Attaullah Khan Esakhelvi is a popular folk singer of Pakistan. He is fondly known as Lala (elder brother) among his friends. He ran away from home to pursue his love for singing as he was not allowed to sing in Isakhel by his family. He hails from a famous Niazi tribe. He disclosed this information in one of his TV interviews that he became a truck driver to earn his bread and butter, as he was not rich enough to earn enough from small lands his family owned. He belongs to a very simple and religious family. Although his father owned a ration depot that would have given Attaullah Khan Esakhelvi enough means to live but he desired to make his name in music. Isakhel lies in the tribal belt of Mianwali in Punjab. Due to these reasons his voice and style of singing oozed out pain, hence he was often declared as “the ambassador of pain”.When I first attended his mehfil at PTV’s Lahore Centre in the late 1970s, I was surprised at the audience he attracted that comprised sophisticated artists like Sahira Kazmi. His aura was the myth that he was in love with a girl back home who ditched her or his family did not allow him to marry her, so he was emotionally in great distress and the pain found its expression in folk music. The PTV mehfil’s popular song was “La Lai Tun Mundri Meri”. Those were black and white television days. Late Muhammad Hussain Alvi played tabla and Sharfuddin sarangi. Rashid Dar’s father Lateefi is also seen seated with Aurangzeb Leghari among the audience. Attaullah used to carry long hair in those days. Mansoor Malangi and actor Sajjad Kishwer were also present there. I was seated next to poet Qateel Shifai. Munnoo Bhai and Hassan Rizvi were seen sitting with Rahat Kazmi.Attaullah’s original name was Attaullah Shaheen. He was born on August 19, 1951 in a family that did not see eye to eye with music. His father’s name was Ahmad Khan Niazi. Attaullah got his primary education at Isakhel. He married four times and lives with his second wife Bazgha – a former actress. When he left his house in Isakhel, he attempted to run a general store. That did not work. He spent the next few years moving from Islamabad to Lahore to Faisalabad. When cassette recorders became popular in the late 1970s, Attaullah used to sing for his friends, who would record his voice. One of these cassettes reached the market and was heard by Chaudhary Rehmat Ali, who seized the opportunity to produce Attaullah’s first album. He came to Faisalabad and recorded songs for a cassette that sold in thousands, and which was released in 1978. He was invited to ‘Neelam Ghar’ show at PTV Karachi Centre. His friend Mian Ahmad arranged for his travel to Karachi. Since that day and until today, Attaullah said in a recent interview that he has recorded 600 albums. The total number of songs therefore would be thousands in number.I remember one mehfil in Abu Dhabi in 2000 arranged by Khalil Sahib who was the son of late Professor Hameed Ahmed Khan, wherein I sang for two hours followed by Attaullah Isakhelvi. One of the successes of such evenings was excellent musicians accompanying Attaullah’s troupe. Keyboard master Akhtar, son of Master Sadiq who was a piano wizard carried the instrumental support well. Initially not accepted with open arms by musicians’ families, he kept on dominating the folk music scene of Pakistan for over 30 years. He gathered thousands in his audiences whenever and wherever he performed.I recall a catchy number “Saambh Saambh Rakhian Main Teriyan Nishanian” that relates to arousing the emotions of the lovers whose beloveds left them. Similarly, the Urdu song “Bewafa Yu Tera Muskurana Bhool Jane Ke Qabil Nahi Hai” has similar connotations. Attaullah had a knack of reaching younger audience. He sang a song with his son Sanwal in ‘Coke Studio’ which was “Ishq Puwaiwan Zanjeeraan” the latter in modern attire wearing a felt hat. It is a catchy number, a mixture of Punjabi and Urdu lyrics. Sanwal somehow does not copy his father’s style of singing like Mansoor Malangi or Shaukat Ali’s sons do.His real name was Attaullah Shaheen. He was born on August 19, 1951, in a family that did not see eye to eye with music. His father’s name was Ahmad Khan Niazi. Attaullah got his primary education at Isakhel. He married four times and now lives with his second wife Bazgha — a former actress When Attaullah was a household name in Mianwali and when his cassettes were the best sellers there, he decided to visit his house in Isakhel, hoping that his family’s attitude might have become milder. To his utter shock, that had not. This was the time when he used to charge Rs 100,000 for one cassette recording. His family stated that Attaullah had defamed the Niazi tribe. Attaullah got up and said that he would rather called himself Isakhelvi rather than Niazi. The requests to Radio Pakistan to play his songs had become so intense that radio bosses were compelled to invite him, take his audition and give him a booking. Attaullah did not get the Rs 60 cheque cashed but opted to keep it with him as a memory. People started buying his cassettes and started taking these as gifts abroad. Gradually he caught the elite’s attention and was started being listened to in drawing rooms as well.Most of his songs had lyrics in easy diction on themes like death, sorrow, pain, deception and love. Not that he did not sing in Urdu, the examples of which I shall give as hereunder, his fame remained restricted to his songs sung in Saraiki and Punjabi. His Urdu song “Idhar Zindagi Ka Janaza Uthega”, followed by “Naki Jae Gal Tu Rus Naa Ae Dhola” were overnight hits and changed the fortunes of both the singer and producer. Some of the popular tracks from his hit album ‘O Dil Torr Ke Hansti Ho Mera’ are “Tujhe Bhulana To Chaha”, “Mujhko Ye Teri Bewafai Maar Dalegi”, “Bedardi Se Pyar Ka Sahara Na Mila”, “Acha sila diya tune mere pyar ka” and “Mujhko Dafna Kar Woh Jab Wapis Jayenge.”The songs “Pyar naal na sahi, ghusse naal vekh leya kar”, ‘Qameez teri kali”, “Mahi Wasse Mera”, “Ni Oontaan Wale Tur Jaan Gei” and “Raataan” are some of Attaullah’s smash hits; the credit goes to the lyrics apart from his unique style of singing. Attaullah did not need radio or TV exposure to become a household name initially. He was popular through his cassettes played in trucks, buses and tea stalls. Some others who fall in this category are Munni Begum, Aziz Mian Qawwal and Mansoor Malangi to some extent. Apart from General Ayub Khan and Muhtarma Fatima Jinnah’s photographs, Attaullah’s portraits were seen at the back of the trucks in KPK and Punjab if that can be taken as one indicator of his popularity.Media reports that in 1980, Attaullah went to England for tour where he married a Pakistani British lady from whom he has a son. His second marriage was with Bazgha. She is very famous manuscript actress and they have only daughter named Laraib, married abroad and only son named Sanwal who is fond of singing. They both were born in London. He received the honourable award from the government of Pakistan and a Lifetime Achievement award from the Queen of England. He entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest number of recorded albums by a singer. The writer is an award-winning musician and author. He Tweets at @amjadparvez and can be reached at email@example.com Published in Daily Times, October 11th 2017.