Renowned folk singer Qurban Niazi migrated to Pakistan from Jalandhar in Indian Punjab after the 1947 partition. Almost two decades later, Niazi performed with his brother, Tufail Niazi, at the inauguration of Pakistan Television (PTV) on November 26, 1964 in Lahore. Hailing from a family of musicians, Niazi strived to continue his ancestral heritage while also keeping his compositions relevant today. His efforts recently led to a nomination for the Sitara-i-Imtiaz.
Speaking to Dawn, Niazi highlighted how folk music could revive Sufi poetry, and its inherent message of love and peace.
Q: How do you compare folk music of today with that of yesteryear?
A: In the past, folk singers performed in fairs on the anniversary of saints, and mostly known singers and their pupils participated in this live competition. But the tradition changed, especially after terrorist attacks in the past decades, which restricted people to their houses.
It is easy to perform on TV and radio instead of live in fairs. To attract people to live shows at melas, the folk singer has to work hard. But, these days, the new instruments give the voice clarity and the recorded version is better than live shows. I began singing in the fair of Hazrat Shah Shams Tabraiz in Multan with my brother. I then began my career with Naat and Hamd and then attempted singing stories like Laila Majnu, Saiful Maluk and others. But, these days, new singers do not learn folk and classical singing and just mimic known singers without any new techniques.
Due to lack of government patronage, folk singers did not pass their art on to the new generation. Few folk singers are alive and new singers do not consult them to improve the Raag and pronunciation of the words. Every singer needs to learn classical and folk singing throughout his/her life and I am also learning new things at the age of 68. Though folk singing will not end, there is a need to learn from the older singers.
Q: At a time when popular music is all the rage, how could folk music get popularity with people.
A: Folk music and the poetry of saints from the Indo-Pak region will become popular with people with minor changes in composition. With the arrival of new instruments, people can make more fine music based on traditional poetry, especially Sufi poetry.
I visited India two months ago and Sufi poetry based songs were applauded by the audience. People will listen to folk songs but it will take some hard work.
The new generation wants to be popular within a day, but it takes hard work to learn the difference between classical, folk and popular music, and I suggested the use of all of these to preserve the culture of the area.
Q: Are you transferring the skill to new generation?
A: Few people are interested in folk singing and in learning the art. There are a few singers who come to learn this art form. My children are also learning this art. I have taught all of them how to sing and compose music.
Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2015
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