The meme that fronts this post sums up the music and the artistic persona of Attaullah Khan Niazi ‘Issakelvi’ beautifully. Khan is shown guiding a motor-rickshaw of the sort found in large numbers in Pakistan’s small to middling towns. He’s looking for fares in the backlanes, known as galiyan in Punjabi, of one of these towns. Could be Okhara, or Jhang, or his own native Mianwali. The narrow brick streets are (unbelieveably) depicted vacant of all other human and animal life. [Its as if the Prime Minister is expected for a local visit the place is so spic and span.] But these are the home neighborhoods of millions of Pakistani workers and urban migrants who exist in the category sociologists like to call ‘working class’ or ‘lower middle class’ or ‘proletariat’. Just ahead of him a beautiful Punjabi housewife lingers a bit longer than necessary with the day’s washing, waiting for the handsome ‘Issakhelvi’ to perhaps chat her up. Maybe he will try to give her a ‘lift’.
Attaullah Khan, more than any other singer of his generation, holds a special place in the heart of working class Pakistani Punjabis. His songs of love (lost, wanted, faithful, ideal and betrayed) have given men courage and women hope for nearly nearly 40 years now. He sings (or did before the likes of the movies, VCDs and Coke Studio got hold of him) with a fully open heart and voice. Why his audience love him is, he is as authentic as hard day’s work and plays no games. What you see is what you get. And as millions of his fans know, there is a helluva a lot of get from this truly unique Pakistani folk singer.
Meri Pasand, the title of this collection originally issued on cassette, means ‘my choice’. And whether indeed it is true that Khan selected these tracks or, whether some narrow-tied junior executive in Karachi did the honours, it does not matter. If you are in the market for the ‘essential’ short collection of Issakhelvi’s magic then this is it. There are many songs that don’t make this edition and there are more comprehensive box sets out there, but if you could have but one single album of his in your library then this is the one to get.
The sound quality is very high thanks to the boys at EMI Pakistan and the track list captures Khan during his most powerful and influential 1980s phase. He sings in Punjabi, Urdu and his native Seraiki and amply demonstrates his ability to sing in a variety of styles and induce multiple emotions.
This is pure gold. And definitely worth hanging out in the galiyan waiting for him to pass by.
01 Chan Kithan Guzari
02 Dil Lagaya Tha
03 We Bol Sanun
04 Balo Batyan
05 Donon Ko Aasaki Na
06 Lalai Tun Mundri
07 Bannu Dee Mehndi
08 Ni Uthan Waley
09 Kherey Heer Nun
10 Be Dard Dhola