a jogi. A wandering spiritual seeker, probably mystical in his understanding but Hindu in his vocabulary, he was more than 90 when he made this recording.

The songs he sings cover the bases from tragic love stories (Sassi Pannu and Sohni Mahiwal) to earthy spirit melodies.




Track Listing:

01 Changa

02 Tara Rani

03 Kaula

04 Ishq Nu Chhed Na Bethi

05 Puttar Ka Vardan

06 Duniya De Mele

07 Sassi Puno – Jogi

08 Sohni Mahiwal – Jogi



From the Archives: Ghulam Ali

Ghulam Ali

We go back in time to the early days of the Washerman’s Dog blog (before the advent of Harmonium) when we shared this all Punjabi folk album from the great Ghulam Ali.

The album was released in 1981 at a time when Ghulam Ali was not yet a massively popular artist in India. He was beloved by critics and a small audience of music ‘aficionados’ but was still not a name that rolled off the lips of the average music-listening public.  And the selection of songs included on this record reflect a rather ‘conservative’ and safe approach: songs based on traditional Punjabi folk-epics and one of its greatest mystical poets, Waris Shah. (for the full original post and other goodies)

The (very recent) Roots of Bhangra: Jagat Ram Lalka

Bhangra: Punjab's essential traditional dance

Bhangra: Punjab’s essential traditional dance

Ram Jagat Lalka whose work we feature this evening is a proud exponent of the musical tradition of the Bazigar people of northern India (mainly Punjab). By traditional we should not assume that this is a stagnant form of museum piece music that has been passed down from time immemorial. Rather, I use the term traditional in reference to the Bazigar people and the way in which they have adopted and adapted their culture to circumstances (many of them traumatic) while remaining broadly true to their original tribal roots.

Jagat Ram Lalka. The turban does not signify adherence to Sikhism but rather is a cultural expression of Bazigar identity.

Jagat Ram Lalka. The turban does not signify adherence to Sikhism but rather is a cultural expression of Bazigar identity.

The Bazigars are a group of originally nomadic, gypsy like people who congregated in the northern and central parts of Punjab in districts that were included in Pakistan in 1947. When that fateful line in the sand was drawn and loyalties were forced upon people, the Bazigars, who broadly identified as Hindu/Sikh even though their spiritual beliefs included elements of Islam as well, felt compelled to move eastward. Today they live mainly in and around Chandigarh and Patiala and have been forced to abandon their itinerant lifestyle in favor of a more settled existence.

Bazi is a Persian term for ‘play’. Gar is the Persian suffix that denotes a ‘do-er’. Bazigar is a common Hindi/Urdu/Punjabi word which loosely translates to acrobat or jester, clown or contortionist. And in that way carries a derogatory connotation.   The Bazigar people themselves, however call themselves Goaar and trace their lineage back to the late 18th century. They speak their own dialect as well as a ‘secret’ language (that hits the ‘suspicious’ button of outsiders) which they refer to as Parsi or Pashto, but which in fact is neither.

Historically the Goaars claim to be high born people but have lived and earned their living on the edges of ‘respectable’ society. Mainly as nomadic herders and seasonal agricultural workers they supplemented their income as dancers, musicians (especially dhol players and singers), magicians and acrobats. Like other communities across India and Pakistan that provide specialized ‘cultural’ services to others, the Bazigar/Gooar performed at weddings and celebrations and were sought out as master drummers.

Originating, most scholars believe, in the western deserts of Rajasthan, they moved freely and frequently across what are now the border districts of Pakistan and India but were compelled to settle down in ‘colonies’ when access to their ancestral homes around Sahiwal, Faisalabad, Gujrat and Sialkot (all in Pakistan) was blocked after the departure of the British. In Independent India they continued to pursue their varied livelihoods but eventually merged into the ‘mainstream’ as farmers, small shopkeepers and other professions.

India, like most de-colonized countries, made a concerted effort in the first decades after Independence, to create a public consciousness about what it meant to be Indian. And perhaps a bit surprisingly, part of that agenda stressed the diversity of India’s many regions. Each year in January in the capital, dance and music troupes from all across India swarmed to New Delhi to perform as part of the celebration of this new nation. From Punjab, the organizers and cultural barons recruited Bazigars as dancers and drummers to represent ‘traditional’ rural Punjabi society. Pleased for the gig Goaars eagerly agreed and put together snippets of various dances and musical styles they remembered from the former days back in the west.   Initially these were presented blandly as “Male dance from Punjab” or “Ladies Marriage Dance”, but by the late 60s were being referred to as bhangra. And of course, if there is a single Indian folk dance style that is known around the world it is bhangra. I am one of those who assumed that this colourful harvest dance was as ancient as the Siwalik mountains. But like so much about India, I have been surprised: this phenomenon now almost synonymous with Punjab and Sikhs is but 50 years old!

Jagat Ram Lalka

Jagat Ram Lalka

Jagat Ram Lalka was born in 1952 and has maintained his identify and secured his living as a performer. In this collection put out by the great label De Kulture (Jaipur) he provides a glimpse into several musical styles of his people: ghidda, sammi (originally a wedding dance exclusively for women) and dostango all accompanied with amazing rhythms from the dhol and tumbi.

For an in-depth article on the Goaar click the link. It is a fascinating insight into a small corner of Indian folk culture.


Made In Punjab

Track Listing:

01 Jaimal Fatta – Ambala

02 Mirza Ki Vaar

03 Vir Jodh

04 Pir Muradia

05 Sassi

06 Dhol Sammi

07 Kahan Marke Rona Malki

08 Ranjhu


Anyway: Zubeen Shah, Naseebo Lal and Shazia Mansoor


Here’s a fun one. Strange cover. Stranger title.  I picked it up at the library which had classified it as HIN (di). Close, but no laddu.  All songs are in Punjabi, and as you’d expect full of danceable grooves, liveliness and general frolicking.


