Field Recordings: Sufi Songs from Sindh and Punjab


I see its been quite a while since the last post. Indeed, my posts have become as infrequent as Halleys Comet over the past many months, not due to any slackening of interest or desire in music but rather through a necessary focus on a whole bag of other projects and issues. But in the past few weeks I’ve come into possession of some excellent South Asian music which I’m looking forward to sharing.

First off the rank is a small collection of field recordings from Sindh and Pakistani Punjab. Billed as ‘Sufi music’ this majmua’h is more accurately a sampler of folk music from those ancient fabled lands. The performers are all relatively unknown beyond the districts in which they live or wander and their performances are completely natural, raw and uninhibited. As the singer Fatah Daudpoto says in his introduction to Aa Mil Yaara (Track 4) ‘I’m a folk singer and folk music is direct. Not mechanical or digital.’ Which is similar to the adamant statement (and album title) of the old blues guitarist Mississippi Fred McDowell ‘I do not play no rock n roll’.

These recordings are made on site, live and several of the tracks include ambient sounds and whisperings from those in the crowd.  In many instances, especially tracks like #9 and #6, I am reminded of the soundtrack to the wonderful film Latcho Drom, about gypsies and their music. These songs have that same electric ‘chaos barely under control’ feeling.  My only complaint is that most of the tracks are too short which clearly is a decision made by the producers of the album and not the artists themselves who were barely allowed to pick up a head of steam.

Still, a wonderful little collection to add to your collection of South Asian/ Pakistani/ Punjabi/Sindhi folk music.

Ishq ke Maare_ Sufi Songs from Sindh and Punjab

Track Listing

1 Intro – Damadam Mast Qalandar [Ustad Aacher and Party]

2 Jo Tera Gham Na Ho [Kalyam Sharif Qawwali Troupe]

3 Aahe Arman Ajeebon [Meeh Wasaiyo]

4 Aa Mil Yaara [Fatah Daudpoto]

5 Sur Rano [Latif Sarkar]

6 Sehra [Basheer Haidari and Nazira Bano]

7 Aarfana Kalaam [Shazia Tarannum]

8 Mahi Yaar Di Gharoli Bhardi – Raag Jog [Babu]

9  Shah Jo Raag [Sain Juman Shah and Fakirs]

10 Ayman Kalyan Raag [Ghulam Arshad]

11 Kalaam of Bulle Shah [Unknown]


Of Sindh, Sufis and Cricket: Bijal Khan Mehar and Dayam Khan

Hurs charging against the British

Hurs charging against the British

The opening song of this sensational collection of Sindhi sufi songs is a paean to Pir Pagaro, a figure of some influence in multiple spheres of Pakistani public life.   When I lived in Pakistan about 25 years ago the Pir was a figure of much derision and cynicism among my circle of friends as he was seen as the worst sort of feudal figure with obvious ambitions to be ever close to the beating heart of political power.


6th Pir Pagaro Mardan Sha

6th Pir Pagaro Mardan Sha

But his political king-making was but one aspect of his cult.  He was also respected by all Pakistanis as one of the important patrons of the game of cricket (the national madness). Over the years he supported many of Pakistan’s most promising players, often sending them to the UK for mentoring and training, out of his own funds.  He himself played a single game of First Class cricket.


His political destiny was one he inherited from his father and grandfather, who as heads of a sufi movement known as  the Hurs  (pure ones), led a long resistance to the rule of the British.  The Hurs were brutally repressed but never defeated, even though the 6th Pir Pagaro (the current Pir’s grandfather) was captured and hanged by the colonial regime.  Patriotism and independence and free thinking run deep in the line of the Pirs. The 7th Pir (Mardan Shah), whom we despised back in the 80s, was a keen puppet master in the Alice-in-Wonderland politics of Pakistan, and for many years served as President of the Pakistan Muslim League (one of the country’s two major parties).


Most important to the people of Sindh, however, is the Pir’s leadership of their spiritual band, and it is undoubtedly to these attributes that the opening song is referring, not the sport or political shenanigans.


For all my time in Pakistan I was unable to spend any time in Sindh as it was a lawless place then and now. Completely spiritual and holy as well and full of a deep religious and mystical air.   The more I am exposed to the music and very tolerant, syncretic culture of Sindh the more I regret my failure to visit. And as I listen to this collection I can say I ‘miss’ Sindh even though I’ve not truly set foot in the place!


The music comes from the bosso folk label De Kulture out of Jaipur but records the voices and playing of nomadic traditional musicians from the far western reaches of Rajasthan. In the past these people would have travelled (and probably many still do) freely across the Pakistan/India border, hence their allegiance  to Pir Pagaro.  The two main peformers are from Barmer in Rajasthan.  Bijal Khan Mehar and Dayam Khan.


