Ustaz Khyal Muhammad's Interview

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Ustaz Khyal Muhammad's Interview, Qasim Abdullah Moi
Published in Khyber.ORG on Friday, September 16 2005 (

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Ustaz Khyal Muhammad's Interview

Qasim Abdullah Moi

Publishing Date: Friday, September 16 2005

Talking to the soft spoken, mild mannered singer Khayal Mohammad, one realizes that in the richness of his controlled, warm voice, there lies a sombre appeal that is waiting to be heard by mainstream Pakistan.

A veteran of the Pashto playback singing scene, Khayal is practically a household name in the Frontier. He has been plying his trade since the early 1970s, and earned his big break through Radio Peshawar for which he auditioned at the ripe old age of 12. "That's when the journey began," he starts recollecting, as the floodgates of nostalgia give way. He followed up his breakthrough with a stint at the newly birthed PTV studios at Chaklala, from where he secured the coveted prize of playback singing.

"I've sung a lot for films with such people as Gulnar Begum and Kishwar Sultan," he recalls, talking about some of the female singers he performed duets with. Khayal also worked at Peshawar TV when it was launched, as he hailed from the area.

As for formal musical training, Khayal Mohammad says, "I did have an Ustad, and it is his prayers that have brought me this far. But I didn't really use classical as my base that much. Just enough to get by, enough to have an understanding of the concepts."

When he initially auditioned for radio, people thought it was a female singing. But as his voice matured, he gave radio another shot and was successful.

From our conversation it seems that Khayal has always had a streak of independence as far as the creative process is concerned. When he first stepped onto the scene, folk music was in vogue, and if one wanted to succeed that was the route to take. Yet Khayal decided to take a chance and started experimenting with ghazals. The reason this was such a major gamble is that because not since partition had an artist tried to render ghazals in the Pashto mode of expression. So the young troubadour was really going out on a limb.

"People didn't really understand the true essence of ghazal," he recalls, and reveals that he even received hate mail for trying to bring ghazal to radio. "They totally dismissed what I was trying to do. But I held firm to my resolve. I argued that ghazal has a special place in the literary universe and that the works of great poets should be celebrated. If people understood that much, they wouldn't harbour any ill will towards ghazals. So I kept persevering, and naturally, when educated, cultured people heard what I was doing and delved into the depth of the poetry, with the help of the Almighty we received acclaim. People started listening to ghazals," he proclaims, with a mix of humility and pride in his voice.

After Khayal Mohammad had firmly established himself in radio, he steered his ship towards the choppy waters of film - Pashto playback singing to be exact. In 1973-74, Khayal signed on for his first film, Dara-i-Khyber which, coincidentally, was also one of the first Pashto productions. When a patriotic number that Khayal had rendered was filmed on himself, his popularity graph shot up, and there has been no looking back eversince. Out of the 1,300 or so Pashto films that have been made, Khayal has worked in the majority of them.

His celluloid successes have undoubtedly projected him onto the world stage, as he is a practical globetrotter, traversing continents to deliver concerts with his honed craft.

"During Daud Khan and Zahir Shah's time, we went to Afghanistan. Even Najibullah was a big fan," Khayal relates, referring to Afghanistan's long departed commie rulers, along with its fossilized ex-monarch.

One wonders if Mullah Omar shared his predecessors' appreciation for Khayal's talents. Khayal continues with his travelogue.

"In Europe, I've been to Germany, Belgium and Holland. Before, there would be performances in Farsi, but ours was the first Pashto programme. The native Germans really enjoyed our music. Afterwards, I travelled to England, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. We've visited the UAE at least 25 or 30 times."

Khayal has also been decorated with various laurels in recognition of his talents. These include a Pride of Performance award, two National Awards, as well as a gold medal from PTV, which was presented to him by the late Madame Noor Jehan. But despite his towering stature in his field, he is still humility personified.

"This is all Allah's graciousness, along with the prayers of the people. That is why this has come about."

Testimony of Khayal's achievements comes from various sources. For one, his influence on modern popsters permeates through the rollicking numbers of such singers as Rahim Shah, whose Allah Maula is actually a rehash of one of Khayal's classics. It was rendered by Khayal for one of his films, and the lyrics are based on a ghazal by revolutionary poet Saifur Rehman Salim. He recorded the song while the poet was imprisoned, and upon his release Khayal sought Salim's permission to release the song. To this, Salim replied that Khayal Mohammad could record his whole volume of poetry if he wished.

Zahoor Khan Zaiby, a Pakhtoon composer of Balochi and Sindhi tunes who has collaborated with Khayal on a recent project is all praises for Khayal. Reverently referring to Khayal he says that "Lala is an expert at harnessing the mood of the moment and the poetry through his voice. The songs from his films are considered Pashto anthems."

What sets apart this gentleman from his younger, prima donna peers is his incredible humility and honesty. When asked what else is there to achieve for him, he expresses utmost, placid content.

"What else is there left to do? Till now, I have gotten a lot of respect for this art. I am thankful to God for that. The moment I feel I'm a burden on the art, then it's time to bid adieu and say Allah Hafiz," he trails off with a hearty chuckle.


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Ustaz Khyal Muhammad's Interview, Qasim Abdullah Moi
Published in Khyber.ORG on Friday, September 16 2005 (