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The Voice of Punjab

BY SAVAIRA KAWISH

He has enthralled listeners in Pakistan and abroad for nearly five decades. His great voice, faultless diction and perfect pitch have won him numerous accolades. He has travelled widely as a cultural ambassador of Pakistan and has enchanted both urban and rural dwellers alike with his tappas and dastans of Mirza Sahiban, Saif-ul-Maluk and Heer Ranjha.

He has sung more than one hundred film songs since his first film Tees Mar Khan (1963) besides an equal number of folk and ghazals. He entered the field of singing swamp--a morass into which legions of aspiring adventurers could not even float; and succeeded in carving out his mark on the musical scene of Pakistan. He has sung, worked and acted with big guns like Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, Nasim Begum, Zahida Sultana, Nazir Begum, Balqees Khanum, Masood Rana, Sain Akhtar, Roshan Ara Begum, Ghulam Ali, Mehdi Hassan, Tufail Niazi and many others.

Melody queen Noor Jahan at a mehfil (gathering) in the presence of her ex-hubby Shaukat Hussain Rizvi encouraged and appreciated his performance. He has been hugged by Madonna and sang different allaps for her. He has traveled with Muhammad Rafi and shared rooms with Mehdi Hassan. A great fan of former Prime Minister Zulifqar Ali Bhutto, who himself was, in fact his fan. He sang the sehra (wedding song) on assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s wedding in front of more than 10,000 guests including Indian actor Sunil Dutt, who later hugged him in appreciation.

Despite his phenomenal rise and attainment of international stardom, he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was barely eighteen months old when his father, Mian Fakeer Muhammad, passed away at the young age of 28. Bereft of a father’s TLC, protection and guidance, the famous Punjabi folk singer, Shaukat Ali, set sail on choppy waters right from a tender age.

Born in Lahore’s prominent Bhati Gate area, Shaukat’s family lived a very hard life. After the death of his father, the family shifted to the house of their maternal grandfather, Fakeer Qureshi Abdul Kareem. Hailing from a family of artistes, music has been an intrinsic part of his life. At a time when children of his age were basking in the glory of innocence, frolicking about without a care in the world, Shaukat was busy learning the intricacies of music from his elder brother Inayat Ali, who he says was his ustad (teacher). The song 'Challa' that was made famous by Shaukat Ali and Gurdas Mann, was in fact first sung by Inayat Ali, who teaches music at Pakistan Arts Council, Lahore.

When Shaukat Ali made his debut into the showbiz world as a child star in playwright Agha Hashr’s Said-e-Hawas, he had no clue of his impending fame. The drama was held in his hometown of Malikwal and the five-year old Shaukat playing the role of Prince Qaiser brought the house down with his acting and singing.

Interestingly he did not get any payment for his performance! The emotionally charged interactive ambience had admirers walking up to the stage, mid way through the performance, to shower money on him (vale) as token of appreciation. “The money,” says the acclaimed singer, “was sufficient to see us through tough times and also pay for my education.”

Reminiscing about that eventful day Shaukat says: “I had to sing on stage as well. It was a requirement in those days. There were no hi-fi stereos and microphones and I was asked to sing Muhammad Rafi’s song Janay Walay Babu Ek Paisa Dai Dai at the top of my voice so that even the last person in the last row could hear without difficulty. Incidentally the song was an instant hit.”

“My singing career thus began by singing songs of Muhammad Rafi. I was surprised to see my cassettes in his car in London. He supported me a lot during my London tour when I was not an established singer. He was truly a great man and a great singer.”

Better known as the Voice of Punjab, he got his first award at the age of nine when he participated in the singing competition in the Scouts Rally at Lahore. Since he was financially incapable of purchasing a ticket, an acquaintance in the railways gave him a pass to take part in the jamboree. During the expos while rendering Inayat Hussain Bhattis (1934-1999) famous song, Suye Joray Walai, he tore up his shirt in a passionate fit. The depth and the range of his voice charmed the audience who listened to the young artist with great admiration. Shaukat Ali was declared winner of the competition.

“Inayat Sahib was a multi talented artist. After I won the competition he came to see me the next day, to hear me sing his song. He was full of praises and his prediction that I would be a big name in future sent me soaring,” says the great vocalist.

No doubt Shaukat Ali is a big name known for his high-pitched renditions of folk and national songs. He has been honoured with the highest Pakistani civilian Presidential award, the Pride of Performance. He was also conferred with Punjab Di Awaz 1986 (Toronto), Punjabi International Award (Vancouver), Kala Ratan Award (Dubai), Punjab Di Awaz at Punjabi Mela Mohali (Punjab, India), Nigar Award, Graduate Award, Voice of Punjab (Yuba City, Ca, USA) by Punjabi American Heritage Society, Voice of Punjab (Guru Ravidas Sabha, Sacramento, CA USA), and National Award (PTV).

As a class nine student in 1967 he was persuaded by Khalid Abass Dar (the most brilliant stand-up comic Pakistan has ever produced) and Tufail Niazi (of Sada Chirian Da Chanbha fame) to audition for Radio Pakistan. “Jaag Utah Hai Sara Watan was the highest war time song aired by Radio Pakistan and yet when I appeared for the audition I was rejected by Asst. Director Ayub Romani!” says, the versatile singer. “Years later I was contacted by Radio Pakistan and was told that it was due to my rather boyish voice that I was not selected. Thereafter I sang different songs for Radio.”

He brims with anecdotes and is sharp to remember people and incidents of decades ago. “One of the greatest days in my life was the day when Ustad Salamat Ali Khan communicated his appreciation. That day I was rehearsing Sagar Siddiqui’s Is Darja Ishq Main with Ustad Shaukat Hussain on Tabla and Ustad Nabi Baksh on Sarangi. Ustad Salamat Ali Khan peeped through the door and made signs of appreciation. After some time he peeped through the door again and appreciated my singing. That was the greatest day of my life which I can never forget,” Shaukat says.

 

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