Fantastic music. Plain and simple.

Sufi Kalam Sufi Kalam back

Track Listing:

01 Pir Pagaro

02 Nukta Yaar Padhaya

03 Allah Jane

04 Pal Pal Pur Pawan

05 Jogi Aaya

06 Duma Dum

07 Har Rang Di

08 Sir Ishq Mein

09 Dadho Nihi



Music from the land of Turtles: Kutch



Most of the non-Indian world’s only knowledge of Kutch is that this western extremity of India was the site of the powerful Bhuj earthquake (so named for the district’s capital city) of 2001.   In that vein, we are likely to witness more of the same devastation and destruction in the same areas, as Kutch straddles the fault lines between the Sub-continent and Eurasia. But to think of Kutch only as a past and future disaster zone would be a major mistake.


The salty and marshy lands of Kutch have supported human civilisation for nearly 5000 years, if not longer.  Crumbling ruins like Dholarvira were once major urban centers that formed part of India’s original civilised culture along the Indus River.  Cities rose to prominence and faded away, falling as victims to shifting rivers as well as invasions from the sea and north and east.  Those who lived in this harsh landscape, nevertheless, controlled the traditional trade routes between western India (the areas now in Gujarat State) and Sindh, the deserty province of Pakistan.  Indeed, the Kutchi language, though nowadays written in the Gujarati script, is a dialect of Sindhi.


Kutch comes from the Sanskrit word for turtle (Hindi: katchwa) and it makes sense. The area, also known as the Rann of Kutch is a vast salty marshland where water lies shallow on top of the land for some months before evaporating to display a sparkling white salt encrusted geography. Slow moving, self-protected animals like the turtle thrive in this place.


Like Sindh to the north-west the culture of the Kutchi people is rich, ancient and deeply humanistic.  Most people count themselves as ‘Hindu’ for official census purposes but communities of Muslims, Jains, tribals and even some Sikhs live side by side across the district.  Their culture, its language, many of its religious forms and musical styles are a melange of many Indian communities. And beyond the shores of India, scholars have traced African rhythms and Central Asian elements in the music and instruments of the rural Kutchis.

I have spoken of the New Folk Music Movement that is sweeping India in other posts and on the website.  A small but passionate group of music entrepreneurs and ethnomusicologists have made it their life’s mission to not just preserve the sounds of the scattered villages and regions of India but to connect the thousands of hereditary musicians in these areas to new audiences both in India and overseas.

Kanji musician family, Kutch

Kanji musician family, Kutch

Like Deben Bhattacharya and Alan Lomax in previous generations, these new promoter are taking their recording equipment into the mud houses, village squares and fields of the musicians and making really high quality recordings of this living tradition.


Today we share a double disc set of raw, pure and thrilling folk music from Kutch.  This is not music that has been electrified or modernised in any way. It has nothing to do with the classical sublimnity of Ravi Shankar or Rashid Khan. Neither does it relate or connect in any way with the glitzy sounds of Bollywood or Indo-pop.   It is the sound of people singing (often with no accompaniment) chanting funny tongue twisters and playing their simple but magnificent folk instruments. They sing to themselves and those who understand and appreciate the harsh environment of Kutch.  This is about the most non-commercial music you’ll find.


Which is not to say it is unlistenable. Not at all, it is full of life and energy and power. And it is not completely ‘isolated’ from the 21st century. Just listen to a wonderful track by Dana Barmal, Ek Pardesi, in which he sings of his infatuation with a visiting European lady!


For real music continue on!

Kutch 2

Track Listing (Disc.1)

01 Chalade Aye Rulalyi [Mura Lala Fafal]

02 Untha Mu Tola Aandho Aaya [Raja Kana Kharet & friends]

03 Ek Pardesi Much Aankh Bagi [Dana Bharmal]

04 Anth Bahar Di Kalan Kayi [Ismail Jhuma Mohamad Para & friends]

05 Sartiyu Aaita Vanore Vano  [Musa Para]

06 Samiyan Sariyu Soan Jyu [Salambhai Kasam Haleputra & friends]

07 Kismat [Samat Sajan Pathan]

08 Noori – Jam Tamaachi … Pakhaa [Abdulla Abdul Husen & Kafi Artists]



(Disc 2)

