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Heroes on stage, forgotten off it


Pakistan has a whole breed of skilful workers, artisans and singers but while they are revered for as long as they are on the stage, they are forgotten the moment they step down from it.

This was stated by renowned Baloch folk singer Akhtar Chanal Zahri while speaking to The Express Tribune recently. Zahri was in the federal capital to perform during the National Music Festival hosted by the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA).

A Pride of Performance winner and known for his Brahvi language folk anthem ‘Daanah Pah Daanah’ — a “song about peace, love, brotherhood and above all, the love for our Balochistan”.

While he insists his magnum opus is apolitical, Zahri has strong opinions over the state of affairs in the country, particularly at how successive governments and even the society at large have treated artists such as himself.

‘Musicians continue to face discrimination’

No great leader has emerged in the country since Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal, Zahri says.

He adds that there is a need to teach the caretakers of this country about its history, of how and why the country came into being.

He lamented that those in the power corridors seemed to be plenty occupied in their staging their own shows and dramas which only brings ill repute to the country.

Zahri, who has extensively toured in Pakistan and abroad, said that all the awards that he had won locally and internationally essentially belong to the country.

“Artistes the world over are considered to be valuable assets of the country, however, everything here is the other way around,” he complained, adding that artists are praised and applauded as long as they are performing.

But as soon as they put their tools down and get down from the stage, the services that they have rendered for the country are swiftly ignored, disregarded and forgotten.

He demanded that those artistes who have been conferred with national awards should also be provided with some lands in their native areas along with with the provision of health care and a monthly stipend so that they can spend their lives with ease.

But for all of his opinions and the continued charm of his music despite playing for the past 40 years, Zahri conceded that even the future for an artist such as himself was quite uncertain.

Zahri stated that just as he tried to raise a voice for peace and to draw attention towards the beauty of the country through his songs, he has in meetings with representatives from the federal and Balochistan governments attempted to raise a voice to set up an academy for preserving the Baloch culture.

Thus far, Zahri said, his appeals and arguments have not been converted into concerted and constructive action.

Ever the optimist, though, he hailed the National Musical Festival arranged by the PNCA, noting that such programmes should be organised regularly to give the youth a taste of the different cultures of the country.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2019.

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