Singer Noor Mohammad Nooral, the most popular modern Balochi singer, has helped to
rejuvenate the artistic heritage of his people.
He has brought Balochi poetry to the masses, reviving the
link between Balochi music and literature. He has breathed fresh life into
classical Balochi poetry and folk songs by presenting them in a new way.
He has helped to rejuvenate the artistic heritage of his people, by giving
a boost to poetry writing and encouraging cultural research. Now, he has
also taken up the task of projecting Balochi culture on a wider scale. A
trendsetter in many respects, Noor Mohammed Nooral is the most popular
modern Balochi singer.
part from his contribution to the cause of culture, Nooral has also played
as important political role. In the late '70s and early '80s, the
political vacuum in the province was filled by the Baloch Students
Organization (BSO). In the absence of a towering personality to draw in
the crowds, the BSO employed a different technique to attract supporters.
It began to hold a series of Aashoobi Diwans, or revolutionary musical
congregations, where Nooral was the main attraction. His political songs
were way a head of common slogan-like songs doing the rounds at the time
and were so popular that even wedding ceremonies where Nooral performed
became charged with political electricity.
When Nooral first
appeared on the Balochi music scene, it was flooded with pop and disco
music. Imitations of Indian Filmi tunes, with facile Tukbandi written by
street poets with no literary talent, were also extremely popular, At the
time, most political poetry that was set on music was either overly
dramatic or superficial. Nooral chose to defy these trends and instead,
opted for the work of well-respected and recognized poets'. The music to
which he set these verses, too, was sober and melodious.
Nooral's decision to break away from the dictates of the
market was discouraged by most of his contemporaries, who warned him that
the popular demand was for catch pop numbers and disco tunes. He responded
by saying that while others might be content with the applause of their
audience, he was singing for tomorrow. The doomsday predictions of his
contemporaries were proved wrong, however, for Nooral did not have to wait
long to taste success. His first studio-recorded cassette was an instant
hit, and forever changed the face of Balochi music.
Nooral's astounding success proves that the "public" longs for
quality entertainment. For instance, a rickshaw driver from Lyari says
that even though he does not understand' the poetry, the music is so
melodious and effective that he feels it is the Balochi cassette he has
even heard. Even though it is the public that is always blamed for its
"bad taste", in fact, it is commercial-minded producer, themselves devoid
of any kind of artistic sensibility, who promote low-quality music with
the aim of making easy money.
Nooral's success was not an over night miracle, however. Behind the
instant popularity of his debut recording lies the formidable legacy of
singers like Wali
Mohammad Baloch who were undaunted by their political environment
and recorded cassettes with serious music and poetry of high literary
merit. But undoubtedly, the greater portion of his musical achievements
can be attributed to his own long years of dedication.
Me! & My … Nooral was born in the mid-1940s in
Noshkey, in district Chaghi, Balochistan. Soon after his birth, Nooral's
family migrated to Karachi where he spent his childhood. Drawn to music
from an early age, he initially wanted to play the banjo. To learn the
instrument, he joined a music club run by Ustad Muhammed Umer of Old
Golimar, a veteran music master who had been quietly serving Sangeet for
decades. But Ustad Umer's club was closed down a short while later, and
Nooral went on to Kalakot's Ustad Yaqub. Ustad Yaqub headed a performing
group that did not have enough singers. On hearing the young Nooral hum
the melodies of popular filmi songs. Ustad Yaqub allowed him to sing on
stage. In those days, Nooral also accompanied the Qawwal party of Aziz
Dilwash Qawwal. At the same time, he crooned the popular songs of Master
Muhammed Ibrahim and Ustad Mohammad Jumman whenever he toured in the
interior of Sindh.
Nooral cut his first two records with EMI in 1970, In 1974, four
other songs were recorded. In the same year, he found his way into Radio
Pakistan's Quetta and Karachi centers, where he was paid 170/- rupees for
his work. Nooral recalls that this was a generous amount for him at a time
when he used to earn 4/- rupees for a day's ironing at laundry
Nooral's almost instant success did not go to his head; however.
