Source: RAO DILSHAD HUSSAIN and AREEBA IMTIAZ talk to Sain Zahoor Ahmed about Sufi music and his mission
Sufi music has its root in different genres of music like qawali, kafi, sufiana qalams and many other regional genre of similar cultures. Sufi music started in the sub-continent by the great saint Hazrat Amir Khusru in the 13th century. Since then sufi music is being followed by composers and musicians of the subcontinent. Initially it was used for the sole purpose of spreading the Islamic norms and values.
Sufi music also highlights the teachings of the sufi saints like Baba Bulleh Shah, Baba Farid, Mohamad Bukhsh and Shah Hussain etc. Sufi singing is considered to be a symbol of love and affection. It gives the message of peace and harmony. Now sufi music has a huge following around the world.
Many Pakistani Sufi musicians including Abida Perveen, Sain Zahoor, Sher Miandad Khan, Iqbal Baho and Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan have been performing across the world. Sain Zahoor Ahmad has become one of the Pakistan’s leading Sufi vocalists. He has acquired international recognition in the recent years.
He has performed for Radio Pakistan and PTV. His contribution to the field of Sufi music is enormous. He is amongst those musicians who strived to promote the idea of mysticism. He is a natural born sufi singer. He performs with beautifully adorned ‘Ektara’ while wearing long embroidered Kurta, tightly bound customary turban and Ghungroos (anklet bells).
Pakistani leading Sufi vocalist Sain Zahoor Ahmed while talking to Sunday plus in an exclusive interview said, “I am associated with music when I was just five years old. I was born in Depalpur Tehsil’s Chuk No 47-D of Okara District in the province of Punjab. Basically I belong to rural family, my forefathers used to cultivate the lands. They could not imagine that a child brought up in rural area would emerge as a musician”.
“At the age of five, I dreamt of a hand rising up from a grave that directed me towards a shrine. I saw the same dream every night for three years. It made me restless and I could not sleep at night. Once in a month of Ramazan I came across mystically and spiritually well reputed person Ustad Ronaq Ali who lived at a shrine and used to play with Ektara. He had a magical voice. He used to sing ‘Uth ghafil raat jay Damrhi aay, Aaj kol na veer ta aamrhi aay, aaykho raat judayaan lamrhi aay, parh la ilaha illallah. Ustad Ronaq Ali was my first music master and he tried to educate me and at least I learnt to play Ektara. I used to play Ektara at the midnight hour while reciting ‘la ilaha illalla’, he said.
“The dream was actually an invitation that put me on the right track and all my intentions were diverted towards spirituality and Sufi singing. I left my home at the age of ten and began roaming the Sufi Shrines to find out the particular tomb that I had been dreaming about it in past. My quest ended in Uch Sharif. I was passing through the shrine where a massage was conveyed to me that Khalifa Sab or Shah Sab wanted to meet me. When I kept pace on Mazar I realized that it was the same tomb I saw in my dream. It was a mysterious coincidence in my life. It was venerable Gillani Syed Bahar Hussain Shah’s shrine who was grandfather of dignified Khalifa Syed Niaz Hussain. This Darga’s respected Khalifa addressed me in these words ‘Taynu asi bulaaya aay, tu kithe bajda aay’. There, I took oath of allegiance (ba’at) and became the disciple of Syed Niaz Hussain Shah” Sain Said. Sain Zahoor stayed there for three months to serve his ‘Pir-o-Murshid’. He started singing sufi kalam there. Then, Syed Niaz allowed him to go back to sing sufi kalams. Also he can visit shrine whenever he want. Afterward, he had been regular visiting that Dargah. “Prior to death, my Murshid advised me. Due to long journey, if it is difficult for you to come here, then you can visit to Baba Bulleh Shah’s tomb in Kasoor, we are basically from the lineage of Hazrat Baba Bulleh Shah” Sain Zahoor Said.
Sain Zahoor has been performing in streets, shrines and sufi music festivals as well for more than forty years but he got fame and recognition in the last few years. Once leading TV and Radio anchor Dildar Pervaiz Bhatti saw him performing at the tomb of Hazrat Madho Lal Hussain. A thought originated in his mind that it was not an ordinary voice, Sain’s mesmerizing and heart touching voice got round so many persons including Dildar and immediately Dildar invited him to perform for PTV station. Sain Zahoor said “Sincere efforts and support of Dildar Bhatti helped me a lot and introduced me to the music industry”.
“Thirty five years ago, when I went to PTV to perform for the first time, my performance was recorded and played on PTV and the audience enjoyed that performance a lot. At that time, Dildar Bhatti awarded me with a cash of Rs. 250. I was also invited by Naeem Bokhari for his talk show studio two.