01 Aadu Panth Othaape, Nar Ochha Ho Ji Re [Unknown]

02 Dharti Mathe Aambo [Mangal Singh Rathod]

03 Bawaliya Periya Prem Ji [Karsanbhai Ahir]

04 Kanudo Indho Vala, Ae Suhagan [Sukaria Nar Fafal & friends]

05 Ulatya Baan Laga Gagan [Mura Lala Fafal & friends]

06 Aavo Madi Aavo Rajbai Naran Paradhi & friends]

07 Sonala Vataki Ne Rupela Kangasadi [Amrut Barot]

08 Ae Bethi Ne Morari Momai Mataji [Sona Kancha Rabari & friends]

09 Ek Nish, See See Eat ujas,…Natwar [Bhan Muru Gadhvi & party]

10 Aan Dhan The Aage Aaya [Jasa Dana Sanjot]

11 Marvi (Kutchi Kafi) [Noormohamad Soda]

12 Sur [Osman Sonu Sawan Jat]

13 Kutchi Tarz [Suratnath Motinath Lalvadi]

14 Raag Rano [Jusab Sumar Langa & saathis]






Agony and Ecstasy: Tragic Love Songs of Punjab and Sindh

Sohni Mahiwal


Bunched at the very center of the folk culture of Punjab and Sindh are a bundle of love stories.  The tales of Heer Ranjha, Sassi Pannu, Sohni Mahiwal, Laila Majnu, Dhola Maru Umar Marvi (to mention only a few) are a deep well of cultural identity and artistic inspiration.  These tales generally are referred to as ‘tragic love stories’ in the same way the European tale of Romeo and Juliet tells of ‘star crossed’ lovers.  These stories are dramatised by untrained actors in village festivals and have been made and remade into hugely popular films and TV shows.  They have provided material to thousands of singers and musicians over the centuries and remain even today, a major source of lyrics, sentiment and message for folk musicians across northwest India/Pakistan.


Let me retell the story of Sohni and Mahiwal. This story is old and revered. The ultimate Bible of Sindhi mystical poetry Shah Jo Risalo, compiled by the daring seer/poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, has included this story giving it an entire sur (chapter) that emphasizes its grand tragedy.


Sohni was a beautiful potter’s daughter who lived  along a busy trade route that connected Delhi with the fabled Muslim kingdoms of Bukhara and Samarkand. As soon as the water jugs, vases and plates came off her father’s wheel, Sohni began to decorate each with intricate and colorful painted scenes. Her father’s pottery was the most sought after in the town thanks to Sohni’s beautiful decorations.


The town where Sohni lived was frequented by customers from all over world, including a handsome and wealthy nobleman from Samarkand named Izzat Beg.  As soon as he laid eyes on Sohni, Izzat Beg forgot all about his business interests and tarried on in town, finding any excuse to buy more and more painted pots from Sohni. The young girl was smitten by this great man’s attention and affection. And even though she was from the very  low potter’s caste she expressed her love to her foreign nobleman.


Izzat Beg was so head and heels in love with Sohni he pretended to be a lowly manual worker and asked Sohni’s father to employ him as a buffalo herd, a mahiwal. During the days he would sit on one bank of the Chenab River with his buffaloes and gaze and wink and flirt with Sohni on the opposite side.


Whispering and busybody relatives, jealous of Izzat Beg’s attention for Sohni, alerted the potter, who with the help of his community, quickly arranged for Sohni to marry ‘one of your own’.  Unable to protest, Sohni married another potter but one who, unlike her father, was cruel and mean.  As for Izzat Beg, he was so distraught, he renounced the world and became a faqir (wandering mendicant) who eventually found where Sohni and her husband lived.  He set up a small camp along the river bank but no one suspected it was he.


Each night Sohni would venture across the river, sitting on a kiln-dried shard of pottery. Izzat Beg caught and cooked fish for her which they ate together after making love.  Once, when he wasn’t able to catch a fish he cut out a piece of his thigh and gave it to Sohni to eat. He denied it was not fish when she questioned him but when she touched his thigh and discovered his wound, she broke into tears at the thought of how much he loved her.


Eventually, Sohni’s sister-in-law suspected something was up and followed her.  She saw where Sohni kept her pottery shards and the next day substituted a wet piece of pottery for her dry pot/boat.  That night as Sohni moved out into the river to meet Izzat her pot disintegrated and she drowned. Izzat seeing her struggle dove in but also drowned.


The music for today is a tremendous collection that pays tribute to the many similar love tragedies of Punjab. These are artists known in their local and regional areas of India only. They sing in a variety of styles and using traditional instruments. If you were to pass an evening in the rural community in Pakistan or India you would hear this sort of rendition of the story.  Pure culture. Alive, breathing, singing and crying.

Track Listing:

01 Dhola Maru [Vishan Das and Group]

02 Sohni Mahiwal (Sufi Dhadi) [Sharif Idu]

03 Sohni Da Ghadha [Shaukat Ali Matoie]

04 Kyon Hoon Dad Vatdayen [Gurmej Raja]

05 Tera Pyar Menu [Saida Begum]

06 Laila Majnu [Shaadi Ram]

07 Heer – Jogi [Narata Ram]

08 Mere Ranjha [Akhtar Ali]




(Track six distorted for first 60 sec)