Voice of Pakistan

Concert

Ataullah Khan Esakhelvi, the original singer of the heartbreak anthem Achha sila diya , plans his first tour of India.

In the late '80s, when music was considered un-Islamic in Pakistan and banned in President Zia Ul Haq's regime, India was, ironically, grooving to the tunes of Pakistani pop icons Nazia Hassan and Runa Laila. While pop was the flavour of those years, select music connoisseurs in India were also tuning in to a significant import called Ataullah Khan Esakhlevi.

Among those who was a fan of the Swat-based Esakhlevi was Bollywood producer Gulshan Kumar. He roped in Sonu Nigam to render Esakhlevi's song Achha sila diya for a film called Bewafa Sanam. The film did not set box office on fire, but the song did. It touched all the right chords in popular consciousness and remains, to this day, one of the anthems of heartbreak among the youth. The track made a star out of Nigam but Esakhlevi was forgotten. "Those were different days, when news took a long time to reach us. My songs were being sold in India as somebody else's. The photograph on a lot of covers that I saw was mine, but somebody else had sung the songs. I was really surprised," says Esakhelvi, 61, who will perform in Delhi next month as part of his first tour of India.

A truck driver from Mianwali before he became a musician, Esakhlevi grew up listening to Md Rafi and Mukesh. But his family was averse to the idea of his learning music.

"So I left my house and pursued music," says Khan. After much struggle, he became a background singer alongside legends such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Noorjehan, before being invited to sing for Radio Pakistan.

"I have been wanting to perform in India because I know people appreciate my music here. I have made some personal trips but, somehow, I never got the chance to sing here," says Esakhlevi, who is known for songs such as Idhar zindagi ka janaza and was awarded Pride of Pakistan by government in 1991. By 2006, he had released 1000 albums, which is a record for any artiste.

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