Sain Zahoor studied music under the guidance of honorable Musicians Ustad Ronaq Ali, Sain Marna and Taj Naseem Aqse. Sain Marna conferred me the contract of three strings Ektara. The wording of rags is ‘Tan tan wajda eik tara, eik taray vich raag hazara, wakh wakh aang her her sur nyara, tan tan wajda eik tara, eik taray di zarb hayati, zarb kilyan tay zarb barbaati…’
“Syed Wajid Ali Shah urged Hayat Ahmed Khan (founder of APMC) to listen to me. Hayat Ahmad appreciated me and gave Rs. 500 as a reward. He asked me to learn more about music. Hayat Khan hired different musicians for me. I spent ten years to learn how to sing and play musical instruments. Sain Zahoor learnt music under the guidance of musicians like Ustad Ronaq Ali, Sain Marna and Taj Naseem Aqse who was a film producer. I was taught how to recite Sufi kalam. I learnt three raags Behrvi, Pahari and Jog”, he said.
In 1989, he participated in the All Pakistan Music Conference. His melodic voice cast a spell over the audience. He emerged as a distinguished artiste and frequently started performing on TV channels and musical programmes. He performed in live concerts across the globe. He has been a regular feature in Lahore’s World Performing Art Festival organised by Rafee Peer Theater Workshop.
Sain Zahoor, a top-notch musician is now recognised known all over the world. He has also been nominated for BBC world music award for his performance in world folk music festival and he was awarded the ‘best BBC voice of the year 2006’. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen are also the recipient of this award.
“I devoted my heart and soul to music. I toured extensively across the globe to perform in Live shows. I have toured USA, Canada, UAE, Dubai, Norway, Europe, Denmark, Brussels, Belgium, Brazil, England, China, Japan, India, Britain, Malaysia and South Africa. I have also performed numerous times in India. With the grace of Allah I was appreciated by the audience all over the world”, Sain said.
Though he is illiterate and cannot read and write yet he is wise enough to create his own symbols to read out the lyrics. In order to memorise lyrics, he developed his own language of symbols. He draws dolls and sketches and interprets them with their postures. Zahoor has a good memory as he could remember some of the rare songs from the ancient tradition of Punjabi Sufi culture.
He is reasonably cultured and knowledgeable. He speaks dulcet Punjabi. He is a true dervaish and his way of speaking is quite philosophical. He is loving and pretty generous, also gifted with humbleness. “Anyone who recites Wali’s Kalam is superb”, he stated.
He is a man of high dignity and respect for adages, his speech is gentle and punctuated by ‘Kalam’ of great Sufi Saint. When asked to give a message to the younger generation Sain Zahoor recited a poem of Baba Bulleh Shah, “Parrh Parrh Aalim Faazil Hoya, Kaddi Apney Aap noo Parrheya hi nahin, Jaa Jaa Warda Mandir Maseetaan, Kaddi Mun Apney Vich tun Wareya ee Nahin, Ainwayn Roz Shaitaan dey naal Larda, Kaddi Nafs Apney Naal Lardeya ee nahin, Bulleh Shah Aasmaanin Uddiyaan Phardaa, Jaidha Ghar Baitha Ohnun Phardeya ee Nahin. Mar wai kasma mar, na mray kasam(Anger) tai na wassay ghar, ginday kasam na milay doi. A man can never achieve the heights of ecstasy without embracing Allah’s will or slaying his NAFS”.
As a Sufi musician, his major concern is spirituality and mysticism. He always sings Sufi poets like Hazrat Mian Muhammad Bakhash, Hazrat Baba Bulleh Shah, Khawaja Ghulam Fareed, Baba Fareed Ganj Shakar, Waris Shah, Hazrat Sultan Bahu and Mullah Shah Badakhshi. He sings with deepest feelings. His voice touches the heart and becomes the rhythm of the soul. His passionate voice stimulates ones mind to contemplate Allah. In 2007, he produced a sound track to a widely known and esteemed Pakistani movie Khuda ke Liye. His song ‘Allah Ho’ for the movie ‘Kuda Ke Liye’ was greatly admired by the music lovers.
Eight albums of Sain Zahoor have been released so far. Allah Allah bol bandya, Terey Ishq Nachaya, Ishq Bullay nau nachaway, Mai jana joge de naal and Mian Muhammad Baksh are the most popular and pleasant music tracks of Sain Zahoor. He is also working for his two upcoming musical albums. Nowadays, he is in Thailand to perform in live concerts.
Interestingly, Sain Zahoor has been performing across the globe and received numerous awards but unfortunately Pakistani government has not yet acknowledged the services of this unique artiste. He deserves ‘Pride of Performance’ for his lifelong contribution to folk and sufi music.