Realizing that he lacked a formal musical education, he began to search
for a teacher. One day, walking out of Utad Beeday Khan's club, he ran
into his earliest teacher, Ustad Umar, whose club had been disbanded. The
Ustad invited Nooral to work with him, now that his club had been
re-opened. Having found a teacher, Nooral embarked upon a rigorous regimen
of training. He recalls that he sometimes sat from afternoon to evening,
doing his Riaz in a hot room with a roof made of asbestos sheets. ! During
these exercises, he usually turned off the fan because its noise disturbed
his concentration. Nooral also religiously attended Ustad Umer's evening
lectures on different ragas and other aspects of music. Accompanied by
practical demonstrations, these sessions went on until late into the
night. In the early '70s, Nooral went to work in Dubai. Here, he met up
with two music-loving brothers who have home been a kind of informal music
club. Regular visitors to this gathering included Jagjit Sing,
subsequently of the Jagjit-Chitraduo, who had not yet become famous.
During his stay in the Gulf, Nooral continued to receive guidance from his
teacher through detailed letters and audiocassette recordings.
Initially, Nooral sang Ustad ghazals at various gatherings all over
the United Arab Emirates. In the early '80s, however, he was drawn back to
Balochi music by the members of a social organization, Baloch Kumak-kar,
with whom he also began to do social work. It was that the Nooral decided
to quit Urdu and take up Balochi singing permanently. "It was a period of
popular and disco music at home. "Nooral recalls, "but it did not
influence me because I was so far away from it all." Soon thereafter,
audiocassettes containing selections from Nooral's performance in the Gulf
started appearing in the Pakistani market.
was during a visit home in 1988, however, that Nooral recorded his first
cassette in a studio. Following its massive success, the market was
flooded with Nooral's cassettes. But the majority of these were bootleg
Mehfil recordings, for which he did not receive any payment. Dealers were
so keen to cash in on his popularity that one of them even released
cassette titled Rafique OK in Nooral's style without the consent of the
singer, who is one of Lyari's most popular stage artists. This tape was
recorded at a wedding where Mr. OK, like other junior singers, sang
several of Nooral's songs.
Nooral has done eight studio- recorded cassettes. Of these, the most
commercially successful is Ladoongay, a collection of wedding songs. In
this album, Nooral sings traditional ditties that were rapidly being
forgotten by the younger Baloch generation. He collected these songs from
old women and rendered them in an up-beat tempo, accompanied by modern
musical instruments. The popularity of this cassette is obvious from the
fact that young Baloch girls-especially those from Karachi, who had become
accustomed to singing Urdu wedding songs-have now turned to the Ladoongay
numbers of their elders.
Nooral's singing has managed to revive a part of Baloch cultural
heritage, giving new life to traditional songs, which were rarely heard.
Another example of this kind of effort is the case of classical Baloch
love stories which are preserved in long verses. These poems are still
performed by traditional singers of Balochistan, called Pahalwans, in the
classical style. But their archaic and difficult tune, combined with the
obsolete diction of the verses, had made them almost unintelligible to the
younger generation. Nooral recorded a few of these songs, especially poems
about the most popular and mystical romantic couple, Hani and Sheh Mureed.
Setting these old poems to new tunes, he breathed a new soul into their
unearth classical poetry Nooral has had to carry out painstaking research.
For example, he found seven different versions of the legendary lovers,
Keyya and Sadu's 'teetanali' from different parts of Balochistan. Putting
all of these together, he selected common themes among them, and compiled
eight different versions of the legend, which he then
Sometimes, Nooral's research methods are more arduous, and quite
unusual. A word, 'Kareba' appeared in one of his song. The karaba is
particular date, as well as the tree on which it grows. A gemstone,
popular with Baloch woman who traditionally adorned their jewellery with
it, is also known by this name. But this entire connotation did not make
sense in the context of Nooral's sons. He asked many Baloch elders about
other possible meanings for the word, but came up with nothing.