I have no idea who Zubeen Shah or Shazia Mansoor are but of course, lovers of Punjabi folk-pop know all about Naseebo Lal. Luckily she is featured on several of the tracks and acquits herself with great fun and beauty. Her voice is so melodious.

I picked out trumpet, sax and mandolin in addition to the usual Punjabi instruments!

Its albums like this that make you think about taking a course in Punjabi.


Have fun. I sure am!

Love You Anyway Love You Anyway_0001

Track Listing:

01 Bhul Gayee Jai Mere Pyar Nu

02 Jaana Si Te Aana Nahin Si

03 Jadoon Da Tera Pyar Chakhiya

04 Dil Le Gayee

05 Tare Bhuhai Aggey Beri

06 Mil Gayeeyan Vichre Dil

07 O Jaan Wala Jaan Meri Le Gaiya

08 Aaya Ni Aaya


A Working Class Hero is Something to Be: Attaullah Khan Niazi ‘Issakhelvi’

Working Class Hero

Working Class Hero

I have written about Attaullah Khan Niazi ‘Issakhelvi’ in an earlier post. Since blasting out of the rural district of Mianwali (ancestral home of cricket king Imran Khan) in the 1970s and 80s, Attaullah Khan has lit up the Pakistani music scene like few before him.  His audience is distinctly South Asian, whether on the sub-continent, or in the diaspora.  More specifically, the Punjabi and Seraiki speaking communities adore this man’s music, which comes directly from the heart and plays on the holy trinity of themes of South Asian mohabbat  (love): intimate, lost and longed for.


Sher Shah Suri

Sher Shah Suri

The Niazis are a tribe of the larger ethnic group known as the Pathans.  Originally from the  Eastern regions of what is now Afghanistan over the centuries the Niazis, migrated eastward into what are now known as NWFP and Punjab provinces of Pakistan.  The history of the Niazis, is an interesting one. Related to the Afghan nobles, Sher Shah Suri and the house of the Lodhis, they trace their geneaology  to the grand patriarch of all Pathans, Qais Abdur Rashid, who in turn claimed direct descent from the Biblical Israelite King Saul.


Indeed, many Pathans, and many Niazis too, persist in a rather odd (considering contemporary global political realities) claim that they are one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel.

While historically dubious, elaborate histories have been constructed in an attempt to provide evidence of what assumes is regarded as a special and meritorious ancient identity.


Attaullah Khan Niazi

Attaullah Khan Niazi

Whether Attaullah Khan believes this legend or not, I don’t know. And who cares? I just thought it was interesting to mention by way of illustration of the unexpected twists and turns of history.  Essakhelvi himself was born (1951) with a love of music, though coming from a tough, martial tribe, ‘singer’ was not a career one spent much time talking about in public.  Indeed, the secret of his music lessons and practice eventually came to the knowledge of his family and he was disowned.  On his own, Attaullah had enough presence of mind though, to complete a basic education and graduate from high school.


When he was 21 he got a chance to sing on Radio Pakistan (Bahawalpur Center) and a popular TV variety show Neelam Ghar.  Though his family still refused to embrace him, he persisted, and in the late 70’s/early 80s was performing for homesick Punjabis in the UK.  Back in Pakistan his fame washed over the country, thanks to a new and affordable technology, the cassette tape.  His live shows, one of which I attended on a cold winter evening in Islamabad, were always very lively.  Khan’s approach to singing is straightforward: sing your bloody heart out and wear your emotions on your sleeve.  He eggs his audience on with sly turns of phrase and exaggerated moans and sighs and quickly heads to the very top of his vocal range where he remains for most of the song.  In combination, these ornaments have the effect of driving his audience, (mostly lower and middle class working men) towards ecstasy.


Having said all that, he does have a very nice voice and knows how to use it.  While he is best loved for his upbeat, jaunty numbers, when he turns his attention to a ghazal or a folky interpretation, his voice is just as expressive and moving.  


His FB page claims “He has recorded more than 40,000 songs in 7 different languages.”   For your listening pleasure I’ve selected just 13 of those songs and three languages to share with you today.  The selection covers some early folk songs (Balo Batiyaan Way Mahi) from Pakistan TV where he (and so many others) got his first mass exposure, through a couple of the big hits  (Ni Uthan Wale Tur,Aankh Mein Naqsh-e-Jannat), to a recent appearance on the famous and fabulous Coke Studio Show (Pyaar Naal). 


The title of the selection refers to the opening number Isa Khel Door te Nahin (Isa Khel is Not Far Away).  There was a period of about 20 years, before King MP3, when every long haul truck, every interstate bus, every local taxi, every wagon (mini-bus) that plied the roads of Pakistan had, not just one, but several tapes of Attaullah Khan Niazi, or simply, Issakhelvi, in the glove box. 


Get ready for it!


Track Listing:

01 Isa Khel Door te Nahin

02 Nain Marjaane

03 Ni Uthan Wale Tur

04 Khol Surahi Pyare Saqi

05 Aankh Mein Naqsh-e-Jannat

06 Chimta Taan Wajda

07 Yeh Bahar ke Zamana

08 Dard to Rukhne ka Ab Naam Nahi Leta

09 Taud ke Dil Pachtana Kaisa

10 Pyaar Naal

11 Balo Batiyaan Way Mahi

12 Bismillah Karan

13 Tumhare Shehr ka Mausam