Not be daunted by his apparent failure, Nooral involved his
listeners in this search. At a function held in Muscat, he put his query
to the audience. The very next day, people started visiting or calling
with various suggestions, none of which were satisfactory. Still more
suggestions poured in through letters sent to Nooral or published in the
After three years, an old man contacted Nooral, and finally gave
him the answer. This old man, now a permanent resident of Oman, hailed
originally from Shehran, a small town in Iranian Balochistan. Near the
town of Shehran flows a stream, on the banks of which stand 'Karaba'
date trees. Resident of the area also calls this brook Karaba. The old man
revealed that the poet of the verse under discussion belonged to the same
town. It seems that the word, Karaba, refers to that stream, for the poet
claimed to have bathed his head in it.
Deeply appreciating the spirit of research revived by Nooral, the
old man informed the singer that it had now become a favorite pastime for
Baloch people in their gathering to discuss words that are no longer in
use, and try to find their meaning. Baloch women, especially those from
Iranian Balochistan, takes more interest in this search, add
Owing the deep-rooted conservatism of Baloch society, Baloch women
are still! not free to take part in musical activities, Nooral says with
indignation. Consequently, there is a dearth of female artists who can
sing in Balochi. It is for this reason that Nooral was compelled to record
Ladoongay in his own voice, even through female vocalist would have been
more appropriate for wedding songs.
Similarly, Nooral has collected a good number of 'Chachs', or
riddles, which he would like to record with the accompaniment of music so
that they may be preserved. "I have been looking for a suitable voice for
them," he says, "but now I will record them in my daughter's
His admires believe that Nooral's contribution to Balochi music and
culture can be compared to that of an institution. But he has a few
critics, too, who accuse him of distorting Balochi music. They claim that
Nooral's singing is based largely on Indian ragas, while classical Balochi
music is totally different.
Nooral agrees with such critics, adding that Balochi is in
fact closer to Arabic, Kurdish and Sudanese music. But, he says, "time
brings changes into every thing and Balochi music is no exception." Nooral
also point out that the modern Baloch poet has almost abandoned
traditional forms of Balochi poetry and is mostly writing Gazals, a genre
borrowed from Persian literature, albeit with a new diction and modern
metaphors. "So now can this new poetry be sung in the old way?" he
"Every age has its own requirements, and music also has to go
through the process of evolution, which requires adaptation," argues
Nooral. He illustrates his point by mentioning the banjo, which was
originally a Japanese instrument. After some changes made by the genius
instrumentalist Bilawal Belgium, the banjo has now been incorporated into
Balochi music. In fact, it has become such an integral part of Balochi
music that someone unfamiliar with its background could not be blamed for
thinking it is an authentic Balochi instrument.
The earlier part of Nooral's career saw him working in the Gulf,
making sporadic visit to Pakistan to do recordings and give performances.
Unable to balance both worlds indefinitely, Nooral has now returned to
Pakistan and taken up singing full-time. He has also set up an
organization, the Baloch Musical and Cultural welfare Society
(BMCWS), which has held one function already and has planned
several they for the future. Explaining the need for its establishment,
Nooral laments the apathy of government institutions like Quetta TV and
Radio, and the Balochistan Academy, which are meant to promote Balochi
culture. "Quetta Radio receives a grant of five lakh rupees annually,"
Nooral reveals, " of which fifty thousand rupees are spent mostly on
non-creative works, one-and a half lakhs are embezzled, and three lakhs
are return to Islamabad." Given the incompetence of the authorities,
Nooral believes it is up to Baloch artists themselves for the preservation
and promotion of their culture. The BMCWS is at present a one-man
orgnization, Nooral dominates its decision making, and work without a
proper team. Can one man, whatever his talents or reputation, take on a
gigantic task, the likes of which has defeated even the mammoth
governmental machinery? Nooral agrees with the critics who accuse him of
distorting Balochi music. But, he adds, "time brings changes into every
thing and Balochi music is no exception." The